Yay, yay, yay there was a change in scenery again and stuff to see today! I loved all the coloured trees (as you could tell by the number of them in my posts) but we have been driving by coloured trees since leaving New Brunswick on September 22. I was happy to see the prairie yesterday and even happier to arrive at buttes and bluffs as we drove west in North Dakota today.
Before we left Rugby this morning we located the cairn marking the geographical center of North America just beside the highway on our way through town. I took John’s photo, he took mine and as we were walking back to the truck another couple got out of their truck and offered to take a photo of us both. Sweet – and I don’t like having my photo taken as a rule – but I was glad to get this one.
We are in the prairie belt of America – lots of sugar beets, vast plantings of sunflowers, corn, wheat and alfalfa. We are also in oil and gas country.
A small corner of a massive field of sun-flowers. We saw several of them well over a 100 acres in size.
Yesterday I was on Facebook chat with my cousin in Washington and told her our route for the day. She said, “Watch out for Williston, I’ve heard it is crazy there.” “What makes it crazy?” I asked. “The new oil.” Well she was right. Lots of trucks and equipment on the road, temporary housing units by the hundreds, full RV parks, trucks and trucks and more trucks at every hotel in town, new roads, upgraded railroads, new power lines, lots of businesses building. And brand new pumps working in the fields 25 miles in all directions from the town.
The Park Ranger we were talking with at Fort Union said he used to pay $800 per month for a one bedroom apartment in Williston. He came home one day and was told his rent was going up by $400. Now one bedroom apartments are over $2,000 per month and many are $100 per day. The good and the bad about an oil or gas boom in the area.
Williston is quite near the North Dakota-Montana border and we turned south there on Route 1804 to see if Fort Buford State Park and Fort Union National Park were still open. Just down the road for the turn to Fort Buford there is the Visitors Center for the Confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers. We turned in and went through the large visitor’s center to the pathway along the riverbank. Up a short hill you could see over the young trees and just make out where the two rivers joined.
Windy? Just look at those flags.
Just down the road from the ‘meeting of the waters’ is Fort Buford. There were only a couple of buildings reconstructed but the site was quite large and they had informative signage around. The wind that greeted us outside our hotel in Rugby (with 1 degree celsius temperature – that’s about 33 F for you American folks. Brrrr.) was blowing even stronger at Fort Buford. It was literally hard to stand in one place.
A mile further down the road is Fort Union, the longest running fur trading post (30 years) in America. Back in the day there would be 5,000 tepees surrounding the fort belonging to various tribes bringing in hides to trade for blankets, colored fabric, guns, pots & pans and all manner of other goods (contrary to movie westerns beads were only thrown in as a bonus. The Indians did not want to trade their hides for beads. They wanted useful, practical things. The inventory records of the fort showed only 5 trade transactions for beads in 5 years). Over 50,000 buffalo hides would be traded at Fort Union every year, along with beaver, otter (prized in China for the robes of the Emperor and still desired by the Chinese today), fox, wolf, badger, even mice (the pelts were used to line gloves).
During the archaeological digs at the fort site they uncovered two million artifacts – beads, buttons, 6 different china patterns, fabrics, iron implements, nails, you name it they found it. All but a few of the items are housed in the vault under the Bourgeois’s house (term for the fur trading company manager) because until funding is received to reconstruct some more of the buildings at the fort there is no room to display them. Maybe some day.
A fur press. It would be used to compact 100 buffalo hides into a bale for shipping to EuropeWe had a great chat with the Park Ranger. There were no other visitors, and at this time of year there are likely not too many, so he was enjoying telling us stories. One neat story (very shortened version, I promise) was about a troublemaking fellow named Deschamp who skipped across the Canada/US border in about 1865. He had three rabble-rousing sons as well.
A few years ago a new RCMP officer from Regina was visiting the fort and saw the write up about Deschamp and the fact that he had killed a Lord Sutton before skipping to the US. The officer told the ranger that the murder of Lord Sutton was still an open case in Saskatechwan. When he returned to Regina he told his superiors about the information he had read at Fort Union, they contacted the Fort archivist, received corrobatvie documents and the RCMP were able to close a century-old murder case.
16 miles down the road brought us to the border of Montana and the town of Sidney where we are camped in our hotel room for the night. And the sun came out too….the wind didn’t quit but the temperature warmed up to 16 (62 F)! All in all a pretty good day.