North Dakota, Montana

Minot, SD – Whitefish, MT
Daily Mileage: 726
Total Mileage: 3461
Total Number of States Traveled: 18

Got up early and took the dog out for a walk. The room I had was on the backside of the motel complex and opened right onto the parking lot. As soon as the door opened I experienced an Alaska flashback as a wall of arctic air hit me in the face. The sky was clear with the sun just peeking up – the parking lot had snow remaining from where a plow had shoveled it some days back. The guy parked next to me in his contractor work pick-up had a plug running into his room to keep his truck heated over night. But due to my good Alaska training, I knew that only around -10 degrees do you really need to start worrying about having a battery blanket and oil pan heater. The Tundra started like a champ with the exterior thermometer reading 2 degrees. Bottom line: Minot, North Dakota does not disappoint for it’s frigid reputation. I jumped on Hwy 2 and continued west. There were a handful of 2m amateur radio repeaters between Minot and Whitefish, Montana – all using terrain to provide wide swaths of coverage. I was usually able to hit at least one repeater during the entire day – but I never got a single reply, nor did I hear any other hams talking.
Hwy 2, just two lanes along this stretch, is generally very straight – following the same train tracks used by Amtrak’s Empire Builder run as well as freight trains. I was able to make good time, averaging between 70 and 80 mph. Coming to the North Dakota/Montana state line…

…I decided to stop at Fort Union – a trading fort located near the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers…. essentially making Fort Union a trucker’s stop on the Interstate.

When established back around 1830, the rivers were still the primary means of transportation and the trading post thrived for almost forty years, until the railroad finally came through providing a more efficient means to move goods. I was the only visitor – so I got some personal attention for the park ranger… he explained how the Indians would trade fur and buffalo skins for rifles, cookware, liquor, and tobacco.

The administrators who ran the post when native, marrying Indian women and integrating the trading operations into the tribal life of the locals. In the 1870s, as the Indian wars came to their height and the railroad came through, Fort Union was disassembled by the US Army in order to help build Fort Buford about 10 miles east.
Back on the road, I blasted across the badlands, passing through the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. I stopped in Malta, Montana for lunch at the Dairy Queen (which was filled for the lunch rush) and continued west. The next reservation was Fort Belknap, which took me to the down of Chinook where I turned south to head to the Bears Paw Battlefield.

At this location, the Nez Perez chief surrendered to the US Army after being surrounded. The tribe had set up in a depression, similar in appearance to a bear paw.

The ground was snow covered, the skies clear – and no one was around for miles. There was a small set of mountains to the south (that stand out after two days of rolling through prairies). It was a cloudless sky and even though the temp had climbed to only 32, it felt very warm outside.

I departed Chinook and headed west… continuing to make good time along US 2. The land was still basically flat – with no real sign of mountains yet. Finally approaching the town of Shelby was there an appearance of mountains. Shelby was a pretty big city (for northern Montana standards). It sits at the crossroads of I-15, connecting the north with access down to Butte, Bozeman, and Billings. I stopped at a large truck stop, adjacent to a rail yard and the on-ramp for I-15. In the distance, I could see low rolling clouds and the base of the mountains. After topping off the gas tank, I went inside to get some coffee and a sandwich… and then it was back on the road. I could hit a repeater on 2m now again, but never got a response.

My progress slowed a bit, passing through Cut Bank (self-proclaimed coldest spot in the US… I, however, noted that the current temp was in the low 40s… not even close to the mornings Minot, North Dakota temp of 2.

Further west, I pasted into the Blackfeet Indian Reservation an Glacier National Park. It was dusk as I started to climb into the mountains, following a well maintained twisting road. Had I more time, I would have enjoyed spending the day at Glacier National Park. The stream paralleling the highway appeared to be golden as the sun set.

It was dark as I came down through the mountains and arrived into the town of Whitefish. I got the distinct feeling that I’d arrived on the west coast once I’d reached Whitefish. I don’t know if it was due to seeing familiar sights like a Safeway grocery store… or that the people didn’t talk with accents anymore. It just felt like the west coast.

The Best Western Mountain Lodge
6510 Highway 93 S
Whitefish, MT 59937