Upper Missouri Breaks
August 10, 2017 • Leave a Comment
Officially, the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument was allowed to keep it's national monument status. Yet it really should have never needed to come under review. Encompassing 495,000 acres, most of the monument is located along the remote banks of the Missouri River. Where the monument does include large areas away from the river, it's mostly badlands, largely unusable by the many farming operations that also can be found here. This is farmland and for miles as far as the eye can see, various grains grow at different times of year. Before heading up to central Montana, I did a lot research, which all indicated I'd need a lot of time and a kayak to truly see and experience this remote landscape, of which, being a new father, I had neither. But I headed up anyway and wasn't disappointed. My starting point was Fort Benton. With a population of under 1,500, it was similar in size as the town I live in, but, even though we're in the same state, it was vastly different. Fort Benton, considered the oldest town in Montana, established in 1846, is largely a farming community, with a small dose of tourism added. The waterfront along the Missouri River has a footpath for the whole length of town and is a popular place to walk, with or with a dog. But how many towns can boast a memorial to a dog? Fort Benton has the Shep Memorial. In 1936, Shep's owner past away and was his body was sent back east on a train. Shep waited for 6 years for his owner to return. When Shep died in 1942, nearly all the town of Fort Benton attended his funeral. A memorial to the dog is found on the waterfront in front of the Grand Union Hotel, the oldest operating hotel in Montana. Originally built in 1882, it was restored to it's former grandeur. Fort Benton also has a visitor center for the national monument and permits for camping along the Missouri River for long float trips.
As mentioned, access to the most scenic places along the Missouri River are by kayak or canoe only. But there are a few interesting places to found down some of the dirt roads that access the national monument. One place, easily accessed near Loma, is Decision Point. Here, Lewis and Clark on their famed expedition, camped ten nights as they tried to decide which was the true Missouri River when they came to a junction with the Marias River. Determined not to make the incorrect decision, Lewis and Clark each led a few men up the two rivers to explore and determine which one came from the mountains. While their crew firmly believed the Marias River was the river they should follow, both Clark and Lewis chose the correct river as the Missouri.
The Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument is significant not only for it's scenic beauty but it's historic significance can't be overlooked. Decision Point isn't the only place where Lewis and Clark camped that is protected by the monument. Down river from the view seen above is the location of another expedition camp and there are many more found along the river. Much of the monument looks as it did when Lewis and Clark first saw it and it's important to protect that part of our heritage today. In many ways, it serves as a monument not only to Lewis and Clark but the brave men that partook in that expedition in 1805 as it allows us to experience the river in a very similar fashion.
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