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Fuel on the Hi-Line
Heading up to the Hi-Line? Highway 2, which runs across the northern tier of the state, has been called "The Loneliest Road in America," but loads of interesting Montana attractions await if you know where to look. On your way up, take a little detour off I-15 over to Choteau, and turn north on Highway 89. A few miles from there you'll find the Two Medicine Dinosaur Center in Bynum (120 Second Avenue S., Bynum, 1-800-238-6873; open by appointment in winter), home of the longest dinosaur in the world. The 137-foot long seismosaurus skeleton on display is a replica, based on fossils uncovered near Albuquerque, N.M., in 1979, and it's damned impressive. The Center's Dinosaur Program offers training sessions for amateur archeologists, and they send hundreds of fossil hunters into the field each year hoping to find the next discovery in this dino-rich area.
Further up the road, in Shelby, you can see the story of a couple of other dinosaurs, Jack Dempsey and Tommy Gibbons. The tale of their legendary 1923 heavyweight fight is told in great detail at the Marias Museum of History and Art (206 12th Avenue N., Shelby, 406-424-2551; open by appointment in winter). They even have a pair of Gibbons' practice gloves on display. The story of Shelby's oil barons and their misguided attempt at staging a world-class boxing match is a case study in avarice, financial hoodwinkery, and house-of-cards promotion by a bunch of well-heeled jackanapes that would have made Donald Trump look like a punk-ass kid with a lemonade stand.
From Shelby you can go east through Havre, a good place to stop and replenish your road supplies. There's a gargantuan Wal-Mart Supercenter on a hill overlooking the town, like a shining beacon ready to siphon American dollars straight into the Chinese economy. Cruise on into Havre proper, though, and you'll find Gary and Leo's IGA (730 First Street, Havre), a nice, normal-sized, local grocer. Stock up on car-friendly snacks like baby carrots, Pringles chips, sunflower seeds and seedless grapes.
On the subject of food, it's a highly personal choice. Just make sure you have enough variety to keep everybody satisfied. One family may gobble trail mix and Clif bars by the handful, whereas another family might subsist on Corn Nuts and leftover Halloween candy they find stuck to the floor mats. One important thing to bear in mind is that it's cold out there. No one will be rolling down their windows or opening the sunroof, so try to avoid gas-producing snacks like bean dip, granola bars, prunes, yogurt and nuts. You don't want to arrive at your destination with a car full of watery-eyed, nauseous road warriors with scorched nose hairs. But if you can hold in a fart for as long as others can hold their water, go for it.
About three hours east of Havre you'll be ready for some more entertainment. If you want to show the kids something that they'll be describing to their therapists 20 years from now, I suggest the Valley County Pioneer Museum in Glasgow (816 Hwy. 2, Glasgow, open Tuesdays in winter, 1–4 p.m.). They have some legitimately rare items on display, from a full mount of the extinct Audubon sheep to an original C.M. Russell watercolor. But what will really blow your wig back is the taxidermy collection at the rear of the museum. Among the hundreds of mounts, you'll see a 62.5-pound buffalo fish, which looks like a goldfish from some Tim Burton nightmare. There's also the head of a very surprised-looking black bear, and at least three two-headed calves. The most shocking mount is a bobcat posed behind a skunk. My guess is that it was supposed to appear as if the cat is attacking the skunk from the rear, but he looks more like he's performing an unnatural act. And from the look on his face, he's enjoying the hell out of it. The skunk appears nonchalant, seemingly resigned to his fate. Somehow I don't think Pepe LePew would put up with being some bobcat's bitch.