Monday, July 18, 2016

Three Parks, Three Rivers - Three Forks, Montana

Wednesday, July 13 - Saturday, July 16, 2016
Three Forks, Montana

We like it so much at Spring Creek RV Park that I make reservations for two nights on our return route.

With just over 90 miles to go, we take our time getting up and out on Wednesday morning. Bill "silicones" the slides and washes the windshield, and I do some interior cleaning. 

Unfortunately it takes us nearly an hour at the dump station.

Because as Bill pulls out, the rear tire on the Jeep is completely flat :-(  It's a pain, but I'm so glad we're somewhere safe and level! 

At first he's not sure about getting the lug nuts off (that have been put on with a hydraulic wrench of course), but just as I'm giving the location to the AAA dispatcher he lets me know he's got it.  My hero!

Again, I get no photo of him doing fun work. I better be getting wife-points.

While working on the tire the wind is steadily increasing, and as we pull out of the park it's 20 mph from the northwest. Not turning out to be the best travel day.

It impacts fuel consumption, but if I'm going to drive in the wind, give me a head wind every time! It's not too bad back on I-90, and dies down around Livingston. By the time we reach Bozeman it's barely a breeze.

Another beautiful drive
30 more miles and we're taking the exit for Three Forks, MT. Not only do three rivers come together here, but there are three state parks to keep us busy!

Camp Three Forks is another very pretty park. The owners purchased the land 47 years ago, planted a gazillion trees, and opened an RV park. They sold it to KOA and managed it for a few years, didn't like the way KOA did things, and bought it back. The address is still KOA Road, but the park is back in family hands. I learn all this from Santa Claus who is a work camper at the park. 

Seriously, he's Santa back in Michigan, and has been for over 40 years. People are so fun.

Gravel roads and sites, all shaded. Many, including ours, are 100 foot long pull-through. Almost 200 sites plus tent area and small cabins. 

I thought I'd reserved FHUs but my name is on the water/electric list so we'll make do. It won't kill me to use the laundry room (turns out it's very nice and clean and convenient). I'm given the 30 amp rate for a 50 amp site but when Bill hooks us up it's only 30 amp. Oh well, we're already level.

Lots of green

We don't expect to get satellite, and we don't. The park WiFi works well most of the time. The trees keep the interior cool, and there are lots of birds. And bunnies! Black bunnies!! Tessa is so distracted she might never get her business done while we're here.

Thursday morning is bright and sunny. We head out early for Bozeman. We've really pushed the "where you should drive with these tires" rating, and have been lucky to only have two flats on the Jeep. We bite the bullet and opt to replace them at Walmart. The Goodyear tires we choose aren't cheaper, but their warranty means we can get repairs and maintenance in more places. 

In just over an hour we're out the door with new, beefier, Jeep shoes. Bill finds a place for breakfast that is wonderful. Only open for a week, Un-Knotted should be very popular in no time. We liked everything about this place. Really, put it on the list for when you're in the area. Do it :-)

The quiche and homemade hash browns are divine.
Wonderful and comfy decor - come and enjoy a cup of coffee and coloring books!
Tessa-approved doggie-tv with headrest.
And cute guys!
Returning west we stop at the first of the three state parks. Madison Buffalo Jump State Park is small at 638 acres, but preserves an area of rich Native American history. 

We make the 1/4 mile climb to the interpretive area below the 300 foot limestone cliff. You can stand across from this cliff with the grass-covered hills all around and imagine the drama unfolding right in front of you. It is a very powerful place.

Runners were trained from a young age for speed and endurance. Wearing buffalo, antelope or wolf hides, they lured the buffalo to the "pishkun" or cliff where they were then stampeded over the edge. The buffalo jump was often the key to existence for native peoples, and everything from hides to bone marrow was used. 

Limestone cliff
Most of the bones excavated from this site were found in this area.
While reading the website information I find a discrepancy in the dates of the last known use of the jump. There is an email contact so I write and ask about it. I receive this response the next morning:

This past fall we had some elders from the Salish tribe in Western Montana who visited MBJSP and one elder who was in his 80s mentioned hearing stories as a boy from his grandfather about using the jump to run Buffalo off when he was a boy. So that might place last use of the Jump in 1840s.

This is a difference of 140 years from what was originally thought so it's interesting to get the more updated information!

Limestone cliffs on both sides of this river valley
We hang out at home for the afternoon, enjoying our shady site. Later we check out Willow Creek Cafe and Saloon about 6 miles down the road. Along with the elementary school and the big church, this makes up the town of Willow Creek. Although the tables never fill up while we're there, we're assured that we are extremely lucky to get a small table without reservations. Indeed the food is delicious, and the place is hopping with lots of locals. 

Figuring the biggest park will get the biggest crowd on the weekend, Friday we head for Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park. Even though I don't do tight, dark spaces very well, I still want to see what we can see. The beautiful weather continues.

The main visitor center is closed due to "staffing issues," and signs direct us to continue up to the cave. There are also signs in the parking lot suggesting that leaving large trailers here before driving up the steep road is a good idea. A few 5ers have accepted the invitation.

A quick drive through the campground reveals a nice meadow with spectacular views in every direction, two loops with electric hookups, potable water spigots in several locations, two vault toilet buildings, camp host, and very large sites. Another unexpected location that we would definitely enjoy.

The climb to the top includes 9% grades and a few switchbacks, but the road is wide with trees on the "I can't look that way" side, so I'm okay with the height. So are a lot of other people as we find the parking lot nearly full. 

Crosswalk as picnic area
From the lot I can see a tour heading up to the cavern. A long ways up. I don't think so. Instead I visit the teeny, tiny, center that has a remarkable amount of information. A grainy video plays on an old television.

See them?
Half way to the top.
After the caves and the surrounding area was donated to the National Park Service, they had no funding to develop it into a park. It was then passed on to the Montana State Parks - who had no state parks at the time. There was a parks director in place, but no parks. Optimistic government at its finest. So this was the first Montana State Park! They also had limited resources, so the CCC was brought in to build the original buildings and trails. 

There are a couple steep and narrow trails that more nimble hikers would enjoy, but for us it's back to the road to enjoy the views. 

Interesting veins in the basalt walls
Hwy 287 runs along the river - where we started 
Back along the river, the canyon walls are striped in gray and green
Hwy 287 continues around to make a loop with I-90 which we take back to Three Forks. The lovely weather continues so we opt for lunch at an outdoor patio on Main Street.

Lots of pretty flowers
Some blooms that last all year
Back at home I get the laundry done and hang out in the office/lounge where I meet and talk with Santa referenced above. 

Friday starts out late for the last state park in the area. Just seven miles up the road is Missouri Headwaters State Park.

The Gallatin, Jefferson and Madison rivers come together here to form the mighty Missouri River - the longest in the country. This spot is also famous as the location of Sacajawea's kidnapping as a child by a rival tribe, and where she would return with her own child years later as part of the Corps of Discovery. Lewis and Clark's party camped here to survey the area in 1805.

The beginning of one big river
where three come together
You-know-who doing you-know-what
Interpretive signs line the trail throughout the small park
The original towns (there were two unsuccessful attempts) of Gallatin City were built within the current boundaries of what is now the state park. Only two original buildings remain standing (with some help). The third attempt became the current town of Three Forks.

The Gallatin Hotel built by Jarvis Akin in the mid 1800's was the social center of the struggling town
When the hotel closed, part of it was moved to another location, and the remaining building became a barn
Started out as a barn, still a barn.
Fields of grass in every direction

From the park we drive east until the road turns to dirt. And we keep going. We love just going to see what we might see. 

We pass by acres of green crops, and hills of green and gold grass. It's so pretty here. I love the forest and the ocean, but I'm falling in love with these wide open plains as well. I feel like I can breathe bigger. I know, weird.

It's okay to be different

Three Forks, Montana in front of the Northern Rockies 
After a nice afternoon nap we venture into town. Main Street is still closed although the parade ended at noon. The rodeo is in town, we might go see it after dinner.

The Iron Horse Restaurant is the only place open and we have to wait a bit for a good meal. 

The rodeo grounds are on the way out of town, but there are dozens of cars parked along the way. People line both sides of the road. The stands are full to overflowing - I don't know where all the people still arriving are going to watch the event. I know we aren't going to see it :-(

Wonderful to see a small town event draw such a big crowd. I hope everyone had a safe and fun evening. We'll catch another rodeo down the road.

Back home our 100 foot site has become a 50 foot site as a tenter has set up camp behind us. Huh.

Before long all the "backs" of the pull-throughs are filled with tenters. None of the tent sites are being used so there must be something wrong with them. We've parked behind the motorhome, but before we go to bed Bill moves the Jeep to the front so we don't get blocked in. 

One more day in Three Forks, probably a quiet one - we're out of state parks :-)))))


  1. There you are again, another PIA moment that you two sail right through. Glad you got new tires. At least that can’t happen again for a while one would think. Would have loved to see a picture of Santa. Guess you can trust him for local history. Because we do state parks and national parks almost exclusively, we seldom if ever have FHU. In fact in National Parks it’s NHU. Un-knotted is duly noted. I mean doggie TV and cute guys. Thanks for the tip. Love that you called them about the date discrepancy and got the latest update. Well done! Sad to hear that a state park VC is closed due to “staffing issues”. Wonder what that means? We only have one person working in this park and don’t want to give out enough free campsites to get enough volunteers? Looks like a serious hike up to the cavern. I’d be up for it if it isn’t too hot. Your lunch spot in 3 Forks looks really sweet. You do find the best places to eat. Love that you made it to the Missouri River headwaters. That’s a spot I want to visit. Wow is that weird that they assign two people to a site.

    1. I always thought we'd spend most of our time without FHU but I've gotten spoiled :-( It was a typed sign so maybe two people called in sick? You'd love the headwaters - it's such a beautiful and interesting spot!

  2. That was a good looking breakfast. You found some interesting places to visit.

    1. For a little spot it really had a lot of cool places!

  3. We've been walking past lots of green wheat here on Prince Edward Island, Canada. So it was interesting to see that some of the wheat in Montana is already going tan. Your narrative about Montana adds information and new points of view to what we saw in Montana last year. Keep up the good writing!

    1. Thanks Craig :-) We passed acres of golden wheat today - so pretty!

  4. Glad the Jeep got some heavier duty tires. You never know what the dirt roads will bring. Good to hear your flat wasn't out on the highway and got repaired quickly. Love Tessa's perfect spot with a built in chin rest:) Great to see "You know who, doing what he likes." Beautiful SP's! I would have loved to hit the trails:) Too bad you aren't enjoying yourselves:)

    1. :-) yep, we really have to work on the fun factor! You would definitely liked those up and down trails there :-))))

  5. I am overwhelmed by all of this water.

    1. After last summer's route through Oregon and Washington where rivers were nearly dry, we are loving these full rushing scenes!

  6. The open plains do have their beauty! I love the buffalo story (although kid of sad). Barns are always cool. I love taking photos of grasses close up too. That hike looked fun as did the fishing!

    1. I agree the buffalo jump was a mixed feeling place. It was hard not to think about how terrifying it was for the animals regardless of the respect the natives showed to the kill and the using of every piece. Grasses are the bestest!!

  7. Getting caught up on my blog reading this morning. We love MT and all of the big sky, we enjoyed Spring Creek and have put it down as a potential workamp place some summer. We just visited a buffalo jump in Alberta, sad stories but a necessity to the First Nations way of life. Those MT state parks look really nice, we'll keep them in mind when we're back in the area.

    1. We're headed back for a couple nights at Spring Creek this weekend :-) All the parks are so close together, it makes for a lot of variety without a lot of driving!

  8. You are giving us so many great ideas! So many gorgeous and interesting places to explore in Montana. I know what you mean about the beauty of wide-open spaces. As much as I love the ocean and the forests, I also love the expansiveness of the plains. Hey—I think I've seen that cute guy before—I think he's following you.....

    1. He does show up at a lot of the places I go! I'm not sure what I was expecting in Montana, but it has really surprised me :-)