Sunday, 11 December 2011

RV trip to the Sweetgrass Hills Day 2

The start of Day 2: our campsite along Route 93 just South of Stryker, Montana. The road to the prairies took us along the Southern edge of Glacier National Park. Alas, there wasn't much to see.
 Just this one neat feature in a spot where Chris stopped to adjust something vehicular: a natural stone staircase with water trickling down.
Further East: mountains giving way to plains.
Never mind the mountains, we have plenty at home. As we left the mountains behind the skies cleared. 
Yeeha! Open space! This is what we came for!
We stopped in Browning in the Blackfeet territory to visit the Museum of the Plains Indians. There are no pictures because use of cameras was not allowed, but it is highly recommended.
So now we get endless pictures of Land and Sky.
The weather was changeable, with intensely alive skies.
 The town of Cutbank, with Gold Butte rising behind it. Gold Butte is the middle of the three hills.
Did I mention this place is windy? Good use is made of it.
Some more land and sky.
Farm stuff. Signs of rural decay abound. Very sad and deeply wrong, but that is another story.
The cloud-shadows across the wide landscape add texture to the rolling prairie. I can stare at it for hours, just like looking at the ocean.

The map promised tourist information in Shelby, the town closest to our hills. We managed to find it. The place was managed by a sweet old lady, so tiny that she made me feel tall. Bless her heart, she rummaged around till she found  a booklet on accesing the various buttes. It said pretty much the same things that she was telling us: "The land is all private. In order to hike one has to ask for access at the farm houses. The roads are gravel and can get pretty hairy after rain. It has been raining hard.."
 Thus informed we ventured forth to see what we could see. The picture of the Sweet Grass Hills that opens this blog was taken in this stretch driving East. Encore.
The well-laid plan was to drive East, then North,  loop around and in between the buttes, hopefully with an overnight stay and some hiking thrown in, and end up at the junction of route 343 and interstate 15, the place most often used to access the hills. Alas, this plan gang agley.
We turned North at the pathetic hamlet of Galata, onto road 343.
It was great to drive straight to the hills instead of seeing them through the side window.
The joy was short-lived. Soon the blacktop gave way to gravel.*
Now we don't mind slowing down to a crawl. It might have been OK if the weather had been drier recently, or if the vehicle had been more robust. But between washboards and potholes, driving on was no way to treat our ancient Lady of the Road. A truck born in 1982 deserves respect and loving care. She gets it. So this, alas, is as close as we came to those intriguing hills. East Butte first.
West Butte below.
We turned around and decided to see if we could at least get closer by using the Northern access road, that had some more blacktop.
Above:Decaying farm buildings near Galata.
Below:Driving direction Gold Butte again, this time coming from the West, past Oilmont.

It was the same story. The road turned to gravel quite a distance from the hills. One more, and then we turn our back on the Sweet Grass Hills.

Pictures of what what we might have seen can be found here:
By now it was getting late. The road reminded me of the Mackenzie Highway in Northern Alberta: not tourist friendly. Two narrow lanes, no shoulder, a wicked ditch at both sides, and no sign of camp sites or parks anywhere. The message seems to be that if you don't live or work here you have no business hanging around. Go away! The map showed a campsite near Cutbank. We looped around over route 215 past a small oil town named Kevin. 
It was a surprisingly beautiful stretch of "Essence of West".

By the time we got to Cutbank it was almost dark and we were tired and hungry. Was the "rest spot" by a park the campsite or was there another one? We were getting too tired to find out and settled for a spot in the empty parking lot behind the sports centrum around the corner. See you later for day 3.

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