At the Headwaters of the Missouri: The Rivers
Three beautiful rivers converge near the town of Three Forks, Montana, to form the wide Missouri. These are the Jefferson, the Madison, and the Gallatin, still known today by the names given them by Lewis and Clark. It was the western-most stream, the Jefferson, that the expedition followed on its way to the continental divide.
Where the three rivers come together is Missouri Headwaters State Park. I've been here in previous years, but not during the bicentennial. I was interested in seeing what new interpretive facilities may have been added since my earlier visits. There are indeed many new signs and interpretive panels, including an introductory kiosk and information booth at the entrance to the park that had not been there before. I was sad to see that the older signs I remembered had all been removed, but then was heartened to find they were reinstalled at a visitor's information facility in town, which I will show in another post.
Sign at the entrance to the park.
But first, the rivers: the confluence of the Jefferson and the Madison is designated by the U.S. Geological Survey as the actual beginning of the Missouri. The Gallatin flows in from the east a short distance downstream from there (to the north). All three rivers meander about forming many islands and braided channels and the headwaters area looks very flat. I think that's deceptive, however, because when standing next to the rivers themselves, you can see they are actually moving at a pretty swift pace. There were many people rafting by during the time I was there.
The Madison, which begins in Yellowstone National Park to the south. It is the middle and largest of the three forks.
Here the Jefferson flows in to form the Missouri proper. I was there at the worst possible time of day! This is my photo with the least glare from the sun--it was either this picture or none.
Here's the Gallatin just above its confluence with the other two. This is the view from the top of Fort Rock, looking southeast and upstream.
It was very hot--close to 100 degrees--and sunny, but I donned my straw hat, braved a few of the short trails, and went to the top of Fort Rock, a flat-topped outcropping separating the Gallatin and its fellow rivers. Clark had written that he thought it would make a good location for a "fort" of some kind. At mid-week, there were only a few other people around. (A family from Missouri saw my Oregon license plates and said, "Oregon! Congratulations!" Uh, thanks . . .)
Much of the park is this type of grasslands terrain. This scene reminds me of pictures of the African savannah.
Here's the Missouri after all three forks come together, looking downriver (north). Those white things in the water are pelicans. I tried to sneak a little closer, but they were on to me.
The park was very peaceful and beautiful, but the intense heat was not so pleasant. I might go back in the fall to see it at a different time of year.
Next: interpretive facilities at the headwaters.
[All photos by K. Dahl, copyright 2007.]