Monday, September 28, 2015

Big Timber and the Natural Bridge

Camping on the Boulder River

Dogs on dash
Traveling east on I-90, we had made reservations to spend a couple of days at the Spring Creek Campground near Big Timber, MT.  We had stayed here before under less than ideal circumstances which you can review (if you wish) here.  It's is a beautiful site right on the banks of the Boulder River.  We were parked with our nose right on the riverbank as you can see in the accompanying photos.  Last time we were here was during spring melt and the river was really roaring.  This time around the flow was a little more restrained but still respectable and we really enjoyed our time here.

With an extra day scheduled for exploring, we drove south along the river through beautiful ranch lands  for about 25 miles and ended up, more or less by accident, at Natural Bridge State Park.  This is a nice little park built around a landmark where, over hundreds of thousands of years, the Boulder River gradually eroded away a sandstone wall until it finally broke through and created a span crossing the river.  And here it is...
Natural Bridge ?

We couldn't figure out how mother nature eroded those guard rails until we finally realized that this is NOT, in fact, the Natural Bridge.  No, the Natural Bridge is here... least it was here.  The span actually collapsed into the river gorge in 1988.  But there is hope. 
Water returning to the river bed
Just downstream from this point the river plunges into an underground channel and shoots out of a cave opening about 75 yards further along.  So there is still kind of a natural bridge although it is
more of a natural tunnel.  And it isn't big enough to handle the water volume in the spring, so for a couple of months a year the water partially goes back to flowing down the old river bed over the top of the tunnel.  But as time and the elements continue to work, they say that the tunnel will gradually enlarge and will eventually form a new bridge.  That's why they haven't changed the name.  Why go to the trouble of changing all the signs when you're just going to have to change them back in half a million years?  Now that's what I call planning ahead.

Eclectic artifacts
The pavement ended at the park, but we continued on a dirt road for another 5 or 6 miles for the lovely views, then turned around and drove back to Big Timber.  There we visited the local historical museum,  just because it was there.  Like other small town museums we have seen, it was mostly a collection of artifacts contributed by local families with little apparent organization and no overarching theme.  Visiting the museum did little to add to our understanding of Big Timber with one exception.  There were two docents who both looked old enough to be city founders and they were able to explain to us why "Big Timber".  I mean, there isn't a tree visible for miles.  It turns out the town is located at the confluence of Big Timber Creek and the Yellowstone River.  The creek took its name from stands of trees a hundred miles upstream.  The town took its name from the creek.  Logging was never a "thing" here.

There were a couple of interesting displays.  We always like to see collections of old medical tools.  It makes me long for
Medical Tools
the days when you didn't have to waste time fooling around with anesthesia.  Just get six or seven burley guys to hold down the vict... er, patient and carry on.  The other interesting room was a collection of old time cowboy chaps.  Never seen one like it.

Adjacent to the museum building was an old schoolhouse, which we ignored, and an old Norwegian style storage building from the last century.  Much of the far northern Midwest was settled by Scandinavians who apparently have an inexplicable fondness for blisteringly cold winters.

Having fulfilled our culture educational requirement for the week, we drove back to our campground to enjoy our riverfront lodgings before packing up in the morning to continue our journey to South Dakota.

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