Traveling west on the High Line Highway 2 in North Dakota
When I left you last, Mo and I were happily settled in for two peaceful days at Grahams Island State Park. Currently, as I write this morning, the fall foggy mornings have settled into our beautiful Southern Oregon Rogue Valley. Grants Pass has fog. It isn’t the beach, but just 2 short hours from the ocean and a straight line to the ridge of mountains that likes to make sure that fog settles in.
Sometimes it rolls around and we watch it rise from the valley, shrouding our outdoor views with soft gray. Sometimes we watch it lift. Unlike the cold not snowy winter days of January, it stays all day. I am happy that at this time of year it usually lifts. But what I find interesting is that when the rains stop and the weather apps say “sunny”, I can be fairly certain that our mornings, at least, will be foggy.
What better time to return with photos and pictures and notes in my journal and calendar to write about our travels as we continued westward.
We left Grahams Island State Park early on the morning of the first of October. Mo was born in North Dakota and knows the state better than I do, but I was surprised by the views of rolling hills and meandering canyons as we drove west from Devils Lake.
Before long, however, the landscape flattened into what most people imagine for the state of North Dakota. In addition to the flat landscape, we noticed more and more oil wells as we approached Williston on the far western border of the state. North Dakota experienced a major oil boom in the early 2000s. Here is the introductory paragraph from Wiki. Skip over it if you like, but with the current state of oil production and oil and fuel prices in the US, it might be interesting:
“The North Dakota oil boom refers to the period of rapidly expanding oil extraction from the Bakken Formation in the state of North Dakota that lasted from the discovery of Parshall Oil Field in 2006, and peaked in 2012, but with substantially less growth noted since 2015 due to a global decline in oil prices. Despite the Great Recession, the oil boom resulted in enough jobs to provide North Dakota with the lowest unemployment rate in the United States from 2008 to at least 2014. The boom gave North Dakota, a state with a 2013 population of about 725,000, a billion-dollar budget surplus. North Dakota, which ranked 38th in per capita gross domestic product (GDP) in 2001, rose steadily with the Bakken boom, and had a per capita GDP 29% above the national average by 2013.
By October 2020, total oil rig count in the state had fallen dramatically. According to the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, the total oil rig count in the state had fallen from 58 active rigs on October 3, 2019, to only 11 active rigs on October 3, 2020, a reduction of over 80 percent.
The oil boom was largely due to the successful use of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, which made tight oil deposits recoverable. Contributing to the boom was a push to commence drilling and production on oil and gas leases before the expiration of their primary term, commonly three to five years, at which time the leases would terminate unless a producing well was drilled on the lease. But once production was established, the leases continued as long as oil and gas were continually produced.”
As we continued west and the day extended toward evening, we had to make a choice. In our original planning I thought that we could camp at Fort Peck in the COE campgrounds near the dam. I knew that the campgrounds closed on September 30, but thought we could still dry camp there. However, when I contacted the campground by phone I was told that the gates were all closed and locked but that we could still find a spot along the road leading toward the lake for dispersed camping.
It was time to make a decision. Our travel plans were slowing considerably by adding a few extra days out to arrive in Lincoln Washington on October 7. Why rush to a closed campground? We chose instead to boondock in the parking lot of the Flying J or the Love’s Truck stop in Williston on the border between North Dakota and Montana.
The Flying J was on the edge of town, along Highway 2, but when we stopped it was small and seemed a bit isolated and sketchy. Continuing a few miles toward the town of Williston, we checked out the Love’s Truck Stop and decided it would be a fine place for an overnight. We have camped a few times in the past at Loves or Flying J or other big truck stops without incident. I never thought to take photos, for reasons that might become more clear with the continuation of this story. It wasn’t a good night.
The truck stop was fairly new, built in the last couple of years, and there seemed to be plenty of room in the parking area surrounding the store. We first settled into a spot along the right side of that island you see on the right because all of the overnight slots for truck parking were back-in sites. We really didn’t want to have to unhook for just an overnight at a truck stop.
We settled in and managed to open the slide into a safe area with big rigs passing us on the right. Just a short time later, a guy with a fifth wheel pulled out of one of the back in slots, leaving his chair and ice chest in place, and shortly after that, a trucker pulled up next to the leftover stuff. Suddenly he was screaming and yelling and throwing everything in that space into the air and out to the grass. He was angry and loud and very scary. Funny thing was that there were at least 20 open slots all around that one space. No matter, the guy was really mad. I looked at Mo and said, “Let’s just pull straight into that spot far from everything on the boundary of the parking lot and we can unhook in the morning”. So we did. It was an easy place to settle in, with grass on two sides of us and some garbage cans, and no one nearby.
Within minutes, however, some very strange-looking people pulled up in a couple of trucks, yelling and trying to find out if someone had left a small portable refrigerator by a telephone pole by us and these people were trying to figure out if it was useable. There was a plug-in on the phone pole and they were trying to use it. We locked our doors. As we settled in for supper, more and more trucks pulled into the lot, however instead of semis, most of them were working trucks with a lot of big dirty equipment. Maybe we were getting a bit paranoid by this time but the drivers all seemed angry and fast and scary as well.
We pulled the shades tight against the outdoor lights surrounding us and went to bed with our Kindles to read. The noise never stopped. There were trucks and a lot of strange people running around and yelling at each other. I was afraid to open anything to look out the windows to try to see what was going on. Then as the night progressed, the noise got louder. Coyotes started howling close by and there was a lot of dog barking. Then there was a lot of crashing and banging. I finally peeked out the window to see another angry guy throwing the full garbage cans into a giant trailer. He was yelling at the dogs and the coyotes I guess, or maybe the garbage cans. Things settled down for a bit before he returned for more yelling and throwing the now-empty garbage cans back into their locations on both sides of our rig.
I think it was around 1am when things finally settled down and I slept, although fitfully and very apprehensive about what might happen next. We left early the next morning. I think we might avoid staying at another Love’s truck stop in the future, at least not in working man oil country.
Eastern Montana on Highway 2 was a bit less flat than Western North Dakota
When our plans shifted with an early stopover at Williston, we needed to re-evaluate our nightly destinations. I already had a reservation for an RV park in Cutbank, Montana for Monday the 3rd, and we didn’t want to drive all the way to Cutbank in one day. I searched around a bit and found a little treasure in the tiny town of Zurich, Montana. (unlike Switzerland, it is pronounced like “rich”).
Once more, as we continued west, we were accompanied by the muted fall colors of a plains state with few trees
As I was searching for places to stay, I came upon this video for the tiny town of Zurich, about 30 miles east of Havre. I then read a few reviews, and we decided that a night in this old park in an old town would be a delightful way to spend an extra night on the road.
We arrived early afternoon and the park was empty. We had our choice of sites and discovered that the new posts were 30/50 amp, not only 50amp as was noted in one of the reviews. We had a converter either way but it was nice not to have to use it. The water spigot adjacent to our site was also operational, although all the other spigots were turned off for the winter.
Next to the park building was a mailbox with envelopes and registration forms. Inside the box were two other filled-out forms with money inside the envelopes. Only in rural Montana, I would guess. No one seemed to bother the money-filled envelopes in the mailbox. We added our envelope and our ten-dollar bill to the pile.
I took Mattie for a walk and we enjoyed the silence and the ambiance of the park. It was easy to imagine summertime picnics and ballgames and happy laughing people having barbeques and family gatherings. Mattie loved this park because she could run and play off-leash to her heart’s content. For us, it was a perfectly quiet and very dark overnight stay.
We discovered to our consternation the next morning that someone had parked a vehicle right in front of the MoHo. We never heard anything, but there was a dry spot where the overnight rain hadn’t reached below the footprint of the vehicle. Sadly, there was no additional envelope in the mailbox. Before we left that morning an older gentleman drove in and picked up the envelopes and drove up to what appeared to be a caretaker’s home just across the creek. He was taciturn but did say hello to us.
Loved seeing these two schools across the street from each other in Zurich
On our way out of town, we took advantage of the moody, foggy morning to stop and take some photos of the old bank and school. Such a sweet little place and great fun for a change of pace for us.
As we crossed the rest of the state of Montana toward Cutbank, the perfectly flat landscape opened up with a slight hint of the great mountain range to our west. It is always exciting to approach the Rocky Mountains after traveling across so many hundreds of miles of flat country. Although I developed a new respect for the Appalachian Mountains after this trip. Still, the magnificent front of the Rockies viewed from a long distance is thrilling.
We were a bit less thrilled when we drove into Cutbank and found our 4-star rated campground. Glacier Mist RV Park is definitely a strange place.
Here is a review that encouraged me to take a chance with a park that was “a work in progress” In fairness, there wasn’t much available on the east side of the Rockies this late in the season. Most of the RV parks that cater to Glacier NP visitors were closed, and after many calls, I got a reservation at Glacier Mist. When I called this morning to request an additional night Carol called me right back. Carol is nothing if not friendly and very talkative.
Convenient to Glacier NP, 30/50 A, wide spaces for all size RV, we camped 3 days with 40. Ft Fifth wheel, plenty of room For truck also. Carol, the owner runs the place by herself and is very nice, campground is a work in progress so it looks a little rough but Don’t let that keep you from coming in Price was great….
As you can see from the photos, work in progress is definitely a good description. Carol told us to take our choice of campsites, and we hooked up water and power and surprisingly, the site was completely level. Our plan was to spend two days at this park to stall another night before traveling to Idaho and on to Washington, to catch up on laundry, and to catch up on rest.
When I went to the office to ask Carol for the bathroom and laundry room code she asked if we planned to visit Glacier, and then proceeded to give me maps and charts and a ton of information about visiting the park this late in the season.
I did laundry in the spotless laundry room, took a great shower in the spotless bathroom, and meandered back to the rig to talk with Mo about the possibility of seeing Glacier NP. What I didn’t know is that Mo had never been to Glacier. I had to search my memory banks and photos to remember the several times that I visited the park during the time I lived in Northern Idaho.
The sunset from Glacier Mist RV Park toward the Rocky Mountains was stunning.
After supper, we reviewed the maps and decided that a day trip to Glacier would be a great idea. What better way to kill an extra day on the road?!
Our day in Glacier was spectacular and has earned the right to a post of its own, coming next.