Tuesday, August 28, 2007

(25) Billings Montanta, Sheridan, Devils Tower Wyoming

Billings Montana
Sheridan Wyoming
Devils Tower Wyoming

Excerpt from a message to my friend Patrick R.

“Odd you should mention the moon. I almost wrote about the moon the other night, my last night in Yellowstone. I was sitting outside till about 9:30, not really wanting to go inside. The weather was just perfect and the evenings setting sun was … lighting up the mountain ranges opposite my campsite. The mountain ranges on the other side of the valley creating a soft overlapping V shape as the sky continued to turn darker and darker. Then, almost ET like, a light appeared over the top of one of the mountains. It was so bright, I at first thought, it must be some kind of electric light. Within minutes of course, I was able to see a full moon as it appeared over the ridge. The night was so clear and the moon was so bright, I could make out all of the craters and features on the surface of the moon.... I swear, if man were still on the moon, I'm sure I would have been able to see them.”

After leaving Yellowstone (elevation 7,500 ft) and descending down into Montana, I was surprised at how much warmer it is. Like it got up to 102 today! While in Yellowstone, it would get into the mid 80’s most days and as soon as the sun started going down, the temp was just awesome. Cool and refreshing. I’m at a city campground (Lauren) just outside of Billings, next to the Yellowstone River and a refinery on the other side of the road. Yes, an oil refinery that makes gas for folks in Minn. And Wisconsin. Can you imagine. In Montana. Who knew Montana could get so hot.

I was watching the boats come out of the river this evening. They’re called ski boats. Big aluminum hulls. They have the same type of jet propulsion as a jet ski. No propeller and can they move across this fast moving river. They tell me they’re great because when the river gets low, they can travel in about 4 inches of water and not have to worry about all the river rocks. Imagine. Wouldn’t it be great if we had that kind of boat in Florida to save the Manatees. No propellers to cut up the Manatees.

Did you know Montana has less than 1 million people in the whole state? Now that’s space to roam. Also noticed all the buildings have a vestibule. You know, an extra set of doors going into a place before you get into the store proper, to keep the cold out. It must really get cold up here. Like minus 32 in the winter. Yikees!

Odd to see The Yellowstone river next to a refinery, next to a small cattle ranch, next to cornfields, growing right up to the edge of the highway overpass. And you can find a casino on just about every corner, even in the local gas stations. Haven’t gone in one yet, but might before moving on. And what’s Kino?

Heading out from Billings MT, I’ve traveling hwy 90, which curves down into Wyoming and then east. Along the way, is the Little Bighorn Battlefield (formerly Custer’s Last Stand) National Monument. All the way driving there, I had in the back of my mind a little prayer that I would get something out of it, besides American soldiers killing Indians (Lakota and Cheyenne among others) and vice versa… and considering the Indians won in this instance.

As fortune would have it, I joined a historical discussion led by Francis Takes Enemy, a Native American. What was supposed to be a simple discussion on the gear that the Army had to carry, 150 lbs, as they went into battle, ended up being a slice of life at the time this all occurred back in 1876.

Many that had joined the army were immigrants who spoke no English and needed money. It was a way for them to learn English and earn enough to start a new life. However, Army rules were very strict and they had an over 8% suicide rate. It was a lonely existence out on the prairie.

The Lakota and Cheyenne were nomadic Indians that preferred to move from place to place, mostly following and hunting the Bison. A Treaty was signed in 1868 giving the Indians the right too continue their hunting and also setting aside a large portion of eastern Wyoming as a reservation. When gold was discovered in the area, the pioneers could not be kept out. Although the Army tried. In a secret pact, the President signed an order basically revoking the Indians rights to hunt and trap as per the treaty and told them to go to the reservations immediately.
The Lakota and Cheyenne were tired of the white man backing down all of his agreements and continued to hunt. Ignoring the new edict. The pioneers and Army had little knowledge of the Indians way of life, little regard for their hunting grounds nor knowledge of the treaties that had been signed.

Francis Takes Enemy became passionate about telling the story of her people, and near the end said, “Just like the men that made up of the Army’s under Custer and the two other columns, many of us are descendants of German, French, Irish, Dutch and Italian“. As tears came streaming down her round gentle face, she said, “The one thing I want you to get out of this, is that we need to respect each others cultures, learn from them and live in peace”. Silence. As streams of tears were coming down the faces in the audience. Everyone learning and understanding a bit more today than yesterday.

Healing did begin as early as the 1920’s, when a few of the survivors on both sides met to figuratively bury the hatchet. It took until 1991 for George H. W. Bush to sign an act to create an Indian Memorial at the Little Bighorn Battlefield. Finally commemorating the loss to both sides and hopefully the beginning to understanding.

Driving a little further into Wyoming, I land in Sheridan. A truly western town and proud of it. As I drove into town for lunch, I saw 4 young elk with their 3 and 4 point fuzzy antlers walking along the sidewalk in a residential area not more than 3 blocks from town. Trees helping to separate them from the cars slowing down, but continuing to move along the roadway. Now that’s when you know you live in the country!

It’s a very vibrant western town and even though they have a big Wal-Mart on the edge of town, the main street is very active with every store front filled with western clothing stores and just everyday downtown shops and restaurants. I even visited “The Trail End” home of John Benjamin Kendric, built in 1913 in a Flemish Revival style. It took over 5 years to construct and had all the latest electric appliances. Even a built in vacuum cleaner and an elevator. But like many big mansions I‘ve visited, the owners hardly had any time to use it. Actually only one year, since Kendric became Governor and moved his family to Cheyenne and then became a Senator after that. They ended up using it as a “summer home”. Image. His daughter and family eventually lived in it for about 30 years before closing it up.

I’m now traveling through large expanses of rolling prairie land, changing from sage to open grass lands going from horizon to horizon. Erosion wearing away some of the rounded rolling hills creating gullies and deeper valleys.

Wyoming has oil fields dotted among these prairies as well as rich open pit coal mines. The black coal looking shiny against the morning sun.

I was planning on staying in a state park not far from Devils Tower, but ended up missing it and driving with the camper, right to Devils Tower, off the beaten path in the NE corner of Wyoming. My friends Betty and Dave spent a summer hear a couple years ago as camp hosts. Devils Tower is the first National Monument every created. There’s a wonderful mile long trail around the base of the Tower. Perfect, early in the morning before the crowds descend on the place.
Note: I’ve left out a lot of things I toured and took pictures off as they didn’t seem to have a compelling story to be told. Well, maybe the Montana state park that had Indian pictographs in a couple of caves. Unfortunately one can not see 99% of them after they decided to clean them with a sand blaster. Gheeeez.

Ps, ps, I just got back from an evening Ranger talk on climbing the Devils Tower. Interesting, of course I don’t think I would ever climb something like that, but after the talk, and as we are leaving the amphitheatre, looking up at the black silhouette of the Devils Tower, we are able to see climbers lights flickering on the side of the mountain. Can you imagine. It usually takes between 4 and 6 hours on average to climb to the top (taking the easiest route), and a couple of hours coming back down. Many come down in the dark. We were able to see 4 lights flickering as the climbers descended, only their flashlights providing light to see by. Everything else, pitch black.

1 comment:

Burdette said...

Interesting to know.