Pure Prairie Love

Moving east to west along US HWY 2, Wisconsin is a fun date with the popular crowd. The night is filled with laughter and root beer soda floats. North Dakota, on the other hand, is date you went on as a favor to your best friend. It cannot end soon enough. Montana is a love affair, dangerous and high flying. At its worst it takes you to your limits of endurance. At its best it is just you and Montana and bliss.

Happiness is a speck of orange tent in a sea of grass.

Dropping down from the Hi-Line in Havre, the wind and rain removed the dirt and bugs from the truck. Passing through the Fort Belknap Indian reservation, we entered American Prairie land. American Prairie is like a National Park but owned by a charitable organization funded by the public, mostly the rich part of the public. Millions of acres of American grassland are preserved, remaining much as they were when millions of Bison roamed. The Grand Canyon – heard of it. Same for Yosemite. The American Prairie? Never heard of it.

The day after the storm.

Arriving in driving wind and rain, we nearly missed the entrance to the unmarked American Prairie campground some 60 miles of rolling wheat fields south of the Hi-Line. The Camphost greeted us in her rain gear, opening the garage/pavilion and giving us the bathroom code for a hot shower while we waited for the wet to let up. II had been a few days since we had seen a shower and never since we’d seen one so new and well maintained that it could have been a replica of a Scandinavian spa and resort. Natural wood, tile and gleaming fixtures adorned the very modern uni-sex structure. Nothing feels quite as good as a hot, hot water shower in deluxe accomodations on day three.

Isn’t it good, showering in Norwegien wood.

Sensing a break in the weather, we went for a quick set-up of the tent but Mother Nature pulled an NFL RB quality jink and cried her eyes out half way into the endeavor. Pot committed, we moved all-in and set the tent up on a gravel pad half submerged in water and mud. Around this way the mud is called gumbo. It goes on thick and slick and dries like concrete. Our Hokas can attest to that. Using all the rope we had in the truck, Eric secured the tent in the strong northern wind of the passing front and escaped to the garage/pavilion. Feet soaked with gumbo and jackets soaked with rain, we huddled in the pavilion.

Happy-ish hour, humble but dry.

The pavilion walls provided enough wind blockage to cook our last tuna cassarole dinner, working 110V sockets to charge our devices and hosted just enough WIFI to post a blog, which is a miracle in middle Montana. The weather was supposed to blow through by evening, but that was not happening. Fresh, clean and full, we made a fast break to the tent which was hanging on to its grip to the ground by its last tent peg. Everything is harder in the dark, and harder still in dark windy rain. Fortunately the good folks at American Prairie knew that gumbo sludge did not hold tent pegs when wet and had placed cleats on 4 by 4 timber round the tent site. Small things make a big difference and that night those cleats made the difference between a tent that was going to blow away and one that shook in the wind but held firm.

MacGyver to the rescue.

We were beginning to think we overpaid for the Hest Sleep systems, but we can tell you now that they are priceless. While the floor flooded, we slept dry and warm on top of the Hest. Even though it is a workout to set them up and take them down every day we are moving, the design and comfort are worth it. In the morning, Montana turned on its charm in an effort to make up for how rudely we had been treated the night before. Stunning cloud formations moved rapidly across the peaks of the “small Rockies” to the north. We were going to leave, but it was too stunningly beautiful and our gear was too stunningly soaked. Instead we found the only store within 50 miles to pick up some provisions and literally dry out.

Don’t let the sign fool you.

DY Store at the intersection of 191, 66 and nowhere, is not the place you want to do much shopping. Most of the shelves are filled with not recently expired packaged goods. 2021 and earlier. Cats, goats, dogs and ducks greet you as you enter which is nice since the owner does not. The whole operation is almost impossible to describe except to those that might be familiar with rural Appalachia. Having disturbed the owner from her care taking of the baby kitten in the stroller, we felt obligated to purchase something and were lucky enough to find a bag of Frito chips from this year and a Sprite that still made a few bubbles when you shook it. You hand some bills over what the owner feels like the total might be and that’s it. There is no making change to slow down the transaction. Let yourself out.

It is not a museum. It is a Montana 7-11.

Back on the American Prairie, Montana had turned up the charm. The tent had dried. The sun was shining. A city of prairie dogs surrounded the camp site chirping their greetings. Apparently, this prairie land in Montana is one of just four expanses left in the world. Patagonia, Khazakhstan and Mongolia are the other three. So come now and see it unspoiled. Especially if we make an offer on the DY. We think one hundred bucks might take it. But, then there is the care and feeding of all those cats.

They are always sad to see us go.

Montana has a lot of surprises above the I-90 corridor. If you are not careful, you could fall in love.

A blogger’s work is never done. Also, the tent is wet.