Great American Road Trip- Part 8

Friday, August 4 ~ MT (740 Miles)

East Glacier Park Village, MT; Choteau, MT; Great Falls, MT; Helena, MT; Butte, MT; Bozeman, MT; Billings, MT; Miles City, MT; Glendive, MT

Saturday, August 5 ~ MT-ND-MN (619 Miles)

Glendive, MT; Theodore Roosevelt National Park; Dickinson, ND; Bismarck, ND; Fargo, ND; St. Cloud, MN; Minneapolis, MN

On my last night in Glacier, I wake up in the middle of the night, draw the curtains back, and there above the mountains is a blood red moon. This has been quite a journey to the west coast and back again, to loving family and friends, kind strangers, and thousands of miles of scenery. It’s been a journey through my past, present, and future. A journey through past lives and bitter regrets, childhood memories and dreams forgotten. It is a solitary pilgrimage of closure, an end to many things.

I am finished. I will coast home. These are travel days not sightseeing days. I had planned to visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota but I am just too exhausted. Forget touring, I need rest. The climb to scenic point whipped me out and resulted in an impressive case a heat rash on my legs. Over the boot cuff under my socks are the worst of the red, blotchy, itchy welts. It will take days to heal but as I head home to my office worker life, it will at least get no worse. I have a final breakfast with my niece and her husband and I am on my way.

I do a dumb thing. I drive south to Butte then east to Billings. It adds roughly 3 hours and 250 miles to my trip. Gee whiz, what was I thinking?!? Well, I was not thinking. This is what can happen when you are overtired and travelling alone. You make lousy decisions with lousy consequences and no one is there to stop you. You get tired of driving rural highways and want to stick to the easy-breezy interstates. You forget the shrunken scale of the maps for the western states, that one inch on the Montana map is equal to 30 miles, not 22 miles like the Minnesota map.

I need to stay on Highway 89 but I take Interstate-15 instead. I had traveled Highway 2 across the northern part of the state previously and wanted to try a different route. Well, it surely was very different and though foolish, it was not dangerous. This was probably the ‘worst’ thing that happened on the entire 15-day, 4,500-mile trip and if so, bless it. Let it serve as a warning to weary travelers. ‘Get-home-ities’ is a real thing and can have disastrous consequences. Rest, take it easy, and live another day.

I stop in Billings for dinner and finally have cell service again. By this time, I realize what I have done and know that I am not going to make it to North Dakota as planned. I call ahead to a chain hotel in Glendive, MT (another 220 miles east) to reserve a room. I felt if I could get in by 10pm I’d be OK but I didn’t want to have to search for a vacancy. I did not count on sunset attracting swarms of bugs, deer, and drunk drivers. It was nerve wracking but I arrived safely and smeared in bug guts.

I took two days to drive from East Glacier Park Village, MT to Minneapolis, MN. On Friday I drove highway 2 east to Browning, to highway 89, to I-15 south, to I-90 east, to I-94 east. I stayed on I-94 all the way home to Minneapolis on Saturday. Here are some highlights of the journey home:


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Just south of Dupuyer, MT on highway 89 you will come upon vast fields of sunflowers. Though I was anxious to make good time (ha!), I could not resist pulling over to admire the breathtaking view of thousands of sunflowers growing before the Rocky Mountain Front. According to Wikipedia, the sunflower was first domesticated in the southeastern US roughly 5000 years ago. A common misconception is that flowering sunflower heads track the Sun across the sky. Although immature flower buds exhibit this behavior, the mature flowering heads are fixed most often pointing east throughout the day. Sunflower crops are mostly processed for sunflower oil.


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About nine miles south of Cascade, MT there is a random scenic overlook that you can access only from I-15 southbound. There is a sign for St. Peter’s Mission Church and Cemetery which was founded in the 1860s by the Jesuits. What is strange is that the sight of the mission is actually ten miles north of Cascade, twenty miles from the scenic overlook. There was a mysterious walkway that led south along the fast-moving interstate, separated only by concrete highway barrier walls from the semi-trucks zooming past. Naturally I took this walkway which led to a mysterious staircase with about 40 steps up and around a giant rock. From this hidden overlook was an incredible panoramic view of the Missouri river which you can see at the very top of this blog post.


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If you are travelling south from I-15 to east I-90, make sure you have enough gas to go about another fifty miles because you will bypass Butte and the next gas station is thirty miles away. I speak from experience. There is a scenic overlook just north of the interchange where you can observe the unusual integration of mining into the urban landscape. According to Wikipedia, in 1920 Butte had a population of 60,000 and in its heyday, was one of the largest and most notorious copper boomtowns in the American West, home to hundreds of saloons and a famous red-light district. The Berkeley Pit is a former open pit copper mine located in Butte. It is one mile long by half a mile wide with an approximate depth of 1,780 feet. It closed in 1982 but before then had produced enough copper to pave a four-lane highway four inches thick from Butte to Salt Lake City (about 450 miles).


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In case you didn’t know, there are badlands in North Dakota too! I am always on the way to somewhere else when I pass by Theodore Roosevelt National Park so I have yet to really explore it. But I do take the time to stop at the Painted Canyon visitors center to marvel at the same rugged beauty that inspired President Theodore Roosevelt’s work in conservation of natural resources and federal protection of land and wildlife. There is a herd of bison that sometimes grazes in the parking lot so watch out! According to Wikipedia, Roosevelt first came to the North Dakota badlands to hunt bison in September 1883. During that first short trip, he got his bison and fell in love with the rugged lifestyle and the “perfect freedom” of the West.


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I have to be honest- on the 619-mile drive from Glendive, MT to Minneapolis, MN I only stopped three times: Theodore National Park for brief sightseeing; Bismark, ND for lunch, where I made up the weather report when I was asked if was going to rain later; and Fargo, ND for gas and the last long john in the donut case. I was so ready to be home and when I drove into town with that spectacular view of Minneapolis lit up to the east and the sunset colored sky to the west, I knew to the core of my being that yes, I was home at last. But I didn’t drive to my apartment. I went immediately to the local pizza parlor for a large Hawaiian pizza and a tall glass of beer. Hey, that Fargo donut did not go far.

What an adventure. What a once in a lifetime trip. What a lucky, lucky girl I am.

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, October 2017

Also See:
Great American Road Trip- Part 1
Great American Road Trip- Part 2
Great American Road Trip- Part 3
Great American Road Trip- Part 4
Great American Road Trip- Part 5
Great American Road Trip- Part 6
Great American Road Trip- Part 7

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