Roadtrip: Montana from ND border to Laurel

The Montana side of the badlands isn’t quite so eerie as North Dakota.  The spires and buttes are a bit more sedate, and the Yellowstone river (which I-94 and I-90 follow for several hours) flattens out a long stretch between the hills into a beautiful grasslands.  And again, dinosaurs!  Prehistoric stuff!

I started out in Glendive (no Airbnb but the Astoria hotel is quite nice and has a substantial AAA discount), which is right next to the Makoshika State Park.

Panorama of Makoshika State Park, Glendive, MT

Panorama of Makoshika State Park, Glendive, MT

Tons of dinosaur fossils have been dug up here, some of which can be found in the nearby Frontier Gateway Museum–free, not to be confused with the creationist museum next door, and with a very chatty docent–which also has a whole mini town of Old West stores in the backyard.  You can apparently still stumble across some; however, my sports car, which getting awesome mileage as a hybrid, was not built for the mostly dirt- and pebble, steep, scenic road.  I ended up parking it about a third of the way in, then hiking another mile in before running out of time.  Need to convince someone with a 4W/AWD vehicle to come back for me, since I believe I missed out on some of the best views.

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I will also say that Montana state parks have a pretty good deal.  You pay the day pass fee at one park ($6 for nonresident car) and get a permit, and it’s good for as many state parks as you can visit that day.  So I also managed to squeeze in the Pictograph Cave State Park.  Sadly, the main cave with most of the pictographs was closed due to a rockfall, but the whole area has a really lovely peaceful feel to it.  A ranger I ran into said that the ancient Native Americans considered it akin to a cathedral, and it does have that meditative feel to it.

It also has a lot of wildlife.  I spotted rabbits and birds, and the aforementioned ranger showed me a rattlesnake he had just removed from the trail (much smaller than it looks in the photo, maybe a couple feet long).  It was a good day for animal-spotting; I also saw some pronghorn next to the interstate.

And just before Pictograph State Park was the Pompey’s Pillar National Monument, where the Lewis & Clark expedition stopped and William Clark etched his name into a stone pillar (along with hundreds of others, including Native American predecessors).  The Pillar had a great view of the Yellowstone river.  It also seemed to be populated entirely by loud, chittering marmots, which are sort of furry sausages with a face.  Note: The federal government’s interagency annual pass ($80 covers all entrance fees to any federal area) is an awesome deal, too.

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Stopping point for the night was an Airbnb place in Laurel, an early 1900s Romantic house that has been restored with period fixtures by the owner (some being essentially “early whorehouse” in their words)  Host is amazingly knowledgeable about local history.  Also offered to take me fossil-hunting, but sadly, no time for that on this trip (all the cool spots in Montana seem to be hours and hours off the interstate, which I didn’t build in time for).  Next time.

P.S. What I dislike about roadtripping: having to constantly clean bug splats off the windshield.