At the Gates of the Mountains

Dorothy O'Connor Berg and Russ Berg

Editor's note: Russ and Dorothy are on yet another of their intriguing Airstream Caravans, this time following the Lewis and Clark Trail across the country. Their rig is a staunch Airstream trailer behind their GMC carry-all, specially equipped for a heavy load and long mountain roads.

Medora, ND  July 10, 2000


This is about half way into our trip. Yesterday was somewhat more active than usual, so it makes an interesting day to write about.

The night before Dorothy and I decided to get up early and leave before the parkers. These are caravan members assigned to precede the caravan so they can arrange who will park where at the next stop. We rotate jobs. We are not supposed to arrive at a new camp before the parkers have time to decide how to park us. The parkers are going to leave at 8 am. Plan A, Dorothy and I decide to leave at 7 and hang out somewhere on the road and let the parkers pass us, and we will arrive at the appointed time. We can travel leisurely and all that good stuff. Jeff from San Diego comes by and says how about we travel together. When I mention seven o'clock, he says, "No way." Twenty-two RV's from fourteen states. Plan B, we negotiate to eight o'clock. Now we are leaving when the parkers are leaving. Plan C, wait until the parkers are out of the way. Anyway, Marcy, Jeff's wife, is a slow starter, so Jeff says go ahead and maybe he will catch up. I know no way will he catch up, so we negotiate another ten minutes. Around Plan E or F we are off. Marcy is a good navigator so they take the lead.

Pretty soon we pass the parkers who have stopped for breakfast. I am a little surprised that Marcy and Dorothy are not chit-chatting on the CB radio. Jeff and whoever isn't driving in our car use the CB for comments, driving decisions, etc. They have a motor home and tow a 1960 Volkswagon. The weather is pretty typical (changeable).  So far on this trip we have spent two sessions in tornado shelters. We were in and out of rain most of the trip yesterday. In the flat areas we pass vast farms that go on to infinity, or maybe Infinity. The feeling is more mystical here than in Ohio where the farms also go forever. The roads are covered with sand that looks like it was left over from last winter. It gives me an uncomfortable feeling about traction. Then the truck and the trailer get a mud bath for about five miles where the road was wet dirt waiting to be paved. Part of the day's trip was an excursion into the Teddy Roosevelt National Park. This is an area of the Bad Lands.  

This National Park is in the north west corner of ND. To the eye the Bad Lands have spectacular beauty. They are hill after hill or butte after butte with deep valleys. The underlying rock is exposed in layers or strata. Jeff and we start into the park with us leading, Dorothy driving. We are oohing and aahing at the scenery, when we come upon a herd of buffalo all over the road. Calves, females, males, maybe fifty, and a big bull who stays behind the herd. He looks like he is assigned to put multiple dents in our grill, if we threaten the herd. Now we are going up hill at three miles an hour. Pretty soon I hear distress from Jeff that his engine is overheating, and I am not too happy that my transmission is at 400 degrees. We turn off engines for a while and let the herd go on. It turns out that the herd is moving to a new meadow, and the road drops off on each side so they couldn't get out of the way if they wanted to. After a while the herd gets to their new meadow, and we go on to a pull off. Jeff wants to go back, but I sell him on going on once again to see what is around the bend. Well, another buffalo herd is around the corner.

This time we are on the level, and they are out of the way in ten minutes instead of a half hour. More council at the next pull off, and we decide to turn around. Jeff can't make it around with his big turning radius, so he has to unhitch, turn the motor home around and rehitch. We leave the national park and hang out at a Dairy Queen until it is time to enter the trailer park. At the park, we all break park rules and wash down our muddy equipment. (Today it is still muddy.) The weather is fine and we hope it will hold, so we can have our dinner, a steak dinner cooked in a peanut oil fondue on a pitch fork. The setting is the top of a butte looking at the Little Missouri River and the railroad both about a thousand feet down. The perfect weather holds for the dinner. Then we go to a show at an outdoor amphitheater built into the side of the butte. Now the sky is clouding over in the west. Pretty soon serious lightning starts, and a few drops and then they called off the show. We go down the steep grades back to Medora and the trailer park in the rain.  

All this had nothing to do with Lewis and Clark, of which we have had plenty. I am inclined to nonchalantly pass this off as just another trailer day, fortunately not all days are as active as yesterday. Today is laundry day and a ride on a real stage coach. Yesterday we saw the coach on its side in a ditch. The rumor is that one of the horses spooked and the coach was dumped. So we are going to chicken out on the stage coach ride.

Hardin, MT Wednesday, July 12, 2000

Much of this trip is a followup on GUNS, GERMS and STEEL and, of course, UNDAUNTED COURAGE.  I try to visualize scenes as they were, and bring back the settings 200 years ago or when they occurred. Except for the mosquitoes at one site, it is a stretch, but I try. One of the rangers here pointed out the manliness of individual trappers who operated alone and fed and clothed themselves, dealt with isolation, extreme weather both winter and summer, sickness and wild animals and survived. They were men, or more properly MEN. And it turns out there were quite a few WOMEN.

Dillon, MT Friday, July 21, 2000

Last night we had boat ride through The Gates of the Mountains, 6.5 miles of river through a gorge with 1000 foot rock sides that go right down the water. See many deer, mountain goat, blue heron. Spectacular rock formations. Roast beef supper in the gorge and a superb sunset on the ride back home.

Home is where the trailer is.

Enough additions. Our best.

September 1, 2000

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