Tag Archives: Fort Peck

Water, Land & Sky

7 Aug


One man was killed and seven others were missing and believed dead Thursday night after millions of yards of dirt and rocks slid down the upstream side of the east abutment of the giant Fort Peck dam across the Missouri river here.  —  The Billings Gazette, Montana September 23, 1938


It’s very quiet up on the Fort Peck Dam this early morning.  Five miles of earthen wall holding back the Missouri.

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The building of the dam made the first issue of Life Magazine in 1936, and Franklin Roosevelt came to visit, the work on this dusty prairie a symbol of all that was to be.

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Seventeen miles down the road is Glasgow, shown in Life as a town of dance halls and saloons where the workers could blow off a little steam.

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“Morning,” says a bearded man stepping carefully onto the sidewalk.  “Nice day.  I wore my medium flannel and it’s already warm.”  I agreed it was warm and he blessed me as his dog sniffed my shoes and continued on.


Eighty years on, the stretch of bars and casinos across from the old railway depot is little changed.

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Further down Route 2 we stopped for breakfast.


Two freight trains went by as we ate.  Forest fires on the news.  A group of bikers came in and the owner moved them to the back to make way for the seniors breakfast that was about to start at the round table up front.  H.D. was on the stool when we arrived, and he was still there when we left.


We made a U-Turn for the Dinosaur Museum.  Souvenirs, an explanation of ammonites, and a couple free dinosaur bones from the archeologist on staff.  They were so sweet I left with a smile.

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The mountains shadowed us for most of the day.  Ghosts on the horizon, coming and going, first to the south, and then later to the north.  West of Shelby they became real, and shortly thereafter we began to ascend.  With my mother sucking in air and reminding me of the speed limit for every approaching curve, Marias Pass was like the most beautiful airplane turbulence I’d ever experienced.  But the air, a lush, clean mélange of balsam, cedar and pine was gentle and delicious.  I just kept thinking, “I want to smell like that. ”

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Arriving in West Glacier, the road leveled out and we continued on to our destination, always within sight of what we had just passed through.

The Color of Wheat

5 Aug


“Is this hotel really haunted?” 

“Oh yes.  But just the third floor.  We keep it locked”

Fort Peck Hotel, August 3rd 2015


The morning came early, as promised.  Apologies to Grand Forks.  As wonderful as you probably are, we blew right past you in exhaustion, only to land in a convention center/hotel/condo gulag  to your southwest.  Your sunrise the next morning was, nevertheless, gorgeous.


The morning  sun across the fields is spectacular, teaching me the beauty of grass against wheat against sky.  It becomes clear to me for the first time that great artists learn about color from nature, not a textbook.


And so we keep pulling over to the side of the road and stepping into the morning wind.


And walking through the quiet towns.


We hear the train before we see it, and rush to tracks where we see nothing in either direction.  Getting back into the car we hear it again, closer this time, and we run back.  Still nothing. “Maybe there’s another set of tracks,’ I say.  And then it’s there, coming fast out of the east.


The combination of empty roads, great speed limits and a time zone crossing that works in our favor, allows us to arrive early in Fort Peck, Montana.  A town built from nothing by the WPA to house the men working on the Fort Peck Dam, we are booked into the former workers lodge, now the Fort Peck Hotel.


Beaver pelts, moose heads, a wolf skin and more stuffed birds than I can count, with a bar in the lobby, it is everything I hoped for.DSC_0708

Built on a hill, there’s a loneliness to the town.


And though the it fills up for the afternoon performance of Tarzan, The Musical at this gorgeous theatre rebuilt by volunteers from the movie theatre built for the dam workers back in the ’30s, it is quiet again by dusk.


An island of homes in a sea of sagebrush.