Sunday, June 23, 2013

Headwaters of the Missouri River

Headwaters of the Missouri River -
Madison River on left merges with
Jefferson River on right to form the
We decided to do something other than Yellowstone this weekend. Those that have followed our journey over the last few years may remember that we were in Montana two years ago when we went to Glacier National Park and did a lot of exploring in northwestern Montana. We were on the Missouri River in Fort Benton for a while where we explored and learned about the travels and discoveries of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in Montana. We didn't get much further south than the Great Falls area on that trip even though we really wanted to see the headwaters of the Missouri which was a primary objective of that expedition. It was just too far off our planned trip at the time.

Headwaters from a  higher viewpoint
 On this year's trip to Montana we are at the southern tip of Montana so now we are way south of some of the things we want to see. On Saturday we drove about 100 miles north to Three Forks Montana to see the headwaters of the Missouri River. This gave us a fulfillment both in meeting a goal from two years prior but also it was satisfying in that we used to live in St. Charles MO where the river completes it's journey and joins the mighty Mississippi. We've now seen both ends of the great river (including witnessing the huge floods of 1993 when we lived there).
Gallatin River - it joins in a mile
downstream in distance

The official headwaters is where the Madison and Jefferson Rivers join together and about a half mile downstream the Gallatin River also joins. All three of these rivers are fairly good size which gets the Missouri off to a substantial start from it's very beginning. Over the last month we have become familiar with the Madison and Gallatin Rivers because they both start from within Yellowstone at or near the Continental Divide and roads run along them for miles. It was interesting to learn that the end of those formed the Missouri. Seeing the size of both the Madison and Jefferson Rivers I immediately wondered why Lewis and Clark gave them new names rather than just saying one of them was the Missouri (probably the Jefferson because it heads more westerly which was their objective). It appears that question was debated by them and they decided to go with this being the start of the Missouri so they gave new names to the rivers they found. I had always imagined a small stream slowly growing larger and larger to form the Missouri River but that is not the case unless we consider the origins of the Madison and Jefferson Rivers. Here is a link to the Wikipedia write-up for this state park. It references the debate.

Remains of Gallatin City - hotel
on left
The entire area is part of Missouri Headwaters State Park. A little bonus to the state park was a few remaining buildings of a ghost town from the 1860's. The city was abandoned when the railroad bypassed it, a story shared with a lot of other towns.

Bonus picture for today. We saw some beautiful Cedar Waxwings while walking around the state park.
Cedar Waxwing

For the fun of it, below is a picture of the Madison River in Yellowstone National Park about one mile straight east of the town of West Yellowstone. It is not very deep here but it is quite wide. Elevation here is about 6600 feet versus around 4000 feet when it flows into the Missouri.
Madison River in Yellowstone
National Park

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