Fort Peck and surrounding area

So we drove on passing yellow waves of grain and rolling hills.  When we got to Glasgow we took Hwy 24 south to Fort Peck.  Now this is an engineering feat beyond comparison. Fort Peck Reservoir was authorized in 1933 by President Franklin Roosevelt as a major project of the Public Works Administration which was part of his New Deal Program.  Construction began the next year on the town which was needed to house the workers, who were coming in droves to this area to seek work.  The actual dam was completed in 1940 and began generating power in July 1943.  The dam at 21,026 feet in length and over 250 feet in height, is the largest hydraulically filled dam in the United States, and creates Fort Peck Lake, the fifth largest man-made lake in the U.S., more than 130 miles long, 200 feet deep, and it has a 1,520-mile shoreline which is longer than the state of California’s coastline. When you drive up to it after looking at all the fields of grain and hills, you think you are looking at an ocean next to a mountain which is the dam.  It was built by redirecting the mighty Missouri River.  Check out:

Margaret Bourke-White took a photo of the spillway under construction and it appeared on the cover of the first issue of Life Magazine in September 1936.  Here is our shot looking back to the west from on top.  This project was a life saver for many families at the time the nation was recovering from the Depression and the Dust Bowl.  At one time there were over 10,000 people working in this area or in surrounding boom towns.  In September 1938 there was a major disaster and part of the dam and spillway collapsed taking workers and equipment with it.  Eight men died in all and six are still entombed in the dam.

We drove down past the small town of Fork Peck to the COE Downstream Campground and were lucky to get one night there as it was Thursday and they fill up on the weekends.  One of the nicest places we have stayed in weeks withover 86 big sites and lots of grass and trees, although they only have electrical. So we parked and then did “a drive around to see what’s here”.  Part of the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Preserve is here and we saw 3 buffalo resting.  Then we drove up on the spillway to see the monuments to deceased workers.  Came back, had a cocktail, ate supper and got a good night’s sleep.  Another amazing day in our travels.

Havre, MT for breakfast

Next morning we drove on into Havre and ate breakfast at 4Bs Restaurant on the main drag.  4B’s Restaurants, Inc. owns and operates restaurants in Montana and New Mexico.  The company, through its subsidiary, also packs and distributes beef and pork products.  4B’s Restaurants, Inc. was founded in 1947 and is based in Missoula so it is pretty much a mainstay in Montana towns.  They are famous for their Tomato Soup but since we had just had breakfast we had to pass this up.  But here is the recipe and it sounds yummy!

4 B’s Tomato Soup

Serves/Makes:   12

4 B's Tomato Soup Recipe photo by: Phandango Click image to view


32 ounces canned diced tomatoes

9 ounces chicken broth

1 ounce butter

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon chopped onion

1 pinch baking soda

2 cups cream


Mix together every thing but cream, and simmer 1 hour. Heat cream in double boiler, add cream to hot tomato mixture
Recipe Source: 4 B’s Restaurant in Havre, Montana

There is also had a Ford dealership in Havre so we picked up some DEF fluid for the truck.  According to locals, it is pronounced “Have her” as in you can have her, I don’t want her.  It is said to be named after Le Havre in France.  Founded in 1893, Havre with a population of 9310 is the eighth-largest city in Montana, and the largest city in the Montana section of the Hi-Line.  The Hi-Line is a geographical term referring to the portion of the northern United States south of the Canadian border along which runs the main line of the BNSF Railway and U.S. Highway 2.  With the nearest major city, Great Falls, about 120 miles to the south, Havre serves as a medical and business center for the Montana section of the Hi-Line.  U.S. Highway 87 has its northern terminus at Havre. U.S. Highway 2, running east-west, is the city’s main street.  The largest employers are Northern Montana Hospital, Montana State University – Northern, and the BNSF Railway. Throughout much of the twentieth century, BNSF was the most prominent employer in the city, but the rail company scaled back its workforce in Havre in the 1990s.  The Milk River (tributary of the Missouri River) runs through the town, and the Bear’s Paw Mountains can be seen to the south.

Small grids of purple colored glass squares can be seen in some of the sidewalks in the downtown area (on the north side of the city).  These are skylights for a sort of underground “mall” built in the city at least a hundred years ago.  Throughout its history, 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.  At that time mostly Asians who had come to work on the railroad were found living and working below the streets.  The underground area, now designated “Havre Beneath the Streets”, currently operates as a small tourist attraction.  Since we did not go below here is a good link to see what is there at this time. There is also a Buffalo Jump located just north of town. This is where about 2,000 years ago the Indians drove the buffalo herds over the cliff. See this link for more info:  All that remains there is a 20 ft. pile of buffalo bones and some good displays. We did not have time to visit any of this area as we were heading east after breakfast.  Maybe next time!

Box Elder, MT, huh?

Box Elder MT, where is that?

We left Deer Lodge Wednesday morning and drove south past Anaconda which is the site of the old Anaconda smelter which was connected by rail to the big copper mines in Butte.  Nothing remains now but the stack which is visible for miles. It is actually taller than the Washington Monument and bigger at the base.  Then we continued down through Butte and up through Helena because that is the way the highway wanders.  Not a lot of RV friendly roads go direct as there are mountains and valleys across the middle of Montana.  We stopped in Helena to pick up ink cartridges since there was an Office Depot on the north side of town.  Then we headed up Hwy 87 through Great Falls. As we drove on we took a short pullout and saw an amazing sight!  Below us lay the area near Fort Benton where the Missouri River has cut a deep valley under the vast prairie. They say Fort Benton is a prairie Atlantis. The approach is a  vast flat, treeless expanse in all directions, yet you don’t see it where the map says it should be. Ft. Benton is submerged beneath the amber waves, in a deep cut made by the river. Once you get off the highway and descend,  it appears as an oasis, with full growth trees, well-kept buildings, and lots of statuary. It is the current home of the “Smithsonian Buffalo” — including Hornaday’s Bull and tragic Sandy, the feisty bison; Montana’s official Lewis & Clark Memorial; the remnants  of the old Fort Benton; and the 30,000 sq. ft. Museum of the Great Northern Plains.  But  Ft. Benton is best known for — and most proud of — Old Shep, its “forever  faithful” sheep dog. In the summer of 1936, a sheep herder fell ill and headed to Ft. Benton for treatment. His dog, Shep, came along. When the herder died a  few days later, his body was crated up and sent back east to relatives. Shep followed the box to the Ft. Benton train depot, and watched nervously as his master was put on board and taken away. No one remembers the name of the herder.  But everyone remembers Shep. Because for the next five and a half years, Shep maintained a vigil at the station, greeting the four trains that arrived each day, waiting for his master to return.  He died in 1942 and there is a statue and memorial here for this faithful dog. Kinda reminds you of the recent Richard Gere movie, “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale which was made in 2009!

We did not see any place to park in Fort Benton so drove on up the road.  After that we came to Hwy 2 which reaches across the northern edge of the United States from Bangor, Maine, to Everett, Washington.  For over 600 miles of this immense length Hwy 2 wends its way across the state of Montana – where the Great Plains rise into the Rocky Mountains.  It is an amazing drive and hard to believe there are so many wheat fields along this road.  Everywhere we looked big combines were harvesting the golden grain.  The railroads here are important to haul the grain and cattle and the Amtrak Empire Builder runs on these tracks as well as the BNSF trains. Then we continued on an eastern route as the sun began to get lower.  Not a lot of population here and the towns are tiny.  So we were not seeing a lot of places to stop for the night.  All of a sudden we see the neon sign for the Northern Winz Casino.  Why not stay here, we asked ourselves?  This is owned by Chippewa Cree tribe called the Rocky Boy. This 22,000 sq ft facility opened in 2007 and has enjoyed a steady stream of patrons mainly because the Montana Clean Air Act passed in 2010 does not apply to tribal lands so people who like to smoke while they play come here from all over the state. This is probably the biggest building in about 50 miles other than  a few barns!  We asked about boon docking and were told it was OK so we landed in their large parking lot and went inside for a late dinner.  Good food in a small corner restaurant area but we did not have to cook so it was a good thing.  We discovered our fresh water tank was too low to bathe so we simply enjoyed the quiet and went to bed when it got dark about 10:30 PM.

Deer Lodge Museums & Sights

We started Monday by taking Tia, the warrior princess, to the local vet to have an infection checked on her shoulder.  Seems as if she and Tex, the 80 lb black Lab, had to establish themselves before we left Donnelly and a small wound turned into a bad sore.  After lunch we drove to two more unique museums in Deer Lodge.  Both are located at the Old Montana Prison Museum Complex on Main Street.  In the 1800s Montana was a wild and rousty place with cowboys and miners everywhere.  After several petitions to the government, funds for the construction for the prison were obtained.  The prison was built in 1871 and began as a Territorial Prison.  After Montana became a state in 1889 it became the State Prison then continued as the primary penal institution until 1979.  Throughout the prison’s history, the institution was plagued with constant overcrowding, insufficient funds, and antiquated facilities. The administration of Warden Frank Conley from 1890 to 1921 proved the exception to this rule, as Warden Conley instituted extensive inmate labor projects that kept many inmates at work constructing the prison buildings and walls as well as providing various state and community services like road building, logging, and ranching.  Even some of the roads we drove on the day before were built by inmates from this prison.  A riot in 1907 when a junior warden was killed caused an increase in the building programs when the current stone wall was built to replace the old wooden fences.  It is 24 ft tall and 4 ft thick at the bottom with 3 ft underground.  After Conley left office, the prison experienced almost forty years of degeneration, mismanagement, and monetary restraints until an explosive riot in 1959 captured the attention of the nation.  Led by Jerry Myles and Lee Smart, the riot maintained the prison under inmate control for thirty-six hours before the Montana National Guard stormed the institution to restore order.  There is a good self guided tour and it takes awhile to tour the whole place.  The Old Prison was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 and is now a museum.

After we finished the prison tour we walked next door into the Montana Auto Museum.  Now this is a real treasure and a must see for any car buff.  There are over 150 cars here in pristine condition from a 1903 Ford to 1980s T Bird.  Also listed as a “USA Today” top ten must see car museum, we definitely agree.  Many of the cars are part of the collection of Former State Senator Sherman Anderson and his wife Bonnie who live in Deer Lodge.  Some of the Fords here are from the collection of Edward Towe who collected some 300 antique cars, almost all Fords, at least one of each year, starting with a 1923 Model T Ford Roadster which he purchased and fully restored in 1954.  Along with master restorer Lewis Rector, Edward Towe developed the finest and most complete collection of antique Fords in the world.  When the collection outgrew the display in his bank basement in Circle, MT, it was moved to Helena, where for 10 years it was housed in the Montana Historical Museum.  The cars were moved to the Towe Antique Ford Museum in Deer Lodge in 1979.  Some of the cars were moved to Sacramento in 1987 and there continued to be two antique Ford museums until the collection was sold to satisfy an argument with the IRS in 1997.  It was the largest sale of antique cars from one collection ever.  The cars went to Japan, Holland and many other places around the world.  A large percentage, however, were purchased by local buyers which allowed them to be kept in their respective museums and both are still in operation as antique automobile museums today.  We even saw an antique Cozy Travel Trailer from 1933.  And we saw a Porsche from the first year made.  They had several really great 55 Chevys in the original colors.  After that we were tired so stopped at Safeway for milk & eggs then home to fix fried trout from Lake Cascade.  Ahh, another great day in Montana.

In and Around Deer Lodge, MT

Saturday evening we made it into Deer Lodge, MT southeast of Missoula.  Our plan is to stay here a couple days and see the sights.  We stayed at Indian Creek RV and it is better than most but nothing special.  Would love to be back in the forest but the roads are unpaved, really rough and narrow so this RV park will have to do.  The area here has such magnificent views in every direction it is hard to decide which is best.  Sunday we drove back up Hwy 90 about 30 miles then cut off onto Gold Creek Rd and drove over an old stage road into the wilderness and across the rolling hills and pastures.  We even spotted a roadside potty (not really old but clever). Several hours and a few detours later past some aspen groves we came back into Deer Lodge.  Then we went into the Grant Kohrs Ranch headquarters which is now a National Park Service Historic Site.  Once the headquarters of a 10 million acre cattle empire, Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site is a working cattle ranch that preserves these symbols and commemorates the role of cattlemen in American history.  It was founded by Johnny Grant who began wintering cattle in western Montana valleys in the 1850s.  The Deer Lodge Valley was especially good winter range due to the high surrounding mountains that captured most of the snow.  In 1866, Conrad Kohrs purchased the Grant home and 365 head of cattle.  He formed a powerful partnership with his younger half-brother John Bielenberg and continued to graze cattle in this valley while expanding to other ranges in eastern Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and Canada.  During the open range era, it was possible to become wealthy raising cattle without owning any acreage.  Most ranchers did own a base of operations at the least and some, like Conrad Kohrs, owned millions of acres.  Conrad Kohrs Warren, Kohrs’ grandson, continued to raise cattle in the Deer Lodge Valley until the 1970s.  In 1977 the family sold the ranch to the National Park Service who currently maintain it and operate it year round.

As we left the ranch the wind came up and we could see big storms over the mountains so we drove into Deer Lodge and ate a steak dinner at the Broken Arrow Steakhouse.  Not a lot in town but shows signs of former wealth from the cattle industry.

Missoula Excursions

Saturday morning we drove on into Missoula to the first Walmart we’d seen in a couple weeks.  We needed Mesquite chunks for our steaks and these pine forests don’t have any.  There were several RVs boon docking in the parking lot and a Jeep with New Jersey plates that had all the windows blocked with luggage and stuff.  Guess they were too tired to go any farther!  After the Walmart stop, we worked our way down a couple blocks into a Safeway parking lot and filled up with diesel then slowly went through the downtown area to access Hwy 90 eastbound!  Missoula is a neat college town with the University of Montana located here.  The university calls itself a “city within a city,” and contains its own restaurants, medical facilities, banking, postal services, police department, and ZIP code.  The University of Montana ranks 17th in the nation and fifth among public universities in producing Rhodes Scholars, with a total of 28 such scholars. The University of Montana has 11 Truman Scholars, 14 Goldwater Scholars and 31 Udall Scholars to its name.  The University of Montana’s Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library houses the earliest authorized edition of the Lewis and Clark journals.  Rolling Stone labeled the university the “most scenic campus in America and Outside magazine called it “among the top 10 colleges nationally for combining academic quality and outdoor recreation”.

Missoula is called The Garden City due to its milder winters (milder than???).  It also has community colleges, public parks and rose gardens and as we drove into the downtown area over the Clearwater Bridge, we noticed they were having a huge arts and crafts festival down by the river with people everywhere.  There were musicians on the streets and families enjoying the day.  But no way to park our big self so we left town and will have to come back another day and spend some time here.

Leaving Idaho and Going into Montana

Driving from Grangeville on Hwy 13 towards Kooskia on Hwy 12 we were on part of The Northwest Passage Scenic Byway which is one of the Top 10 Scenic Drives in the Northern Rockies.  This beautiful byway is the easiest way to trace the Lewis & Clark Expedition route along the Clearwater and Lochsa Rivers.  It is a narrow 2 lane highway that rises and falls with switchbacks along the Clearwater River, through canyons and valleys about 2000 ft in elevation.  Try driving this route towing a 36 ft. 5th wheel!  Once we reached Hwy 12 there was not a minute to spare as the views here are as great as before so we had to get all the cameras ready.  The whole route into Missoula, MT, a total of 142 miles, took us hours because of all the neat places to stop and see the views.  The Clearwater River is very pretty and the ranches and homes along here all have access to it.  We feel as if Lewis and Clark were lucky to have seen this area when it was fresh and unspoiled.  We stopped at Lolo Pass to take a break and while there we noticed a man with a team of 3 Percheron horses who had unhitched them from a small wooden wagon that he has added to and refined and was letting them graze the grassy area near the visitor center.  This man is on an odyssey and started in New Hampshire several years ago.  Amazing story so I thought you might like to check his blog for the details.    Never know who you will see on the road!  We continued on down the mountain and found Lee Creek Campground in Lolo National Forest.  That was where we stopped for the night.  A nice NPS campsite but very unlevel so we did our best and just stayed hooked up.  But good deal for $5.00.  We had a cocktail and enjoyed the forest and a brief rainstorm while sitting under our awning.  Another neat group of people next to us were from Idaho.  It was a 3 generation family who had obtained logging permits from the Forest Service to cut 4.5 cords of wood.  They primarily cut fallen trees into 2 foot pieces and load it on their pickups and trailers.  Then they take it home and split it to use for heat this winter.  They were camping in tents and having a short vacation while performing a necessary chore for this part of the world, Neat!  Firewood here sells for about $150 a cord so this is a big expense resolved for them.  They burn a lot up here and many of the homes we passed had woodpiles actually bigger than their homes.  Their porches are stacked with split wood already and by summer’s end most of the logs in the yard will be split.  Home Depot sells big gas powered log splitters so what does that tell you?

Leaving Donnelly/McCall area

On Thursday we made our way out of the Donnelly/McCall area and headed north on 55 then 95 toward Riggins, ID.  We did stop at the fruit stand in Riggins to buy some fresh vegetables, huckleberry syrup and another huckleberry pie.  The beautiful drive up was along the river and through mountain passes.  Then there was the long climb up White Bird Hill.  We did stop and check out the Nez Perce Monument and see the entire battlefield which is an awesome sight.  The girls enjoyed the break and the view as well.

Then we drove over the summit and behold -there was the most amazing sight!  The Palouse and Camas Prairie were spread out before us like a patchwork quilt.  Palouse is actually very fertile grassland and this area is a spectacular rolling prairie of wheat & hay fields and legumes of all kinds.  It is unique to this part of the Northwest.  The entire area is irrigated with water from the Clearwater River which flows through here.  We made our way into Grangeville and signed up to spend the night at the Bear Den RV Park on Hwy 93.  Then we left to drive over to Lewiston for a quick stop at Home Depot and Safeway.  As we left Grangeville we began to see the amazing wooden railroad trestles that were built around 1905.  They were part of the Camas Prairie Rail Line which was used to haul wheat to Portland as well as malt barley, peas, lentils and canola.  The rail line primarily served three grain companies and two timber companies.  The railway connected with the Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroads to ship products across the nation.  It was a lot easier to ship lumber by rail than by truck.  It was 62 miles long and built through tunnels and spanning canyons with some trestles as high as 280 ft.  For the period the construction was spectacular.  The line was abandoned after the train derailed near Grangeville in 1999 but the trestles and some of the rails remain.  Getting a good photo was a trick as they are near private lands but we persisted and got the Lawyer’s Trestle (named for the Nez Perce Indian called Lawyer) and the one off Sand Point Rd.  As we continued up the road we noticed several miles of abandoned rail cars used to haul lumber products.

On Friday we had a good breakfast of pancakes with our huckleberry syrup while sitting outside the RV then loaded up and set out for the next destination.

One more neat road trip

Wednesday we decided to finish loading the RV then take a short road trip up north west of McCall into the Payette National Forest to an old mining town called Warren.  We drove on a paved road then on a gravel road then on a dirt road for about 60 miles.

In 1862, the discovery of gold in the Warren Creek area in what was then Washington Territory led to the formation of the settlement, making it one of the oldest settlements in present-day Idaho. Shortly after its founding Warren reached a population of over 2,000. In its heyday Warren was known for its significant Chinese population. The population plummeted when mining declined, but enjoyed a brief renaissance in the 1930s with the introduction of dredge mining in the area. A modest gold mining industry remains in the area.  There are tailings everywhere for several miles and this is where some gold is still found.

The town has been threatened several times by forest fires, most recently in 1989, 2000 and 2007. Recent fires have made the Warren area a haven for morel mushroom hunting.  Warren currently has a full-time population of 12 to 16. This is a picture of their post office with small greenhouse attached!

Morel mushrooms are prized in this area and people go out and hunt them especially in the areas where a forest fire burned in the recent past. Used by gourmet cooks, there is even a restaurant near here named Morels.

“I’m your Huckleberry” huh

Well,  today we are preparing to leave this idyllic place and head north.  We worked here all day finishing chores and organizing the RV.  For dinner we drove back into McCall and ate a a great place called Steamers Steak and Seafood Restaurant.  I had the Lemon Caper Chicken and it was delicious.  Pack Leader ate the Baked Scallops and it was also good.  Our friends ate shrimp and salmon.  Afterwards we walked out the back door and next door is the place for a real treat.  Called Ice Cream Alley it is actually at the back/side alley of the main street in McCall.  My goodness they have a good deal going here. Family crowds standing in line waiting to get a scoop of one of about 25 flavors. And a single dip is like a double dip anywhere else.  Here is my Huckleberry Ice Cream in a waffle cone. We sat on the street enjoying the perfect evening and view of the lake as we finished this treat.