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.

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