Posts Tagged With: Missouri River

Great Falls to Glacier

Great Falls of the Missouri River

Our journey continues northwest, as we head out from Great Falls toward St. Mary to camp in Glacier National Park.  Leaving Great Falls we had to find our way to the Missouri River again, but this time we wanted a view of at least one of the 7 falls through town.  Our map wasn’t very clear about their location, so we stopped at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and had a nice view of Black Eagle falls and the dam. Lots of gulls and ducks on the river, but a new addition for us was the white pelican.  Cool.

white pelicans

White pelicans

Grocery store for sale

And the local bar, too

Comes with a convenient bathroom


The road out of town, heading to Browning, Montana was a decent road that traversed the high plains through lots of hayfields and small towns like Fairfield, Coteau and Bynum.  Gosh, the general store in one was for sale along with the local pub and four outbuildings (looked like maybe the whole town).

One of many grain elevators

Cute farming towns, but gosh the shopping must be tough. As we crossed the hayfields a fawn popped across the road in front of us, but we avoided disaster this time.  On through Blackfeet Tribal Lands into Browning and we started on the last stretch of road before the east entrance to the park.  But, woah!  Serious road construction meant the nice paved 2-lane just stopped and became total gravel.  The roadway for a good 6 miles or more was being scooped up, ground up and moved around, with much of it a one lane, follow-the-pilot-vehicle, bouncy mess.  That was not fun in the motorhome towing an already damaged car.

Glacier approach

But the approach road to Glacier got better and the view became jaw-dropping.  Unimaginably tall mountains loomed, with others standing behind broad “U” shaped valleys.  Like nothing I have ever seen before.  Unfortunately, a wildfire burning on the western side of the park has most everything shrouded in haze, but it is still impressive.

Campsite in St. Marys

Campsite is in an open field surrounded by aspens, spruce and lots and lots of berry bushes.  We were given firm instructions on food storage, told about the bear safe boxes around camp and that grizzlies do frequent the campground.  Well of course, with all those serviceberry bushes, chokecherry bushes and ripe rose hips around. So we kept a cautious eye, but once we saw how darn busy the camp was (cars coming and going all night, it seemed), we were less concerned.

Lots to do tomorrow.

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Badlands: Prairie Sandcastles

Badlands vista

If someone dropped you here blindfolded, then said to open your eyes, you would probably think you were on some alien planet.  It is a strange landscape.  What the Lakota Indians called mako sica and early pioneers just called the bad lands, can be a wonderful experience for today’s adventurers.  After all, we don’t actually have to guide our horses and provisions down steep slopes and rocky ravines, we simply have to follow the scenic loop road through the park.

Down to the Missouri River

We arrived in Badlands National Park after leaving Mitchell and the famous Corn Palace.  On the banks of the Missouri River we stopped at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center to learn about their trip up the Missouri River for President Jefferson.  Also on the banks of the river was the tribute statue Dignity.  There was a definite change in the landscape as we moved further west across the grasslands and prairies, with crops of sunflowers, millet, and flax and less corn.  Spotted a small herd of pronghorn along the way.

Dignity sculpture

Rest stop tipi sculpture

As we drove into the park, we began to see the wall, an eroded landscape of rock and silt that is the edge between a northern prairie of higher elevation and a much lower prairie leading to the White River (aptly named due to the light color of the sediment it contains).  All of it used to be an ancient seabed, so the layers of silt, sand and ash are subjected to wind and water erosion, leaving behind a landscape that looks like giant sandcastles.  It’s hard to believe it doesn’t just collapse on itself, but with only 16 inches of rainfall a year, these hills have baked into a hard rock known as popcorn rock.

Backdrop to our campsite

Our campground is below the wall in the area called Cedar Pass.  We have the backdrop of scraggy brown peaks behind us and flat open prairie in front of us.  What a sight!  Before the day was done, we hiked some short trails to view the landscape and took the longer stairway trail along one face of the wall at Cedar Pass.


Back in camp we had a nice breeze and were glad the temperature dropped from the low 90s to 65 or less.  We relaxed with a few adult beverages, grilled the last of the fresh corn from Minnesota and tucked in under the covers.

Foggy start to the day

Next day was an early start, thanks to Kodi.  As we move west, now in the mountain time zone, he seems to wake closer to 5 am.  Argh.  But it gave us time to get ready for more hiking – besides, a bank of fog rolled in and we had a light drizzle to start the day.  Great hiking weather to try two trails before it got too hot and sunny.  The Notch Trail is a mile and a half round trip across the sandy rock ledges to get a view of the White River valley from behind Cedar Pass.  It involves a trail ladder of sorts that is a one-at-a-time ascent or descent.  Some narrow edges and steep slopes made it a tricky hike at times, but it was truly a strange landscape.  Reminded both of us of Arches NP and Zion NP.

You can see the ladder climb in the distance

The ladder climb

Driving west on the loop a bit further we stopped for the Saddle Pass Trail.  

Saddle pass

Saddle Pass

This one was half as long, but much steeper and one with lots of loose sand and gravel underfoot.  But the view and the challenge were definitely worth it.  

Golden Eagle

Bighorn sheep

Prairie dogs

Down from our climb we continued west on the loop road through the jagged landscape.  We spotted another herd of pronghorn and two large groups of bighorn sheep.  Also caught a golden eagle circling overhead.  The photo isn’t as crisp as I would like, but it sure does evoke the paintings of thunderbirds by the Native Americans.  Probably the most entertaining were the several prairie dog villages we saw.  At first you thought you were looking at large ant mounds in the grass, but soon noticed the critters pop out of their holes and whistle out a warning.  Off they went to gather grasses and bring them back to the den, tails upright as they ran.  

Ahh.. the Jackalope

Last stop before camp was in Wall, the home of the famous Wall Drug Store.  Probably has twice the roadside signs than Rock City.  Kind of a strange collection of western wear, Native American art, souvenirs and whatnot.  Of course, this is where you find the jackalope, stuffed and mounted for you to take home.  But we only bought some of the recommended maple-glazed donuts that certainly did taste awesome.  Across the street was the Badlands Bar, with cold beer on tap calling out to us.  I had a local brew with a Brunch Burger.  Lesson learned here: a fried egg on a juicy burger with onions, hashbrowns and cheese sounds like a good idea, but it is waaaay too drippy.  The beer helped, though.  Dinner tonight might just be PB&J.

Sunset over Badlands

Tomorrow we strike camp and head to nearby Custer State Park for more wildlife sightings and exploring  as the adventure continues. . .

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