24-May-2002 -- I departed 47°N 107°W and headed north through Montana’s Missouri River Breaks then west through the Little Rockies. In the Breaks, volcanic peaks dot a geological landscape of sandstone, limestone and shale with dikes that rise to vertical cliffs and pinnacles where eagles make their nests.
The Little Rockies are an island in the prairie. This is some of the most desolate and beautiful country I’ve ever seen. It was the stomping ground of Harvey Logan, alias Kid Curry, "The Desperado of the Little Rockies". The Assiniboine and Gros Ventre Native American tribes claim this small mountain chain as a sacred site.
Gold was discovered in the Little Rockies in 1884 and the land was all but stolen from the tribes who lived there. Most of the gold was mined out by the 1950’s and that’s when mining companies started using cyanide to leach gold out of ore. Over the decades since then, the mountains have become polluted with other heavy metals such as lead, arsenic, and cadmium. Contaminated water leaks into streams and aquifers that supply the drinking water for the few Native Americans who still live in the mountains. It’s a terrible injustice.
I drove northwest from the reservation town, Hays, Montana, circled around Lake Seventeen and made my way south towards the confluence. I saw lots of prairie dogs along the way. I know ranchers aren’t very fond of them, but they sure are cute. The roads began to get very rough and they were slick in some parts. I drove through a stand of pines on hills that descended into a coulee. A coulee is about the same thing as a ravine, but not as deep. I think it’s deeper than a draw though. I hadn’t heard of any of these terms before this trip.
Somewhere along the way the road just disappeared. I was in the middle of the pines and there was no way to turn around. I had to get out of the truck and try to figure out a path down through the trees, go a little way, get back out and pick another path, and so on. I had no idea how I was going to get back up, but going down was the only choice at the time. I was almost down to the coulee when I got high-centered on a mound. I broke out my shovel, started digging, but soon came to the realization that this would take way too long. I found some logs, stacked them under my differential, put my jack on them and jacked up the truck. Once I had it up as far as the jack would go, I put logs under the rear wheels and jacked the truck down. I put more logs under my jack and jacked the truck up higher. Then I put more logs under the rear wheels and jacked it back down again. I repeated this process until I was finally able to slide off the mound. All this took a couple of hours.
By this time I was tired, covered in dirt, and it looked like it might rain. I was less than a mile (1.6 km) from the confluence, so I decided to go for it. If it rained, I would try to get my truck up high ground and camp for the night. I wasn’t even sure if I could make it back up the pine-covered hill when it was dry and I was absolutely certain I wouldn’t be able to if it rained. Needless to say, I was scared. Somehow my phone was working and I called my brother, Steve Strickland, back in Mississippi and gave him my
coordinates. I told him that if he hadn’t heard back from me in 1 1/2 hours to send somebody to look for me.
I made my way to the floor of the coulee and hiked along it towards the confluence. This had to be the most isolated place I had ever been. I was about 500 feet (150 meters) from the spot and the GPS indicated I needed to turn right. Well, to the right was the wall to the coulee and it was steep! I knew it was stupid, but I started climbing. The elevation was kicking my butt and I had to stop a lot to catch my breath. Meanwhile, the rain clouds were getting closer. There wasn’t a lot to grab onto on the wall and the dirt was loose and crumbly. I was about 3/4 of the way up and made the mistake of looking down. It dawned on me that if I fell, I was dead meat. I probably wouldn’t survive the fall. There was no way I could climb back down either. I was committed to going the distance.
I stuffed the fear back down my throat and climbed ahead. I was about 30 feet (9 meters) from the top and thought to check the GPS to see what my position was. I was right on the spot! I found a good foothold and took a picture of the GPS, but there was no way I could take pictures of the area while hanging there. So I climbed the rest of the way to the top and took the photos from there just as it started raining. Talk about lucky! God looks after idiots and drunks.
The wind up there was blowing hard and it was cold. Although it was twice as far, I walked along the rim of the coulee back to my truck. It had been 1 1/2 hours since I called my brother, so I called him back and got his voice mail. I’m glad I wasn’t hurt or something. I left a message and told him not to worry, that I wasn’t out of there yet, but everything was okay. I climbed down the coulee wall down to my truck. It wasn’t nearly as steep where I climbed down as it was where I climbed up. I wish I had looked at my topographic map before driving down that hill. I could have stayed at the top and hiked along the rim.
I knew I had to hustle or else the rain would make the hill to slick to drive up. I got in my truck, drove to the bottom of the hill and then hiked up looking for the best path to take. I crossed my fingers, jumped in, got a running start and took off. I had to go fast or I would have lost my momentum and traction. By some miracle I made it to the top without hitting a tree. I wasn’t out of the woods yet, figuratively or literally, but the part that worried me the most was over. It started raining harder and I was afraid the roads would get too muddy for me to make it back. I kept the throttle down and didn’t slow down, because if I did, I was stuck.
I dodged cows the entire way back. Cows are incredibly stupid animals. For some reason when they see you coming, they usually run right into your path. I guess it makes them easier to eat since they’re so stupid. I would have a hard time eating something with a lot of intelligence.
I eventually made it back to a paved road and let me tell you, I was a happy boy. That was one hell of an adrenalin rush. All I wanted to do was get back to civilization, find a hotel, take a shower and sleep in a bed. I would get up the next day and go to the next confluence on my list, 48°N 108°W.