Dakotas part 4 – Yellowstone, WY to Bismark, ND

Dakotas part 4 – Yellowstone, WY to Bismark, ND

The following morning we spent a little time in Cody, before moving on. We started off with breakfast at the Hotel Irma, a Buffalo Bill themed establishment in the center of town. The food was tasty in and enormous quantities! The commitment to the theme was impressive, with even the waiting staff being decked out in old time wild west clothing. We feasted on pancakes, bacon, and other American goodies to get our day off to a solid start.

Before leaving Cody, we had decided to visit the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, a collection of five museums and a research library all themed around the American West. Juvy made a beeline for the art section, while Mike and I were more attracted by the natural history and firearms sections.

It was a fascinating couple of hours touring the exhibitions, particularly the animal section; I have a great fondness for bears. It’s always interesting, too, learning more about the early European exploration and settlement of the west. The three of us met up after our wanderings around the museum, and headed back towards Cody airport, ready for the next section of the journey.

Flight over Yellowstone and up into Montana

Our plan was to fly over Yellowstone for some sightseeing, but it was fairly windy, and three people plus camping gear and luggage in a C172 is a fair load, even though ‘573 has a 180hp, upgraded engine. I tracked down a local commercial pilot, who regularly flew sight-seeing trips over Yellowstone; he said that the weather should be ok, despite the winds aloft, and gave us some hints and tips for a successful flight. We took off, and headed up the valley.

Yellowstone rarely disappoints from the air, and this time we had fairly clear skies, and great views. We took in all the sights; the Grand Prismatic Springs, Yellowstone canyon, and Mammoth Hot Springs to name but a few. The mountains around the park were as awe-inspiring as the park itself. After the sight-seeing, we departed the park to the north into Montana, and landed for fuel and a short rest at Livingston.

We continued north to Great Falls, Montana. We had decided on a stop here to see the falls for which the city is named, as well as learn a little bit about its historical significance as part of the Lewis and Clark trail to the west coast. We arrived too late to explore any of that, however, so made our way to a camp ground and settled in. Dinner was in a nearby American Bar and Grill, then back to the tents to relax. I was busily online shopping for the 3-man version of my 2-man tent, craving a little more space, when I heard some noises; we all went off to investigate and discovered three raccoons raiding the rubbish bins!

The next day dawned clear and bright, and Juvy was (I’m told) up at dawn to take photographs of the sunrise behind the camp site. In the morning we went to visit the Lewis and Clark interpretive center, on the banks of the Missouri river. The National Parks service was celebrating its centennial year, and all kinds of special displays and exhibits were in evidence at the various sites as part of the celebrations.

Morning in Great Falls

The Lewis and Clark expedition set out in August 1803, departing from Pittsburgh PA, just like us. The expedition overall took three years, and was the first to cross the American west. It was prompted by the desire to explore and map territory newly acquired as part of the Louisiana purchase. A major part of the expedition centered around the Missouri river, and they arrived at Great Falls in June 1805, becoming the first white men to set eyes upon it. The expedition was forced to portage around the falls, taking almost a month in total.

Great Falls became a permanent settlement in the mid 1880s and dam construction, beginning around the same time, has greatly altered the nature of four of the original five falls. Only Crooked Falls exists in its same state today; the falls were identified right away by the white settlers as being a great source of potential power. These days the city has a population of around 60,000, making it one of the largest cities in Montana.

Back at the airport, carrying out the pre-flight checks, I noticed an anomaly on top of the cabin. A loose bolt was the giveaway; a plug, where the ADF antenna used to be attached, had come loose. With tools borrowed from the FBO, we took care of the issue, and set off east across Montana, roughly following the course of the Missouri River. We were having a much easier time of it than Lewis and Clark!

We had a bit of a tailwind, so the flight wasn’t too long; about two and a half hours. The landscape was wide and open, without much sign of human habitation, more than 200 years after Lewis and Clark first crossed what was to later become Montana state. Almost a third of the flight was spent flying along the length of Fort Peck Lake. With a volume of 23 cubic kilometers, it’s the fifth largest artificial lake in the USA, and it seemed to go on forever.

We landed in early evening in the town of Sidney, Montana, and took possession of the crew car for the evening, an old Ford Crown Victoria. First stop was the nearby town for some shopping at the supermarket, replenishing our food supplies, and then dinner at a small Mexican restaurant.

After dinner we headed out to a small camp site near a local historic site, just across the border into North Dakota. This area was clearly well developed to support the oil industry, and flares from production facilities could be seen lighting up the sky to the east. Mike and I set up our tents (Juvy had decided she’d be camping on the back seat of the car again), and got a camp fire going, sitting out under the cold clear skies of North Dakota.

We sat by the fire chatting, as Juvy scurried around taking night time photographs. The temperature dropped steadily and it was soon time to retire to our respective beds, with the fires of the oil facilities glowing on the horizon all around us.

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