This is a continuation of our family trek from Fort Mill, South Carolina to Fairbanks, Alaska. For other parts in the series, click on the links below:
Day One (Part One) – South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee
Day One (Part Two) – Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri
Day Two – Missouri, Iowa, South Dakota
Day Three & Four – South Dakota (Mount Rushmore)
Day Five – SOUTH DAKOTA
After paying twenty-some bucks for ‘unlimited pancakes’ at the KOA campsite (which was definitely worth the investment seeing as me and my kids ate maybe 4 total), we did hit the highway once more. I wasn’t actually sure what day of the week it was by this point and I suppose that was the happiest thought that had ever crossed my mind.
We passed through Sturgis, a mere four days before the big biker rally began. Necessarily, hundreds of motorcyclists had already congregated in the area, including a group of four who were being arrested. I guess I had underestimated what an event the Sturgis rally truly was. I thought it was just a drunken shout fest with loud engines however, the billboards on the highway showed countless musical acts that would be playing all week – from Lynard Skynard and Foreigner, to Kid Rock and Aaron Lewis (plus a billion other bands). So I guess it was actually an organized drunken shout fest with loud engines and real music.
Day Five – WYOMING
I’m not going to lie, I started to feel a little bit lonely in Wyoming. We left the interstate and hopped on a 2-lane U.S. highway that was becoming close to barren. There was the odd semi-truck every now and then but generally speaking, there were no humans on this road. The landscape had, by this point, transformed from a rolling terrain into a relatively flat portal to Montana. Unsurprisingly, being on that road, we had to slow down two or three times for minor communities – the types of places that are a corporation limit sign, a stop sign, an abandoned gas station, and another corporation limit sign. Wyoming is sure to offer more than what we saw but we were only there for an hour, at most. I thought about seeing Devil’s Tower but the prospect of adding 60 minutes round trip onto our already 8-hour drive wasn’t worth it. For now, I’ll just settle on replicating it with my mashed potatoes at dinner time.
Day Five – MONTANA
People often talk about Montana as a beautiful state with big mountains, big sky, and big everything else. Texas is the only state that claims to keep biggering and biggering more than Montana. Well, let me be the first to tell you that Mountain is an amazing state … when you finally reach the Rocky Mountains. Before that, it is a humongous pile of dirt, baking under the sun. The Montana tourism authorities have designated this area “Custer Country” and its no surprise to me that the region’s only claim to relevance is a historical moment of savage, relentless death.
Needless to say, we did visit Little Big Horn, albeit briefly. No pets were allowed so Kristina stayed in the car with the animals (that’s not a dig at my wife – we just needed somebody with the pets!) I took the boys over to the site of the battlefield and explained to them what they were seeing, as best as my amateur eyes would allow. The site, despite numerous tourists gathered around, is deeply quiet. You are allowed to walk miles of trail around the battlefield if you have the time (which we did not) or you can simply go to the hill where General George Custer made his last stand. Looking out at the open fields and imagining thousands of Indians swarming around this small company of men was very sobering.
To be honest, driving through the Dakotas and Montana, there is a lot of history regarding the Sioux Indians and the Great Sioux War and it is truly eye-opening. I’m no bleeding heart, by any means, but the decisions made by the United States at the time left me feeling bothered.
Our journey continued, back on the interstate, and suddenly back with civilization it appeared. After five hours or so of two-lane roads with nobody around, I felt like I was driving towards the edge of the Earth. Heading towards Billings, Montana, though, I realized I was still in America.
I can’t say the drive through Billings was eventful, either. The city looked pretty run-down from our view (again, disclaimer: I’m only seeing much of this from a highway littered with billboards, power lines, and, well, litter) but the tourism agency there suggests that there is plenty to do. I’ll defer to them and tell you to check out their microbreweries, independent movie houses, and hiking trails. For me, I’ll just stick with the memory of my wife going into the gas station and having the attendant giddy with amazement that the last two customers were homosexual men.
We planned on getting a hotel for the evening to wash clothes and not smell like smoke for a day but were not sure if Billings was where we wanted to stop. I looked up the next big city along the way and discovered Bozeman, Montana. Truthfully, I had never heard of Bozeman in my life (much like Coeur d’Alene, Idaho – population 50,000!) but suspected that they’d have some sort of hotel available.
However, Bozeman is quite an interesting place. For starters, it sits right at the door step of the Rocky Mountains. Secondly, it is the city closest to several famous people who have decided to get away from society (John Mayer and former Titans/Rams coach Jeff Fisher – c’mon people!) Third, the city, itself, was founded by a swindler (John Bozeman) who ditched his wife and kids in the south and built the place to ‘mine the miners’ instead of ‘mine for gold’. He was also a gambler, womanizer, and died at 32, likely shot by his buddy for sleeping with his wife.
Getting there, the terrain again changed, with some stunning views of the Absaroka mountains. Once in Bozeman we were greeted for the first time by the actual Rocky Mountains (though not quite the large peaks like in Colorado or what we were about to see in a few days). Our hotel was the Mountain View Lodge which had a nice ‘woodsy’ feel to it, but the name falsely advertised something that it technically offered, if you looked over the highway on the back side of the facility. It was sort of the equivalent of a hotel being called “River View” when really it just faces a drainage ditch.
We finished up the evening by ordering Domino’s as a treat and watching the local news station talk about various wildfires and murders.
Next: We cross the border into Alberta, Canada, eh, and keep driving to British Columbia, eh.