Welcome to the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument - gateway to the land of Lewis & Clark
The Monument, maintained by the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM), is in north-central Montana. The next slide shows the area inside the rectangle.
The Monument extends from historic Ft. Benton in the west along 149 miles of river to the east -- nearly all of which is inaccessible by car, and has hardly changed since Lewis & Clark passed through here over 200 years ago.
Our trip, entirely by canoe, covered the 49-mile section from Coal Banks Landing to Judith Landing. The BLM maintains nine improved riverside campsites an average of 6 miles apart.
Fort Benton, Montana, located 2,100 river miles upstream of St Louis, Missouri, and 3,460 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, was once the "innermost" seaport in the world.
The town, established in 1846 as a Blackfoot trading post, grew in importance until in the heyday of the steamboat era (1860 - 1890), it became known as the "Chicago of the West".
Ft Benton's fortunes changed dramatically from 1890 onward, as the railroads displaced steamboats for both passengers and freight, and the town's population began to drop from a high in the 20,000's.
This iconic bridge, now condemned, marked the head of navigation of the Missouri.
During the steamboat era, New Orleans, and Gulf, were a mere 3,710 miles away.
Flat-bottom river boat, common 150 years ago.
Lewis, Clark, and Sacagawea, stuck in Ft. Benton.
In spite of a temporary boom in population during the Homestead Era (circa 1910), Ft. Benton's population -- and economic fortunes -- continued to decline to the present day.
Today, the population in this pretty-but-sleepy town is about 1,490 people.
The town that "was the transportation center and the stepping off point for the fur and buffalo robe trade, the gold rushes of the Old West, and the settlement of the US Northwest and the Canadian West" is now the stepping-off point for expeditions such as ours, down the historic river.
Here is the iconic Grand Union Hotel, built in 1882 at the peak of the town's fortunes. It operated for over 100 years, until the mid '80's, when it succumbed to the times. Meticulously restored, it reopened in 1997.
Inside our room at the Grand Union Hotel, we organize our gear for carriage in our canoe(s).
The large, red bag is completely waterproof, and earmarked for one's sleeping bag, and other items needed only while in camp. Close-at-hand items went in a smaller yellow bag of the same design.
Special preparations included a new pair of "mountain kayaking" shoes - designed for the rare breed who carry their kayaks on their backs up rocky trails into the mountains. Perfect for a river trip that would include numerous hikes.
Bright and early Monday morning, we were met and transported 1 hour to Coal Banks Landing, where we would "put in" for the excursion. The goal of the first day was the 13 miles to Eagle Creek, the route shown here in yellow.
Coal Banks Landing is one of only a few spots along the river reachable by (dirt) road, and having a full-time ranger.
In the background is the welcoming and spotless visitor center. We came to decide that the BLM was a class act.
The Coal Banks Landing Visitor Center, with the boat ramp to the right.
An ideal location to launch canoes, the landing and boat ramp are protected by a small island which blocks much of the river's 4-6 mile per hour current.
The well-dressed canoer -- prepared for sun and water, on the launch ramp at Coal Banks Landing
Missouri RiverMissouri River BreaksWhite Cliffs of the MissouriCanoeingCanoeFort Benton