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  • Writer's pictureRuby's Winding Road

Bugs Totally Bite in Montana

We usually have a destination in mind when we travel. Yet road trips are just as much about the journey as the destination. One of our destinations last Fall was Glacier National Park in Montana. It had been on our bucket list for a long time. Our visit to Glacier was incredible and we have a lot of fond memories from our visit to the park. We also find that our recollections about our journey getting there are just as memorable. Especially, when it comes to Montana's bugs.

Welcome booth Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park St. Mary's Entrance

We always carry insect repellent with us when we travel because we love to walk and hike outside, as well as sit out under the stars at night. Normally, a squirt of some citrus smelling "bug away" potion is enough to deter the little pests. Until we entered Montana.

Day after day we sported colorful Buggy Bands on our wrists and dusted bug spray on our arms and legs in an effort to stay bite free. And, day after day we were stung, bit or swarmed. It didn't matter the brand or amount of repellent, nothing seemed to keep us bug free. The pup seemed to escape the wrath of the insects, though we humans learned we're a tasty duo.

Downstream Campground in Fort Peck, Montana
Downstream Campground in Fort Peck, Montana

On our first day in Montana heading west en route to Glacier, we arrived at Fort Peck's Downstream Campground in northeastern Montana. Aah, time to get out of the van and breathe some fresh air. Pow! Yellowjacket sting on the thigh for Kristin. Big, red, swollen and painful sting. Grrrr. It's been a long time since either of us were stung by a wasp. Ointment, cold water bottle on sting, all good.

Aside from our less than fun interaction with a wasp, we liked the Downstream Campground. It was quiet and the electric sites were spaced with the elbow room we prefer. Potable water was available. There was plenty of wildlife to enjoy with sightings of deer early in the morning. We enjoyed our walks through the campground and along the lake. There were plenty of people who were there to fish. Our campsite neighbor was a fellow Travato owner (always nice). We stopped for just one evening and wouldn't have minded staying another day, but Glacier awaited.

The next day we traveled to Glasgow, Montana and arrived at the Shady Rest RV Park. The park was small and the spacing tight. But, the campground was quiet during our stay. Quiet is good. We paid for our spot, backed in and began to hook up. Pow! Yellowjacket sting on the thigh for Kristin. Same leg as last time. What the heck? Now she had two red, swollen and painful stings on the same thigh. Great.

Ruby at Shady Rest RV Park
Shady Rest RV Park

After getting settled at the campsite and applying a cold water bottle and ointment to the second sting, it was time to get the pup out for some exercise. The owner of the campground had recommended we visit the park next door for a place to walk our pup. We headed through an opening in the gate at the back of the campground and entered into the park as she suggested. Mosquitos! Not just a couple of skeeters here and there. Rather, a mass of blood thirsty mosquitos we couldn't escape. The type of bug swarm that finds you swatting each other to get the little boogers off. They were everywhere!

We hurried back to the campground from the park and climbed into the van. Geez. Shut the door and roll 'em up! As we were tending to our puncture wounds, we watched as a fellow camper entered the city park with her dog. She was too far away for us to warn her in time. The poor gal soon returned to the campground swatting at herself as she scurried back through the gate dragging her dog behind her. Appears the mosquito swarm in the park had gotten her, too.

We filled up with groceries and did some minor chores while in Glasgow. Two days later we headed for the open road hoping to leave the Montana bug experiences from the first few of days behind. We knew there had to be more to this state than bugs. We were right. When lunchtime rolled around, our stomachs were reminding us it was sandwich time. Happy to indulge our rumbling bellies, we pulled off at a roadside stop along U.S. Route 2 between the towns of Malta and Saco.

This particular roadside location is on the National Register of Historic Places. The area consists of two boulders cradled in a covered shelter; Sleeping Buffalo Rock and the smaller Medicine Rock. A sign on one side of the shelter described the spiritual significance of the two boulders to the native people. The rocks, which have been relocated to this resting area, continue to have a spiritual role in native customs. Upon closer inspection, we noticed the boulders included ancient markings and engravings as described on the informational sign. Offerings, such as tobacco, had been placed on or near both rocks.

A second sign at the same location as the Sleeping Buffalo Rock described the creation of the Theodore Roosevelt International Highway in 1919, stretching 4,000 miles between Portland, Maine and Portland, Oregon. In 1926, the Highway became the one we were traveling; U.S. Highway 2. The history on the informational board described how tourists would travel the dirt (sometimes mud) highway to visit Glacier National Park. We appreciate that traveling to Glacier can now be done via hard pavement.

After learning about the site and with bellies filled, we rolled back onto the historic highway to continue our journey. A few more hours of driving brought us to a unique gas station/hotel/RV parking lot campground located next to a train yard in Havre, Montana. They called it an emporium. Hmmm. It sounds uniquely weird, but it really wasn't too bad. They had decent laundry machines and allowed use of other hotel amenities like the pool. Oooh, ice cream! A coffee shop with all your barista-made favs! And, no bugs were buzzing around us in the mostly paved campground.

The campground for us was strictly a place to stay; mostly pavement, full RV hook-ups, some small back-in sites. Many sites were arranged parallel-parking style around a long oval island. It was interesting watching Class A motorhomes or long fifth-wheel rigs parallel park between two other RVs. Obviously, some folks are better at it than others. Eeek.

While we were there, we met a couple of ladies headed to the west side of Glacier National Park in their RV. We chatted while doing a load of laundry. They had traveled a similar route as us and insisted there had been nothing to see for miles! We couldn't disagree more.

It was back on the road for us the next morning. Our stop at the Havre gas station/hotel/RV parking lot campground was a good one, but one night was enough. We filled up the gas tank, waved goodbye and continued west.

We reached Shelby, Montana for a one-night stay in a campground that's a part of the Comfort Inn. The town of Shelby is built near the railroad. In fact, it is named in honor of a former General Manager from the Montana Central Railway that was established in the area in the late 1800s. The town is small with a population of roughly 3,100 people.

The campground, named the Shelby RV Park and Resort, was a nice place to stop for a night. It had full RV hookups, all of the amenities from the hotel, and even a place to plug into cable television. Unfortunately, we forgot our coax cable to hook our van into the campground cable box. Shelby does have a small hardware store a few blocks from the campground, so we set out on foot to buy a cable. It was a good reason to go for a walk with our pup. On our way to the hardware store, we passed a small park designed in the shape of a boxing ring, complete with iron artwork depicting two prize fighters and a referee. We learned we had entered the famed Champions Park.

On July 4, 1923, this little town of Shelby, Montana hosted the World Heavyweight Championship Fight between boxers Jack Dempsey and Tommy Gibbons. It was a ferocious fight that went a full 15 rounds. Dempsey ultimately retained his championship title by unanimous decision. The boxing match was a spectacular event according to legend. Promoters hoped the match would draw huge numbers of people to Shelby. In the end, ticket prices were too high for many locals and the large numbers of visitors from far away locations didn't materialize as hoped. It just wasn't an easy area to reach in the early 1920s. As many as 20,000 people are thought to have viewed the match in person. Many, however, were area ranchers and other locals who stormed the gates to view for free. The town had invested heavily in the boxing match hoping it would enrich Shelby financially. Instead, the town was left bankrupt due to few paying customers. Champions Park is an interesting stop for those traveling along U.S. Highway 2. Stop and sit for a bit at ringside.

Concrete penguin
Coldest spot in the nation?

The next morning we were pumped for our drive into Glacier National Park. Bright eyed and bushy tailed, we left the campground and made our way back to U.S. Highway 2 for our final 80-mile trek to Glacier. While listening to the radio and chatting as the miles rolled on, we passed something we hadn't seen before and decided to turn around for a better look. We needed to get a photo of what has to be the largest penguin in Montana.

The concrete penguin is supposedly 27-feet tall, a little more than 30 years-old, brightly painted, and greets travelers along U.S. Route 2 in the town of Cut Bank. It's the coldest spot in the nation, as advertised by the penguin.

A local business owner is said to have been inspired to build the penguin as a result of the frigid Cut Bank winters. It was a chilly September morning when we spotted the penguin and we're okay with sweater weather. Visiting the giant penguin during parka weather, well, that's a frozen hard NO for us. With picture taken, it was time to get back on the road.

Montana's U.S. Route 2 can feel long and flat, but there are certainly things to grab your interest along the way if you're paying attention. Including herds of bison roaming on the Blackfeet Nation Bison Reserve in Browning, Montana. Compared to the hustle and bustle of the busier places where we spend our lives, the serenity of the landscape was appealing. And, then we spied mountains in the distance. Glacier. We couldn't have been more excited!

Glacier National Park deserves a blog post all its own and that's our plan for a future post. But we do have this one thing about Glacier we'd like to mention, as it's relevant to this post. It was a conversation we had inside the national park that went much like this... "Is there something climbing on my neck? I see blood! Blood sucking flies? Gross! Forget the natural bug spray, where's the one with the Deet?"

Yes, Montana left us looking battered by the bugs. We definitely had more bug bites leaving the state than when we entered. In fact, we didn't have any when when we crossed into Montana. Upon leaving, we looked chewed on (or, at least Kristin did). We inspected our pup regularly and couldn't find she had any issues with insects. She was just a happy girl the whole trip.

Thanks for reading our blog. Check back for our future post about Glacier National Park. To read past blog posts visit Sign up for free to receive notifications in your email inbox. Cheers for now, enjoy the journey, and remember to bring the insect repellent.


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