Day 31 — The White Cliffs to the Stafford-McClelland Ferry
July 13, 2021. From our campsite the landscape opened into a wide valley with tall peaks and ridges that rise up a thousand feet to the canyon rim. Here’s a screenshot showing the topography.
We paddled from the left edge of the photo to the location of the blue dot. You can see that the canyon is wider, but counterintuitively, the river actually seemed to move along faster. We averaged a 5.4 mph pace, over a 1 mph faster than the day before. Clearly the wind was a factor, but the current was consistent, and the cooler temperatures and cloud cover made the paddling more enjoyable.
With the wider valley bottoms, there was much more evidence of the ranch and farm settlement history. We stopped at several old homesteads, and wondered at dreams and aspirations that were dashed by the harsh conditions.
By late afternoon we made it to the boater campsite located next to the Stafford-McClelland Ferry. It’s one of the three ferries left in Montana, two of of which are on the Missouri River. For over a decade Tom Philp has been one of the two employees running the Ferry. His official county job title is Ferry Captain. He lives in the cabin provided by the county while on duty three-and-a-half days a week throughout the summer, operating the two-car, six passenger ferry.
The first ferry here was established in 1921 by Jack McClelland and his wife, who lived on the south bank of the river. The next ferry, built in 1927, was established by the Staffords on the north bank. Depending on what side of the river you’re on, the ferry is called the McClelland ferry or the Stafford ferry, ut the official name is the Stafford-McClelland ferry.
The ferry connects the town of Winifred, 16 miles to the south, and Havre, 85 miles to the north. The northern road is a dirt road — often a mud road — that twists and turns through coulees and the sides of the mountains of the Upper Missouri River Breaks.
At the campground we met a couple Geography student doing field research in the area.
Anik Regan is a Geology masters student at the University of Georgia. Before that she was an undergraduate geology student at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN. The research is for her thesis. Alex Johanson is a geology undergraduate at Macalester . They’re spending the entire summer in the area collecting data for Anik’s research. We hung out with them in the evening, talking about our Minnesota connections, and the geology and human history of the region. I couldn’t help but think how cool this experience is for them, how it will inform their careers, and how they’ll remember it for the rest of their lives.