2010 Aug 15 – Day 4 – Choteau, MT to Great Falls, MT (Ulm Pishkun State Park)

I think it is because I have lived my entire life surrounded by high hills and near the very high Rocky Mountains that I so love the wide open prairie.  To me there is a special beauty to all of the buttes and grasslands and distant horizon. We had spent the night at Choteau, MT which is only about 85 km (55 miles) from Great Falls which was our destination for the day.  Fifteen miles south of Choteau is the 12,000 acre Freezeout Lake Waterfowl Area.  During the spring and fall migrations as many as 300,000 snow geese and 10,000 whistling swans stop here. In order to protect the nearby farms, wheat and barley are planted on the reserve to sate the bird’s hunger.  The brochure lists the names of 227 species of birds that have been sighted at Freezeout Lake. Since it was mid-summer the migrating birds have already been through the area but we did see a nice-sized flock of American Pelicans, an avocet and an egret. A few miles south of Freezeout Lake we passed an elk ranch. We turned off the main highway onto a gravel road that would take us to Ulm Pishkun State Park which is located slightly southwest of Great Falls. John drives my Poppy truck very slowly on gravel roads to protect her paint.  Fortunately Montana is lightly populated so we didn’t meet any vehicles that threw up a rock as it went by. “Pishkun” is a Blackfoot word for buffalo jump.  For thousands of years it was a common hunting technique to stampede a herd of bison to the edge of a cliff via lanes with sides of stone.  As the firghtened animals milled around at the cliff edge the oncoming ones at the rear forced the ones at the front over the edge where they were easily dispatched if the fall didn’t kill them.  The entire tribe would work for days to get all the meat, hides, horns, and all things usable from the animals.  Only after the white man introduced the use of guns for hunting from horseback did the native way of life change.

At Ulm Pishkun there is an interpretive center with interesting displays about the culture of the Blackfoot and their hunting technique. A trail leads to the top of the cliff where there is a panoramic view of miles and miles of open prairie and agricultural fields.  This is the land of Charles M. Russell’s paintings that I so loved as a child.  The Russell homestead and studio is in Great Falls which is why we are staying the night there.  We had gone through Great Falls a few years ago and the museum was closed so I was glad to be able to go on this trip. Plants grow right out of the rock on the cliff face.  The photo above was taken looking straight down over the edge. We spent a few happy hours at Ulm Pishkun before driving into Great Falls for the night.

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