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Road Trip Day 8 June 14, 2012

Posted by Tom Wells in Tom's Posts.
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Day 8, Saturday June 2nd
Drove as far as Gallatin National Forest, Montana

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I have now personally looked all around Devil’s Tower in Wyoming and I can see no evidence of a box canyon where the government could set up a landing strip for aliens.  For those who don’t understand the reference rent or buy, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, on DVD and you will understand.  I do enjoy seeing the nation’s first National Monument every time I’m in the area.  As a boy I was a Y-Indian Guide (a pre-Cub Scout father/son activity). At the impressionable age of seven or eight I was told the story of an Indian brother and sister who were being chased by a giant bear.  The children climbed up on top of a tall slender mesa and the bear came after them.  They prayed to the Creator who sent an eagle down to lift the mesa up away from the bear.  The bear clawed at the sides of the mesa, but couldn’t reach the children and he went away.  The eagle returned the children to the ground when it was safe and Devil’s Tower is what remains of this event.  I did not see the Close Encounters box canyon, but I can see the claw marks on the sides of Devil’s Tower so you judge which story was true and what story was not.

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From Devil’s Tower we crossed Wyoming into Montana and got pelted by the nastiest thunderstorm we had crossed yet.  The rain drove sideways across our truck and with a high profile camper on the back, the safest speed I could travel was 35 mph on a 75 mph freeway.  It was dark at full noon and the lightning was spectacular. We were headed for Little Bighorn and we feared we wouldn’t get to see much there, but just as we got near we drove out of the rain cell and into clearer skies.

On the banks of the Little Bighorn River, General Custer and the U.S. Calvary did everything wrong while the Native American warriors gathered there that day did everything right.  I had watched history shows and read accounts of what happened at the Little Bighorn and never fully understood the gravity of what happened until I visited this place.

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White markers are placed where the Calvary soldiers were killed and red markers memorialize where the native people were killed.  The red markers are not as numerous as they should be because the peace that would allow the combatants to simultaneously honor both sacrifices at the battle did not exist until now, so the deaths of all of the native warriors are not fully documented. But you can still see evidence of all of the places of the battle that would forever change the west. The warriors won a great battle and much respect from the overly confident Calvary. That respect though, fostered a renewed effort to defeat the tribesmen. The Calvary which had been defeated and failed to drive the tribesman off of this part of the land and onto reservations did so in vein.  Today that region is a very large Crow and Cheyenne territory.  If reason had existed in Custer’s time, the Calvary would have been there to help establish this territory as native land peacefully.

In a modern truck and camper, we could cross these vast lands in a matter of days.  We have driven the route of the early European settlers and crossed the lands of the first Americans.  Out here the politics of Washington D.C. and the dysfunctional government of my home state do not seem to exist anymore.

After spending time at the Little Bighorn, we drove up west past Billings where we hit more hard driving thunderstorms.  It was a comfort to have Internet access via smart phones so we could confirm that these cells were not expected to turn into tornadoes.  After pushing past these, we made our way to the Gallatin National Forest at the base of the Beartooth Mountains in Montana.  Our AAA and Rand McNally maps said there was camping available on some roads marked in gray, meaning dirt roads.  Those maps have no way of conveying how hard it would be to tell which of the dirt roads and ranch driveways in the areas were the ones depicted on the simplified maps.  This was one of those places where a GPS excels. Those maps marked roads that clearly went from point A to point B and we could figure out the road to try from the only one shown on the GPS that went through to the same points.
But that didn’t make going down the road feel much better.  We were crossing Montana ranch land on a dirt road that looked like it was there to serve the ranches only.  For miles while dashing down the deserted gravel road, there were no signs or other reassurances that we were heading to a campground or public land.  It wasn’t until the nearly halfway point on the road that we finally saw a National Forest sign pointing our way down another road.  But that start too took us past more ranches and the only other vehicle we ever saw that afternoon was a rancher on a quad.  It wasn’t until right at the end of the road that the National Forest boundary became clearly marked and a campground was thankfully found.  After all of this, and with the terrible weather starting out the weekend, we were amazed to get out here and find other campers already there.  It was a bit of a roller coaster relief finding campers here.
It was a relief to know that we hadn’t stumbled into a long forgotten campground that the local ranchers living on the borders of would resent our intrusion.  As we drove though the campground looking for a suitable site, we became wary of the other campers.  They were all dressed in camouflage clothing and we began to fear these were hunters who would be running around shooting at everything that moved.  Many of the unoccupied campsites were so neglected and overgrown that it was hard to tell where we could park for the night.  As we slowly drove through we began to notice that the camouflaged campers had little camouflaged children with them.  These were Montana families dressed in Montana rustic outdoor gear.  None had guns that we could see and it looked more like they were here for the fishing in the swelling river adjacent to the campground.  We found a suitable site and backed in and set up for the night.  It wasn’t long before the first group of quad-cycles went by.  Now we wondered if these were joy riders that would be terrorizing the campground roads.  No, they were moms with small children in their laps taking themselves to the nearest toilets (which were located far from most campsites).  The rain moved in again and we hunkered down in our camper for the night playing cards and having ice cream sandwiches until bedtime.  It had been an adventure just finding this place, but it turned out to be a quiet comfortable place to stay the night.

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