This area was dubbed “The Big Open” by the late 1800s photographer L. A. Huffman. Others have called it “The Big Dry.” Until the 1990s it was a fairly unknown area to the rest of the country when the standoff between the Federal agents and the Freeman brought it national attention. Jordan was founded in 1896 by Arthur Jordan. However, it wasn’t named after him. He asked that the town take the name of a friend in Miles City who was also named Jordan. The first building or structure in Jordan was Arthur Jordan’s tent. A post office and store were soon added and a cow town was born. The place maintains an old west flavor with its false front buildings on Main street, many of which are over 80 years old.
This town is the gateway to some of the most remote and beautiful river canyons, badlands and prairie wilderness in the west. Much of this rugged terrain is in the Charles M. Russell Wildlife Refuge which stretches for almost 200 miles and surrounds Fort Peck Lake. The loop route you’ll take out of here is about 227 miles long, so you should give yourself a couple of days.
Leave Jordan headed east on Highway 200 to Circle. Almost immediately you’ll see red and yellow colored buttes and badlands. This is dinosaur country and is a favorite hunting ground for paleontologists. One of the first dinosaurs of record, a Tyrannosaurus Rex was discovered near Jordan in the Hell Creek Formation in 1904. Since then its been the source of many excellent finds.
Circle is another “cow town” which got its name from the Circle Brand, one of Montana’s earliest ranches. This is still primarily a farm and ranch town. To the south of Circle, you’ll see a unique range of high sandstone hills. The Big Sheep Mountains were named after the Audubon Sheep that lived there until eliminated by the homesteaders in the early 1900s.
Take Highway 13 north out of Circle toward Wolf Point. When you reach Highway 2, turn east and continue through Wolf Point and the Missouri River Valley to Nashua. Turn left at Nashua onto Highway 117 to Fort Peck Dam and the town of Fort Peck. Just beyond that, you’ll reach Montana 24. Go right on this and drive over the dam. This area east of Fort Peck Lake is called Dry Arm. Continue on Highway 24 to Highway 200 and turn right to Jordan.