Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Fort Union–Still An Outpost On The Missouri

With Kayaks, Mountain bikes, Backpacks, Daypacks, Walking Sticks, Fishing Poles—and an Airstream Travel Trailer

Bert Gildart: Count the stars on the flag in the accompanying photograph. Rather than 50 stars there are only 30. What’s happened here is that you’re stepping back in time, back to the year 1851 when traders met with their Indian neighbors and where a fort was built to help soldiers control the Indians–when they attempted to defend their homeland. Here, where 30 stars fly, is where you’ll find Fort Union. It’s located at the Montana and North Dakota border—where the Yellowstone River adds tp the Missouri. Here, you’re stepping back to the time when our young nation numbered but 30 states.

We were touring Fort Union after stopping for the night at a campground in Williston, North Dakota. We needed to stop in a fairly large town to resupply our food and our gas. Back in Fort Peck, we’d been told that gas in North Dakota would be cheaper, essentially because North Dakota doesn’t tax its residents as much as the Big Sky taxes its residents.

Throughout Montana, we’d mostly been paying about $2.99, though in some places prices were posted higher. But as I started gassing up for our trip to Fort Union, I discovered that there are apparently many misconceptions. From our campground, the first station I came to posted $3.22 for deisel, and, so, I started looking around a bit further, quickly finding that on the main highway, there’s a great discrepancy. But in town, I found dsel posted at the Simonson Station Store for $2.99–and on top of that, they offered a 5 cent discount, reducing the total to $2.94, the cheapest we’ve yet purchased gas on our trip. And so I filled up my empty tank, paying about $70. Then, we hooked up our trailer, and were soon off for Fort Union, a placed I’ve wanted to see for years, because of its historic setting—and because of the park’s living history interpretations, which did not disappoint…

“Welcome,” says the man dressed in the straw hat, black vest and white shirt. “Welcome to our trading house. Look around. You’ll see beads, beaver pelts, swift fox pelts, and old stem pipes. Some of the items are for sale. Beaver is now going for $150 a hide.”

You may have heard of Fort Union. Pulitzer Prize Winner A.B. Guthrie wrote about it in several of his books, most notably the Big Sky, his most famous story. Today, the fort still exists, not in its original form, but in a perfectly reconstructed form. The National Park Service acquired the property in 1966, and to a large extent relied on the paintings of various artists to reconstruct the fort. As a result, several of the buildings and structures have been recreated. These include the fort’s walls, stone bastions, Indian trade house, and the Bourgeois House.

According to Mike Casler, a permanent interpreter stationed at Fort Union and the man I first meet when Janie and I began our explorations, the presence of the fort at the union of two rivers is what discouraged the construction of a town. “Think about it,” said Casler. “Where do you find some of your major cities? Where’s St. Louis? At the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi, right? On a smaller scale, where’s Three Forks, Montana? Near the confluence of the Gallatin, Jefferson and Madison. Right?”

And so it goes.

Casler continued his narration, turning to the other historic aspect of the area, telling me that Chief Sitting Bull surrendered just two miles downstream at Fort Buford, which is, in fact, the precise site where the Missouri and Yellowstone unit.

“Sitting Bull defeated General Custer in 1876, and then took refuge from reprisals in Canada for four years. Canada offered a refuge, but it would not feed them, and when his people began to suffer from malnutrition, he decided to return—mostly for the sake of his people.”

Fort Buford, then, became another area we decided to investigate.

And so we continue, searching out our national lands, which is, of course, in keeping with one of the pages on our associated website. In the course of our research, we are also finding that gas prices vary, and when I asked the proprietor at Simonson Station just why it varied, he said, and I quote, “Because some people are greedy.”

I believe him, but have also concluded that, relatively speaking, we’re probably still paying what we paid in the ‘70s for gasoline—and that exploring our national lands with camera and pen is–relatively speaking–not all that costly a pursuit.

Next stop? North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the park that made a president.

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