Mountain views are breathtaking

Montana Trip: US Highway 89 thru Montana – South 89

89 South in Montana
89 South in Montana

After spending a nice day with my children and grandchildren along US Highway 89 north of Great Falls, it was time to begin the long trip back to Kentucky  the next day. I would begin the return trip with a quick jaunt south on I-15  to Great Falls and then south on US 87/89 towards Kings Hill Pass on the Kings Hill Scenic Byway, which runs along US 89 from the US 87 junction to the US 12 junction just north of White Sulphur Springs, Montana.

Welcome to Conrad, Montana
Welcome to Conrad, Montana

Before moving on, I should mention that on the previous day we made a quick stop in Conrad, Montana to see if there is anything interesting there.  Conrad is south of Shelby and just off of I-15, so it is easy off and easy on.  Conrad is just a bit smaller than Shelby.  Not too much, but they still have a nice looking old theater and an old 70s style motel. A nice stop for the nostalgic-minded.

Orpheum Theater in Conrad, Montana
Orpheum Theater in Conrad, Montana
Northgate Motel in Conrad, Montana
Northgate Motel in Conrad, Montana – Clean and Quiet

Since it was early morning, I didn’t stop in Conrad on the way to Great Falls. Rather, I was in town before sunrise and on to US 89 south, which joins with US 87.  I had to head east through town past Malmstrom Air Force Base just as the sun came up. It was a beautiful Montana morning.

Sun peaks over the hill east of Great Falls on the morning of May 27
Sun peaks over the hill east of Great Falls on the morning of May 27
Sunrise near the Highwood Mountains east of Great Falls
Sunrise near the Highwood Mountains east of Great Falls

US 87/89 passes by Belt, Montana, but I didn’t drive through there on this trip as I wanted to get down US 89 and into Yellowstone and US 212 over Beartooth Pass.  Just shortly after passing by Belt, US 87 continues east and US 89 breaks off southward toward Monarch, Montana and pretty much follows Belt Creek, which at the time I was driving the route, was a raging creek with all of the winter runoff in full force. This is the beginning of the Kings Hill Scenic Byway.

Kings Hill Scenic byway
Kings Hill Scenic Byway in Central Montana
US 87 and US 89 split south of Belt, Montana
US 87 and US 89 split south of Belt, Montana
US 89 south towards Monarch, Montana
US 89 south towards Monarch, Montana
A view of Belt Creek from US 89 north of Monarch, Montana
A view of Belt Creek and the entrance to Belt Creek Canyon  from US 89 north of Monarch, Montana
US 89 approaching the Belt Mountains north of Monarch, Montana
US 89 approaching the Little Belt Mountains north of Monarch, Montana
Old cabins on a hill with the early morning light as seen from US 89 north of Montana 427
Old cabins on a hill with the early morning light as seen from US 89 north of Montana 427
Beautiful views abound on US 89 through Montana (and Big Sky views abound too)
Beautiful views abound on US 89 through Montana (and Big Sky views abound too)

I reached Monarch, Montana at about 7:30 AM. Monarch was originally established to service the silver mines in the area. It is near the Sluice Boxes State Park.

Monarch, Montana
Monarch, Montana
Deer on the roadside in Monarch, Montana
Deer on the roadside in Monarch, Montana
A nervous doe stares me down in Monarch, Montana
A nervous doe stares me down in Monarch, Montana

The drive through the Lewis and Clark National Forest is very nice on a spring morning. Wildlife was in abundance and the raging Belt Creek could be heard, the smell of pine in the air.  It was very refreshing (with the car windows down of course!)  Soon enough, I was passing through the town of Neihart.

Welcome to Neihart, Montana (oh well...not all photos come out perfect!)
Welcome to Neihart, Montana (oh well…not all photos come out perfect!) The sign says ” Our small town is like Heaven to us, please don’t drive like Hell through it.”

Neihart had a few unique things so it was well worth a short stop for a look/see.

US 89 runs through Neihart, Montana
US 89 runs through Neihart, Montana
An old barn in Neihart, Montana
An old barn in Neihart, Montana

I always like the unique shops on road trips, and Neihart offered one of those up in GJ’s Junkers Delight….fun signs, unique metal art

GJ's Junkers Delight in Neihart, Montana
GJ’s Junkers Delight in Neihart, Montana
Love this sign on GJ's - This ain't no museum, this junk is for sale
Love this sign on GJ’s – This ain’t no museum, this junk is for sale
This scrap metal dude apparently guards GJ's Trailer
This scrap metal dude apparently guards GJ’s Trailer

From Neihart, US 89 begins to offer a spectacular drive through the Rocky Mountains and gets you up to Kings Hill Pass which hits an altitude of 7,385 feet. Kings Hill Pass is part of the Kings Hill Scenic Byway which passes through the Little Belt Mountains in the Lewis and Clark National Forest in Montana, United States.

I saw numerous snow runoff formed waterfalls that fed into the raging Belt Creek. This was one of the nice ones.
I saw numerous snow runoff formed waterfalls that fed into the raging Belt Creek. This was one of the nice ones.
Most of the drive on US 89 south of Neihart is in the pine forests.
Most of the drive on US 89 south of Neihart is in the pine forests.

As the altitude climbed I could see that there were ski resorts and then I came across the Showdown, Montana sign near the summit of Kings Hill Pass.  Created in 1936 and originally called King’s Hill Ski Area, Showdown is a small-scale ski area that caters mainly to weekend skiers.  It also has nice summer activities for bikers, hikers and campers.

Showdown Montana Ski resort
Showdown Montana Ski resort
Sumoflam at Kings Hill Summit in Montana
Sumoflam at Kings Hill Summit in Montana
The views south from Kings Hill Pass
The views south from Kings Hill Pass at 7,393 feet
Ski Trails of Showdown near Kings Hill Pass
Ski Trails of Showdown near Kings Hill Pass
US 89 south of Kings Hill Pass
US 89 south of Kings Hill Pass

From Kings Hill Pass US 89 heads down hill towards White Sulphur Springs, Montana.

US 89 south of Kings Hill Summit
US 89 south of Kings Hill Summit
I had to stop and get this shot of the pretty male Mountain Bluebird
I had to stop and get this shot of the pretty male Mountain Bluebird
Horses graze in verdant meadows under the snow-capped mountains of the Big Belt Range
Horses graze in verdant meadows under the snow-capped mountains of the Big Belt Range
US 89 heads into rolling hills about 5 miles north of White Sulphur Springs, MT
US 89 heads into rolling hills about 5 miles north of White Sulphur Springs, MT

The end of the Kings Hill Scenic byway is about 3 miles north of White Sulphur Springs, which sits at the base of three mountain ranges. A truly beautiful setting.

End of Kings Hill Scenic Byway at US Route 12
End of Kings Hill Scenic Byway at US Route 12
US 89 in White Sulphur Springs, Montana
US 89 in White Sulphur Springs, Montana at 8:30 AM
A ghost sign on an old building takes you back to the hey day of White Sulphur Springs
A ghost sign on an old building takes you back to the hey day of White Sulphur Springs
Battling peaks of hay challenge the snow capped peaks in the distance south of White Sulphur Springs
Battling peaks of hay challenge the snow capped peaks in the distance south of White Sulphur Springs

From White Sulphur Springs US 89 continues south towards Livingston. This portion of the drive has some spectacular mountain views, especially of the Crazy Mountains (also known as the Crazies). I can envision the awe of pioneers as they realized they would have to get past them.

The Crazies as seen from US 89 near the Smith River Valley in Montana
The Crazies as seen from US 89 near the Smith River Valley in Montana
US 89 and the Crazy Mountains in Montana
US 89 and the Crazy Mountains in Montana
Another view of the Crazies
Another view of the Crazies
Mountains and plains as seen from US 89
Mountains and plains as seen from US 89

Wyoming lays claim to being the pronghorn capital of the world, but Montana has to be a close second.  Some of my best pronghorn photos have come in Montana.  I saw a small group by the road near Wilsall and stopped for a visit.

A curious pronghorn enjoys the morning sun
A curious pronghorn enjoys the morning sun
Mountains from US 89 near Wilsall, Montana
Mountains from US 89 near Wilsall, Montana
A small family of pronghorn Antelope scamper across a field near Pulis Lane in Wilsall, Montana.
A small family of pronghorn Antelope scamper across a field near Pulis Lane in Wilsall, Montana.

From the Wilsall area I continued south towards Livingston, Montana.  The mountains scenes were breathtaking on this section of US 89 near Wilsall. I knew that on the other side of the mountains sits the city of Bozeman, where I lived from 1971-1973. I loved Bozeman.

Mountain views are breathtaking
Mountain views are breathtaking near Wilsall, Montana

Wilsall, along with Clyde Park,  is in the Shields River Valley.  The Shields River was named by Captain William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in honor of John Shields when they arrived here in July 1806.  This area was also visited by the famous trapper, trader and scout Jim Bridger in the 1860s.

A sculpture of a pioneer/trapper overlooks the Shields Valley
A sculpture of a pioneer/trapper “Thunder Jack” overlooks the Shields Valley – artist Gary Kerby
Sumoflam and Thunder Jack
Sumoflam and Thunder Jack

The above sculpture by local artist Gary Kerby was dedicated in 2006. Titled “Welcome to the Shields” it is nicknamed “Thunder Jack.”

Welcome to Wilsall, Montana (with the Welcome Bird on top of the sign!)
Welcome to Wilsall, Montana (with the Welcome Bird on top of the sign!)
This day there were beautiful clouds over Wilsall, MT
This day there were beautiful clouds over Wilsall, MT
Bank Bar in Wilsall, MT.  Old neon and a question...is there a drive thru ATM at this bank?
Bank Bar in Wilsall, MT. Old neon and a question…is there a drive thru ATM at this bank?
Wilsall Mercanitle Company in Wilsall, Montana
Wilsall Mercanitle Company in Wilsall, Montana
Wilsall Grocery Neon sign
Wilsall Grocery Neon sign

And of course, I finally found a nice wall mural on this trip.  This one on the side of the Mercantile building takes you back to the early 1900s in Wilsall. This was painted by Gary Kerby, the same artist that made the pioneer sculpture pictured above. Gary is a resident of Wilsall. Kerby has painted murals in Montana (I saw another of his works in Cut Bank last year), Oregon and Washington.

Wilsall Mural in Wilsall, Montana
“Wilsall Unleashed”  Mural in Wilsall, Montana by Gary Kerby
Grain elevator with mountains in the background in Wilsall, MT
Grain elevator with mountains in the background in Wilsall, MT

Continuing south on US 89, there are miles of open range ranchlands with the amazing mountains in the background.

US 89 heading south.  This is about 6 miles north of Clyde Park, MT
US 89 heading south. This is about 6 miles north of Clyde Park, MT
US 89 just south of Clyde Park, MT
US 89 just south of Clyde Park, MT
US 89 north of Livingston, MT
US 89 north of Livingston, MT

Livingston, Montana is one of those wonderful communities nestled in the mountains (like Leadville, CO – see my post about Leadville).  There are old buildings, old neon signs, and majestic mountains framing the buildings.  I spent 30 or 40 minutes in Livingston to capture the feel of this town. The town is also touted as the “Original Gateway City to Yellowstone National Park.”

The mountains tower over the city of Livingston.
The mountains tower over the city of Livingston.
Mountain view from Sacajawea Park in Livingston, Montana
Mountain view from Sacajawea Park in Livingston, Montana
Old Empire Theater in Livingston, MT
Old Empire Theater in Livingston, MT
Dan Bailey's Fly Fishing Supply
Big Fish on the store front of Dan Bailey’s Fly Fishing Supply (see website)
Ghost sign in Livingston, Montana
Ghost sign in Livingston, Montana
Old Coca Cola Ghost sign in Livingston, Montana
Old Coca Cola Ghost sign in Livingston, Montana
Classic Neon sign in Livingston, Montana
Classic Neon sign in Livingston, Montana
Livingston Bar & Grille Neon in Livingston, MT
Livingston Bar & Grille Neon in Livingston, MT
The Mint Neon sign in Livingston, MT
The Mint Neon sign in Livingston, MT
Mountains surround the city of Livingston, Montana
Mountains surround the city of Livingston, Montana

After a breather in Livingston it was on to Yellowstone National Park via US 89.  From Livingston, the highway basically follows the Yellowstone River, which was running very heavy due to runoff from the mountains. The mountain scenery at this point is amazing.

The mountains and the Yellowstone River as seen from US 89
The Absaroka Range (Western Beartooths) and the Yellowstone River as seen from US 89
Wayside Chapel on US 89 south of Livingston
Wayside Chapel on US 89 south of Livingston

Not too far south of Livingston I came across a small wayside chapel with a splendid view of the Yellowstone River and Emigrant Peak (10,915 feet) of the Absaroka Mountain Range. The chapel was built in 1968 and had once sat on a small hilltop overlooking Yellowstone River adjacent to the rest area on US Hwy 89. It’s been a landmark as well as a curiosity. The chapel is always open providing shelter and a resting place for weary travelers. The chapel is 12 foot tall including its steeple; the building is 10-by-14 foot with stained glass side windows. There are eight wooden seats facing a white cross on the pulpit.

US 89 south just north of Gardiner, Montana and the entrance to Yellowstone National Park
US 89 south just north of Gardiner, Montana and the entrance to Yellowstone National Park

I soon found myself in the touristy town of Gardiner, Montana. The town definitely caters to the tourists and adventurers. It is also home the entry point for the North Entrance of Yellowstone National Park and the massive Roosevelt Arch. Constructed under the supervision of the U.S. Army at Fort Yellowstone, its cornerstone was laid down by President of the United States Theodore Roosevelt in 1903. The top of the arch is inscribed with a quote from the Organic Act of 1872, the legislation which created Yellowstone, which reads “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People.”

Entering Gardiner, Montana
Entering Gardiner, Montana
Old ghost sign in Gardiner where they claim to sell everything
Old ghost sign in Gardiner where they claim to sell everything

And thus ends my journey on Montana’s US as I enter through the Roosevelt Arch into Yellowstone National Park and eventually into Wyoming.

Sumoflam at Roosevelt Arch in Gardiner, Montana at the North Entrance to Yellowstone National Park
Sumoflam at Roosevelt Arch in Gardiner, Montana at the North Entrance to Yellowstone National Park
Looking north to Roosevelt Arch and Montana from Yellowstone entrance
Looking north to Roosevelt Arch and Montana from Yellowstone entrance
At the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park, still on US 89 in Montana
At the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park, still on US 89 in Montana

From this point I entered Wyoming on my way to Mammoth Hot Springs and US 212 which will take me across the northern section of Yellowstone National Park and into the Beartooth Mountain Range.  That will be the subject of my next post! (109)

Rock City Trio

Montana Trip: The Other Rock City

Rock City, Montana
Rock City, Montana

While on a trip to Montana in late May 2014, I had the opportunity to visit a place called Rock City, just north of Valier, Montana. (see my recent post on that trip) In and of itself, Valier is not too exciting of small town but it is scenic as it borders Lake Frances, a great bird estuary.

Welcome to Valier, Montana
Welcome to Valier, Montana
Sumoflam at Rock City north of Valier, Montana
Sumoflam at Rock City north of Valier, Montana

With my daughter, her husband and my grandchildren in tow, we ventured to Valier on our way to Choteau, Montana in order to take a ride out to “Rock City.” It is about a seven mile drive due north of town.

Map to Rock City, Montana
Map to Rock City, Montana

This is not the same Rock City that is located near Chattanooga, Tennessee and has advertisements on barns all over the southeast as shown below.

Rock City near Chattanooga, TN
Rock City near Chattanooga, TN
Old Rock City Barn in Loretto, KY
Old Rock City Barn in Loretto, KY

Instead, this Rock City is a natural “city” of rock formations that have been eroded away by the Two Medicine River.

Satellite view of Rock City (from Google Maps)
Satellite view of Rock City (from Google Maps)
Two Medicine River north of Valier, Montana
Two Medicine River north of Valier, Montana
Rock City north of Valier, Montana
The Hoodoos of Rock City north of Valier, Montana

To get to Rock City you drive north towards Cut Bank out of Valier on Cut Bank Highway and as the road turns west, you continue north on gravel road (now Rock City Rd.) past Bullhead Rd. and then Dean Rd. and eventually onto a dirt road which eventually comes to a Dead End sign. You can go straight on the dirt, but note that it turns into a little dirt track that’s fairly bumpy and probably more suited to a four-wheel-drive or a large base vehicle.

Rock City Rd. and Bullhead Rd.
Pass Bullhead Road while on Rock City Rd.
Rock City Rd. and Dean Rd., north of Valier, MT
Rock City Rd. and Dean Rd., north of Valier, MT
Farmland along the road to Rock City
Farmland along the road to Rock City
A portion of the road to Rock City
A portion of the dirt track to Rock City

On the approach through prairie lands and farmlands, a big valley, indeed a deep chasm opens up in front of you. The Two Medicine River flows down below and it had quite a strong current at the time we visited due to all the glacier runoff from late spring.

Chasm formed by Two Medicine River
Chasm formed by Two Medicine River (Glacier Wind Farm in background)
Two Medicine River forms a small canyon north of Valier, Montana
Two Medicine River forms a small canyon north of Valier, Montana

Hundreds of strange rock formations, called “hoodoos” dot the landscape, creating many eerie features. Hoodoos (mushroom-shaped erosional features in badlands) are caused by water from cloudbursts turning the corner at the brim of the overhang, flowing for a distance upside-down on the underside. This type of upside-down flow is well known as a “teapot effect” because it mimics tea being poured from a pot flowing down the underside of the spout rather than straight on into the cup. Many of the hoodoo formations at Rock City are 12 to 20 feet tall and most have the common “hoodoo” big flat tops on them indicating massive amounts of water and wind erosion over what I would assume is centuries of time. Some of the most famous hoodoo formations are common in Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah.

Hoodoos of Rock City
Hoodoos of Rock City
Unique formations at Rock City
Hoodoo buddies at Rock City

For the adventuresome person, hiking down to the river is probably quite possible as there are many locations that are not beholden with cliffs. On this occasion we walked around through many of the formations, but didn’t venture down into the canyon itself.

Rock City near Valier, Montana
Rock City formations near Valier, Montana

To me, though much different in appearance, it was not unlike visiting Coal Mine Canyon which is located on the Navajo Indian Reservation east of Tuba City, Arizona on AZ Hwy 264 past Moenkopi. As a tour guide I took hundreds of folks down dirt roads (in a van of course) to see the hoodoo-like formations of this place.

Coal Mine Canyon satellite photo from Google Maps
Coal Mine Canyon satellite photo from Google Maps
Coal Mine Canyon, AZ 1983
Coal Mine Canyon, AZ 1983
Coal Mine Canyon Hoodoos, 1983
Coal Mine Canyon Hoodoos, 1983
Sumoflam at Coal Mine Canyon in 1990
Sumoflam at Coal Mine Canyon in 1990
Another view of Coal Mine Canyon, AZ in 1983
Another view of Coal Mine Canyon, AZ in 1983

Like Coal Mine Canyon, it is an undeveloped geologic location that might otherwise be a National Monument or a State Park. But in both cases neither of these appear to be headed in this direction. Both require going down narrow dirt roads and paths to get to them. Both have unique and otherworldly formations. And both have big chasms with beautiful scenes.

Formations at Rock City north of Valier, MT
Formations at Rock City north of Valier, MT

Up in northern Montana just south of Sweetgrass, there are some similar formations called Jerusalem Rocks. I visited there in January 2012. These are also hoodoo-like in nature, but the grouping of the formation is not nearly as expansive as Rock City.

Jerusalem Rocks near Sweetgrass, Montana
Jerusalem Rocks near Sweetgrass, Montana
A rock window at Jerusalem Rocks
A rock window at Jerusalem Rocks
Sumoflam at Jerusalem Rocks in December 2012
Sumoflam at Jerusalem Rocks in December 2012
Jerusalem Rocks, Montana
Jerusalem Rocks, Montana
A giant hoodoo overlooks the prairie valley below at Jerusalem Rocks near Sweetgrass, Montana
A giant hoodoo overlooks the prairie valley below at Jerusalem Rocks near Sweetgrass, Montana

I find all of these out of the way, eerie places to be fascinating and fun to visit. And especially so with grandchildren!

My daughter and her family at Rock City
My daughter and her family at Rock City

And just a few more shots of this unique place

More Rock City Formations
More Rock City Formations
Rock City Hoodoos in northern Montana
Rock City Hoodoos in northern Montana
Rock City Trio
Rock City Trio
Overhangs at Rock City
Overhangs at Rock City
Sisters at Rock City
Sisters at Rock City

If you are ever in the Great Falls area and have an extra day, I highly recommend a drive up US 89 north and then a jaunt over to Valier and Rock City.  You’ll be glad you did. (114)

DSC_6888

Montana Trip: US Highway 89 thru Montana – North 89

Glacier National Park
Snow covered mountains of Glacier National Park as seen from US 89 just south of US Route 2 near Browning, MT

As I continued my trip in Montana, I spent some time with my daughter and her children in Shelby.  From there I proceeded to head back to Kentucky the “back roads” way over a number of US Highways and State Highways.

US Route 2 and US Route 89
US Route 2 and US Route 89

My goal was to travel the majority of Montana’s US 89 during this trip.  I did not hit the portion north of Browning to Alberta on this trip, though I have traveled it in the past.  In fact, over the years I have traveled US 89 from the Canadian border all the way to Mexico (back when US 89 went that far). This post will cover the section of US 89 north of Great Falls and I will follow with a second post covering the portion of US 89 in Montana south of Great Falls.

A scene from US Highway 89 in northern Montana
A scene from US Highway 89 in northern Montana

Sometimes called the National Park Highway, U.S. 89 links seven national parks across the Mountain West. In addition, fourteen other national park areas, mostly national monuments are also reachable from this backbone of the Rockies. The highway goes through prairies, mountains and deserts and, in my opinion, is the most scenic US Highway in America.

Sunrise on US 89 near Great Falls, Montana
Sunrise on US 89 near Great Falls, Montana

My wife flew out to Montana so I took her down to Great Falls and spent the night there.  The next morning she had an early flight, so I dropped her off and then headed north on US 89 from Great Falls and would travel all the way to US Highway 2 near Browning and then back to Shelby for one more night with the family.

US Highway 89 west of Vaughn, Montana
US Highway 89 west of Vaughn, Montana

US 89 near Great Falls merges with Interstate 15 until Vaughn, Montana, where it cuts northwest towards Glacier National Park.  In the early morning, this is a fabulously beautiful drive along the eastern edge of Glacier.

Sunrise over the Rockies as seen from US 89 north of Vaughn, Montana
Sunrise over the Rockies as seen from US 89 north of Vaughn, Montana
Morning sky on US 89 south of Fairfield, Montana
Morning sky on US 89 south of Fairfield, Montana

The first town along US 89 north is Fairfield, where the highway continues northward. I pulled into town on an early Monday morning and things were still quiet. Like many small Montana towns, there are old neon signs, old buildings and a unique personality.

Morning in Fairfield, Montana
Morning in Fairfield, Montana
Old Neon Sign, Fairfield, Montana
Old Neon Sign, Fairfield, Montana
Silos against the morning sky in Fairfeld, Montana
Silos against the morning sky in Fairfeld, Montana
Mo Meth Mural in Fairfield, Montana. Murals such as these are common in many small towns in Montana
Mo Meth Mural in Fairfield, Montana. Murals such as these are common in many small towns in Montana

Fairfield is also the southern gateway to Freezeout Lake, which can be seen from US 89. This lake is a spring home to snow geese and swans as they fly north to Canada in the spring. I drove by a bit late to see the swarms of birds, but I did catch a couple of bird shots as I drove by.

Early morning on Freezeout Lake as seen from US 89 north of Fairfield, Montana
Early morning on Freezeout Lake as seen from US 89 north of Fairfield, Montana
Another nice view of Freezeout Lake
Another nice view of Freezeout Lake
A black-necked stilt looks for its morning breakfast at Freezeout Lake
A black-necked stilt looks for its morning breakfast at Freezeout Lake
Geese enjoy an early morning swim in Freezeout Lake
Geese enjoy an early morning swim in Freezeout Lake

Route 89 continues north into beautiful country on the approach to the town of Choteau, which is a southwestern gateway to Glacier (the town refers to itself as “The Front Porch to the Rockies”).

A metal cowboy sculpture on a hill south of Choteau, Montana is silhouetted against the morning sky.
A metal cowboy sculpture on a hill south of Choteau, Montana is silhouetted against the morning sky.
Welcome to Choteau, Montana
Welcome to Choteau, Montana

The town is the northern terminus of US 287 which actually starts in Port Arthur, Texas, about 1,791 miles away.  (I actually drove a good portion of US 287 on a previous trip to Texas from Dalhart through Amarillo and Wichita Falls into the Dallas area.) As I pulled into Choteau from the south I was greeted by two grumpy looking cowboys (in the Ace Hardware parking lot).  I contacted Ace owner Steve Nyland to inquire about the pieces and learned that they were made by Lincoln, Montana born artist Rick Rowley who now runs the Lost Woodsman Studio in Sedona, Arizona (which, by the way is ALSO on US 89 in Arizona) and is world renown for his art.

Big Wooden Cowboy in Choteau, Montana
Big Wooden Cowboy in Choteau, Montana (carved by Rick Rowley)
Grumpy Cowboy in Choteau, Montana
Grumpy Cowboy in Choteau, Montana (carved by Rick Rowley)
Visiting a couple of cranky cowboys in Choteau, Montana
Visiting a couple of cranky cowboys in Choteau, Montana

Choteau is home to a beautiful old courthouse, a 70s style motel and a few other unique things.

Teton County Courthouse, completed in 1906 and designed by Joseph B. Gibson and George H. Shanley
Teton County Courthouse, completed in 1906 and designed by Joseph B. Gibson and George H. Shanley
Old Neon - Big Sky Motel in Choteau, Montana
Old Neon – Big Sky Motel in Choteau, Montana
Welcome to Choteau, Montana sign
Welcome to Choteau, Montana sign
Old covered wagon on a building in Choteau, Montana
Old covered wagon on a building in Choteau, Montana
Roxy Theatre in Choteau, Montana
Roxy Theatre in Choteau, Montana
A wall mural in Choteau, Montana
A wall mural in Choteau, Montana
Choteau, Montana
Choteau, Montana – banner with dinosaurs

It is also home to a unique little museum called the Old Trail Museum, and is one of 14 stops on the Montana Dinosaur Trail. They even have three big dinosaur statues outside of the museum.

Old Trail Museum in Choteau, Montana
Old Trail Museum in Choteau, Montana
A T Rex coming after Sumoflam in Choteau, Montana at the Old Trail Museum
A T Rex coming after Sumoflam in Choteau, Montana at the Old Trail Museum
Grizzly Bear Exhibit at the Old Trail Museum
Grizzly Bear Exhibit at the Old Trail Museum
Bear Trap on display at the Old Trail Museum
Bear Trap on display at the Old Trail Museum

The folks at the Old Trail Museum are ultra friendly and there is a lot to see there including paleontology exhibits, grizzly bear exhibit, an art studio and a luscious ice cream shop!  A great place to bring the kids…and that is why we came with the grand kids.

Some of the Old Trail Museum
Some of the Old Trail Museum (including a dinosaur tail!)
Another dinosaur at the Old trail Museum
Another dinosaur at the Old trail Museum
The third outdoor dinosaur at the Old Trail Museum
The third outdoor dinosaur at the Old Trail Museum

The next town north of Choteau is Bynum, Montana.  The town is home to yet another dinosaur museum, the Two Medicine Dinosaur Center, another Dinosaur Trail stop.  The center includes the world’s longest dinosaur, a skeletal model display of a Seismosaurus, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Other displays include the first baby dinosaur remains found in North America and the actual remains of other new dinosaur species.

Bynum, Montana
Bynum, Montana
Two Medicine Dinosaur Center, Bynum, Montana
Two Medicine Dinosaur Center, Bynum, Montana
Come See the World's Largest Dinosaur in Bynum, Montana
Come See the World’s Largest Dinosaur in Bynum, Montana
Big Dino Statue in Bynum, Montana
Big Dino Statue in Bynum, Montana

This is another one of those very small towns, but it does have a unique character in that it has a dinosaur museum in a giant T Rex that you can see from the highway. Great for a photo opportunity!

Trex Agate Shop and wall mural in Bynum, Montana
Trex Agate Shop and wall mural in Bynum, Montana
Old Purkett's Grocery in Bynum, Montana
Old Purkett’s Grocery and Bus Depot in Bynum, Montana
J.D.'s Wildlife Sanctuary in Bynum. Apparently known for its steaks.
J.D.’s Wildlife Sanctuary in Bynum. Apparently known for its steaks.

Another few miles up the road US 89 meets Montana 219 which leads to Pendroy and then on to Conrad on Interstate 15.  Pendroy, Montana is a sparsely populated little place.

A dilapidated barn near Pendroy, Montana
A dilapidated barn near Pendroy, Montana
An old house in Pendroy, Montana
An old house in Pendroy, Montana

My biggest excitement about Pendroy was the discovery of some unique yard art outside a house there. It included a wind chime made of oxygen tanks, a metal bear sculpture, a metal gal on an old tiller and more.

Metal Gal on Tiller in Pendroy, Montana
Metal Gal on Tiller in Pendroy, Montana
Oxygen Tank Wind Chime in Pendroy, Montana
Oxygen Tank Wind Chime in Pendroy, Montana
Metal Grizzly Bear in Pendroy, Montana
Metal Grizzly Bear in Pendroy, Montana
Old cabin near Pendroy, Montana
Old cabin near Pendroy, Montana

The drive north on US Route 89 really offers some spectacular views of the mountains to the west and they are extra beautiful when the sun is coming up.

Rocky Mountains as seen from US 89 near Pendroy, Montana
Rocky Mountains as seen from US 89 near Pendroy, Montana
US 89 heading north from Pendroy, Montana
US 89 heading north from Pendroy, Montana
Another view of the Rocky Mountains just south of Dupuyer, Montana
Another view of the Rocky Mountains just south of Dupuyer, Montana

The next town on US 89 is the historic town of Dupuyer, Montana.  The sign below says it all, calling is a “colorful cattle town” and the “oldest town between Fort Benton and the Rocky Mountains.”  I found it to still be colorful.

Dupuyer History
Dupuyer History
Welcome to Dupuyer, another unique metal town sign, common in northern Montana
Welcome to Dupuyer, another unique metal town sign, common in northern Montana

While driving into Dupuyer, I noticed a unique cemetery on a hill west of town with the flag flying high and the Rockies in the background.  I decided to veer off the road a bit onto Dupuyer Creek Road and catch some of the scenery and was glad I did.

Dupuyer Cemetery on a hill with a spectacular view of the Rockies
Dupuyer Cemetery on a hill with a spectacular view of the Rockies
Dupuyer Creek Road is a gravel road west out of Dupuyer heading straight to the mountains
Dupuyer Creek Road is a gravel road west out of Dupuyer heading straight to the mountains
A flag flies at the gate to Anderson Ranch, just west of Dupuyer
A flag flies at the gate to Anderson Ranch, just west of Dupuyer

The road was also lined with colorful wildflowers all on bloom on this early morning.

Wildflowers set against the mountains
Wildflowers set against the mountains
Bright yellow wildflowers
Bright yellow wildflowers
Purple Wildflowers
Purple Wildflowers

Then, what struck me as fun was the “Boot Fence.”  I had seen one similar on a highway in Idaho in 2013.  Each post had its own boot on it.  I have also seen it in Texas.  I wondered about the tradition and found a few write-ups about the tradition. A search in Google images shows dozens of photos of boots on fences.

Many ranchers wear cowboy boots and like everything else, they eventually wear out. Ranchers are very resourceful and when this happens — they put the boots on top of the posts to keep them covered and prevent rain water from seeping into the posts and rotting them out.

Boot Post Fence near Dupuyer, Montana
Boot Post Fence near Dupuyer, Montana

Sometimes, a rancher will put boots on the fencepost to honor the passing of a beloved horse, a hired hand or fallen comrade. Also, before telephones were invented, a rancher would indicate he was home and the workday was over by hanging boots on the fence. Whatever the reasons, it is an interesting tradition in the west.

My favorite post
My favorite post

Finally, back on US 89 I was tempted to visit the Dupuyer Cache, but they were still not open when I drove by at 8:45 AM.

Dupuyer Cache sells yarn, honey, books, groceries and more.
Dupuyer Cache sells yarn, honey, books, groceries and more.
An old tractor at rest in Dupuyer, Montana
An old tractor at rest in Dupuyer, Montana

A couple of miles north of Dupuyer on US 89 is a cut off to Valier. In and of itself, Valier is not too exciting of small town but it is scenic as it borders Lake Frances, a great bird estuary.  On the afternoon leg of my trip with my grandchildren we ventured to Valier on our way to Choteau in order to take a ride out to “Rock City.”  It is a six or seven mile drive due north of town.  This is not the same Rock City that is located near Chattanooga, Tennessee and has advertisements on barns all over the southeast.  Rather, this Rock City is a natural “city” of rock formations that have been eroded away by the Two Medicine River. (See my detailed post about here)

Two Medicine River north of Valier, Montana
Two Medicine River north of Valier, Montana
Rock City north of Valier, Montana
Rock City north of Valier, Montana

To get to Rock City you drive north towards Cut Bank out of Valier on Cut Bank Highway and as the road turns west, you continue north on a dirt road which eventually turns into a little path that’s kind of bumpy and probably more suited to a four-wheel-drive or a large base vehicle.

A portion of the road to Rock City
A portion of the road to Rock City
Farmland along the road to Rock City
Farmland along the road to Rock City

On the approach through prairie lands and farmlands, a big Valley, a chasm opens up in front of you. The Two Medicine River flows down below and it was quite a strong current at the time we visited due to all the glacier runoff as spring had gotten started.

Chasm formed by Two Medicine River
Chasm formed by Two Medicine River (Glacier Wind Farm in background)
Two Medicine River forms a small canyon north of Valier, Montana
Two Medicine River forms a small canyon north of Valier, Montana

Hundreds of strange rock formations dot the landscape, creating many eerie features.  Many of the formations are 12 to 20 feet tall and many have big flat tops on them indicating massive amounts of water in wind erosion over but I would assume is centuries of time.

Hoodoos of Rock City
Hoodoos of Rock City
Unique formations at Rock City
Unique formations at Rock City

For the adventuresome person, hiking down to the river is probably quite possible as there are many locations that are not beholden with cliffs. On this occasion we walked around through many of the formations, but didn’t venture down into the canyon itself.

Rock City near Valier, Montana
Rock City formations near Valier, Montana

To me, though much different in appearance, it was not unlike Coal Mine Canyon which is located on the Navajo Indian Reservation east of Tuba City, Arizona. Like Coal Mine Canyon, it is an undeveloped geologic location that might otherwise be a National Monument or a State Park. But in both cases neither of these appear to be headed in this direction. Both require going down narrow dirt roads and paths to get to them. Both have unique and otherworldly formations. And both have big chasms with beautiful scenes.

Formations at Rock City north of Valier, MT
Formations at Rock City north of Valier, MT

Up in northern Montana near Sweet Grass, there are some similar formations known as the Jerusalem Rocks. But the Rock City formations are much larger and much more expansive. (See my detailed post about Rock City here)

More Rock City Formations
More Rock City Formations

Continuing north on US 89 I entered the Blackfeet Reservation at its southern entrance. And, similar to the East Entrance in Cut Bank (see photos in THIS POST),  there are two scrap metal Indian Chiefs that greeted me. The same artist, Jay Polite Laber has put these sculptures at all four directional entrances to the reservation.

Sumoflam with Blackfeet Chiefs at south entrance to Blackfeet Reservation south of Browning, MT
Sumoflam with Blackfeet Chiefs at south entrance to Blackfeet Reservation south of Browning, MT.  These were made by Blackfeet artist Jay Polite Laber
South entrance to the Blackfeet Nation
South entrance to the Blackfeet Nation – artwork by Blackfeet artist Jay Polite Laber
Blackfeet Chief by Jay Polite Laber
Blackfeet Chief by Jay Polite Laber

From this location looking west, one can see the grandeur of the massive snow covered mountains of Glacier National Park.

Heading north on US Route 89
Heading north on US Route 89
Horses graze on Blackfeet land as seen from US 89 southeast of Browning, MT
A horse grazes on Blackfeet land as seen from US 89 southeast of Browning, MT

Approaching Browning, MT just south of the Junction with US Route 2
Approaching Browning, MT just south of the Junction with US Route 2
(102)

Enjoying the Ride on the Back Roads of America

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