Day 4 Summary
Glendive, Montana to Billings, Montana
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
Glendive turned out to be a pleasant oasis in the far eastern portion of Montana. I use the term oasis because the city is built in a lush valley along the Yellowstone River. Just out of the valley, and within viewing distance to anyone in the city, is a parched landscape full of buttes and badlands.
The badlands that encircle Glendive are on full display at Makoshika State Park on the city’s southeast side. The park has achieved a bit of notoriety among geologists and paleontologists. The former enjoy studying the many unique layers of rock that years of erosion have exposed and the latter enjoy unearthing the dinosaur fossils that are hidden within the rocks.
As for me, I enjoyed photographing the beautiful views from the badlands that make up the park. For $6.95, I also picked up an interesting DVD that documents the forces of nature that have shaped the present-day look of the park.
After Glendive, the next big city is Miles City, 76 miles away. In between are the small towns of Fallon and Terry. Fallon had a bar and a post office, but, aside from that, not much else. Terry, on the other hand, had a relatively busy downtown and a nice museum operated by the local historical society.
Interstate 94 closely follows the Yellowstone River for the 221 miles between Glendive and Billings. Like I said before, the valley created by the Yellowstone is quite lush; the soil is good enough for deciduous trees and farm crops to grow. Outside of the valley, particularly between Glendive and Forsyth, is an incredibly dry landscape consisting mostly of sagebrush, cacti, and various other types of desert vegetation.
However, once the road passes Forsyth, the landscape changes a bit. Between the small city of 1,944 and Billings, the hills surrounding the valley begin to support modest coniferous forests. Now, of course, coniferous trees are always good sources of fuel for wildfires during times of dry weather. Although there weren’t any wildfires burning near the Interstate when I went through, charred, blackened trees and grass along the roadside made it readily apparent that there were some quite serious fires just days before. According to reports I later read in the Billings Gazette, the eastbound lanes of Interstate 94 had to be closed down at one point because there were actively burning fires so close to them.
The area between Glendive and Billings has a connection to the famed Lewis & Clark expedition of the early 19th century, in that William Clark used the Yellowstone River to travel through the area on the expedition’s return leg during the summer of 1806 (Meriwether Lewis traveled on the Missouri River and met up with Clark at the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers near present-day Williston, North Dakota).
Along the way, Clark stopped and carved his name – along with a date of July 25, 1806 – into a large rock easily visible along the shore of the Yellowstone River. Today, the rock is a historical monument known as Pompey’s Pillar. Clark’s signature, which is still quite readable in the soft sandstone the rock consists of, has thankfully been preserved for future generations to see.
Had I visited Pompey’s Pillar only one day later, I would have found myself in the midst of a large celebration and gathering taking place at the site to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the day Clark visited the area. Although I didn’t get to take part in the celebration, I did think it was a pretty neat coincidence that I happened to visit the pillar almost 200 years to the exact day that William Clark did.
From Pompey’s Pillar, Billings was about 30 miles away. It was here, in the biggest city in Montana, that I spent the night of day 4 of my vacation.
The entrance sign to Makoshika State Park
The following thirteen photos are scenes within Makoshika State Park - I have provided captions where necessary
Thick groves of pine trees grow on the eastern slopes of many of the hills of the park - five bonus points if anybody can tell me why only on the eastern side
There are a few places where pine trees can be seen growing directly in the sandstone boulders that are scattered around the park - as this photo illustrates, pine trees can thrive in the poorest of growing conditions
Buds on a juniper tree
Erosion has caused some of the hills to become nothing but large rocks with "tables" on them
When I say Glendive is like an oasis, this is what I mean - that's the city down there surrounded by green
This is the extent of downtown Fallon - the red building is the post office, the white building is abandoned, and the green building is a bar/cafe
Judging by all the signs in just about every small town in Montana, meth is a big problem in the region
Hathaway was a fine example of a forgotten, abandoned town on the range - this building, which looks like it could have been a schoolhouse, was, with the exception of the one house in town still inhabited, the only structure not burnt to the ground or blown over by wind
There's a rest area along the westbound lane of Interstate 94 that provides a spectacular view of the Yellowstone River and the surrounding valley
Here's a farm in the Yellowstone River valley
That's William Clark's signiture inside the well-secured box on Pompey's Pillar
All of the tents are set up in preparation for the 200th anniversary celebration at the pillar
The following three photos are views from the top of Pompey's Pillar. I would have liked to have stayed longer, but there was a crazy woman from Oregon acting as a self-appointed security guard at the top.
The pillar was also the place where helicopters fighting nearby wildfires would fill up with water
Low-grade camcorder picture:
Makoshika State Park