Monday, August 16, we were out extra early. We hooked Petunia up the night before to make it an easy exit, and were ready to tackle the Hell road (MT-543 – 25 miles of terribly washboarded dirt road) back to civilization by 6:15 AM. It took us an hour and 45 minutes to get back to pavement in Jordan. We were taking it very easy in the hopes of keeping more stuff from falling off! The skies were more smoky this morning, and only got worse as we headed east. The long-range views weren’t great, but we did see some wildlife…pronghorns, turkeys, dusky grouse…and of course, free range cattle. We also passed a small herd of sheep with one goat in the crowd. Wonder if ranchers use goats for protection like they use donkeys back home? The first stop was breakfast at Summit Corral. After the bouncing and stress, we both needed a little break! Mr. Wonderful (MW) had a corned beef hash plate, and I had eggs and French toast minus the sugar. Delicious!
On the way out of town we stopped by the post office, then headed east on MT-200, thankful to be on smoother road. Well, at least for a little while. We came upon a long construction site where the roads were, you guessed it, dirt and washboarded, although not to the extent of the previous path. After that, the road was rough for about 20 miles, then became quite pleasant again. The scenery is wide, open spaces, and I swear that, even with the smoke, you can see hundreds of thousands of acres. As we went east, the cattle mostly disappeared and a lot of grain took its place. Somewhere along the way, we saw a bunch of llamas off in the distance. MW also saw a red fox along the roadside, but I didn’t catch that. At Circle, we turned north on MT-13 and stopped for gas in Vida, Montana.
We crossed the Mighty Missouri and entered the Fort Peck Indian Reservation (Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes), then turned east again on US-2 east of Wolf Point. We saw several places where wildfires appeared to start near the road and burn a few acres. One looked and smelled like they just got it out, and we wondered if they were controlled burns. All of the grain basically looked the same, though, and with hundreds of thousands of acres, these very small patches were too tiny to accomplish anything. They seem to have a thing for giant steer skeletons, because we saw one near Wolf Point and several in a roundabout in Poplar. In Culbertson, we had to give way at the intersection of MT-16 for the longest semi load I’ve ever seen. We later realized that the tube is a section of base for a wind turbine. (We saw others in the area, so they must be making them nearby.) After he cleared the path, we found the Hometown Market to grab a few groceries and also checked out a laundromat that wasn’t listed on Apple Maps. Back on the road, we turned north on MT-16 and headed up to Medicine Lake. There we did something we don’t typically do…ate out for a second time in a day. We found the Honker Pit, which got really good reviews. They had a little bit of everything, and locals were coming and going. That’s always a good sign. MW had the reuben, and I had a panini that was basically a grilled Italian. Both were very good, and mine made two meals.
Now ready to get to our destination, we continued north on MT-16 to Reserve, then turned east on MT-258. Not too far before North Dakota, we turned down a short dirt road to Brush Lake State Park. We were happy to see that, except for the campground host, we were the only guests in this tiny place on the prairie. It was still VERY smoky, so after we got everything set up, we relaxed inside for the rest of the evening.
Tuesday morning I was up at 4:30 AM with my mind just going. Does that happen to you? One minute I’m asleep, and the next I’m wide awake and thinking about worries, fears, chores, work. The minute it happens, I know there is no use bothering to try to sleep again. Today it was some of my family, so without speaking out of turn, please throw up a prayer or two. I’m sure God will know who, what, and why. Since I was up anyway, I figured I would catch up on some work. Several days without a cell signal put me behind, and I don’t like feeling that way. After MW got up, we sat outside and enjoyed the cool air until the wind started to kick up. Some of the smoke had dissipated, too, so my eyes appreciated that! Later we decided to take a ride over to Plentywood for some lunch. Legend has it that the town’s name came from a cowboy who, irritated with the cook trying to light damp buffalo chips for a fire, told him “if you’ll go two miles up this creek, you’ll find plenty wood.” The creek then became Plentywood, and the town name followed. Who knows whether that is true or not, but it is plausible.
On the way, we ended up following another of those massively long trucks into town. That’s when we noticed the cargo was tapered and realized what it was for. In town we drove by the handful of lunch spots and ended up at Cousins Family Restaurant on Main Street. The outside was very plain and honestly, didn’t look like much. The inside, though, was packed and stayed that way the entire time we were there. I went for the special…a beef sandwich with creamy tomato soup. MW had a beef and cheddar slammer that was also very good. Oh, and we sampled the spicy cheese curds, too.
FUNNY THING: While we were waiting for our food, I asked the waitress if there was a laundromat in town, and she pointed to a side door and said “Yes, right through that door.” A few minutes later, I went to check it out while waiting for our food. I pushed open the large door and was standing in the middle of a bar with people drinking, pool tables, etc. I was very confused, and felt a little like I walked through a wormhole (you non-sci-fi folks will have no idea what I’m talking about) and ended up in a different place altogether. I went back to the table and asked the waitress again. She smiled and said it’s through the door, to the left, and through another door, and that there is a sign. I guess I was just so perplexed that I didn’t see it. LOL
INTERESTING THING: While we were eating, MW was talking about the giant trucks and wondered if the drivers have to work their way up to that like the ice road truckers. That triggered something that I had completely forgotten to tell him and you. In the last 3-4 weeks I was talking to a man. I can’t remember where, but probably at a laundromat. We talked about our hometowns, and he asked where we were going. I mentioned the plan to go to Alaska next year, and he said he has spent quite a bit of time up there, mostly in the cold weather. Why in the world would you do that, I asked. Because I work on building/maintaining the ICE ROAD! Too cool!
BACK TO OUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED RAMBLING: After lunch, MW and I walked next door and did, indeed, find a small laundromat to check out. He went to the hardware store while I checked out a statue at the corner on Main Street. It was “Hollywood Heroes” and was sculpted by the western actor George Montgomery. I did a little checking, and he was in a lot of westerns and had an acting career spanning 50 years! He was also a master furniture builder and a pretty darned impressive sculptor.
We also popped in at Family Dollar before driving back on a slightly different route to get some fresh pavement. The wind had kicked up to a pretty consistent 20 mph or so and was forecast to stay that way overnight. Sitting out on the open prairie, it was brutal, and Petunia was rocking quite a bit. We spent the afternoon indoors, feeling a little bit like we were riding a train.
Wednesday I awoke still feeling like I was on a train. The wind was still howling at about 25 mph with gusts to 40! Serious stuff! There is a sign posted stating that the winds are fierce and to make sure items are stored properly. Guess some folks learned the hard way. I took my time getting things together, then headed back to Plentywood to do the laundry. Before I even made it off of the dirt, there was a grouse just hanging out in the middle of the road. I slowed down, and it didn’t move. I kept creeping up, and it disappeared beyond the truck hood. Finally, I saw it run off into the grass in the side mirror. Gutsy thing. Another mile or two down the road a pheasant ran right out in front of me. It was amazing that he didn’t die. The final one on the way out was a huge hawk. I saw him on the ground in a field and backed up to get a better look. Once abreast, I reached for the camera. That’s when he decided to take off with whatever he had caught. He flew straight at me, then veered across the front of the truck. I didn’t even have a chance to get the camera turned on! Maybe this was a weird “The Birds” remake. Once in town, the first stop was the bank for quarters. (Interestingly, the ladies there would give me as many rolls as I wanted and said there had been no “coin shortage” in their area. Hmmmm.) After that, it was on to the Gold Dollar hotel on Main Street, which is attached to the laundromat. It’s an odd setup, and I’m not sure whether it’s all part of the same business or not. There is the hotel, the laundromat, and the bar/lounge that all have connecting doors. While not the cleanest establishment I’ve been to, the machines were good, and no one was there when I arrived, which sped up the process. When the chore was complete, I ran over to Dairy Queen for a bite and to get a little work done. On the way back, I stopped at Antelope to take a pic of the old jail. Then, when I was on MT-258 almost back to the park, I caught a large, brown something out of the corner of my eye…uh huh, uh huh, uh huh, uh huh, uh huh. (Only a few of you will get that one.) Back at Petunia I took some pics of the park, and caught a small flock of grouse passing through. Later in the evening we took a walk down to the beach area, stirring up all kinds of birds. Other than that, we watched TV, and I did a bit more work. With the wind it was quite cool for most of the day, ending up in the low 70s. Say it with me…AWESOME!!
Brush Lake State Park is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Dagmar is the nearest town, but the closest of any size is Plentywood, about 35 minutes west. There is a small lake, about 1 mile by 1/4 mile, that is very alkaline, so there are no fish. It is deep and very clear, though. Boating and swimming are allowed, and we saw one boater the day we arrived, and a kayaker and a swimmer on Tuesday. The day use area seems well-used and includes a boat ramp, dock, and picnic area. We were the only ones in the campground during our stay. There is a camp host, but she left on Tuesday, and we didn’t see her again. The campground has 10 single and two double sites with 50-amp electric, picnic tables, and fire rings. (Again, the fire ban is on in Montana.) Water is available on the property, but not at the sites. There is no bathhouse, but there are vault toilets. They are a little buggy, but otherwise clean. Tags show that the weekends get a little busier, but our stay was blissfully quiet. Except for the occasional car on the paved road a mile or so away, you didn’t really hear anything but birds…and wind. There was moderate cell reception (Verizon) in the park, but no service on some of the roads nearby. We picked up several over-the-air TV stations (4 PBS and 4 other). For this stay in August 2021, we paid $112.00 for three nights.
Thursday was a relatively short drive, so we didn’t head out until a little after 9 AM. Before taking off, I took pics of Brutus’ front and transmission cooler. It seems that the latter is the number one place in Montana for grasshopper suicides! MW has been scraping them off with a paint spatula. We really need to find someplace to give him a bath (Brutus, not MW). Petunia, too.
We hit the road headed west on MT-258. We hadn’t even gone 8 miles when we saw something totally unexpected. MW first saw it from a good ways off, and thought it was a cow. The closer we got, though, the more apparent the large fellow was NOT bovine. It was a MOOSE! We didn’t even know they lived in Eastern Montana! He got us stopped, and I jumped out and headed back down the road. As I passed Petunia, I heard an alarm going off, so he went to check that out while I got pics. The big boy was quite a ways off in a marshy area near the edge of a field. As I got him in focus, I realized it was TWO…a big bull and a cow. As I took pics, another guy stopped to get a few, too. He said that they are not as common in this area as further west, and he was sending a pic to his buddy who pulled a tag for the upcoming season. Apparently they only give out 9 a year, and his 70-year-old friend has been trying to get one for 28 years. That’s dedication! He will be tracking this big bull in a couple of weeks.
The day started very grey and cool and was only expected to get up to 61…delightful. We headed up to Plentywood and continued west on MT-248. The landscape became very rolling, and the fields really did look like an ocean with golden waves. At Scobey we stopped for gas, to find a post office, and to grab lunch at Ponderosa Pizza. It is a diner on one end and a bar on the other. I had a grilled Hawaiian Chicken Sandwich, and MW had a Chicken Caesar Salad. Both were good, but mine would have been less wet if they used a pineapple slice instead of crushed pineapple. Before getting back on the road, we walked down to the courthouse, which has a very interesting history. In 1913, Old Scobey relocated from the Poplar River flats for the Great Northern Railway, the building was the townsite’s largest building. Purchased in 1915 by “One-Eyed Molly” Wakefield, available activities included gambling, live entertainment, dog fights, drinking, and of course, women. The first floor was for that purpose, and the large rooms upstairs were legitimate hotel rooms. In 1917, Prohibition and crackdowns on red-light businesses sent Molly packing. A few years later, when Scobey was voted the county seat, the hotel was purchased and remodeled inside to become the Daniels County Courthouse. Later additions and renovations preserved and extended the original false front. On the National Register of Historic Places, the building is now Montana’s last functioning false-front frame courthouse. It may also be the only bordello reborn as a government building. There was also a cool looking hotel that has been converted to a senior living facility.
We continued west on MT-248 to Opheim. It started to rain off and on and was still in the 50s in the early afternoon. That must be the right combination to bring out the deer, because we saw more than a dozen, including one very large buck. We also saw a fox. I think that is the fourth time MW has picked out a fox trotting across a field during, and every time, he was driving. When I drive, I see less stuff. When he drives, he sees more stuff. Strange. We turned south on MT-24 down to Glasgow, then east on US-2 and south on MT-117 to our destination for the next few days, Downstream Recreation Area.
We got Petunia all set up, and then I headed back to Glasgow to Verizon to solve a phone issue while MW got on a video call with his old work crew. The rest of the evening we watched some videos and listened to the raindrops on the roof.
Friday did not start well. I had a tough time sleeping the night before and woke up with a pretty significant headache. After some medication, I went back to bed for a good while. I finally started feeling better after lunch time. It was rainy and grey in the morning, but began clearing up by that time, too. MW took a couple of nice walks around the park, which is very large, while he waited for me. We had a big night planned, so later we went to Glasgow for dinner at Durum Restaurant and Bar. I was still feeling a little tired from the medication, but was otherwise much better. My skirt steak was very good, and MW had pork loin chops that were just a little dry. He said the scalloped potatoes were a hit, though. Oddly, there was a little girl about 5-years-old wandering around the restaurant, tossing around a stuffed animal, climbing up and down at a high top, dancing, and eating spaghetti. She was right across from us and just about to slide out of her booster seat and smack her chin, which I pointed out to our waitress. She said “I know. She probably will, but there is nothing I can do.” Turns out, the owner of the restaurant brings her to work with him all the time, and she just does whatever she wants while he stays in the back. A couple came in with another 5-year-old that they were trying hard to keep controlled and doing a great job with. That is, until the owner’s daughter spotted her and then started dancing around their table and doing her best to get the child to play. They ate quickly and left, I’m sure because of the distraction. If I worked there, I believe I would find another job. The wait staff was constantly having to side step to avoid her while carry food and drinks. And the girl did not pay any attention when twirling around and tossing the stuffed toy. So whose fault do you think it will be when she spins out in front of someone and gets a plate of hot food spilled on her? To be clear, this is not in any way the child’s fault. She seemed like a sweet girl who was thrust into the wrong environment and just bored.
After dinner we headed back over to Fort Peck. We must have hit the perfect twilight time, because we saw a dozen or so deer and one pronghorn along the way. We stopped back by Petunia to pick up our tickets for the next activity…the THEATRE…in TINY Fort Peck, Montana, population <250. Wow! Construction on the Fort Peck dam was started in 1933 and lasted for 10 years. The Corps of Engineers needed someplace to house the workers, so they planned and developed Fort Peck. The Fort Peck Theatre was built in 1934 as a temporary structure to provide movie entertainment to the community of workers and their families. It was open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and all 1,209 seats were often filled. (At that time, the population of the area was around 50,000 due to the work at the dam.) Today, 87 years later, you can sit in the same “temporary” theater, and one of two original movie projectors is displayed in the lobby. (The second is on display in the Pioneer Museum in Glasgow.) In 1970, the theatre opened for its first “Fort Peck Summer Theatre” season. Each summer for 52 years there have been three to five separate plays, each with anywhere from three to nine performances. This season was “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown: The Broadway Musical”, “God Help Us!” with Ed Asner, “Spitfire”, “Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery”, “Godspell”, and “Terms of Endearment”. This was opening night for the latter, and it was amazing. The three lead actors, Pam L. Veis (the mother), Megan Wiltshire (the daughter), and Tim Eastman (the astronaut neighbor) were truly gifted. The audience was laughing out loud, and more than a few of us were wiping tears there at the end. We lost Larry McMurtry, my favorite writer, last March, so I enjoyed watching this particular play even more.
Saturday started with a little writing, then we walked over to check out the Fort Peck Interpretive Center. It had a movie about the building of the Fort Peck dam, which at almost four miles long and more than 250′ tall, is the largest hydraulically filled dam in the United States. The project to tame the Missouri River, provide flood control, and open more shipping opportunities created Fort Peck Lake, which is 200′ deep, 130 miles long, and has over 1,500 miles of shoreline and almost 250,000 acres of surface area. Seriously! The project wasn’t just building the dam, though. A railroad spur, power lines, and roads all had to be constructed first, and as I mentioned before, the town of Fort Peck was designed and built for the workers and their families, including the previously discussed theatre and a recreation hall. They even had their own baseball and softball leagues. It wasn’t fun and games, though. Though the workmen were eager, most were untrained. Despite strict safety rules, accidents happened. The worst was in 1938, when a portion of the upstream side of the east abutment slid off, sending millions of yards of dirt and rock down on unsuspecting crews. Eight men died that day, and six of those were never found and rest forever in the dam. Another fifty-two would die in work-related accidents over the course of the project. The lake is now filled with walleye, northern pike, rainbow trout, and a variety of other fish, and is a Mecca for sportsmen and water enthusiasts. In addition to dam stuff, there are also exhibits on the fish and wildlife in the area, aquariums, and some pretty awesome dinosaur information. One specimen, called the Wankel T. Rex, was found by local rancher Kathy Wankel in the sediment around the lake in 1988. Around 90% of the complete skeleton, including the skull, was found, making it one of the most complete T. Rex fossils ever found. That’s just a little cooler than finding seashells!
WEIRD THING: A couple of weeks ago…can’t remember when exactly, but we were in Montana…MW and I were walking around outside when something bit my arm. I looked down to see a tiny bug. It happened several times that day, although nothing seemed to be getting MW. Fast forward: I finished looking around before MW (Of course…it’s a dam museum), so I walked out back and sat on a nice bench overlooking the lake. Within a few seconds of parking myself, something bit my arm. It was another of those tiny little bugs! I was wearing a light pink shirt, and when I looked down they were ALL. OVER. ME!!!!!!!!! I’m not kidding! Hundreds!! Maybe thousands!!! I stood up and started brushing them off as MW came out. He said they were all over my back too! Amazingly, I did not strip off my clothes and go running off naked back to the RV. We both brushed off what we could, then walked at a fairly rapid pace back to Petunia. MW retrieved fresh clothes, and I went over to the vault toilet to change. My other clothes were left outside, and I didn’t go in until I was sure I was bug free. WHAT. THE. HELL!!!!! We were totally perplexed. Were they in the closet? My drawers? They were so tiny that you couldn’t even tell what they were. A thorough search turned up no little creatures, so we still couldn’t figure it out. We headed into town to take care of a couple of errands, and that is where MW saw them. While he was sitting in the truck waiting for me at Verizon, a swarm of the tiny little boogers hit. They were all over the white hood and mirrors. Millions, he said. I wonder if they are attracted to light colors? Both times I noticed them, I was wearing light pink. Hmmmm. After much research, we decided they may be some type of flower-feeding thrip attracted to the pink of my shirt and the white of the truck. The lasting result of the whole thing is that I start to feel things crawling on me every time I think about it. Yuck!!
We stopped in at the Taco Shack for a quick bite, then did a little grocery shopping before heading back to Fort Peck to check out their veteran’s memorial. Honestly, it is one of the coolest I’ve ever seen. The central tower reminds you a bit of the dam structures built in the 1930s, but the coolest part is what’s in it…a bronze, flag-draped coffin. Powerful! There were also bronze plaques for all veterans and some specific wars.
Next, we drove across the dam to the memorial for the fallen workers. Then it was back to Petunia to relax for the evening.
Sunday morning I was, once again, awake in the wee hours. It was raining all morning, which is just the best sleep for me, so I went back to bed! When I finally dragged my butt out of bed, we listened to our church broadcast and had sandwiches for lunch. Later we took a walk around the campground, taking pics along the way. Dinner was my version of black beans and rice, with some onion and smoked sausage. Yum! The weather has been great for the past few days despite the rain. Night temps have been in the low 50s, and you know that means WINDOWS OPEN! The afternoon was just beautiful with a nice breeze and low 70s temps.
Downstream Campground on Fort Peck Reservoir is nestled in a grove of cottonwoods, exceptionally well kept, and very peaceful. There is plenty of shade, and no road noise. Sites are well-spaced, and despite being almost full over the weekend, there was very little people noise, too. Shopping and restaurants are about 30 minutes away in Glasgow, and as mentioned before, the Fort Peck Theatre is just up the road. Also, the Fort Peck Interpretive Center is within walking distance. Park amenities include 24-hour gate attendants, playgrounds, volleyball courts, horseshoe pits, several picnic shelters, 3 miles of nature trails, fishing ponds, a fishing pier, and boat ramp. Camping includes a 10-site group area, 15 tent sites, 7 RV siteswith 50-amp electric, and 64 with 30-amp electric. All sites have picnic tables and fire rings, and except the tent sites, are paved and fairly level. There were no over-the-air TV channels, but the Verizon cell signal was good. We really enjoyed this one and would definitely return. For this stay in August 2021, we paid $72.00 for four nights for 30-amp.
That’s it for now. Next up…a bit more Montana. See you on the path!
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