By the time yesterday was over, I was d-o-n-e — done. Seven hours on the road in less-than-ideal conditions had knocked the starch out of me. We accomplished exactly what we set out to accomplish, that much is true, but at the end of that day all I wanted to do was relax and spend time with Deb.
So that’s what I did.
We had a perfect launch, right on schedule. After winding our way back up 14A to Sturgis, we turned west on I-90 and settled in for the long Interstate drive. This stretch of highway goes around more than it goes over, but it definitely had its ups and downs — all while descending more than 1,800 feet overall during the course of the travel day.
Clear skies, relatively mild winds and postcard scenery had us smiling. We crossed into Wyoming, stopping for diesel in Gillette.
That’s when the prairie wind kicked up and things started getting sketchy.
About 30 minutes out of Gillette, while fighting a brutal crosswind from the south, for an instant I felt pressure building from the opposite direction. Instinctively I corrected — hard — but the whirlwind was stronger than I was. It quickly pushed our 18-ton rig into the left-hand westbound lane before I could stabilize it.
It was sheer luck that there was no one next to us when it happened.
Thus began a pitched battle lasting over a hundred miles. Twice we pulled off the road at rest areas — Wyoming’s pickle parks are the best, by the way — just to break the tension and catch our breath. The second time, on a hilltop near Sheridan, I noticed that the pine trees around us were barely moving.
We’d made it through.
Back on the road, we pushed north across the state line into Montana, arriving 50 minutes later at our home for the next week. It was just before 4pm — a half-hour behind what we prefer but, under the circumstances, it was a major victory.
When we pulled up next to the camp office to check in, I noticed the loading chute and corral off our curb side. That should give you a clue about of the kind of place this is.
The campground is set on a hillside above the Little Bighorn River. Our site is on the outer edge of the park, facing more or less south, with unobstructed views of the surrounding country.
The place is very well laid out. Other than the horse corral it’s not much for amenities, but the sites are reasonably spacious and absolutely perfect in every way.
We like it here.
We’re in Big Horn County, which has the distinction of hosting three different jurisdictions, each with its own laws, regulations and enforcement authorities — the State of Montana, the National Park Service and Crow Nation. There isn’t always a posted sign (or any other clear indication) when treading from one into another, so best behavior is called for.
After we’d finished setting up last night, we drove eight miles north to have dinner at one of the few restaurants in the area. It’s a “trading post” of the sort that used to pop up along popular tourist routes, basically a gift shop with a diner.
The hostess and virtually all of the waitstaff were apparently Crow, friendly and attentive but not what you’d call bubbly. Both Deb and I ordered the house specialty — the “Indian Taco,” which essentially is Tex-Mex fixins on traditional Indian “fry bread.”
Such a simple meal, yet absolutely amazing.
In the parking lot after dinner I spied a home-built RV — someone had taken an Isuzu work-truck chassis and fitted a slide-in camper unit designed for pickup trucks. They added several off-the-shelf steel tool boxes to fill the gaps on the sides, and voila, they had a nifty little custom motorhome.
I thought it was cool as hell. I found myself wanting to build one.
Then I looked at it again, remembered the wind I’d fought earlier that day, and changed my mind.
We returned to our campsite and stayed up long enough to see the rising of a full moon — a blue moon, in fact. Deb got some great photos with her phone.
Since we’ll be here a while, we had the luxury of doing almost nothing today. It was 20 degrees cooler than yesterday, with a pleasant breeze and cloudless skies, providing ideal conditions for just hanging out.
Behind our site, on a tall flagpole atop a rise, flies Old Glory. We’d spotted a trail leading in that direction, so late this morning we followed it up the hill.
Our reward was a 360-degree panorama of this prairie landscape, viewed from the highest point for miles around. The big sky. The faraway horizon. The vast rolling plain that is eastern Montana.
If, when you hear “prairie,” you think “flat,” it’s obvious that you haven’t been here.
Around us, close by, the ground was covered in grasses and sagebrush. I couldn’t resist breaking off sagebrush leaves and rolling them between my fingers, just to release their intoxicating fragrance.
We returned to the hilltop this evening, set up our camp chairs and watched the sun set. I took along my DSLR and tried to capture a sense of the grand land spread out in front of me, cast in the day’s softest light.
Once again we find ourselves in a good place, a comfortable place, a place not many travelers linger. This’ll do nicely for a while.
Take care of yourselves, Patriots. Stay calm. Stay sharp. Stay free.