We stayed the night at Huntley Project Museum. It is a Harvest Host location conveniently located near the midway point to our next campground, effectively splitting a seven hour drive into two days. We had no idea what the Huntley Project was all about, but we were willing to find out. We arrived around 3:30 in the afternoon and was quickly greeted by Neal, our host for the night. He showed us where to park and invited us to tour the museum. We parked outside the museum gate along the fence where I thought might be in the road’s right-of-way. I trusted that Neal knew it would be okay in this rural farming area.
During our museum tour, we learned the area was not always suitable for farming and that the Huntley Project changed that. In 1902, the U.S. government passed the Reclamation Act to help with the settlement of the land. One of many projects throughout the west, the Huntley Irrigation Project, as it was called at the time, constructed an irrigation canal from the Yellowstone River creating 582 forty-acre irrigated farm units. A lottery was held in 1907 and the winning pioneers settled the land.
The museum recounts the development of the canal and the early life of the pioneers who settled here. Admission is free to visit. Near the entrance to the main building is a donation box. Also a gift shop sells items to help raise funds for the museum’s expenses.
Much is displayed on the 10 acre site that sits along the canal. Eighteen relocated homestead buildings includes a furnished house from 1910, an old schoolhouse set with desks ready to welcome students, a bank building complete with a safe and teller’s window, a fully supplied general store, a doctors office where many babies were delivered, and much, much more. On display are thousands of artifacts portraying life on the prairie as it once was. The collection of antique farm implements and tools displayed throughout the property reminds us that farming was a laborious life.
We settled back at our camper for the night. The train tracks across the road were quite busy. At least once, maybe twice an hour, a train sped by rattling the camper. One train hit the brakes as it was passing, presumably stopping to switch to another track. If you have ever heard a train come to a halt, then you are familiar with the distant rumble of the cars compressing together increasing in intensity until crashing past and waning down the line. I thought it was an interesting example of the Doppler effect. Grammi nearly jumped out of her skin. “I hope this doesn’t keep up all night. I’ll never get any sleep.” Grammi muttered.
It was a cool night. We were under the blankets and dozing off before all the daylight disappeared. The next thing I remember was a freight train racing past shaking me awake. I sat on the edge of the bed and grabbed my phone to look at the time. Hmm, 6:00 a.m. not too bad. Obviously, it was just a morning wake up call. I didn’t hear any trains during the night, though. Could it be I slept though them? Nope, Grammi confirmed there were no trains overnight.
Coffee, breakfast and a quick look at the phone to confirm we had no cell service, then back on the road. Yesterday, on the way to Huntley Project, we saw a sign for a national monument. It was something we didn’t expect to see. It was not on our radar and we were surprised when we passed the brown sign. There was time this morning to go back and check it out.
Sitting north of Interstate 94 along the Yellowstone River in Montana is a rock outcropping called Pompeys Pillar. The significance of this rock formation can be traced back hundreds of years as a landmark and gathering place for Native American tribes. A natural ford across the Yellowstone River lies in the shadow of Pompeys Pillar. Hunting parties camped nearby waiting for the buffalo migration to cross the ford where they could more easily take their game.
But the true significance and reason for the establishment of a national monument can be found in the journal of William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition where he wrote, “…this rock I ascended and from it’s top had a most extensive view in every direction…The nativs have ingraved on the face of this rock, the figures of animals &c. near which I marked my name and the day of the month & year.” William Clark’s hand carved signature is what attracts visitors.
There is an impressive modern visitor center and museum with interpretive displays, and a gift shop with the typical national park wares. We walked a nature trail going past the Yellowstone River. We climbed to the top of Pompeys Pillar to witness for ourselves Clark’s “most extensive view in every direction”. Our climb was made easier than Clark’s ascent with the use of stairs. It was indeed a wonderful view.
We climbed up to a viewing platform to see the main attraction, William Clark’s signature in the sandstone rock. A park volunteer was there to answer questions, but his main responsibility was to keep people from climbing over the railing for a closer look. The signature, weathered from years of erosion is now protected by a glass enclosure and sits among other etchings and petroglyphs. Understandable it is preserved behind glass. It is one of the last remaining physical pieces of on-site evidence from the Lewis and Clark Expedition. We were very disappointed because the glass enclosure made it impossible to take pictures of the signature, especially with the glare from the sun hitting on it. However, an exact replica is on display near the visitor center and we settled for a picture of that.
We love these unexpected stops and side trips on our adventures. It makes things fun. It is incredible how much we learned in the past 24 hours. I had never heard of The Huntley Project or Pompeys Pillar until yesterday. This is a very good example of the education that comes from traveling. It’s true what my father said, “The more you learn, the more you realize what you don’t know and the more you want to learn.”
We shall continue to travel down the highway. More exciting adventures await. No telling what we will learn next. I hope you follow along as we explore new territory and share our adventures.
So until next time…happy days and safe travels.