Today I did well over 300 miles (maybe six hours???) with most of it driving through almost NOTHING, and I mean NOTHING … but prairie… I drove past maybe three ‘gas station towns’ (ones that seem to consist of little else), saw very little traffic, and for miles and miles ….. NOT EVEN COWS!!! It’s one of those things that is definitely worth doing, ONCE… (would be better in an RV, because… bathrooms)
Today after spending two hours driving around the southern part of Theodore Roosevelt national Park, in Medora,North Dakota, I made the decision that I was not going to go to Yellowstone Park, as I had been planning to do, because there just wasn’t time for it. It would have meant staying on Interstate 94 (which for the most part goes west) as it looped a few hundred miles south/west (away from Canada, with a 2 night pit stop just south of Billings at Yellowstone). I would then have stayed on I 90/94 (the two join again up at Billings, MT –they also overlap in the Chicago area, so I could have easily taken the more direct I90, if my goal was Yellowstone) until I got to Butte MT, where I would take Interstate 15 north (hence staying on major highways the whole way).
While driving around however I realized I just didn’t have time to do it all, as my rental in Canada, which was already paid for, started June 1, whether I was there or not — and my trip so far, with all the pit stops, which is the only reason TO do a road-trip, was taking way too long. Also, having not scheduled in any rest days, I was starting to get a bit road fatigued after five straight days of driving. Also, my thinking was that if I spent the two days in Yellowstone I wouldn’t be able to spend any real time in Glacier National Park, nor at Banff… but would have to do a forced drive to British Columbia (and how likely was it that I would ever pass by Glacier National Park again before its namesakes had completely melted?).
What came to mind was highway 200; the night before, while looking at a map, I had noticed that there was a different, and far more direct path from Roosevelt Nation Park to Glacier National Park, via MT highway 200 (which I later learned the state advertises as scenic, but that bloggers describe as lonesome), that I had ignored till then as I was still intent on going to Yellowstone. But now, realizing I was simply running out of time (I had not planned on spending most of the two previous days in the Badlands), and made the decision. I contacted the Airbnb owner I had been talking to about booking her place … and apologized (I had been telling her I would book once I knew for sure when I’d be there, but hadn’t actually made the commitment), reset my mapping software for Great Falls, MT (the next major city along that route, after 200 and 87 merge), and hit the road…. Drove to the small town of Glendive, Montana — had enough good sense to fill my tank, and then on to 200…
Let’s just say, I am a very stupid, naïve city girl. I looked at the map and I saw that there was not much of interest between the National Park and Great Falls Montana, and I said to myself “Okay. It’s no big deal I’ll drive and if I get tired I’ll stop somewhere along the way, have a meal or something.” HA HA HA HA….
These two pictures were taken after I’d been driving quite a while, at 2:42pm outside of Lindsay, MT, a town that is maybe 4 blocks square, and consists of a post office, a gas station — if you can call it that — and maybe four houses (no seriously, zoom into the map)
Then my bladder started to scream… and I came across the ONLY rest stop along the route, which was initially completely deserted, but I had to go! So I park the car, and with images of “gee, this would be a great place to hang out if you’re a rapist or an serial killer” I creeped into the building, looking around nervously, and checking the bathroom for occupants before quickly going in and locking the door… and then I left, also worried about who might be waiting for me as I exited… and found that there was one other car now parked in the lot, with what seemed to be two local teens meeting up for a toke… we nodded at each other and I pretty much dove into my car… me, neurotic, NAH
I have to say though… the country I had been driving through from the national park to here had been gorgeous. A lot of it is flat, but occasionally you dip into ravines that are impressive … Add to that the fact that for most of the way you are completely alone… as far as the eye can see (which is pretty far), and flying along at 80 mph (which is the MT speed limit, because really, who are you going to hit? Did I mention not even a cow?!) down a road with so many dips and hills that it’s a bit like being on a roller coaster. (That said, maybe if you’re in an RV you should batten down the hatches first.)
About three hours after the the Lindsay, MT, at 5:05pm, and I had just passed by the glittering metropolis of Sand Springs, Montana (am being sarcastic) which consists of…. I kid you not, just a post office (no really, look at the map)
And then at around 6:11pm I saw something really exciting outside of the window, keep in mind it’s May 25th, it’s almost June (and I’m from Chicago), which is not only flat but by this time of year, approaching hot.
I was like “SNOW!!!” On mountains!!! (Now that I’m looking at maps, I think I was just west of Lewiston, MT and looking at a mountain called “Old Baldy”)
Shortly thereafter, I had driven for about six hours straight and was bleary eyed as hell, I started to re-enter something approaching civilization (Lewiston, MT), i.e., I could get data and phone again on my smartphone, and fill the tank up.
For the last six hours there had been no Wi-Fi (ARGH! Withdrawal!!), there was no cell phone… there were no people … There weren’t even a lot of cows
After I got to blogging about this, I found this YouTube video made by a trucker which gives you a sense of it, only he was driving east of Great Falls, MT, while I was going the opposite way, west towards Great Falls… but honestly, not all that different.
Afterthought: I wrote this over 3 years ago in May 2016 and since then it has become by FAR my most read blog post, as in 3 to 5 people every day … If some of you readers could do me a favor and post comments at the bottom of this as to explain to me WHY that is I’d appreciate it. Honestly, the mind boggles!
[2nd afterthought: it has been almost 5 years since writing this, and it is still one of my most read posts:
To those of you deciding whether or not to take the route, let me say this: if you really want to get even a tiny bit of an inkling of the perils settlers faced when crossing America in wagons, this is probably as close as you can get to it in the modern day. You really should PLAN and prepare for the crossing. As to why bother, being able to grasp the big emptiness that is much of America is sort of an experience in and of itself for us city folk, one that heavily traveled highways do not offer… and in my mind makes me glad I did it in retrospect. That said, it’s the sort of thing that I’d say must be done ONCE…
The Japanese have a saying:
度も登らぬ馬鹿、二度登る馬鹿 which translates to: “A wise man climbs mount Fuji once, only the fool does it twice.”
That said, make sure your car is in good order, your gas tank is full, and load up on food and water, just in case your car breaks down, before starting this drive.]