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Day 3 of 11: Getting through Montana

Posted by joeabbott on July 1, 2014

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I felt like calling this post “escape from Glacier National Park” but I’d just be bemoaning a bad combination of weather and timing; and, now that I understand the offerings in East Glacier Park better, I’ll be prepared for addressing what I considered deficiencies in the options.

And that understanding will come in handy as we shall return! It’s just too good to ignore and knowing the Park is only a day’s drive away, well, we’ll certainly be back.

I’ve driven through Montana a couple times now and it’s just a big big state and takes a long time to get through. I’m doing its varied opportunities an injustice to speak of “getting through it”, but I had an agenda that didn’t involve all of its Big Sky. Read on for the parts I did manage to see!

The Plan

My plan for this day read:

     GNP (East) to Glendive, MT

  • ~490 miles, 8 hours
  • To do (on route)
    • Stop in Havre, MT (~180 miles from motel): buffalo jump (Wahkpa Chug’n)
    • Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge (~100 miles east of Havre)
  • Stay night at Glendive, MT
  • Weather forecast
    • 71° F High
    • 51° F Low
    • Sprinkles

That’s how I planned out the various days of this trip… and, surprisingly, the day fell pretty much along this plan! By 7AM we were on the road … it would be a long day of driving.

Wahkpa Chug’n

Both Wahkpa Chug’n (walk-pa choog-in) and the next stop were on the list simply because they were things to see that broke the monotony of a nearly 500-mile-day of driving. That said, I’d always heard of prairie Native American’s driving buffalo herds off cliffs where they could use the bison meat, bones, everything for maintaining their way of life, and so I wanted to see this stop. As it was, we had a strangely uneasy feeling of “are we in the right place?” when signs off the Havre (not “hav-ray” like I thought it was pronounced; “have-er” as the locals pronounce it) main road pointed us to a single-wide mobile home behind the local mall.

We approached and were met by two young ladies who, while polite, certainly didn’t push hard to make a sale as I stammered out our intents and wondered if I was in the right place. That aside, we were in the right place and had a great time with Christie, our tour guide.

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Over the next hour I had my misconception of the buffalo hunt dispelled, saw many layers of bones in the earth under excavation, and learned to toss an atlatl. I’d spend a lot more time on this fantastic tour if I didn’t have another 8 days of events to tell, but do yourself a favor and visit this place if you get a chance. It’s well worth the price of admission!

Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge

If I was crestfallen by yesterday’s rain, chill, and lack of views, the trip through Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge nearly made up for it. I had no expectations about this stop … in fact, I knew nothing about it! I had just seen there was an oasis of sorts on the map at this lake and assumed there’d be something to see here. What we got was a private self-guided tour around Lake Bowdoin at the heart of a wildlife refuge. We had the entire park to ourselves as we slowly drove through, saw the sand pipers running about, heard fantastic calls, frog croaks, and crickets, and generally recharged our spirits.

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It not only had lots of birds, Suzy found lots of plants and flowers to photograph!

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The absolute best part was the sand pipers (they could have been willets) … at least I think that’s the birds they were. They alternated between running in front of our car, playing chicken with us (I wonder if they knew they’d win against me?) or flying next to our open window, alternating calls between something that sounded like, “oh no!” and “ha ha ha”. Suzy and I giggled like kids. It was charming and, even though it added an hour and a half to the day’s travel, well worth it.

The night’s stay

P1060268We stayed at the Guesthouse Inn & Suites in Glendive and I wasn’t sure what to think: it was modest on the outside and we’d reserved a room for relatively cheap. That said, this was the absolute nicest place we stayed the entire trip! Rooms were large, it was exceptionally clean, and dead silent. Perhaps it was in comparison to the two prior night’s stay, but we really enjoyed our night in Glendive.

As a side bonus, we were introduced to Dickey’s BBQ here and, in the morning, the interstate for the long trip to MN was about 15 yards beyond the parking lot. I feel like contriving a trip to eastern Montana just to stay here again!

In my words

On the drive we stopped at every roadside historical marker – some good, some less so. All broke up the road.

In Havre we stopped … to see the “Buffalo Jump” … Those the cliff (fall) didn’t kill were herded into a corral/enclosure and shot (with bow/arrow or atlatl) … Fascinating stuff. I threw an atlatl and managed to stick it into a foam bison replica!

Other than that, we drove. We listened to Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, which is a great traveling story. Long, interesting, great writing. But it was almost 8PM when we pulled into our hotel.

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