Missouri Headwaters State Park

Our drive through Wyoming showed us a lot of oil rigs and sweeping mesas. We had our first view of snow-covered mountains off in the distance. Harlan wanted to go skiing. We decided to take a leisurely pace and stop in Sheridan, WY for lunch. We found a little café, P.O. News and Flagstaff Café, that served breakfast all day. It was a winner! Sheridan is a cute little town with lots of public sculptures all over the place. Harlan found a T-Rex to take a picture with. Our bellies full, we headed out. All the kids napped at that point. To be honest, I kind of wanted to, too.

We stopped at a boat inspection station in Montana, as required to bring in your boats. They looked at all of them, but didn’t make us inflate and deflate, thank goodness. They gave the boys some fish tattoos and bobbers that said Montana Fish and Wildlife on them. I’m still holding out for one of the boys to be in the forestry service.

Billings passed in a flash, and we took a little detour to Greycliff Prairie Dog Town State Park. That was really fun! We’d seen prairie dogs in the Badlands, but it was hard to spend much time observing them. Here we could really see them, and Harlan and Porter were particularly enchanted. We didn’t stay long, but we have been glad we bought the Montana Annual Pass for non-residents to the state parks. We had one for Michigan last year, and it’s nice to be like a local coming into the parks.

Our campsite was the tipi in the park. The boys were jazzed to sleep in a tipi, but there weren’t any cots, and we were a little nervous about rain—even though it hadn’t rained in nearly a month there. Ultimately, the tipi was a great adventure. I told them ghost stories—La Llorona and the Boy with the Green Ribbon—and Harlan got in a loop about La Llorona and the Missouri River.

We had two days to explore the area, so we went to the river confluence first. This is where the Madison and Jefferson rivers come together with the Gallatin river (all named for the people who commissioned the Corps of Discovery) joining downstream a bit to make for the beginning of the Missouri River. We threw rocks and looked around and agreed that it would be great to swim there in the afternoon. There was a little Class II rapid to play in. First, though, we went to the Madison Buffalo Jump State Park. So interesting! Harlan kept complaining, so I told him if I heard any more complaining, we’d hike all the way to the top. That solved that. Later he said I threatened him.

We spent the afternoon playing by the river. Patrick inflated the kid’s kayak and Seamus and Gilbert took it out for a spin in the rapids. They got really comfortable and took Porter and Harlan out some too. By 4:00, the wind picked up and the river rose! That evening, we had potatoes on the grill and marinated tofu and veggies on the grill. Such a great camping dinner. Seamus got interested in the map to see if he could plan a trip to visit all the MLB stadiums before he goes to college. Everybody was a little sunburned and tired when bedtime rolled around. Then it rained! I’m the only one who got wet, because my sleeping bag was in the middle. It was fine though, as the tipi proved to be impressively water-resistant.

On July 4th, we celebrated with a trip to Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park. We took the Classic Cave Tour and had an amazing time. The boys climbed 300 vertical feet on the edge of a cliff to get to the cave entrance. We had to be very quiet for the bats in the exterior chambers. The tour guide was really great, and Harlan asked a question, Porter and Gilbert hazarded guesses for her questions. We could see where early cave tourists snapped off Stalactites and then the barely half inch of new growth on them. She turned off the lights and Harlan said, I can still see! Somebody on the tour said, “Batman!” and it was funny because he was wearing his batman shirt for the first time. Porter got a stuffed bat with his birthday money, which he was very proud of. Seamus was coming off of a Cave Explorers class at camp and found that it was interesting to be actually in a cave, having studied so much about them. Gilbert loved moving through the cave, with all its twists and turns, and even a beaver slide. It was very different from Mammoth Cave, and so worth a visit.

Afterward, we had grilled cheeses at the campsite and decided that Patrick, Seamus, and Gilbert would float the Madison river, and Porter, Harlan, and I would head back to the river bank to play. They saw a mama and baby moose on their float! I’m so jealous. The river was up significantly from the day before, so it took a bit for Porter and Harlan to find their footing, but they still had fun. As our floaters landed, the wind kicked up like crazy, and we just barely made it back the campsite in time for a massive downpour. More rain in our visit than they’d had in months! After it blew over, we did a quick hike to a lookout point on Fort Rock and explored the information about Gallatin, the town that wasn’t because no steamboat ever came up this far.  Gilbert had thought ahead to shelter the firewood, so we did have a nice fire with s’mores for our last night in the Missouri Headwaters campground.

Our next stop is Wayfarers State Park, on Flathead Lake. We’ll take a quick trip through Butte, Granite Ghost Town, and Missoula on our way up there. I have to admit that it’s a lot more fun to be in the place that we’re trying to explore rather than driving out here. I was also trying to work a bit, which probably didn’t help my mood.

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