Day Four

June 2, 2007

Dickinson, ND to Great Falls, MT

We called the stable first thing and learned that the first ride of the day would start at 12:30 PM. Since it wouldn't be finished until 2 PM and I wanted to get to Great Falls tonight, we canceled. As we drove out of Dickinson, we passed the Donut Hole, which had a sign advertising birthday donuts. Since it was indeed my birthday, I took that as an omen that we should stop. I didn't get the "birthday donuts," but I had two very good jelly donuts. And as you would expect, in North Dakota they are called bismarcks!

                   

We ate in the car on the way toward Montana. But first I wanted to stop at Painted Canyon, a section of Theodore Roosevelt National Park adjacent to a rest area on I-94. Since the sky was clear, I hoped to get more colorful pictures of the badlands than I did yesterday.

       

       

Here is a panoramic view of Painted Canyon.

Click here for an extra-large (982 KB) version.

I didn't know any Montana musicians, so I picked out something that sounded suitably " western." Tom Russell is one of my favorite songwriters, and we listened to a great concert he did with former sidekick Andrew Hardin.The first sizable town in Montana was Glendive. We stopped there for gas because we were headed out into sparsely populated rural counties. I didn't know it at the time, but I learned that this dinosaur represents a controversy in Glendive.

Glendive is home to Makoshika Dinosaur Museum, part of the Montana Dinosaur Trail (represented poorly on this map). But Glendive soon also will be home to Glendive Dinosaur & Fossil Museum. The latter intends to explain the dinosaurs from a creationist point of view (it's a trend), claiming that most popular natural history museums neglect " the scientific facts... that insist upon creation and absolutely demolish evolutionism’s nonsense." I don't know which museum this particular dinosaur represents, but since it's new I suspect it may be in conjunction with the creationist museum.

We left Glendive and I-94 to cross eastern Montana on desolate MT 200 (hmm, there's a reason Montana's ZIP abbreviation is M-T). Railroad tracks paralleled the highway for a while, but they ended in Brockway. I saw at least seven artistic anti-methamphetamine displays throughout Montana. I wondered if they had some sort of contest for them, and it turns out they did. This over-the-top artwork may or may not be working, but I couldn't help photographing it.

Quite unexpectedly, we found an awesome, new rest area on MT 200. It had private bathrooms, four or five for each gender. A computerized voice gave the weather forecast continuously; my wife thought it sounded creepy. We met a couple traveling from Iowa in an RV while we were there. On the way out, I got confused. Well, it wasn't my fault -- someone from MDT erected a sign for U.S. 200 instead of MT 200!*

We continued west past another anti-meth message.

We stopped for lunch in Winnett, a tiny ranching town of 176 people. Surprisingly for its size, Winnett had several bars and two grocery stores. Obviously the town draws a much greater number of people than its population suggests. There is not another town within 35 miles as the crow flies (often much further by car since roads are sparse). By the way, Montana is so large yet sparse that the state highway map shows which towns have gas stations, hospitals, and even ambulance service. Our lunch consisted of burgers and fries at the Kozy Korner Cafe & Bar. Although I didn't care for the stale, smoky bar atmosphere (before I could check whether the cafe area was open, my wife had already sat down at the bar), the food was excellent.

       

While my wife looked for something in a grocery store, I walked around town and took a few pictures. There's the " W" along the bluff as painted on the Kozy Korner sign.

       

And of course, the requisite anti-meth mural:

Outside of town, we saw another meth sign. I could have cropped this to show the sign better, but those clouds are too awesome to cut out.

At U.S. 87 we turned south for about 45 miles to join U.S. 12. It's always strange to drive in the western states on highways that run through Illinois where the scenery isn't nearly as interesting. Ryegate is one of several small towns along U.S. 12. Although it lies in the valley of a modest river to the south, a bluff rises north of town. And once again, there is a meth mural.

       

Apparently, Ryegate's claim to fame is their annual celebration of bull balls. The first photo is for the illustration. The second is to show that someone in Ryegate actually knows how to spell testicle (though that's an old sign for 2006, a 2007 sign was on the front). "Nuttin' but fun!"

       

Wait, there's more! I found a song about it online:

Who needs meth when there are calf nuts to eat?

We recently read The Cowboy Way: Seasons of a Montana Ranch by David McCumber,  a book about modern ranching set near White Sulphur Springs (mini-review: ranching is a lot of work, and it never lets up), so we had to visit the town. Like most North Dakota and Montana towns, it had a lot of bars per capita.

       

The Meagher County Courthouse in White Sulphur Springs was fairly bland, but for some reason I took a picture.

By now it was late afternoon. After refueling in White Sulphur Springs, we took U.S. 89 north over Kings Hill Pass. It was a pretty drive through Lewis and Clark National Forest, but I didn't take any pictures. Then we joined U.S. 87 for a relatively boring run into Great Falls.

I would like to say something nice about Great Falls, but I can't. As we were driving through, my wife commented, "This looks like a really Republican town." I agreed, comforting her by saying we'd be in lefty Missoula the next night. Before we reached out motel, we patroled the main streets of the city looking for a good place to eat. After all, it was my birthday. Alas, there are few if any good restaurants there despite it being the third largest city in Montana (with a whopping 56,000 people!). We ordered a Papa John's pizza in our motel room.

My knowledge of Great Falls began with a song John Denver performed called "Saturday Night in Toledo, Ohio" (written by Randy Sparks) about spending a dull evening with " two lonely truckers from Great Falls, Montana and a salesman from places unknown." I can't speak for the salesman, but the truckers definitely weren't missing anything at home while they were sitting in the bakery in Toledo watching the buns rise. Heck, I once spent a Thursday night in Toledo that was better than this Saturday night in Great Falls.

 

*This route has been the subject of confusion in the past because state route 200 connects through Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, and Minnesota, but according to this site (scroll to bottom), it has never been a formal U.S. highway. Regardless, a Google search for "US Highway 200" shows a number of businesses and even government entities in those states calling the state route a U.S. route.

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