Around 50 miles into the I200 we were crossing the border and back over into Montana – we’d around with our good friend Dale to call on him again where he is west of Missoula. As noted, the Clark Fork river was our constant companion as we moved along this stretch of the I200. And a big river it is – in some areas it fans out into delta’s and lakes – there were homes scattered along the waterfront areas and on some of the larger expanses of water there were islands which again had an array of homes on them – accessible by speed boat, or helicopter I suppose. There are some nice little towns along the way – and some wildlife here and there to enjoy – and of course the water – plenty of water areas. We followed the I200 around 100 miles to a spot just east of the spot area of Paradise where we turned south on the I135 to make the run over to St Regis to reconnect with the Interstate for the last leg. At the I135 junction there was a nice area where apparently there are some nice hot springs – there were some random resorts plonked here to service the interest in the area. The run through the I135 saw us following the Clark River again – was only around 25 miles through to the Interstate. Once we hit the I90 if was around 60 miles for us up to Dale’s place. Rookie mistake but we overlooked the fact that there is a time zone change between Idaho and Montana so we sprung forward an hour so as you can image it was getting on for 7.30pm when we finally pulled up at Dales, and dark.
We enjoyed a nice evening catching up with Dale again. We had planned to make a run north to Glacier National Park with Dale, but he updated us that the forecast for north western Montana wasn’t good and snow was expected in the next couple of days. That decided it for us – we agreed to park any thoughts of seeing the park and made a plan to run east to get ahead of the weather. On Friday morning we said our goodbyes to Dale again and headed back out to get onto Interstate 90 to take us east past Missoula. We stayed on the Interstate for the better part of 100 miles before cutting up on the I12 through to Helena – the state capital of Montana. The weather was packing in so we didn’t stop and kept pushing east on the I12 for the rest of the day. The hills to the north had a dusting of snow, and the rain kept coming and going. We stopped for a break at a little town called Harlowton – population of around 850, where we watched the local school kids playing American Football. The teacher at the gate stopped to explain the rules to us and explained that the schools in the area were all too small to field full teams so the junior and senior teams all play 6 aside on a smaller field to what the NFL teams do. Was great to watch – these plucky small kids tackling kids a foot taller and the sportsmanship was great to see as well – everyone helped each other up off the ground etc. Better versed in the game we kept pushing east through the little town of Roundup where we found a rest area some miles east which would be our park up for the night. I think we covered over 350 miles today and by the time we parked up, it was dark – it had rained pretty much the entire time sense we left the Interstate – was there some karma in that?
On Saturday morning we rose to find a couple of hunters in the park up area – there were out hunting deer (Mule and Whitetail) which had been plentiful in the area along with Pronghorn Antelope (they were having a field day with all the growth in the surrounding paddocks). It was raining still so we carried on east for the final leg of the I12 – around 90 miles out to the town of Forsyth which is right up against the Interstate. From Forsyth we headed west of all things but only for around 6 miles to get onto the I39 south and east. First main settlement along the I39 is the town of Colstrip – an interesting spot which appears to have been established around the power plant there. The plant essentially ‘created’ the town to support the operations of the power plant (coal fired I think). The town was pretty much all new from the late 1970’s so unlike a lot of Montana that is steeped in heritage, this was a new town. Another interesting sight was the rail siding that run pretty much alongside the I39 from the Interstate to Colstrip – parked up on that siding for the best part of 30 miles were rail wagons – just parked in long lengths – mile after mile of them. From Colstrip you run south to the little junction town of Lame Deer – part of the Northern Cheyenne Indian reserve. We’ve noticed that most of the Indian land areas all have casino’s – obviously quite lucrative for them.
At Lame Deer we turn east again, this time on the I212 to finally run our way out of Montana, but first we have a steady climb to get us ready for the Wyoming country ahead. The I212 was busy with loads of trucks hauling both east towards South Dakota (the I212 is a main arterial route) and west across Montana to the west coast. Fair to say we were swamped by truck after truck passing up – it was raining heavily the whole way with loads of surface water, and a good head wind to battle. But finally after something like 775 miles and 3 days of driving, we finally reached Alzada on the border with Wyoming. Montana is one big state (well it is the 4th largest) but width wise I think it’s No 3 after Alaska and Texas. Despite the weather the last few days had presented us with a range of landscapes – we started with following the Clark Fork River and then we wound our way inland to get up and over the lower part of the Rockies – here is where the landscape changed to mountains and vast rolling country. There was paddock after paddock of baled hay with so many bales you just couldn’t count. We had small towns to big towns, old to new, and plenty of wildlife to take in – different types of deer, Pronghorn, eagles and Turkey Buzzards, and even a Coyote. Everything about Montana seems to be upsized. We’d enjoyed our time, and stayed ahead of the weather – well snow atleast, and we were heading out of state again.