Well, finally it’s moving day so off we go towards Yellowstone. I figured to try to make it to Ennis, Montana for today and then have just a short trip to the park left for another day. Weather has turned quite a bit warmer and as I headed south, it became quite hazy and downright hot, low 90’s.
Took 464 back to Browning, then 89 south to Choteau, where I picked up 287 south to I-15 south to Helena. Route 287 had a 5 or 6 mile stretch of construction where you were traveling on fairly rough gravel detour road, otherwise not a bad road for big rigs. Stopped at the Walmart Super Center in Helena ( easy access right off Exit 192 ), without a doubt the largest, most highly stocked Walmart I have ever been in, and stocked up on staples for the next month of camping in Yellowstone. There is a 5 mile stretch of construction on I-15 as you approach Helena where you are forced to drive on the rumble strip for the entire 5 miles. This zone has several spots where it really gets quite narrow for a big rig and it is a little stressful trying to avoid the freshly sprayed oil and the guard rails while rattling along on the rumble strip.
Stayed on I-15 until I picked up 69 south and then 359 south that once again connected to 287 south and took me to the Ennis Rv Park, right on 287 just short of the small town of Ennis. It was very interesting watching the terrain and geology change as you proceeded south on this route, and, other than the construction zones, the roads were in pretty good shape.
This fairly new RV park turned out to be a very nice place to stop and I probably will stay here a few days to ride out the heat wave. This place is very well thought out, sites are still fairly close, but there is well maintained small grass lawn on each site, a choice of two sewer connections ( for the convenience of different length RV’s, I presume, but a nice touch ), picnic table, actual usable Wifi, a great laundry room, a very friendly and helpful staff, and the absolute cleanest restroom and showers I have seen anywhere. And all this for $33/night with my Good sam discount. The owners obviously take pride in this place. The place is pretty full and there are a lot of what appear to be seasonal rentals, I assume staying here mostly because of the proximity to the ( famous for its trout fishing ) Madison River, since I do see a lot of dories and float boats on trailers in the park.
Made the final push from Chester to Saint Mary’s this morning.
Sunrise Chester, Montana
Had a dramatic sunrise over the little town of Chester where I had a great night’s rest at their “city park”.
More pleasant rolling fields and expanses of wide open spaces along Route 2 between Chester and Glacier National Park.
In spots the view seems to go on forever. Forgive the quality of most of these shots, they are taken through the window of the motorhome as I zip along the highway, very hard to find a place to pull off when I see something interesting!
A fairly large wind farm appears on the south side of the highway after Cut Bank, I should imagine that it is quite productive.
There is pretty steady stream of railroad traffic on the tracks that parallel Route 2 through Montana. This one is most likely heading east to the Bakken to pick up oil.
The weather continues to be in and out, a little sun, a little rain, but tending more to the latter than the former. Stopped in Cut Bank at an Albertsons to stock up on groceries for my stay in Glacier national Park. Took Route 464 north out of Browning ( a depressing looking town where I had a VERY scary experience one night several years ago with some young methed out natives at a gas station on the edge of town) to 89 south down to the Johnsons of St. Mary Campground, where I have stayed before.
Too expensive for my budget, around $40/night, but the people are nice and the view from your campsite is hard to beat, and it is all but impossible to get a site inside the park. Unfortunately today the view consists of only clouds, fog, and mist, can’t even see the mountains across the valley.
Got set up and headed up to Many Glacier around 4 Pm to look for bears.
Didn’t take long to encounter the first bearjam, watching a small blonde grizzly and and single dark cub in a field above the road.
Only a hundred yards up the road, another blonde, almost white small griz munching through the shrubbery, not 100 feet from the road. After joining the crowd and attempting some not so great shots here, the grass and shrubs were a little too high to get any good unobstructed shots here, I headed up the road to a point just past the intersection to the Lodge where an even bigger bearjam had the road blocked.
Here the people were watching a very large grizzly graze his way up the mountainside. He was a long way from the road, but he was BIG, a nice looking brute. Sure would make me hesitate to want to hike in the area.
It was starting to get dark to be able to shoot, so I turned around and headed back home through two more bear jams on my way out of the park. A much more successful little venture into the park than I had anticipated, can’t wait til tomorrow, only wish the weather would improve.
I did manage to get some sleep in the parking lot at Love’s last night. Got started out early for the home stretch through Montana.
Apparently Williston is the hub for the Bakken activity, sure seems like a typical boomtown, lots of construction, motel room monthly rates of $3000, LOTS of modular housing up and going up, lots of “Lodges” for the workers, and everywhere one can be squeezed in, 5th wheels and travel trailers, some not in very good shape. A lot of the worker housing simply looks desperate and depressing, but I am sure the money is good. There seems to be a definite “Wild West “attitude on the roads ( that I am sure also applies to the many bars, clubs, and casinos that have sprung up everywhere ) so I don’t think I would want to be in law enforcement in these here parts.
About 20 miles west of Williston, the oil field craziness starts to peter out and you enter Montana, still oil pads here and there, but the traffic ceases and the road drops back to a two lane highway. Not too far into Montana there is a short 2 mile stretch of serious road construction, widening from two to four lanes a short stretch of Route 2. It is completely torn up, and after the rains, a quagmire of black soup and potholes, slick mud for a couple of miles. Great, I now have a coat of black glaze over my red clay base on my poor Prius.
Ain’t no deer and the antelope playing hereabouts
After that nasty bit of construction, Route 2 through Montana is a flat, some would say boring landscape of farmland, pastureland and small, somewhat depressing forgotten towns. I happen to enjoy the trip, constantly scanning for pronghorn antelope. This 900 mile trip on Route 2 through North Dakota and Montana did not yield even one sighting of deer or antelope. Guess I can figure how the oil rush would drive out any wildlife through North Dakota, but I am curious about the absence here in Montana, as this is the first time ever I have travelled these states without a sighting.
Hit a nasty stretch of pea soup thick fog that had me clutching the steering wheel for 10 miles
but finally the fog lifted, the sun came out and the Route 2 I remembered from years ago reappeared.
Word of warning, fellow RV’ers, you will encounter very few welcoming (meaning appealing) campgrounds or other places to overnight on this long stretch of Montana Route 2. I was growing desperate for a place to stay as I passed through Harve, having already spent a long day on the road. There is a “Rest Area” in Chester, about half way between Harve and Shelby, that is a paved parking lot dead in the center of town, not a terribly welcoming spot.
There happened to be a nice lady mowing the grass around the area on her John Deere, so I asked if people were allowed to overnight there, she said some do, but then nicely directed me to the city park, “city” being her term. Turns out it was a nice quiet gravel parking lot next to the school football field adjacent to the wheat fields at the edge of town, where I managed to spend a pleasant, quiet evening and get some much needed sleep.
Route 2, Turtle River State Park to Williston, North Dakota
Many years ago, on my very first trip west to Glacier National Park, I decided to avoid the Interstates and travel the back roads to better appreciate the local landscapes and small towns on the way. I always remembered Route 2 through North Dakota for its broad expanses of farmland and pastures punctuated by all the many pot hole ponds along the roadside. Grazing cattle, horses and pronghorn antelope, along with many species of ducks, geese, white pelicans, and coots dotting the ponds made the trip memorable, and I have always longed to retrace that route. Today, I did just that.
My advice to all of you out there, do NOT make the same mistake I did today. That Route 2 of distant memory is just that – a distant memory.
This image may look to you like a scene from the great HBO western time piece series Deadwood, but, if you look closer you would recognize it as a stretch of Route 2 today through the small town of Ray.
And this image also is not from Deadwood, but actually is an oil field trucker teaching a poor RV’er some road etiquette ( the Rv’er’s mistake was daring to travel at the speed limit on a 20 mile section of Route 2 limited to two lanes due to construction – I promise I won’t do it again!) .
Wow! I actually was quite aware of the oil boomtown area called the Bakken. In fact, I have a fair amount of my retirement funds invested in companies doing business here, thus I had a natural curiosity about just how big a deal this oil field area really was and wanted to actually see it firsthand. Big mistake! I would advise anyone traveling by RV to avoid Route 2 through this region at all costs. The oil field truckers and workers in their pickups do not seem too anxious to share their road with you, believe me. And you really shouldn’t be too anxious to share it with them either.
I had the misfortune to travel between Minot and Williston during some fairly nasty, rainy weather and my motorhome and Toad look just a little worse than they did many years ago when I drove the Haul Road in Alaska up to Prudoe Bay, about an inch of rich red clay caked entirely over both. When the oil tankers come out of the oil fields along the red clay (dirt) roads and enter Route 2 (without really worrying much about whether an RV may be coming along at 60 mph), they tend to bring quite a bit of the clay with them, especially so on a nice rainy day like today. So, for about a half mile after each intersection with an oil field road, there is about a 3 inch deep slop of red clay soup on the pavement that you have to slip and slide through as you try to brake to avoid rear ending the afore mentioned oil field tanker truck, who is slowly accelerating in front of you and throwing up a bright red spray of this red clay soup to coat your windshield. Really not a fun experience!
Now I realize that oil patch boomtowns are by their very nature chaotic and messy, all the new construction. road building and upgrading are not accomplished without some disruption to the status quo. While approaching Minot, I pulled into a truck stop for gas and figured I had better do a Google map search for where I might be able to spend the night. There are no rest areas or pulloffs along this entire stretch of road, and campgrounds that may have existed prior to the Bakken, now are overrun with oil field workers, so that doesn’t appear to be an option. I Googled for truckstops around Williston, hoping I could safely make it that far in the now heavy downpour.
What I got is shown here below.
Now, I don’t know when Google actually took this satellite shot, obviously some time ago, Maybe a year ago, or two or three. The balloon shows a Love’s Truckstop. The image shows entirely something else, I believe it is an oil pump and storage pad.! I hoped that the truckstop actually was there and the satellite image was just a little outdated.
Arriving at the intersection shown on the map, I can say for certain that the image was a little outdated. After waiting over 4 minutes at the intersection’s traffic light to cycle through so I could make my left turn onto the road to the new Love’s, I drove the 100 yards or so to the auto entrance to Love’s, circled the large parking lot, and, unable to find a place to stop, left, went another 200 yards down the road to the “truck ONLY” parking area, circled this LARGE truck parking area, and exited that also, just too crowded and a little intimidating with absolutely no other RV’ers there and that forbidding “trucks only” sign. Down the hill a little I spied what at first looked like another desperate possibility, a very large truckers’ hotel and parking area where i spied a few motorhomes and travel trailers. Driving down, I could see the pavement end and a sea of soup begin where the aforementioned vehicles were parked in what turned out to be numbered spaces, obviously long term oil field hands spaces.
Just across the road from Love’s there is a large housing complex (for workers probably), maybe a hundred or so small separate metal units, kind of like a cross between a small mobile home and a Quonset hut, The entire complex is surrounded with a six foot security fence and gated. Above that complex is a huge temporary storage arena with rows of low slung metal storage buildings. And on the Google map, all that shows here is a small undeveloped equipment parking lot.
Instead of horses, cattle, and wildlife, the only thing you notice along the route today are the oil field pads, with their storage tanks, gas flareoffs, and pumps, and there are a lot of them. Hey, I guess i’m glad that we are getting that oil here rather than from the Mideast, and this new American oil boom may be about all that just might save our bacon from our greedy, short sighted, money printing selves ( I said “may be”, I can hope, can’t I?).
The final word, forget Route 2, take the Interstate, it actually, definitely, will be more scenic. And faster. And cleaner, too.