Our route today took us from the Rocky Mountains to the Great Plains. When we started this morning the skies were threatening with the clouds hanging over the mountain tops, but before long the rain started. Shouldn’t be a problem driving up to Marias Pass as long as the temperature stays in the upper 40’s or lower 50’s. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for the temperature to plummet as we began to climb to the pass reaching 30-32 F. Once the temperature went down, the rain changed to snow. After several warm days, I wasn’t worried about it accumulating on the road making traction difficult as we had to climb and descend on our route out of the mountains. Before we got to the summit at Marias Pass (Elevation 5,216 ft.), snow started to cover the road on the edges and the signs locating “Chain Up Areas” began to look important. We don’t carry chains. After clearing the summit, and crossing the Continental Divide, the snow began to taper off and to occasionally tune to sleet or rain. Descending from the pass luckily was fairly gradual and there were really no white knuckle grades or curves. The rest of the way conditions alternated among dry pavement, snow flurries, and drizzle. Overall it was a pretty gray and white day.
We stopped for lunch and fuel in Cut bank, MT. Cut Bank has an Amtrak station that is a stop for the Empire Builder that passes by Glacier National Park. The Empire Builder actually runs on the BNSF right of way. When it was established by the Great Northern Railway, it was called the Hi-Line because it was the most northerly rail route across the northwest. There are a lot of business and place names that refer to Hi-Line in their names along US 2.
I always remembered Cut Bank being mentioned on the TV weather segments during the winter as being one of the coldest spots in the country. The town has adopted this claim to fame and advertises it as you enter town from the east with the world’s largest penguin. The penguin statue is 27 feet tall and is made of 10,000 pounds of concrete over a metal frame. It supposedly talks, but we didn’t hear it say anything.
On the way to Cut Bank we passed a historical maker and monument for Camp Disappointment. It was the location of the northernmost campsite of the Lewis and Clark expedition, on its return trip from the Pacific Northwest. The campsite was used by a detachment from the main expedition from July 22–26, 1806. Captain Meriwether Lewis and a group of eight more men were exploring the Marias River in an attempt to show that the Missouri River watershed extended to the 50th parallel north in order to claim more land for the United States under the Louisiana Purchase. They discovered, however, that the watershed did not extend to the 50th parallel and consequently they named their campsite Camp Disappointment. The Great Northern Railway erected the monument In 1925.
As we traveled further on US 2, we passed a metal dinosaur and a sign for the Depot Museum in Rudyard, MT. We were intrigued so we drove into Rudyard “596 Nice People - 1 Old Sore Head” according to the sign. We found the Depot Museum, but it was closed. It’s only open between Memorial Day and Labor Day unless you call ahead. It looked interesting, but it was late in the afternoon and we didn’t feel like waiting for someone to come around. On the way out we saw an auto museum, but it was closed also with a message to call the Depot Museum to have someone let you in. Two strikes in Rudyard and we didn’t even see any of the 596 nice people or the sore head.
We decided to stop in Havre, MT for the night because the next RV park was probably a couple of hours east. We’re at the Harve RV Park and Motel. After we registered we realized it’s located right to the BNSF rail yard with a lot of activity. I hope there are not too many night trains, but I don’t think we’ll be that lucky.
There are two Roadside America attractions in town. In the downtown area there are small grids of purple colored squares in some of the sidewalks used as skylights for a sort of underground "mall" built in the city at least a hundred years ago. This underground area has been host to a brothel, a Chinese Laundromat, a saloon, a drugstore, at least three opium dens, and rooms used for smuggling alcohol during Prohibition. When fire destroyed Havre's business district in 1904, legitimate above-ground businesses joined the illicit businesses operating in the underground while the new brick buildings were built in the streets above. The underground area, now designated "Havre Beneath the Streets", currently operates as a small tourist attraction.
The Wahkpa Chu'gn buffalo jump, or bison kill, is located behind the Holiday Village Shopping Center as you enter town from the west. Over 2,000 years old, it is one of the largest and best preserved buffalo jumps anywhere. In prehistoric times, Indians would drive bison over the edge of the cliff, killing or severely injuring the animals. They then skinned the animals and preserved the meat. It’s now an archaeological site and a small tourist attraction. You get to see actual archaeological excavations, with a 20 foot wall of buffalo bones, buffalo skulls and Native American arrowheads. Unfortunately, as with most other attractions we’ve passed it’s not open until June.