Eastern Montana – National Parks Road Trip – Day 6 – Makoshika State Park, Pompey’s Pillar and Billing

Another early start – so early the hotel wasn’t offering breakfast yet, so we continued our westward trip on Interstate 94, stopping at a truck stop with a Subway for breakfast egg burritos and orange juice. Breakfast was tasty but a little spicy.

Crossing into Montana, we exited at the town of Glendive to see fossils of dinosaurs at Makoshika State Park. We hiked the Diane Gabriel Trail that led us to the site of a Hadosaur fossil. The fossilized bones were not easy to spot until we looked at the small bones available for us at the viewing platform and compared them to the natural area of the exposed fossil. At that point, we could identify the fossil. Hey, we touched dinosaur bones! That is not something you get to do every day.

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Sadly the days of no speed limits in Montana is over so I had to settle for setting the cruise control on 85 for the trip across sparsely populated Eastern Montana. We saw miles of wide open ranges of wheat-colored fields dotted with black cows. The range spans to a backdrop of mesas and rocky mounds that extend from the Badlands of North Dakota.

Another of our breaks from the drive was in Miles City, Montana, where we checked out the Range Riders Museum. The museum had local heritage and history displays. We touched large dinosaur bones, saw saddles, tools, guns, wagons, arrowheads, native beadwork and photos of native tribes and even early settler’s homes.

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Just east of Billings is Pompey’s Pillar, a National Park. The park boasts a signature of William Clark from the Lewis and Clark expedition. A nice museum came first exhibiting items from the expedition when Lewis and Clark explored this area and the Yellowstone River. Exiting the museum you can follow the trail and climbed a steep flight of 215 stairs to the observation deck to see where Custer’s troops protected the railroad surveyors 60 years after the Lewis and Clark expedition.

One of the noteworthy sights at Pompey’s Pillar are the signatures that the early visitors carved into the side of the stone, most noteworthy being the name of William Clark, protected behind Plexiglas. We walked the path near the pillar to find a stone slab replica of the Clark signature and also petroglyphs and pictographs for handicapped persons to see who are unable to climb the steps. The large stone pillar is named after Sacagawea’s son that Clark nicknamed “Pomp” or Pompey. Sacagawea was the Shoshone woman who helped Lewis and Clark. She and her husband Toussaint Charbonneau, a French Canadian, travelled with the expedition from Fort Mandan.

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After completing the tour of Pompey’s Pillar we continued on into the city of Billings, Montana, and continued to the bluff overlooking town called Rimrocks. The Billings airport is set on the rim so that airplanes slowed above us to land on the runway across the street. The Rim Rock is an area that was part of a great inland sea 80 million years ago that once covered an area from the present-day Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic north. Some areas of the sandstone cliffs are nearly 1400 feet high. A river much larger than the current Yellowstone river carved a canyon to create the rim rocks.

 

Theodore Roosevelt National Park – National Parks Road Trip – Day 5

Heading futher west from Bismarck we stopped in New Salem, North Dakota, we saw Sue, the world’s largest Holstein cow. The larger-than-life statue stands atop a rise overlooking fields of grain. We stood under Sue shivering in our shorts as a cold temperature of 42 degrees hit while we watched the sun appear above the horizon.

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Another hour west and we arrived at the visitor center for the Teddy Roosevelt National Park where Margi, the park ranger, was very helpful providing maps and directions. From the visitor center we hiked the Painted Canyon Trail to see the start of the Badlands. This trail, while only a little more than a mile long has numerous drops and rises as you traverse the badlands. While there was plenty of evidence of wildlife in the area, we saw none on this hike, however the interesting erosion patterns of the landscape made the hike worthwhile.

This visitor center also serves as a rest area on I-94, but to see the bulk of the park you must exit the interstate at Medora, and enter the South Unit. After purchasing our annual passes for the National Parks, we headed into the main portion for a day of driving the auto tour loop, interspersed with various hikes.

Our first hike in the South Unit on the Ridgeline Trail and Buck Hill Trail provided another overview of the badlands, as well as a herd of wild horses. Later on the drive we stopped to observe an entire colony of prairie dogs, followed by a group of bison crossing within five feet of our car. By the time we had finished the drive we also came across turkey, coyote, hawks, and eagles.

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Returning to Medora for lunch at the Little Medora Restaurant, named after the nearby river. We tried our first elk burgers; which were excellent though not much different than beef burgers. We spent an hour hanging around the town, as well as a brief visit to an upscale golf course called Bully Pulpit. As with many places in arid areas the lush green golf course seems out of place.

Returning to the park we hiked Wind Canyon Trail and the Boicort Trail. Later we spent more time watching the comical movements of the prairie dogs popping out of their holes in the ground and scurrying about. The prairie dogs seemed curious of the bystanders who stopped to watch them. We again saw bison throughout the day and more wild horses.

Returning back to town we had a dinner of pizza at the Badland Pizza and Saloon where servers from many foreign countries waited tables. After dinner we went back to the Teddy Roosevelt National Park to try to see the elk feeding in the pastures. We did not see elk but raced back to Wind Canyon to watch the sunset over the river. As we climbed the trail to the peak  the sky of deep pinks and peach colors that streaked across the sky and reflected in the river was breathtaking. We spent the entire day taking photos of the colorful sky from dusk to nearly dark.

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On the way back to town we parked to look at stars. As we patiently waited the starts began to appear. The void of electric lights and the distance from town gave us a black background for a picture of stars unlike any we have ever seen. The abundance of stars filled the sky and it was sad to think that we have not had a chance to see these stars before. It was so worth it to stay after dark to check out the stars, seemingly having the park to ourselves.

We returned to the Rough Rider Inn satisfied with a great day in the Badlands.

Northern Minnesota and North Dakota – National Parks Road Trip – Day 4 – Fargo

Our trip west continued with much cooler weather after the previous night’s storms. This was a day to mainly make good time, but find sights along the way – a real Roadside America kind of day, which Northern Minnesota seems to specialize in.

These included  a Giant Muskie and Bald Eagle in Floodwood; a yard full of cement sculptures (Wolf, dog on a leash, cow by a barn, eagle, bison, and more) in someone’s yard in Jacobson, and a giant statue of Paul Bunyan as well as another giant Muskie in Ankeley)

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Along the way we crossed a small creek, or rather the Mississippi River. The Mississippi begins north at this point and is not very wide at the point of our locale.

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Arriving in Moorehead, Minnesota we went to the Norwegian Heritage Center. The highlight of the Center is a replica of a Viking Hjemkomst ship. The ship was built by Bob Asp who dreamt of sailing an ancient ship to Norway. He and his family built the 76 foot replica based on a Viking ship excavated in Norway. Asp died before the ship was completed so his family finished its construction. Then the ship was sent to Duluth, Minnesota so that it can sail from Lake Superior to Norway. The ship is stationed inside the Center.

Also at the center is a replica of a Norwegian church, the church had no pews, worshippers had to stand. The roof is made of wood staves, with the church being made of white pine with expertly carved designs of dragons made of California Redwood and were skillfully carved by Guy Paulson. On the side the church had a leper window, which allowed the infected to attend service and receive a blessing from the reverend without infecting the rest of the congregation.

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Moorehead is just across the river from Fargo, North Dakota. After crossing into Fargo we stopped for lunch at the Old Broadway Restaurant. The building that housed the restaurant was nicely renovated and the food was good.

After lunch we toured downtown Fargo a bit, as well as making a stop at the Fargo Tourist Center to see the wood chipper from the movie “Fargo.” A leg juts out from the hopper of the wood chipper, which I had to pose with!

The Visitor Center has a club for anyone who visits North Dakota as their 50th state. North Dakota is usually the last or least visited so the Center makes a big deal when someone mentions it is the 50th state for them. The Center presents a T-shirt, magnet and certificate, all saying “Best for Last Club,” emblazoned with a silhouette of North Dakota then entered into the book with other members of the special 50th club. North Dakota for me however was number 46.

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In Bismarck, the state capital, we walked around the grounds since the capitol building was closed for the Labor Day holiday. We were able to get into the North Dakota Cultural Heritage Museum for the last fifteen minutes before closing for the day. The museum had fossils that were real and also casted skeletons of dinosaurs. We also saw native history displays. After cruising through town and ate dinner at the Olive Garden. Our meal was not that great but it was the best option available.