90 miles - Total: 2326 miles
Finally an uneventful day! Nothing dramatic to report. No flat tires, no wind, no storms, no rain. Just a relaxing 90-mile ride through a very hot and dry part of Montana. The scenery is beginning to present some differences from the grassland of the previous days. I can tell that I am getting closer to the mountains. There is more agricultural activity in this part of the State with an increasing number of wheat fields, trees, rivers, and abundant cattle. I am on the Lewis and Clark Trail.
This part of the country is criss-crossed by historic sites and trails. So vast and immense is the land in this part of the world that it takes an explorer's intrepidity to chart it in its length and width. Two hopeful explorers traveled to Montana in 1805 in search of the fabled River of the West or the Northwest Passage: a waterway that would connect trade routes of the East to the Pacific. Lewis and Clark, two brave men, direct offspring of the big, bold dreams made it all even bolder by the limitless mind of Thomas Jefferson and a country that had just dawned, its ambitious vision set out in the Declaration of Independence.
When they found the confluence of the Missouri and the Yellowstone rivers they celebrated. It was a time of discovery and a time of negotiations with Indian tribes that lived here. And a time for appreciation of the importance of commerce across the land. Lewis and Clark were crucial to what came next. Not only did they find a navigable passage, they also initated contact with local tribes, completed reconnaissance of suitable sites for trading posts and forts, made scientific accounts of the land's animals, plants and resources. It was the beginning of the nation with Thomas Jefferson eager to expand but unsure about what the land held. Discovery before conquest. Conquest before trade and industrialization. History follows stages I suppose. Or steps. I am riding through a land that bore witness to every singe one of these steps.
What strikes me most about the route today is the significance of the land to the Indians. The route I follow, Highway 2, passes through the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation. Along the way I noticed various museums or little stores that display and sell Indian artifacts, such as clothing, knives and other tools. A few miles from where I am staying, the city of Havre, there is a pishkun or buffalo jump. Indians killed thousands of bison here, stampeding them over the rocky cliff. A cruel but very effective way to send an animal to its death. Every part of the bison's body was put to use, from the horns to the brain. It was actually Lewis that documented the Indians' means to kill buffalo, in a fascinating account, this is what he noted:
"Today we passed on the Stard. Side the remains of a vast many mangled carcases of Buffalo which had been driven over a precipice of 120 feet by the Indians and perished; the water appeared to have washed away a part of this immense pile of slaughter and still their remained the fragments of at least a hundred carcases they created a most horrid stench. In this manner the Indians of the Missouri destroy vast herds of buffalo at a stroke; for this purpose one of the most active and fleet young men is selected and (being) disguised in a robe of buffalo skin, having also the skin of the buffalo's head with the years and horns fastened on his head in form of a cap, thus caparisoned he places himself at a convenient distance between a herd of buffalo and a precipice proper for the purpose, which happens in many places on this river for miles together...The other indians now surround the herd on the back and flanks and at a signal agreed on all shew themselves at the same time moving forward towards the buffalo; the disguised indian or decoy has taken care to place himself sufficiently nigh the buffalo to be noticed by them when they take to flight and running before them they follow him in full speed to the precipice, the cattle behind driving those in front over and seeing them go do not look or hesitate about following until the whole are precipitated down the precipice forming one common mass of dead an mangled carcases".
Another interesting fact about the land I ride through is that it is the scenery to one of the last great battles between the Army and the Indian tribes. The Nez Perce were a very resourceful and resilient group of people and outsmarted the whites army for quite sometime before they were outnumbered and outgunned in 1877. Many were killed and those who survived were allowed to live in the reservation in abysmal conditions.
Today I am adding to my journal a few notes which I wrote during my last day in North Dakota, that almost washed-out day due to the storm: Dickinson is a junk town, as many other towns in this part of the country that are becoming oil junk towns. Most trucks and SUVs come for business; all these arrivals here connected to the oil and gas development drive in a frenzy. Traffic is heavy and dangerous and it does not make for easy cycling. The western part of North Dakota is the scene to this new oil boom. It is the gold rush all over again. North Dakota is the oil producing state number 2 behind Texas. Crews are drilling feverishly, they are building roads, moving soil, building housing developments, they move forward the wholesale industrialization of a beautiful rugged land. My romantic mind cannot help wondering whether it is a blessing or a curse. The few local people I speak to about this are very skeptical. They say that their quite way of life is being disrupted for good. I reply that there might be economic profits for everyone but they say that only the landowners and investors will be rich. Old people and those who do not own properties will only see prices and rents go up. The guy that works at the motel says that him and his wife do not recognize this place anymore (this place means Beach, a hamlet with the population of 1019); they want to sell what they have and move to Montana in the mountains. I guess this puts things into perspectives for city slickers. I don't know if these people are being too conservative or just plain scared of the unknown. I guess we will have to wait and see if the frantic oil drilling will bring about a collective improvement of economic and social life. So far, all I see are the crazed trucks going to the dig while disappearing small farming towns are not seeing the arms of progress. And the landowners here do not even own the oil. It will belong to the investors and the mineral owners. While the country faces a recession, it is really weird to see such a remote region being swamped by hungry workers that are looking for a place in the sun. There are miles and miles of desolation and virgin prairies but underneath there is oil. The arm of progress is coming to North Dakota. The last frontier is being swallowed by the oil digging machines and the unstoppable force of industrialization.
The Bear Paws Mountains in the distance
The tiny town of Dodson
Highway 2 at Dodson
An old bar sign in Dodson
An abandoned house
Sign in the Indian Reservation
Cattle by the side of highway 2
Chinook, Main st
Once upon a time Montana
Highway 2 near Havre