Our trip to the Upper Missouri Rivers Beaks National Monument coincided with a heat wave, and the day we arrived in Fort Benton the thermometer read 98 degrees. On the upside we were headed to a river!
The city of Fort Benton marks the western and upriver end of the Monument, and is a quiet historic town that seems to embrace both the Monument and River that call it home. Fort Benton has three museums, including a great interpretive center for the Monument.
The 149-mile stretch of the Missouri River that begins in Fort Benton is designated as wild and scenic, and the Monument is home to 375,000 acres of meandering bluffs, cottonwood riparian, grass plains and an incredible variety of wildlife. The River remains much the same as it was back when Lewis and Clark passed through. The Monument is largely surrounded by private lands used for grazing, grain and grass.
Similar to Hanford Reach, Upper Missouri River Breaks is another monument best seen from the water. Given that, our first stop was to connect with Nicolle Fugere, owner of Adventure Bound Canoe. She’s been guiding in the area for over a decade, and she’s a supporter of the River and the Monument. Her love for the place is clear and compelling.
Adventure Bound Canoe rented us a canoe for a day and we put in at Fort Benton and floated to Loma Bridge. We saw a plethora of animals including coyote, fox and beaver, a wide variety of birds including pelicans, geese, ducks, raptors, song birds and swallows, and huge fish feeding along the river bank. Floating slow close to shore we were able to sneak up on deer feeding and napping along the riverbanks and even upon fishes sucking bugs from grass who would dart away at the last minute.
We took out and camped at Decision Point, just upstream from the infamous Marias River confluence, where the Lewis and Clark expedition faced the difficult choice of whether to follow the Marias or Missouri to the Pacific. Further downstream are the white cliffs which are said to be rugged and beautiful, accessible during a three-night trip and with awesome slot canyons to explore, and amazing petroglyphs and fossils.
Montanans seem to value and appreciate their public lands and their love for the Breaks seems no different. The “Hold Our Ground” campaign is making sure these voices are heard by the administration, and that public lands in Montana are protected and available for all of us to appreciate and use.