Sunday, August 28, 2011

Home to Helena

On our way to Helena we stopped in Malta, MT, to see Brett's Aunt Leona. Had a wonderful time visiting and going to dinner with her at the Great Northern Hotel.  We all had Montana was wonderful!  We spent the night at an RV park that was connected with a motel and had a small river in the back and right above the river was railroad tracks.  Staying there was quite interesting.  I don't know what was worse, the trains coming through every hour throughout the night ( the RV actually shook) or the mosquitoes that were the worst I have ever seen.  They attacked in swarms no matter the time of day.  But we got to see Leona  and view Malta, an old western town, so it was worth the stop.

Highway 2 on the way to Malta, MT

A windmill farm near the highway.  Brett counted 93 windmills.

Brett's Aunt Leona - still a classy lady.

We arrived in Helena, MT, on Tuesday.  This is home for Brett and we wanted to spend some time with his mother while there.  She lives in a beautiful home that she and Brett's dad built in the Spokane Hills east of town. We worked on a couple of projects for her and spent some free time just kicking back.  Saw some beautiful sights including Canyon Ferry Lake which is just up the road from his mom's place and Hauser Lake for a mini family get-together.  Both lakes are on the Missouri River.

Brett's mom, Joyce, and me - she always spoils us rotten !

Mom and Brett  ( I took the picture and it was after a couple bottles of Moose Drool - a really good beer but a lopsided photo)

A view of Hauser Lake from our get-together

Canyon Ferry Lake

Having a good time at Hauser Lake with Aunt Virginia

Each morning while there we walked the dogs to give them exercise.  Most days we walked on the back roads around his mom's house.  The pups enjoyed running loose and chasing occasional deer through the fields.  On one day, however, we decided to hike up Mt Helena which is on the west side of the city.  It is an arduous hike but can give you wonderful views of the city and surrounding burbs.
Sunrise from Mt Helena the morning we walked.

Halfway up the mountain disaster struck.  The dogs were chasing around the hillside and Lucy came back when called but Max, our boxer, didn't respond.  We continued to call and heard him coming down the mountainside but there was a lot of thrashing going on.  When he came down to the trail he was a mess. He had tangled with a porcupine and lost, big time.   He had quills in his face, his nose, the roof of his mouth, and he was trying to get them out.  Since the end of the quills are barbed he was not able to remove them and his tongue was bleeding and he was drooling everywhere.  Brett picked him up and carried him back down the mountainside to the car (that's why the hike was so arduous).  A drive into Helena got us to a vet's office and after emergency surgery to remove the quills, Max was okay.  We thought he would look like a mess when we picked him up later that day but there wasn't a mark on him that we could see.  They gave him an antibiotic for infection and another drug for inflammation and pain.

In the car on the way to the vets.

At the vets right before sedation.
So that was our excitement in Helena.  We had a great time, except for the porcupine episode, and will be back there again in a few weeks after scouting out Idaho.   I did want to share one other picture with you which is one of our favorites.  The picture is part of a mountain range north of Helena that is called the Sleeping Giant.  Can you see him?

The Sleeping Giant guarding Helena, MT.

For our trivia buffs:

How many quills does an average porcupine have? 

30,000  (Luckily, Max didn't have that many).

On to Idaho and more memories.   Peace to all !

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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Fort Peck Reservoir, Montana

We stopped in Williston, ND, for an overnight on our way to Montana. Williston is a town that has been hit by the oil drilling bug.  There are oil rigs everywhere, dust and dirt everywhere, transient workers everywhere. Our one night stay was right off Hwy 2 and listening to the trucks all night , esp. those using jake brakes, was interesting......and this was the best RV park in the area :(

Good looking rig near Williston, ND

Rolling hills and flat land of ND and eastern Montana

Just outside of Williston we stopped at the Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center.  This is where the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers meet.  We also toured the grounds of Fort Buford which is an old Army base.

Confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers

Hard to tell which river is which.....just looks like a lot of water to me!

Fort Buford

Fort Pickens
After that we left for Montana and our stay at Fort Peck Reservoir Downstream Campground.  This is an amazing place so I will bore you with a little background.

Fort Peck Reservoir

Our campsite at Fort Peck Downstream Reservoir

The dam in the distance.....this huge reservoir is 134 miles long and 220 feet deep with 1500 miles of shore line.

Another shot of the dam with the four control towers.  They are used to control the flow of water from the Missouri River to the underground tunnels which move the water through the dam.  Each tunnel can individually handle the normal flow of the river.

View of the main highway on top of the dam

Massive boulders that were brought in to help support the shoreline.
The Fort Peck Dam  project was authorized in 1933 by Franklin Delano Roosevelt who hoped it would serve the dual purpose of providing jobs for a Depression plagued workforce and also provide flood protection from the Missouri River that had been a concern since the 1860's.  Two weeks after approval there were 50 men at the site and within 6 months there were hundreds.  Actual construction was started in 1934 and finished in 1939.  That doesn't seem like a long time to me and when you see the enormity of this project it is truly amazing.
  • Fort Peck Reservoir is the largest earthen dam in the US 
  • It is the largest hydraulically-filled dam in the world   
  • The width at the base is 4900 feet
  • The width at the crest is 50 feet
Hydraulically-filled means the dam was created from a mixture of watery sediment dredged from the bottom of the Missouri River.  The work involved dredging boats that sucked up the sediment and pumped it through miles of pipeline to the dam site.  Since there was no equipment of this type in the United States, shipbuilders and engineers came to Fort Peck from all over the US to design and build all the equipment and boats on site.

To build the dam, rock had to be brought in from 30 miles away so the workers built a 2.5 mile railroad spur to haul the quarry stone, gravel, and field stone to the site.  Electric power lines had to be built to bring power to the site.  Dredging pipes running for miles were built and maintained to move the sediment from the dredge boats to the dam.  Innumerable problems were encountered, studied and solved, a tribute to the ingenuity and innovation of the Corps of Engineers and the people who worked on the dam.  The crews worked 24 hours a day often in unbearable conditions doing mostly manual labor.  In 1936 temperatures were recorded from  -61 degrees in February to 114 degrees in July.  When the project was finished sixty workers had lost their lives building the dam.  Impounding the Missouri River was a gargantuan task which resulted in the world's largest dam, at that time. 

The town of Fort Peck was built by the Army Corps of Engineers in order to have a place to house the workers in the wilderness.  Many of the men lived in 50 bed barracks and each barracks had its own cooking crew.  We saw a menu from the 30's and the meals were very good with quite a variety especially for men who had been starving before they came to Montana for work. The crews worked 8 hour shifts for 40 hours a week.  In their free time baseball teams were started and a movie theatre was built that was open 24 hours a day (it's still in existence and open today in the town of Fort Peck).

It was even more difficult for the men who brought their families with them.  Homes were ramshackle, often not more than lean-tos and the families often suffered.  Other little towns sprang up to accommodate these families, 18 boom towns in all, in the vicinity of the dam site. Soon there were almost 11,000 workers for the dam plus another 10,000 merchants, saloon keepers, etc. to help support the workers and the project. 

Along with the sediment that was used to create the earthen dam, a steel cutoff wall made from 34 million pounds of steel sheeting was built that runs the entire length of the dam.  The steel was pounded deep into the floor of bentonite and shale below the dam and heaped with impervious clay to prevent under-seepage and potential disastrous effects.

Three miles from the dam is a spillway to relieve the reservoir if it becomes too full.  The spillway had only been used four times since the dam was completed and this year was the fifth.  The reservoir was at its highest level ever this year because of all the rain and snowmelt coming from the mountains.  The spillway itself is a mile long and all 16 release gates were in operation.  We were able to walk all the way down the spillway to take these photos.

View of the mile long spillway.  Two years ago the land above the spillway was completely dry. The spillway is three miles from the actual dam holding back the Missouri River.

One of 16 gates only open a few inches to relieve water from the reservoir.

Looking down the spillway from the top.

Halfway down the spillway the water is getting more turbulent.

Water at the bottom of the spillway.  It is moving at 65 miles per hour.

Very dangerous water at this end.

Through the spillway and rejoining the Missouri River.
 The Fort Peck Dam project was completed in 1939.  When it was finished most of the people left and almost all the boom towns disappeared.  All the ships, railroad lines, and equipment used to build the dam were disassembled and sold or hauled away.  Many of the people who worked on the dam stayed in Montana and moved to other small towns.

In 1941 the first powerhouse was built on the dam and a second one was begun in 1958.  We were allowed to tour the powerhouses and they were also amazing.  We saw the turbines that run the powerhouses and were even allowed to touch a turbine as it was moving.  Very strange.....the metal was warm and extremely silky to the touch but not oily.  There are four surge tanks that each hold over 2 million gallons of water. They are used in the event of a power failure to take a water surge and prevent damage to the powerhouses and dam.  We were allowed into a room housing one of the surge tanks and it was 65 feet in diameter and ten stories high.  We were at the bottom staring up and it sure was a spooky feeling knowing that much water was above us.  The powerhouses are very productive with total annual power generation at 1.1 billion kilowatt hours.

Powerhouses built later on the Fort Peck Reservoir Dam
Brett would have loved to have taken pictures of all the neat stuff in the powerhouses but unfortunately since 9/11 no cameras, purses, or anything else is allowed into the facility and they also require a photo ID before you can go in.

There have also been many dinosaur bones found in this area.  We visited the Interpretive Center and found out that 65 million years ago this area of the country was an ocean with tropical climates.  It wasn't until the Ice Age that the land changed and the Missouri River was rerouted to create what we have today.

The older one is on the left.

Cool place for kids to visit.

A few other pictures we caught along the way:

Osprey near the spillway.

Their nest atop an electric pole.

Think he's having a good time ?

Yard art on a lawn in Fort Peck created from the stump of a tree.

Twin powerhouses on the dam at twilight

Peace to all !

For our trivia buffs:
Where is the geographical center of the United States?

Rugby, North Dakota

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Grahams Island State Park - Devils Lake, North Dakota

We stayed for three days at Grahams Island State Park at Devils Lake, ND.  The lake is a closed drainage basin, marked by periods of fluctuating water levels.  Because of heavy rains and snow melts  the lake has continued to rise over the past 20 years and flood out the surrounding land.  Over 200,000 acres of farmland has been lost along with farmhouses, lake homes, and roads and bridges.

Brett said if he had known what it would take to get here, he probably would have gone to another campground.  With that said, it was certainly worth the effort.  When we contacted the state park to get detailed directions we were told there was some construction on the main highway from the town of Devils Lake to the park.  That was all they said.  When we got to the construction areas (note: I'm using plural)  we wound up on several miles of long dirty, dusty, road with pilot cars taking us over a section of highway that they were trying to build up with dirt to stop the advancement of Devils Lake.

Road construction on the major highway trying to stay higher than the lake.

A farm that was abandoned due to rising lake waters.

Silos surrounded by water

View of the farm from the RV while driving on the road construction.

 We traveled through two sections of road construction for several miles with the lake showing on both sides of the dirt road.  The highway crews are working 24/7 bringing in dirt to elevate the current highway above the encroaching water.  They have 100 trucks hauling in dirt day and night to build up the road but it keeps raining and the dirt is washing away.  During a storm there can be 6-8 foot waves on the lake which undermines the dirt work.

Grahams Island State Park is connected by road over an elevated embankment that can sometimes be treacherous.  We made it to the causeway not realizing how narrow it would be.  Going across it was scary but there was nowhere to turn around so we were committed......while we held our breath.

Scenes from the causeway.....this is a four mile stretch:

This will give you an idea of what it looks like from the RV. 

Picture taken from the causeway. This barn was on dry land two years ago.

This was considered a good day for the causeway according the the park rangers.

Who is that bald man?

The state park is beautiful and sits higher up on the island so once there we felt safe.   Lush acres of grass with butterfiles and thousands of dragonflies everywhere.  It looked like we were being attacked by a miniature army of helicopters.

We counted 14 dragonflies in this picture.
 Fishing is the biggest attraction to Devils Lake and it hosts numerous professional and amateur fishing tournaments each year.  Although the campground was barely 1/4 full, most of the campers brought boats and were out on the lake fishing.

View from our RV

Wheat field overlooking the lake.  There are several farms still on the island that are not part of the park.

Our site and Lulu getting a well deserved rest.
Just one small part of the lake.
Two pooped puppies after a walk on the trails.

We are not sure how ND is going to save the areas around this lake but we sure hope they find a way.  I would hate to see this park close if they couldn't contain the water over the causeway.  Although the park staff told us there is only another three feet left and the lake will naturally overflow into the Sheyenne River.  The issue with that is there is a town of 8,000 people below Devils Lake that would be wiped out.  Our park hosts, an elderly couple who live in ND, said no one seems to be doing much about the problem and it is almost too late to stop the overflow.  The weather prediction is for continued amounts of precipitation as rain or snowmelt for the next ten years..........

Trees caught in the relentless rise of the lake

A walking path under water

Erosion of the embankment

Dead trees where land used to be

A road on the island that lost to the lake

 For our triavia buffs:
We all know that North Dakota produces potatoes, wheat, and beef.  But did you know they also produce soybean and what it is used for?

North Dakota produces enough soybean to make 212 billion crayons each year.  I didn't even know there was soybean in crayons :)

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