Monday, June 15, 2015

Amtrak Adventure - Day 29 - West Glacier, Montana to St Paul, Minnesota

Day 29 and we were back on the tracks again. This time headed for St Paul, Minnesota, a twenty-four hour trip. The journey took us through Glacier National Park via the Marias Pass, a route through the Rockies which was originally sought by Lewis and Clark, but finally discovered by John Stevens in 1889 with the help of a Blackfoot Indian Guide.

We crossed the Continental Divide, the point at which rivers either flow east to the Atlantic or west to the Pacific. At this point the pass is 5,213 feet above sea level making it the lowest pass between Canada and New Mexico. At the summit of the pass there is a monument to President Theodore Roosevelt in memory of his efforts to preserve America's natural resources, a subject which became dear to his heart after spending time in North Dakota. 

From the park the train crosses Blackfeet Indian Reservation and the land becomes considerably flatter with the mountains receding into the distance.

The further we traveled the more isolated the landscape became.

more horses than people

Often the only structures of any size were grain elevators, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, but obviously a focus point for the nearby farms.

When the settlers first came to Montana they were given 300 acres of land free on the understanding that they farmed it for five years and put up a homestead. The idea was that they would be self-sufficient but 300 acres proved not to be big enough. Many of the settlers failed and moved on after selling their land to more successful settlers thereby beginning the consolidation of the land into larger ranches. The original homesteads were abandoned and the ruins can still be seen today dotted around the farms.

Eight and a half hours later we eventually crossed into North Dakota and there was a dramatic change in scenery.

In this area of the world it stays light until about ten o’clock at night in June so we were able to see the many oil wells that dot the landscape along the train route. Oil was discovered in North Dakota in the 1950’s and, with the improvement in oil retrieving technology including fracking, is now oil rich. 
We had a chance to talk to a guy who had moved to North Dakota to work in the oil industry after being made redundant elsewhere, and a couple who had lived all their lives in the town of Williston where there has been a huge increase in population in the last four years due to the oil boom. The difference in attitudes towards the effects of the oil boom could not have been greater. The oil worker reckoned the locals' attitudes were determined by whether they were making money or not from mineral rights, whereas the couple focused on the social problems such as the housing shortage, which has made some of the small towns as expensive as major cities, and the increase in crime and prostitution.  

There were also masses of what looked to be lakes, one after another, but which a dinner companion told us were enormous potholes that had filled with water. Attempts had been made to fill in some of the holes for agricultural purposes but not all had been successful which is probably just as well as they are important breeding grounds for wildfowl, especially ducks. 

With most of our journey across North Dakota and into Minnesota overnight, it was morning before we had another chance to view the passing landscape. Still, with a daytime trip from St Paul to Chicago in our future, we should have plenty of time to see Minnesota in the daylight.


  1. Great pictures that show the diverse terrain in that part of the country. My family's from ND and I grew up in MN, so know it well. You're certainly getting the full picture of the US on this trip!

    1. Seeing the changes in scenery has been one of the most fascinating aspects of the trip - it certainly makes you realise how big the US is. So much variety and yet each type of terrain can take hours to traverse. My only regret is that taking photos through a train window doesn't capture the full beauty.