... on the road from Melrose to Montana and back to Melrose
Dear friends and family,
We are continuing our trip through Montana but our first stop was only by chance. Driving across rolling hills and rangelands we passed through the Cheyenne Indian Reservation. Donna was sharp enough to see the sign for the St. Labre Indian School and so we took a turn and headed for the grounds. Although classes were over for this session we were fortunate to get a tour by one of the graduate students. This school started in a log cabin operated by the Sisters. Today the school provides accredited pre-school through grades 12 education to more than 700 children. The teepee-style church and the Cheyenne Indian Museum gave us the opportunity to see a large collection of Native American artifacts and art from the Northern Cheyenne, the Crow and Sioux tribes.
Our next stop on that day was to the Little Bighorn Battlefield. On a scorching June Sunday in 1876, hundreds of Indian warriors converged on a grassy ridge rising above the valley of Montana’s Little Bighorn River. On the ridge, five companies of United States Cavalry, about 210 officers and troopers, fought desperately but hopelessly against many times their number. When the guns fell silent and the smoke and dust of the battle lifted, no U.S. Cavalry soldier survived. We drove through the battlefield where markers have been placed to show where some of the major losses took place. This place memorializes one of the last armed efforts of Northern Plains Indians to preserve their traditional way of life against the encroachment of the white settlers. There is a memorial dedicated to those Indians that fought and died here as well as the markers placed throughout the battlefield.
There were antelope that roamed the area and an occasional burro, but we really got up close to a small group of wild horses. There was very little traffic on the road and we were doing about 15 miles per hour so we would not miss a thing. There before us just sauntering out of a wooded area were these four magnificent wild horses. They stood in the road and stared at us as we did of them. What to do? Did we dare to get out of the car? We watched them watching us for a few minutes and then decided to be brave. Donna held the dog on her lap and remained in the car as Louise and I gently got out and started snapping pictures. These huge animals just watched us as we behaved as tourists. They waited until we were through, yet they did not move a muscle. We got back into the car and slowly edged our way around them to continue on the roadway. What an amazing experience and we have pictures to prove the story to some of our non-believing friends.
In Billings, Montana we drove 400 feet above the valley to see the Rimrocks. We were able to park and walk along the Chief Black Otter Trail to see the rocks that lined the hills overlooking the area. Along the trail is the well known Boothill Cemetery. A monument commemorates the burial of those men that had shoot-outs in the 1800’s old west town. There are markers for some of the men and one for the Army scout, Muggins Taylor, who carried the news of Custer’s defeat to the world. Later Taylor died in a shoot-out and was buried here. What a piece of history we have been seeing this day.
Also in the Billings area we drove to see the Pictograph Cave which was once the living quarters of the prehistoric hunters. The walking distance was about 1000 feet of steep hard surface trail that overlooks the river and would have allowed the cave dwellers a view of their lower level campsites. There are a variety of trees and bushes and many birds and small animals running about. Casa, our dog, could hardly contain herself with the amount of chipmunks taunting her as we walked along the path. The pictographs are painted images that recorded important events such as brave deeds or successful hunts. The excavation of this area was done between 1937-1941 when it was terminated due to the war. The geological evolution of these cliffs began approximately 136 million years ago. This is just more amazing and wonderful history that we have added to this ride across the country.
By some weird directions in our Trip Tik we drove from Billings to Bozeman to Butte crossing the continental divide at Elk Park Pass at an elevation of 6368 feet.
We drove through Missoula and rather than continue on the Triple A course we started back towards Butte. The round trip could have been avoided but we would not have seen Bitterroot Mountain, lush meadows, wooded slopes and beautiful beef cattle country. From Butte it was back to Bozeman with it’s beautiful snow covered mountains. This is June 5th. And the snow is bright and clear in the sunshine. The West entrance to Yellowstone National Park took us into Wyoming and the outstanding features of the park lay ahead of us.
We drove the Lower, Midway and Upper Geyser basins to get to Old Faithful. We were able to get out of the car and walk around the area where the earth seems to bubble up. The geysers are hot springs with narrow spaces in their plumbing, usually near the surface. These constrictions prevent water from circulating freely to the surface where heat would escape. The circulating water can exceed the surface boiling point of 199 degrees. The pressure increases and as the water rises steam forms bubbling upward until it reaches a critical point and the bubbles actually lifts the water above, causing the geyser to splash or overflow to various heights and settles for a moment in brilliant and subdued colors.
Old Faithful is not as predictable as it might seem. The length and height varies daily and yearly; as of March 2006 the eruption lasts 1 ˝ to 5 minutes and the height ranges from 106 feet to more than 180 feet.
Yellowstone recycles paper, aluminum, steel, glass, cardboard, tires and 60% of the park’s solid waste. The viewers' stand at Old Faithful is a plastic boardwalk made from the equivalent of three million plastic milk jugs. This is truly a natural habitat for animals and people alike. The park has a safe environment for grizzly and black bears, coyote, wool, elk, deer and moose. The birds fly overhead and the squirrel and marmot seem to be dashing about close to the grassy areas. We saw elk and from a distance a small grizzly bear cub. Because of the fires in recent years many acres are dismal with dead trees but we could see the newer growth rising from the ashes. The ride around the park, lunch within the view of Old Faithful and the beautiful space, colors and peacefulness was worth the trip.
From Old Faithful we drove across the Continental Divide once more, this time at Craig Pass at an elevation of 8391 feet. We circled Yellowstone Lake and headed for Cody Wyoming. Cody was founded by Col. William “Buffalo Bill” F. Cody in 1896, and as we traveled along the Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway we finally did get to see a real live cowboy on his horse followed by his pack mule.
We spent the evening in Cody and the following day drove to see the Accidental Oil Company in Newcastle Wyoming. Mr. Al Smith dug this oil well with a pick and shovel in February 1966. The hole is 24 foot deep and it has produced oil every year.
The area was opened to the public in 1970 and a tour guide (the owner’s daughter) took us to the bottom of the well for an educational sighting. The gift shop is a unique building that is a real 10,000-barrel oil storage tank. Sixty-five feet in diameter just loaded with tourist “stuff”.
We got the car washed by a group of school kids (and parents) for $5.00, and they did a real fine job too.
Newcastle was our last stop in Wyoming as we seriously started eastward on June 7th. Up until this point we have logged 4297.5 miles. We are looking forward to the rest of the trip and the wonderful things we are going to see.
We hope you will all stay with us on this journey. Stay well and take care of each other.
Shirley, Donna, Louise and Casa.
To read the previous e-mails click here.
November 3, 2006