We moved on to northern Montana on Thursday morning. This morning there was a hot air balloon being set up in the front yard area of the RV park – it was fun to watch them set it up and take people up and down. While we were there, they had it tethered and were giving people short rides. We couldn’t stay long enough to see if they were going to go up, up, and away later. In Harrison, we had to stop in the middle of the road while a farmer moved his cattle from one side of the road to the other using a four wheeler. It reminded us of when Fred used to work his cattle with his dirt bike! When we reached the main highway, we just had to stop at Wheat Montana Deli again, since Fred had drooled over the cinnamon rolls when we wert her for lunch the other day – we were conservative and only bought one to share, because they are the size of a luncheon plate! While at the deli, some Hutterite ladies, wearing long blue dresses and prairie bonnets, were selling organic veggies at a roadside stand, so we bought some fresh English peas (sweet enough to eat raw), some zucchini and some tomatoes. We each ate half the cinnamon roll as a mid morning snack while driving past gigantic wheat, alfalfa, potatoes, other unidentified grains, and hay fields. Many of the fields seemed to go on forever! Neither of us had ever seen such enormous fields of grain before! In my head, I kept singing the Who tune “I can see for miles and miles and miles and miles…” We stopped in Helena to buy groceries and after Helena, passed by some pretty striated rock formations, through a canyon, past some more huge hay fields and then along the Missouri River awhile. We were lucky enough to see a bald eagle sitting on her nest near the village of Craig and some rafters enjoying the good weather on the river. At Great Falls, because of a very recent car accident, we were directed off to the service road for several miles. Thank goodness there was one there; most of the highway did not have a service road but since we were near a big town, there was one. After lots more enormous wheat and other grain fields, we arrived in Cut Bank, MT, a small town near the Blackfeet Reservation and east of Glacier National Park. The town is named for the fairly narrow but steep canyon that happens to run right behind our Riverview RV park. It is very pretty, but the winds got kind of big this evening and we wondered if anything ever fell into the canyon – the owner laughed and said the winds do get bad, but not THAT bad!
On Friday, we left for the first of three long days to see attractions that have been on our list since our trip out this way back in 2006. Our primary goal for the day was to visit Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo Jump in Alberta, Canada. This special place is known around the world as a remarkable testimony of prehistoric life. Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is where a custom was practiced by native people of the North American plains for nearly 6000 years. We watched a video that showed us how the First Nations people, because of their excellent understanding of topography and of bison behavior, killed bison by chasing them over a precipice and subsequently carving up the carcasses in the camp below. In 1981, UNESCO designated the jump as a World Heritage Site placing it among other world attractions such as the Egyptian pyramids, Stonehenge and the Galapagos Islands. It is almost always windy here - in fact, we were told it is only calm 14% of the time! We walked to the top of the jump first and looked down, and then hiked all around to the bottom of the jump – although this was the bottom of the jump, we still had to climb quite a bit to get from the plains to the killing area; the jump was right where the mountains meet the prairies. We also enjoyed seeing the way the interpretive center was built right into the cliff in a very interesting manner. The $10 million museum blends unobtrusively into the ancient sandstone cliff; it has five distinct levels explaining the ecology, mythology, lifestyle and technology of Blackfoot peoples. Then it was on to the town of Fort McLeod, which was a “found location” since we never had heard of it before. It turned out to be quite interesting: this is where the Royal Canadian Mounted Police began. At first called the Northwest Mounted Police, this famous red garbed police force was established back in 1873 to bring order to the Canadian west, where the whiskey trade with the First Nations people was totally unregulated and causing problems. They protected the western province and controlled the whiskey trade at nearby Fort Whoop-Up – what a name! It wasn’t a fort at all, but the location where the traders traded rot gut whiskey with the natives. I think we will have to go there on our next trip out west – we want to get to Calgary and Banff as well, but there is no time to get to all those places on one trip. After a guided tour of the reconstructed fort (there are some original buildings, but many have been rebuilt), we enjoyed a demonstration of the traditional “musical ride.” This was not demonstrated by real RCMP, but by people hired for the summer to ride at the fort. They were excellent riders, and the precision riding in many different formations was fun to watch. The day ended up being a 250 mile day; the next two days will also be long but I am sure equally as much fun!