Thursday, July 28, 2005

Vacation: Day 2 (The Longest Day)

We wanted to get an early start, but the alarm didn't go off. So, off to Montana a little late. One of the first things you notice about a new geographical area is that it smells different. Wisconsin is like a giant air freshener compared to South Dakota. Not a really bad smell, but different. The only thing I can liken it to back home is the dead weed smell in November hayfields. But in the car, where we would spend most of the day, it made no difference.

We drove through the North East corner of Wyoming, which is fairly flat and has an unusual abundance of fresh-looking roadkill despite the lack of traffic. Mostly rabbits, I guess. We almost hit one ourselves. He bounded across our lane and sat stock-still in the middle of the left lane like he was just waiting to get hit. Once we saw a bald eagle having a roadkill breakfast. All the land off the highway is fenced, but we didn't see any cattle. Just alot of pronghorn deer.

There are almost no road signs in Wyoming. We joked about this early on, but later in the day it wouldn't be so funny. One of the first signs we saw in Montana was an anti-PETA sign. Needless to say, we liked Montana.

We got to the Little Big Horn monument at 10:00 am. There were no signs for it until we got there. The battlefield was interesting. Half the time we were on Indian land. It was a great history lesson for me as I knew very little about the battle. It would seem Custer's biggest mistake was not listening to his scouts. He was way outnumbered and couldn't possibly have won.

Billings was a nice little big town. It didn't really have a big town feel, but we didn't drive around much. We had a long way to drive yet to get to the alternate route for Bear Tooth Pass, which unfortunately was still closed. Everybody says you have to take it. Maybe another year...

We drove out into the Rocky Mountains, which were really cool. At the highest point, we were 8,000 feet above sea level. I've never seen a more beautiful shade of green than the trees we looked down on from up there. I hadn't seen the Rockies for many years so I was pretty happy with the trip.

Then we made the fateful decision to cut through the North East corner of Yellowstone National Park. It seemed the easiest way to get where we were going without turning aorund and driving back through the mountains. We figured at least we'd see new country this way.

The entrance fee was $20 and they gave us a newspaper and a map and a special road construction map. For our $20 we found out that the quick route we intended driving through the park was out of the question. One of the passes was out. So we had to drive all the way around the northern half of the park in a big 'C', then down to the East Entrance. Now the East Entrance, for some reason, closes daily at 8:00 pm. Here we are in the middle of the afternoon, driving down the two-lane road. It seemed we'd have plenty of time to get out of the park. We knew it would be very late when we got back to South Dakota.

Early on, we saw a Buffalo walking along the road and sometimes on the road itself. I got a picture of him out the car window. We're pretty sure he was trained to walk there, but it was still fun.

There were lots of trees on the drive, blocking our view of anything else the park may have had to offer. It's definitely a camper's park. The traffic was very slow and every now and then some nice person who realized he was holding things up for the rest of us would pull over in a byway and let us pass him.

Now it's getting on toward evening and with the slow traffic and occasional road construction, we're getting a little nervous about the time. We certainly didn't like the idea of being trapped in the park all night. Obviously we weren't taking time to enjoy the scenery. We were just happy to see landmarks along the route to the East Entrance and freedom. Nothing like impending captivity to make the world close in on you and move slower. I took to glaring at the traffic ahead of us and saying a prayer of thanks every time somebody pulled off the road. The most interesting site was Yellowstone Lake, which is huge. The beauty was kinda ruined by the smell of the sulfer in the water.

It seemed to us that if we were at or near the gate by 8:00, they couldn't very well keep us in. Around 7:30 pm, we were really close to getting out of "Hellowstone", as we now refer to it. Just 20 minutes with about 8 minutes of driving left. And traffic stops. Cars are stopped way ahead of us and we have no idea why. We had had to stop once before for a motorcycle accident in the park, but this was un unkown issue and who knew how long it would take? We got out to stretch and look around. Beautiful cliff right off the roadside. Another stranded traveller and I started feeding the friendly birds that had landed nearby. They like french fries, but I thought maybe they wouldn't be good for birds, so I pulled a sandwich apart and fed them bread.

We were standing around for nearly 20 minutes before the cars started moving again. The hold-up was a long stretch of one-lane road where something had washed out the other lane. We finally got out of the park at 8 minues to 8:00. It never felt so good to get out of a place.

Now for the long drive across Wyoming. It seemed to take forever just to get to Cody. The gas station had a piece of paper taped to the counter with distances from Cody to other places and we were 352 miles from Sturgis. We were going to get back so late it would be early. Then we had to pick a route. I picked what looked like a good route, only I failed to note the significance of the route's going through Big Horn National Forest. The only fun part of the drive through the Big Horn mountains was when we drove through a tunnel, right through a mountain. Then it was a lot of twisting, turning, climbing, more turning, winding roads. They just wouldn't ever end. Hours and hours of curves in the darkness, then the really curvy section at the end of the forest. We could see Sheridan, the next town, for a half-hour before we could get there. The Interstate seemed to always be just around the next curve. I started to hate Wyoming, curves, mountains, deer(we almost hit one), nightime, Yellowstone, but mostly Wyoming. And of course, there were almost no road signs. It seemed there was only one sign per 20 mile stretch and that's generous.

Having made our great escape from Yellowstone, we seemed doomed to eternity in Wyoming. Even when we were driving too fast, it took forever. We got back to Sturgis at 2:30 am local time. Since we were staying on our time, it was 3:30. We learned a big lesson about making up routes and plans as we go along. I wouldn't care if I never saw Wyoming again.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What an entirely miserable day! pity you could not see the forest for the trees! ha ha ha ha ha

There are no prong-horned deer, they are prong-horned antelope. But close.

You are so very fortunate you took the switchback roads in the dark because the drop off the side in the daylight would have scared you spitless!

May I suggest you take no trips across west Texas.

2:21 PM  

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