Jordan Country Offers Prairie Magnificence
Powder River: The river breaks and badlands north of Jordan (Photo by Rick and Susie Graetz)
Late 1800s photographer L. A. Huffman called it “The Big Open,” National Geographic termed it “Jordan Country” and others dubbed the sparsely populated landscape south of Fort Peck Lake “The Big Dry.” The heart of this scenic territory is the small town of Jordan.
Rising from the banks of Big Dry Creek and straddling Montana Highway 200, Jordan was founded in about 1896 by Arthur Jordan. He asked that the town take the name of a friend from Miles City who also was named Jordan. The first residence was Arthur’s tent. Later, he established a post office and store for this fledgling cow town.
The town and surrounding expanse of rangeland still are very much cowboy country, and the place retains an Old West flavor. False front buildings on Main Street – some more than 80 years old –haven’t changed much since the community’s early days.
This seat of Garfield County offers entry into some of the West’s most remote and beautiful mix of deep river canyons, badlands and prairie wilderness. The most rugged terrain is part of Charles M. Russell Wildlife Refuge. Out here, antelope, elk, mule deer, whitetail deer, wild turkeys, sage grouse and numerous waterfowl make these lands their home.
Many roads and trails deliver you into and through this wild country. Before striking out, inquire at the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge in Jordan. They can advise you on conditions and the best routes to follow. It’s very important to get good information to make the most of your time. This is big territory you’ll be wandering into, and a place that will amaze you. It truly is an uncommon landscape and one of the most fantastic wilderness regions of America.
Hell Creek State Park, located on Fort Peck Lake 26 miles north of Jordan, is a popular recreation area. On the way you’ll go through the scenic Piney Buttes and over high rises that offer excellent views of some of the upper reaches of the Missouri Breaks and the CMR Refuge. Outside of Jordan, Devil’s Creek, Snow Creek and Crooked Creek also are worthwhile places to visit. And the Haxby Road, about 6 miles east of town, reaches a long way through the badlands into the Breaks and the western edge of an area called the Big Dry Arm of Fort Peck Lake. These routes reveal scenic wonders that are among the most magnificent prairie geography in the nation.
The stretch of Missouri River Country from the Fred Robinson Bridge to Fort Peck is a showcase of sandstone creatures and badlands that illustrate evidence of what passed here many millions of years ago. Sections of Garfield (Jordan) and McCone (Circle) counties were home to Tyrannosaurus Rex, Triceratops, Albertosaurus, Mosasaurus (a marine reptile) and other giant creatures. Because of erosion, some of the richest records of prehistoric life in the world have been and continue to be uncovered here. In 1902, one of the first intact T-Rex fossils ever found was discovered near Jordan in the Hell Creek badlands. The Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge is home to much of this dinosaur burial ground.
Some 65 million years ago, when not totally underwater (much of Montana east of the mountains was covered by a shallow inland sea), this area was part of a hot, humid sub-tropical coastline of marshes, rivers and river deltas bearing dense vegetation near the watercourses and grassy plains farther to the west. It was the time of the dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures – the climate and habitat were just right.
Exploring farther from Jordan, head east on Montana Highway 200 towards the town of Circle. Twenty-five miles out, you'll enter a 10‑mile stretch of spectacular views with red-and-yellow-colored buttes, badlands and distant vistas. Thirty-six miles from town you’ll encounter Highway 24 pointing north. It parallels the Dry Arm section and eastern edge of Fort Peck Lake. If you’d like to camp, put a boat in the water or just see the lake, take advantage of the recreation areas along the its length. There are several and they are well-marked.
Rick and Susie Graetz | University of Montana | Department of Geography