– Casper, Wyoming to Great Falls, Montana-
Today was another long day, though not quite as long as yesterday. We were up again at 5am, but today we got to go for a run. It’s a little cooler in the mornings up here than it is at home, and today was no exception, with the temperature being a crisp 53°F, which was cool, but not cool enough for a running jacket. I say that, but we did see people bundled up on the trail. Maybe we are just tougher than they are?
Like I mentioned last night, the running trail was right across the parking lot from our hotel, so it was an easy hop and skip over to the trail to get started. We saw quite a few other dogs out this morning, so Ripley was pretty excited about that. Most of our run was along the river, and at one point we were running between the river and a big hill, and we spotted a pronghorn standing on the hill looking down at us. They’re so much bigger here than back in Texas. Here the pronghorn are deer-sized, where at home they look more like dogs. More food, I guess.
After our nice run we showered and packed up, then loaded Ripley into the car so we could go on inside for a quick breakfast. It’s nice that it is cool enough up here to leave Ripley in the car for a few minutes, since you definitely can’t do that anywhere too far south of here. Breakfast was a very poor offering this morning. I skipped it and got some snack mix with cranberries and pumpkin seeds and a fruit strip from our food tub. It would’ve been fine for Mark, who’s less picky, if they hadn’t put ham in the eggs. How hard is it to have the meat separate from the eggs? Ugh.
Once breakfast was finished, we hit the road. From Casper we took the highway up through Buffalo and Sheridan. The highway up here has lots of gates and snow route signs that are used when the road is too snowy to use. I’ve got to say that I’m grateful that’s not a problem we see very often. Our roads mostly close for ice, and we are never prepared for it and its a catastrophe. Here it’s just a part of life.
From Sheridan, we drove up into Montana, and the road there takes you through the Crow Reservation. Both national parks that we visited today were actually on the reservation. While it was nothing like the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, which was perhaps one of the poorest places I’ve ever been, it was still not in great shape.
We detoured from the highway to head over to our first park, Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. Unfortunately for us, the most interesting parts of the park are down in Wyoming, and on the other side of the canyon, so we were visiting the least popular and least exciting part of the park. We will have to go back to a better area later. Mark’s been planning a Wyoming trip while we drive ever since we got up here, so I guess that will probably be happening sometime in the near future.
The road we took to head out to the park was in terrible shape, and we kept having to slow down to take the little whoop-di-doos at a reasonable speed. Some of them were bumps in the road where the ground underneath the road had risen somehow, and others were places where the asphalt was completely gone. I wouldn’t have wanted to drive something lower to the ground than our truck down that road, even though it was paved. Several of the stop signs along the way had “meth” spray-painted on beneath the word “stop.” “Stop Meth.” Eeesh.
We were off the highway for about an hour before we reached the little town of Fort Smith. Most of the town and this portion of Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area are popular with fishermen. Instead of a gas station/grocery store, they had a bait shop. It was a cute little place, with wooden cabins everywhere. I wouldn’t want to stay, since I don’t fish, but if you do, it seems like a good place for it.
The visitor center for the park is at the top of a hill, right next to the big dam, which is called Yellowtail Dam. There was another road from Fort Smith that took you around the big hills and over to the reservoir on the opposite side of the dam, but that would’ve taken another 45 minutes, and we don’t have a boat. You can’t get there from the visitor center, even though you can see it. We mostly wanted to see the canyon and the dam.
At the visitor center, we were the only visitors for almost all of our time there, and the park rangers were so bored they were all just sitting around gossiping. Once we didn’t ask them for anything, they disappeared into an office. A little later, when we went to get a park booklet from one of the rangers, he literally told us that there wasn’t much to do in this portion of the park. Way to sell it, man. Poor guy probably wanted to be posted somewhere cool like Yosemite or the Grand Canyon and got stuck at one of the emptiest national park visitor centers I’ve ever seen.
Outside, we took our pictures of the dam and what little we could see of the canyon, then drove over to the park’s campground to get a closer look at the river below the dam and let Ripley out to have a bathroom break. There was too much concrete at the top for a stop.
From there, we took a different road through the Crow Reservation back over to I-90. Along the way, we spotted a group of men out having a community rodeo/roping competition in one of the fields just off the road. I don’t think I’ve ever spotted a “friends and family” type rodeo like that before. It was pretty cool.
Back on 90, we turned south for about a mile back down into the reservation to Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, which is an interesting place. First of all, it was completely packed, which seems sort of odd, given how empty the other park was and the nature of the park itself. Additionally, the park fee was $25 per vehicle, which seems insane when you consider that the park literally consists of a bunch a hills over a 5-mile stretch with a handful of memorial stones scattered along the way. I don’t even think the big Civil War battlefields cost that much to visit. We were going to grab our annual national park pass there, but there wasn’t anyone manning the booth to take our money, so we gave up.
Regardless of my opinions on the matter, the place was packed, and there were signs everywhere saying that dogs weren’t even allowed out of vehicles on the place, which I guess I can understand, since the whole park is basically a giant graveyard, like any other battlefield. We drove through the battlefield sites and looked around a little, but we were more impressed by the scenery and the horses in the pretty grass on private property between park sections. All I can think, popularity-wise, is that the park is the most interesting place on I-90 for miles, and it has nice bathrooms. Otherwise, I’m not sure I understand the draw. Maybe because Custer and his death at Little Bighorn are so famous?
With our parks finished for the day, we turned north again to Billings, where we finally had a late lunch (it was around 3pm) at a Mooyah there in town. From Billings we went north, and we zigged and zagged our way across Montana on our way to Great Falls. You can see snowy mountains in the distance today, and Mark tells me they are the Little Belt Mountains.
Along the way, we stopped in a couple of tiny Montana towns. The first had a tiny dog run in a park along the road, which made Ripley a happy camper, as she hates having to go to the bathroom on the leash. I wonder what possessed the people to put it in in the first place. It was really small, but clearly labeled a dog park. We also stopped in Judith Gap to take a photo with the arm of one of those giant blades from a wind turbine, which are plentiful up here. Those things are just unimaginably massive. I bet it is so cool to watch them being assembled.
We rolled into our hotel around 7pm. We weren’t really hungry since we had lunch so late, so we just had a light snack from our cooler for dinner. The hotel here in Great Falls is one of the nicer La Quintas I’ve seen. It’s large and really well-done, though it doesn’t look new. I have higher hopes for breakfast tomorrow considering the quality of the place, compared to this morning. I guess time will tell.
Tomorrow morning we will go for a run on the river trail, which runs right behind our hotel once again. We’re going to stop in Glacier National Park up in northern Montana, then go ahead and cross the border into Canada. Tonight we are staying in Waterton Lakes National Park, which is the top portion of the U.S.’s Glacier. I think it will be very pretty.
– Trip Total : 1,675 miles –