Saturday, April 14, 2007

Lewis and Clark State Park, North Dakota

Campsite in North Dakota's Lewis and Clark State Park on Lake Sakakawea (Missouri River)

8:00 PM

There’s great excitement in the air, as birds are converging from all directions, coming in for the night.

I’m the only camper in Lewis and Clark State Park east of Williston, ND. Lake Sakakawea to the south of me, is teeming with wildfowl. A state park checklist shows 237 bird species have been observed in and around the lake.

Back in Williston, the gas station attendant said they had 3 or 4 inches of snow last week. It’s finally melting. This is “the first nice day” they’ve had here, he said.

Though I’ve barely crossed the border, North Dakota has a different feel than Montana. I was very aware that Montana is being “wasted” by out-of-control growth and resource depletion. Like Idaho, “everyone” (who doesn’t want to move to Idaho) wants to move there (okay, maybe a slight exaggeration), but it’s the western 1/3 they want to move to. The east is dominated by ranching, farming and Indian reservations. The anti-meth signs are everywhere. It must be epidemic in Eastern Montana.

East of Inverness, Montana, an abandoned farmhouse is used as a billboard in Montana's anti-meth campaign

Checking in at this park, I drove all around looking for a campsite. Finally I had to disturb the residents. They were sitting in lawn chairs in their driveway, a barbecue grill nearby. They offered me a hamburger. I shouldn’t have refused their kind gesture, but I was in my usual reclusive mode.

The ranger said the campground doesn’t open for a month. He directed me to just find a spot in the day use area. I could pay the $10 fee on my way out tomorrow.

Instead of the burger, I heated some Thai noodles, ate some "Combos” and drank a can of Coke that I had kept chilled with some snow gathered from a patch on the way in. (Another nourishing meal.)

It’s nice to have running water (though it’s ice-cold). Maybe I’ll have a sponge bath and wash the bike tomorrow morning. I want to linger here, get some rest and absorb some sun (I hope.)

With everything unloaded, the tent set up, and daylight remaining, I inspected the motorcycle. Topped off the oil. Everything looking good. I must check the brake pads often. (They’ll fade faster now that I’m carrying a load.). The front tire will probably need replacement on the East Coast.

Last night's campsite out on Montana rangelands near Lake Elwell


Had a very fitful and very cold night - in the 30s. Crawled out to find the sky overcast, gray and a biting wind out of the southwest.

Made some coffee, with the added luxury of a couple of individual half-and-half creamers I had picked up in some coffee shop along the way. I had to keep moving to stay warm. “This cold sucks.” (The overcast psychologically makes things worse.)

Out on the plains, there is a little marketing of the almost anonymous small towns one passes. One advertises: “426 nice people and one sore ol’ guy.”

The town of Kremlin, Montana proudly states “Kremlin USA-Style”.

In Havre, I sense a transition from the high plains. The first tinge of green is seen in the grasses. No more snow banks along the highway. It’s warmer (almost 60 degrees!) I stopped at the town’s supermarket. For $2, I bought two donuts, some very weak coffee and a banana. Can’t complain.

Outside, a middle-aged local fellow was admiring my bike. “BMWs are pretty reliable, aren’t they?” There’s always a conflict: do I tell the truth, or is that simply being too negative?

Walmart and Super K do battle for the customers out in this rural area. I’m surprised the town can support both. East of Havre, it turned sunny. A welcome relief from the cold and cloudy weather that’s dogged me since leaving California.

Montana uses a standard white cross to mark the site of highway fatalities. Many have added personal mementos.

On the plains, I see elk who are not afraid to cross the highway, and falcons soaring above. Every Eastern Montana town, has at least a couple of bars and a casino. And the ever-present anti-meth signs.

These high-profile messages are apparently part of the "Montana Meth Project" targeted at preventing first-time methamphetamine use, especially among teenagers

Entering the town of Wolf Point on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation was like a flashback to Bolivia. Americans living in poverty and squalor. I slowed, but couldn’t bring myself to stop as I rolled through town. Real or imagined, I didn’t feel welcome. But today there was a trace of civic pride as family members of all ages, crowded the roadside to clean up litter (a major eyesore in this community.)

With this crossing into North Dakota, I will have visited 49 of the 50 States. I should make it to the last one, South Carolina, on this trip.

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