Sunday, August 19, 2012

West Coast Adventure - Day 5

The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plains...

The Great Plains. Montana's High Plains. Big Sky. Is it possible for something to be so awesome and beautiful that it just gets boring? Maybe it's just overwhelming in an underwhelming sense of the word.

To be clear, I'm not disappointed...this is the US-2 I was expecting. It's every sense of the word. The highway slims back down to a petite two lanes not long after you leave Williston, North Dakota. It's well maintained and the speed limit during the day is 70; once you get out here, you know would be dumb to set it any lower.

I'll take this moment to give props to the drivers of Montana. In the nearly 300 miles I spent on US-2 in your state today, I don't think I was ever tailgated once. I was passed quite a bit because I was typically only doing 60 to 65. Most of the folks with Montana plates on their vehicles would pull over to pass while they were still a good 6 to 10 cars lengths behind me and wouldn't pull back in until there were 6 to 7 in front of me. I wish the idiots in Michigan could figure out how to do that, instead of riding 10 feet off my back bumper and "wishing me faster." If traffic was coming from the opposite direction, the Montana drivers would just hang back at a safe distance until it was clear to pass. No muss, no fuss.

Driving this section of US-2 is one long drink of prairie. There are a few trees, but very few. Mostly it's just grass, wheat, or hay and livestock. There was a point, not long after I left Malta, where I realized there were more trees, a lot more trees, and the population seemed a little more dense. It took me a few minutes to realize it was because the highway had wandered into the valley. The hills could still be seen off in the distance to both the north and the south, but I was now traveling in the plain between the hills in the watershed where the Milk River flows. I can only surmise, based on my liberal arts education, that the presence of a constant water source accounts for the trees and the population. It was a refreshing change of pace from the grasslands.

I found that it's not unusual to see farm equipment sitting forlornly out in the middle of land that doesn't look like it's been farmed in a very long time. A tractor, a harvester, etc. Just sitting there as if the farmer got out of the seat one day, walked away, and never came back...maybe that's exactly what happened. I was half tempted to stop and wander out to one of these steel monuments and see if the keys had been left in the ignition.

While we're talking about Montana, let's put a certain myth about the availability of gasoline to bed. It's just not true. If you run out of gas out here, it's because you're an idiot. I think the longest stretch I can remember going between gas stations is about 40 to 45 miles. And, yes, I did see one idiot pulled off to the side of the road about 5 miles out of Wolf Point, buying a can of gas from someone, at what was probably an exorbitant mark up. There's no excuse for running out of gas on this highway...aside from sheer incompetence.

To keep things interesting while you travel this route, there are Historical Points at regular intervals along the roadway. Typically it's just a large sign, posted at the side of the highway in a small area where you can pull off and read it without even getting out of your car (or off your bike.) Lots of history out in this barren land, mostly dealing with the military, native Americans, and trading posts. Once you get to Havre, you can even take a tour of the place where the native Americans ran buffalo off a cliff...which was a lot easier way to hunt them than with bows, arrows, and spears. Here's the view from Buffalo Jump, just west of town.

Buffalo Jump in Havre, Montana
Speaking of buffalo, I had enough time to investigate a member of the local fauna today...the mighty hayffalo. I noticed small herds of hayffalo almost immediately upon entering Montana. I saw them mostly in groups of anywhere from 30 to 50 animals. I wasn't long before the herds started getting bigger. At one point there were so many hayffalo to be seen on the prairie I was unable to even guess at their numbers, the herd must have numbered in the thousands. These portly beasts, with their immense girth, appear to be very slow moving, which is probably a good thing, considering the size of the herd. When I stopped to take a few pictures, I also found them to be exceptionally quite. Aside from the occasional passing car, the hayffalo live a peaceful existence listening to the crickets and the wind blowing through the prairie grass. From time to time I noticed what must be the nesting sites of the haffalo; they appear to bed down in large piles, sometimes two and three animals deep. I'm guessing this may be an attempt to keep warm when the temperature drops 40 to 50 degrees at night. Should you choose to travel through Montana keep your eyes peeled and enjoy the land of the stately hayffalo.

Herd of hayffalo grazing just west of the Montana/North Dakota state line.
And that my friends is what you have time to think up while you're traveling through the High Plains of Montana. :)

West Coast Adventure - Day 5

The route so far
Tomorrow is another day and another road. :)


  1. Glad to hear I'm not the only one who found some boredom on beautiful open roads. When I did the Natchez Trace earlier this year, it was a gorgeous road through woods for 400 miles. But it was the same gorgeous road through woods for 400 miles. A bit boring at times, and to be honest, a bit mesmerizing as well. Without something different to see, to give me a mental break, I found it difficult to get a sense of how much time, or how many miles, were clicking by.

    I'm enjoying following along on this trip. My next one is likely a loop around the Great Lakes next year.

    --pbryon on VR

  2. You'll have to let me know when you do the Great Lakes trip. That might be a good one to join someone on. :)



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Chad Cole