Friday, July 27, 2012

from Wyoming to Bigfork, MT. . . my western home

Day 6.  July 26, 2012 Last Day on the Road. . . I’m going to do it!  I woke up in Sheridan, Wyoming.  I’ve overlooked the fact in the past when I’ve zoomed by this town on the Interstate that it has one of the best rodeos going in the west, and this year, I just missed it.  This town was home to Buffalo Bill Cody, he lived right down near the tracks at the big old hotel.  It’s a big town, a cowboy town.  But today, I have the northwest corner of Montana on my mind, and I gotta scoot. 
You can't see this from an airplane

A lot of the pavement on I-90 is a reddish color in the big wide west, and it makes the roadway all the more scenic. Yesterday I saw antelope drinking at cattle watering tanks.  Too far away for a good shot from the road, but nice to see we still have some antelope out here, those white-butted creatures in the song, Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam.  No roaming buffalo to be seen, though.
Today. . . saw a few more of the antelope on my ride, the first destination: Billings. 
I love the red pavement

The sky is blue blue blue this morning with no clouds, which makes the landscape more stark, no shadows. I pass the Tongue River and the water’s still flowing, a good sign. There’s a mountain range to the south, and a lot of the landscape is just scrub and hills and gullies up here. 
see? you can't see the cattle. they're up there, though.

  The black cattle dot the landscape like pepper. But the “summer pasture” up here looks like slim pickings. In about 25 miles, I hit the state line into Montana from Wyoming. . . There is a big blue sign that says, “White crosses indicate highway fatalities.”  If you die on a Montana highway, you get a white cross. Also a big sign: Welcome to Crow Country. We’re on the res. I have a question for the Montana Highway Depatment. . . what type of grass is planted along the side of the highway that is stays greener. At mile 546, for instance. Or is it greener because the cattle can’t get to it due to the barbed wire fences?

Soon I’m seeing the  signs for the Custer Battlefield and all the accompanying attractions. I have visited the scene of the Battle of Little Bighorn, and it is a sobering experience. It all happened not so long ago.  The Little Bighorn River meanders back and forth across the valley, so very like it did then in the 1870’s, and the railroad runs along the road here for miles. I’m down in the lowlands now, and every creek or river is surrounded by cottonwood trees, and sage trees where it’s a little dryer.
I get a call on my cell about a family matter, and I decide not to do anything. Then the red tail hawk totem flies right over my car, so I pick up my cell and make a call. I leave a message hoping it will do some good. Maybe it will, and maybe it won’t but I obeyed the hawk. Back up onto the high plains, and then down again, into Billings: a large city with refineries and the accompanying smell. I’ve only come about a hundred miles, 500 to go.
Billings, MT

 And the Yellowstone River starts running along the highway. A sign says: Butte 225 miles, so I go for that. A mindless hour later, I pull into a rest area, and see smoke form a lightining fire in the Beartooth Mountain Range. Planes flying over it, to support the firefighters on the ground. 
Fire!  Lightening is wicked.

It’s a brand new fire, started last night, so says the radio. I go by Livingstone, and wonder what it would be like to live there and write. They say it’s a writer’s town.

Before Butte is Bozeman, and that’s a big university town. I’ve only gone 269 miles, many more to go.  It’s lunchtime, and I pull in to get some chicken for lunch. Kentucky Fried. I do pull off the fattening skin, honest. And Yoko is in heaven, chicken is her absolute favorite thing to live for. Yoko and I sat there eating. I have the air-conditioning on in my car. There is a homeless man begging at the stop light, sitting on the green lawn. He is hot.  I walk over to him and give him a Dixie cup full of quarters that I didn’t have to use on tolls (I have E-Z pass now, remember?) and a cold bottle of water. You’d think I had given him a new house on that reality show on TV.  I leave, wondering what the rest of his day would be like. I feel bad for Bozeman, a lot of their forests have turned red.  What a tinder box. The pine beetle has been hard at work, thanks to the much warmer climate. It is not cold enough long enough to kill them in the winter.  Ahead. . . wheat Montana.  Yes, there are lots of golden wheat fields here. 
Yoko snoozing in the jump seat

Exit 241, Pipestone.  This means I am going up onto the Continental Divide now. . . and up up up we go, though the rocky fields called pipestones. I get up to the top to the rest area, and get Yoko out to pee, so she can water both sides of the country.  And then, I bend over to pick her up and put her in the car.  I am three minutes away from the rest area, heading down the mountains when my Blue Ant tells me that no mobile device is connected. Where is my phone?  Shootsky.

Up and over the Continental Divide.  Three times.
I go down the mountain, take an exit, come back up the mountain (eastbound), wave at the rest area on the other side of the divided highway, go down the mountain, take an exit and go back up the mountain (westbound), pull back into the rest area, and get out, looking for my phone, It is under my car. I have driven over it. I pick it up and it works. Thank you, God! Thank you, Goddess.  I have put an extra 20 miles on the car, and driven over the Continental Divide 3 times.  It’s actually funny.
I go through Butte, the copper mining town, (PICTURE). I hear on the radio that it is Evil Kneival days, and one of the Wallenda’s is going to do something tricky.  Evil was from Butte. Exit 127
Now 114 miles to Missoula, my next destination. Deer Lodge flies by.  I’ve stayed there before. It’s the old prison town of Montana with a creepy old prison from the 1800’s.
But not staying there tonight, too many ghosts, plowing on. Yoko is snoring. It’s the chicken, it puts her to sleep.  I’m going through beautiful rolling hills. The Little Blackfoot River is there with me.  I go by Exit 170,  Phosphate! Exit 154, Drummond. Clark Fork River, joins us, 
Clark Fork River

and then I pass the Bear Mouth RV Park, and then a little waterfall coming out of the cliffs with townspeople under it, getting cooled off. I think I want to stay at that campground sometime, you can fly-fish right there in the river.
And now, finally, Missoula, I am 2 hours from Bigfork.  But I miss the exit for 93 north and I go ten miles before I realize. I see a sign for Idaho, and then I know I’m on the wrong track. Turn around, go back.  And take the proper route north. Gas up, too. This is my third fill up today. And now. . I am heading up through the Flathead Indian reservation, and I love it. I love the signs they put up, because they are in English and also in Indian language. In the Evaro area, an actual animal bridge has been built for the wildlife to pass over. Not a tunnel, a bridge. The sign says, "Animal Bridge."

It is late, after 8. But it’s still light here. Sunset is about to happen in an hour. Then I’m in Lake county, in Arlee. I see they have done lots of work on their sidewalks. Looks good. I come to the National Buffalo Range, and of course, the Buffalo are not near the highway.  Good news. . . the grass here looks green! 
Mission Mountains
  Not yellow, like in the high plains I’ve been crossing, but green! Northwest Montana has it made in the rain department. I pass Saint Ignatius, and then the Nine Pipes Museum. Aha!  Sunset over the Nine Pipes Wetlands area. Bugs all over the windshield, a big hatch going on. I come to the People’s Center, the museum for the tribe.  A sign across the street, “Meth Sucks.”   Right on.
I’ve traveled 571 miles. Another 30 or 40, and I’m there. I stop at the Mission Mountain rest area. It’s too beautiful to pass up. 
Add caption

The setting sun is right there. And I come up over a rise, and I see it there before me. . it’s always so startling.  The Flathead Lake with its southern islands. 
Dead ahead through my buggy windshield: Flathead Lake

I am almost home.
My house the next morning. . . green grass!
I go through Polson, up the west side of the 30 mile long Flathead, and then I’m crossing over the top of the lake, into Bigfork, and out to my western home, and my daughter, and my granddaughter. Trip accomplished.
Nita telling her Grampie Jim: Yup, Nana's here. 

My field's are green Unbelievable after what I've seen.

 So I'm here, and I'll update as soon as I take a ten hour nap.  I did over 600 miles today, a record for me, for sure.

No comments: