Thursday, August 27, 2015

Confluence chasing

[From Craig]  Thursday while camping in Sidney Montana, Merikay and I went off to find the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers, which is a mile or so east of the Montana - North Dakota border. This adventure was my idea, which is why Merikay has asked me to describe it.

The thing was, while we travelled Montana from west to east, in just about every leg of the journey, we drove alongside and/or across either the Missouri or the Yellowstone. Both rivers start near the Montana-Idaho border (that's 'cause the border is the Continental Divide). Both travel west to east across virtually the entire state, which is the second-widest state in the contiguous 48.  It seemed to me that it was remarkable for two rivers to travel so far, so close together without converging. So I wanted to see how they looked when they finally got together.

From previous "interactive" visits, we learned that there was an early trading post called Fort Union near the confluence, and that it was later sold to the US Army, which dismantled it and used the pieces to build a real fort named Buford, even closer to the confluence.

So I told our Jeep's GPS unit to guide us to Fort Union. While it was doing so, Merikay in the passenger seat kept objecting that it wasn't taking the best way to get there. Feeling secure in the technological excellence of our equipment, I soothed her by saying that I was sure that it had a good reason for its route.

(From Merikay) I did not feel soothed. We had obviously gone fifty miles out of the way. I had a hard copy map in my lap that I kept telling Craig to look at. Would he? No!

It finally guided us next to a parked freight train, with instructions to turn right through the train.  At that point I had to admit that the poor thing was not having a good day.

So we turned navigation over to our Android smartphone.  Surely with the resources of Google behind it, it would do better!  In fact it guided us directly to Fort Union, which looks like this from the road:

The tepees illustrate housing for the Native Americans doing business with the trading post.

Attentive readers will wonder "how can Fort Union exist, when it was dismantled to get materials to build Fort Buford?". The current version was rebuilt with great attention to historical accuracy in 1966, which is the year Merikay and I were married.  

The parking lot is in Montana and mountain time, while the rebuilt fort is in North Dakota and central time. Which made no difference to our enjoying it.

Fort Union and its main building was built and operated by John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company. Like many places far from civilization, it seemed to have a peaceful history, where people from different backgrounds could trade and even relax together without much difficulty.

The leader of Fort Union was called "the bourgeois", and its main building was accordingly called "the bourgeois house":

Only two rooms on the first floor were open to the public.  Other sites on the grounds were open, including a smithy with a wonderful anvil:

And a primitive boat (a coracle?) stored with the supplies:

After we left we went to see Fort Buford, but Merikay and I looked at the Visitor Center and decided to skip it, despite its 5 chimneys.

Our last major stop of Thursday's quest was the Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center. We forgot to take a picture of it, which is a shame because it features a circular main building with a ceiling height more than 20 feet.

I really wanted to find a high point from which I could get a nice overview of the confluence, but we couldn't find such a place.  This image of the confluence was taken from the grounds of the Center.  The Missouri is coming in from the right, the Yellowstone is coming around the corner at the upper left, and the newly merged Missouri is exiting at the lower left:

Actually the Yellowstone typically has more flow than the Missouri, which leads to some nice rippling, swirling, and counter-flows as their waters come together.  

In case you're underwhelmed by that image, I'll throw in an image of a nice old crane left over from some past project at the confluence:

RV life is good!


  1. It was only 24 miles back to our rig. Paper maps sometimes are better.

  2. Thanks for seeking out something I found interesting and I know had to be spectacular in a part of the country we actually haven't paid much attention to for lack of finding much of inspiration or personal attraction. We've been proven wrong! And now we know that when and if we should happen to wander off there, we should take a paper map!

  3. You're going to get tired of this question from me. Where did you camp in Sidney? Sidney is where I grew up and my folks are buried there. I tried to call the two campgrounds I know about and got no answers. I figured they full with oil people and didn't want my business.

  4. What an interesting post. Despite the tour of the country, you found it :)

  5. What a FUN idea! I love it. Craig, you should know better! Always listen to the wife involving map matters. That sounds like a great little adventure. Thanks for the info and pictures :-)

  6. Getting lost is always a great opportunity to see something you wouldn't have otherwise seen ;-)


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