The story as it appeared in our November/December 1975 issue.

The story as it appeared in our November/December 1975 issue.

By Jay M. Steinberg

Join the six percent club! Canoe the last free flowing wild stretch of the Big Muddy. Civilization has mercifully bypassed and spared 160 miles of this wilderness waterway on its sinuous course across Montana.

The 2.466-mile long great river, with its birthplace at the junction of the Callatin, Madison and lefferson Rivers, served as Lewis & Clark’s gateway to the Far West. It carried freight, passengers and the military into the vast inland empire from St. Louis.

This last unspoiled historic section of the Missouri River between Fort Ben ton. Montana, and the Fort Peck im poundment near North Dakota’s bor der, is seldom seen by travelers today. Railroads, and cross-state highways chose to remain aloof from the mighty Mo.

As I floated down the remaining un fettered “six percent” of the mighty Missouri past mild rapids, gravel and mud bars, and massive sandstone cliffs. the sheer desolation of the badlands caused me to marvel at the gumption of the first explorers. From accounts in history, sections of this canoe course appear just as hostile today as two centuries ago.

Antelope. whitetail and mule deer. muskrats, beaver and other small mam mals. including coyotes and prairie dogs still roam the land. Waterfowl, herons and soaring eagles command at tention. Sauger, northern pike. catfish and goldeneye inhabit the waters. Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep gaze down from cliffs at the upper reaches of the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge.

Missing are the great herds of bison and the marauding grizzly bear that gave members of Lewis and Clark’s expedition many a scare. Also gone is the Audubon Bighorn Sheep, now ex tinct, because of man’s folly.

The story as it appeared in our November/December 1975 issue.

The story as it appeared in our November/December 1975 issue.

For years the Missouri was a major waterway west, its steamboats carrying an array of traffic — miners, ranchers, the military, trappers and adventurers to the great port of Fort Benton. This river town was once so busy it was likened to Chicago. Its wharfs and warehouses were crammed with goods going upstream and furs and minerals headed back to eastern America.

Gone is the hurley burley traffic of yesteryear. The river has been aban doned, much to the joy of recreation alists seeking the tingle of adventure. The river has won. It has resisted major infringements by man down to the backwaters of Fort Peck Reservoir. The stark beauty of the wind-carved and weather eroded land remains supreme below Fort Benton.

Fort Benton, where canoeists or ganize downriver pilgrimages to na ture’s fantasy land of sandstone castles, columns of rocks, intriguing natural shapes resembling walls, parapets and medieval and ancient Greek architec ture, is a short drive east and north of Great Falls.

This Montana city is the site of the great portage accomplished by Lewis & Clark’s paddle, pull and push bunch of upstream nagivators. The falls is the reason why Fort Benton became the western terminus of the Missouri from its confluence with the Mississippi.

The explorers’ monster muscle-strain ing undertaking carrying boats above the now captive falls, was a test of human endurance and perseverance. One look at the countryside is convinc ing proof of the Herculean effort of the Lewis 8: Clark bunch.

From Fort Benton city park, complete with remains of an old fort dating to steamboat days, the Missouri takes off to the northeast before finally arching south and east to the next pavement and main highway at James Kipp State Park, 160 miles distant.
Canoeists must stock all provisions at Fort Benton before launching into the river. Drinking water must be carried too, as the Muddy Mo isn’t recom mended for quenching thirst. In the 160-mile paddle there are only three wells available to river rats, all at state recreation areas: Coal Banks Landing; Hole-In-The-Wall; and Judith Landing. The latter is 70 miles from the next water and take out point at James Kipp Park.

The Missouri is for those who seek solitude in a vast, nearly roadless area of unspoiled beauty. Seeing is believ ing. Modern man shouldn’t let anything alter this miracle strip, an abandoned water “freeway” dotted with remains of cabins of stone and wood, once home to pioneers and suppliers of wood to fuel river steamers.

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At Fort Benton, canoeists can obtain latest river conditions. trip maps. canoe rentals, river lore, and any logistical support required. Bob Singer, retired Fort Benton High School Band Director, operates Missouri River cruises, a folksy outfit that has done much to make river trips possible He can provide vehicle delivery service at several down river points according to any given schedule.

In the 160 miles of river, only four dirt roads butt the river. These ranch and rural roads served by four cable operated ferries during the warm weather season are used mainly by local ranchers and recreationalists. The first two ferries at Lorna and Virgelle are fairly close to Fort Benton.

Singer recommends a minimum of four days for the complete trip to James Kipp Park and Highway 191. He sug gests adding an extra day for explora tion in the famed White Cliffs area. Fishermen, rockhounds. nature lovers. artists and photographers are better off to set their own schedule because climbing to viewpoints above the Mis souri gorge to capture the western land scape tends to slow travel time.

Wind, heat, bugs and storms all should be reckoned with on this paddle-power float trip. The most populated area usually encountered is at Judith Landing where the Judith River flowing north from the Judith Moun tains, spews its muddy outpouring into the Missouri. For miles down river the two Currents run side-by-side. two shades of brown. Upstream currents are clearer.

Current is near slack at Judith Land ing, and several ranches line the shore. A grassy recreation area has water and room for campers. Most river travelers prefer to find a suitable campsite in an isolated area.

East of the Judith, the badlands emerge, shoreline cottonwoods disap. pear, a no man’s land, the wild west. barren, hostile and yet beautiful. un folds with each stroke.

Hole-ln-The-Wall Recreation area, reached only by river as there are no formal roads, has shelters and a rustic cabin, sanitary facilities and drinking water. Several magnificent natural amphitheatres, sandstone spires and the Hole-In-The-Wall, inspire explora tion and the urge to hike.

An historic map and excellent reference for enjoyable canoeing, (available from Singer), points out the location of Camp Cooke, first military post in Montana dating to 1866, Cow Island, where Chief Joseph’s Nez Perce tribe crossed the mighty river; Fort Chardon, fur trading post of 1844; Bull Whacker Creek, where Capt. Lewis first viewed the Rocky Mountains; Pablo Islands, wreck of the steamboat Marion in 1866; and Dauphine Rapids. a major obstacle to the old steamers pushing up to Fort Benton; all the camps of Lewis & Clark; Indian camps; and remains of numer ous old buildings.

The map provides a mileage guide for canoeists. It was originally published by the Missouri River Commission in 1893 and has been greatly expanded for rec reational use. Its 55 cent cost is returned in exploring pleasure.

The river season, as recommended by Singer. is from May to September. keeping in mind the possibility of un predictable conditions. It can be run by canoeists of average ability. Several rapids are mild and can be floated without problem. Staying out of a blind channel or shallows poses more of a problem. Singer gladly advises of any special hazards as he knows the river well.

This is one trip that will be talked about and recalled for years. Be sure to take along sufficient film. And one tip. In brilliant sunlight. the sandstone photographs like snow and beach sand. Join us six percenters soon!

Join the six percent club! Canoe the last free flowing wild stretch of the Big Muddy. Civilization has mercifully by passed and spared 160 miles of this wilderness waterway on its sinuous course across Montana.

The 2.466-mile long great river, with its birthplace at the junction of the Callatin, Madison and lefferson Rivers, served as Lewis & Clark’s gateway to the Far West. It carried freight, passengers and the military into the vast inland empire from St. Louis.

This last unspoiled historic section of the Missouri River between Fort Ben ton. Montana, and the Fort Peck im poundment near North Dakota’s bor der, is seldom seen by travelers today. Railroads, and cross-state highways chose to remain aloof from the mighty Mo.

As I floated down the remaining un fettered “six percent” of the mighty Missouri past mild rapids, gravel and mud bars, and massive sandstone cliffs. the sheer desolation of the badlands caused me to marvel at the gumption of the first explorers. From accounts in history, sections of this canoe course appear just as hostile today as two centuries ago.

Antelope. whitetail and mule deer. muskrats, beaver and other small mam mals. including coyotes and prairie dogs still roam the land. Waterfowl, herons and soaring eagles command at tention. Sauger, northern pike. catfish and goldeneye inhabit the waters. Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep gaze down from cliffs at the upper reaches of the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge.

Missing are the great herds of bison and the marauding grizzly bear that gave members of Lewis and Clark’s expedition many a scare. Also gone is the Audubon Bighorn Sheep, now ex tinct, because of man’s folly.

For years the Missouri was a major waterway west, its steamboats carrying an array of traffic — miners, ranchers, the military, trappers and adventurers to the great port of Fort Benton. This river town was once so busy it was likened to Chicago. Its wharfs and warehouses were crammed with goods going upstream and furs and minerals headed back to eastern America.

Gone is the hurley burley traffic of yesteryear. The river has been aban doned, much to the joy of recreation alists seeking the tingle of adventure. The river has won. It has resisted major infringements by man down to the backwaters of Fort Peck Reservoir. The stark beauty of the wind-carved and weather eroded land remains supreme below Fort Benton.

Fort Benton, where canoeists or ganize downriver pilgrimages to na ture’s fantasy land of sandstone castles, columns of rocks, intriguing natural shapes resembling walls, parapets and medieval and ancient Greek architec ture, is a short drive east and north of Great Falls.

This Montana city is the site of the great portage accomplished by Lewis & Clark’s paddle, pull and push bunch of upstream nagivators. The falls is the reason why Fort Benton became the western terminus of the Missouri from its confluence with the Mississippi.

The explorers’ monster muscle-strain ing undertaking carrying boats above the now captive falls, was a test of human endurance and perseverance. One look at the countryside is convinc ing proof of the Herculean effort of the Lewis 8: Clark bunch.

From Fort Benton city park, complete with remains of an old fort dating to steamboat days, the Missouri takes off to the northeast before finally arching south and east to the next pavement and main highway at James Kipp State Park, 160 miles distant.
Canoeists must stock all provisions at Fort Benton before launching into the river. Drinking water must be carried too, as the Muddy Mo isn’t recom mended for quenching thirst. In the 160-mile paddle there are only three wells available to river rats, all at state recreation areas: Coal Banks Landing; Hole-In-The-Wall; and Judith Landing. The latter is 70 miles from the next water and take out point at James Kipp Park.

The Missouri is for those who seek solitude in a vast, nearly roadless area of unspoiled beauty. Seeing is believ ing. Modern man shouldn’t let anything alter this miracle strip, an abandoned water “freeway” dotted with remains of cabins of stone and wood, once home to pioneers and suppliers of wood to fuel river steamers.

At Fort Benton, canoeists can obtain latest river conditions. trip maps. canoe rentals, river lore, and any logistical support required. Bob Singer, retired Fort Benton High School Band Director, operates Missouri River cruises, a folksy outfit that has done much to make river trips possible He can provide vehicle delivery service at several down river points according to any given schedule.

In the 160 miles of river, only four dirt roads butt the river. These ranch and rural roads served by four cable operated ferries during the warm weather season are used mainly by local ranchers and recreationalists. The first two ferries at Lorna and Virgelle are fairly close to Fort Benton.

Singer recommends a minimum of four days for the complete trip to James Kipp Park and Highway 191. He sug gests adding an extra day for explora tion in the famed White Cliffs area. Fishermen, rockhounds. nature lovers. artists and photographers are better off to set their own schedule because climbing to viewpoints above the Mis souri gorge to capture the western land scape tends to slow travel time.

Wind, heat, bugs and storms all should be reckoned with on this paddle-power float trip. The most populated area usually encountered is at Judith Landing where the Judith River flowing north from the Judith Moun tains, spews its muddy outpouring into the Missouri. For miles down river the two Currents run side-by-side. two shades of brown. Upstream currents are clearer.

Current is near slack at Judith Land ing, and several ranches line the shore. A grassy recreation area has water and room for campers. Most river travelers prefer to find a suitable campsite in an isolated area.

East of the Judith, the badlands emerge, shoreline cottonwoods disap. pear, a no man’s land, the wild west. barren, hostile and yet beautiful. un folds with each stroke.

Hole-ln-The-Wall Recreation area, reached only by river as there are no formal roads, has shelters and a rustic cabin, sanitary facilities and drinking water. Several magnificent natural amphitheatres, sandstone spires and the Hole-In-The-Wall, inspire explora tion and the urge to hike.

An historic map. and excellent ref erence for enjoyable canoeing, (avail able from Singer), points out the loca tion of Camp Cooke. first military post in Montana dating to 1866, Cow Island, where Chief Joseph’s Nez Perce tribe crossed the mighty river; Fort Chardon, fur trading post of 1844; Bull Whacker Creek, where Capt. Lewis first viewed the Rocky Mountains; Pablo Islands, wreck of the steamboat Marion in 1866; and Dauphine Rapids. a major obstacle to the old steamers pushing up to Fort Benton; all the camps of Lewis & Clark; Indian camps; and remains of numer ous old buildings.
The map provides a mileage guide for canoeists. It was originally published by the Missouri River Commission in 1893 and has been greatly expanded for rec reational use. Its 55 cost is retuer in exploring pleasure.

The river season, as recommended by Singer. is from May to September. keeping in mind the possibility of un predictable conditions. It can be run by canoeists of average ability. Several rapids are mild and can be floated without problem. Staying out of a blind channel or shallows poses more of a problem. Singer gladly advises of any special hazards as he knows the river well.

This is one trip that will be talked about and recalled for years. Be sure to take along sufficient film. And one tip. In brilliant sunlight. the sandstone photographs like snow and beach sand. Join us six percenters soon!

This story was first published in the Nov./Dec. 1975 issue of Canoe magazine

RELATED

— An aerial view of the MR340, a/k/a the Missouri River Death Race.

— Seldom Seen Floats: The Little Missouri River

1975-novdec-14