Back to Nature (again) in Moab — September 7-13, 2013

From Crater Lake to the Grand Canyon to White Sands to mighty Glacier, we never get tired of the geological wonders of our Nation.  Moab, of course, was no exception.

Founded as a Colorado River crossing and trading post, the city was incorporated in 1902 and gained its early traction from the discovery of uranium, vanadium, potash and manganese –and later oil and natural gas.  In the fifties, it was designated the Uranium Capitol of the World, but the end of the Cold War quickly diminished its importance.  Today, it’s in its fifth year as a DOE cleanup site.

Moab is a tiny city with a big drawing card – two of them, in fact.  Barely 3 miles in area and with a full time population of under 6,000, its two National Parks draw thousands even millions — from everywhere and for many reasons.  Both viewing and recreational opportunities abound.  The tourist industry was triggered in large part by Hollywood’s use of the area as a stage, most notably for John Ford’s Stagecoach.

Arches National Park covers about 80,000 acres.  Its prominence is due in large part to its first superintendent, Bates Wilson, who served from 1949 until 1972.  During his tenure, the park size doubled; roads, a campground and visitors center were built; and the National Park designation was bestowed.   He was also influential in the development of its larger sister, Canyonlands.  Its significant features are defined by its name; arches and national bridges abound.   They are not alone, however, in the diversity of formations, as you’ll see below.

Canyonlands National Park is over four times the size of Arches, but it has fewer than half the visitors.  There are two distinct regions within the Park, Island in the Sky and Needles.

Island in the Sky is a mesa that rests atop cliffs of sandstone, a thousand feet above the surrounding landscape.  It’s closer to Moab and attracts more visitors.  The driving route through it totals 33 miles, and you encounter numerous major attractions, including Upheaval Canyon and Dome, Mesa Arch, Grand View Point and White Rim, overlooking vast and deep canyons.  While the Colorado River skirts Arches, it streams through Canyonlands and, in fact, joins the Green River within its borders.  Thus, in addition to the recreational aspects, water recreation is a drawing card.   Views of the Green River above the confluence are found at the Green River and Grand View Overlooks.

The drive to Needles, however, is 45 miles south and then 30 miles east from Moab.  While there is a paved road going in that visits half a dozen landscapes, one needs a 4WD vehicle and/or a sound back and set of hiking legs to visit the majority of its splendor.  Having neither facility, we missed the majority of its canyons.  But the views we did get to see were worth the drive down.  Our biggest regret was not getting close enough to the Green/Colorado confluence and the rapids below it.

In the southwest section of the park, there’s another section called The Maze.  On its list of the most dangerous hikes in the country, Backpacker Magazine places it at the top.  It has virtually no trails, no water and no shade.   It’s claimed no lives, but that’s the result of intimidation that keeps all but the most experienced out of it!  It’s also a four wheeler’s attraction, but with similar precautions.  Nothing to try without adequate skills, preparation, maps and a GPS.

Between the city limits and the lower tip of Arches lies an additional treat, however:  Rte 279.  This highway is paved for 18 miles, after which it becomes desolate and accessible only by high clearance off-road vehicles.  It runs eventually into the eastern side of Island in the Sky.  But there are numerous tasty treats along the paved portion.  First, it quickly meets and parallels the Colorado River.  Second, it travels through high bluffs that are attractive to climbers.  They’re decorated by its forebears; petroglyphs from both the Archaic and Fremont periods are in evidence, sometimes both on the same panels.  One next arrives at the Poison Spider Mesa, home to genuine dinosaur tracks.  Large tracks left by a Therapod — in sand petrified to stone — are visible from a viewing platform.  Tracks from at least ten others are visible along the Poison Spider Trail.  While these heirlooms are unprotected, explorers are urged to leave them undisturbed and perform no rubbings.

Further along, the railroad right of way is visible, and, much to our delight, a train appeared from nowhere, passed close to us and continued on its journey.   At the end of the paved section stood the Imperial Potash Company, at which the train stopped but transferred no cargo.  This is one of three plants owned by the company, and it is sitting on a basin that is estimated to contain 2 billion tons of its final product (potassium chloride), used primarily in fertilizer.

Rte 279 offers stunning formations, like the rest of the area.  One of particular mention is the Jug Handle, shown below.  Numerous trails through the area are available and accessible to the more fit.


As we returned to our campground, we passed the entrance to UMTRA, the Department of Energy’s cleanup project.  The contractor, Energy Solutions, has removed in excess of 6 million tons of tailings, shipping them to their disposal site in Crescent City, Utah.  Shipments to date represent about a third of the entire project, scheduled for completion in 2025.  Utah’s congressional delegation is seeking funds to double the rail shipments and finish by 2019.

Our campground, which was combined with a large horse boarding/training facility, was pretty barren, but like Argo, it did have a lovely view of the surrounding hills.  Moab gave us all we hoped for, and more.  And Bryce remains on our bucket list.

Touching Base with the LDS – September 3-6, 2013

In Missoula, realizing that we were scheduling trips to an awful lot of scattered venues, we devised three new alternate routes.  In the final analysis, we decided to save the lengthy trek down to Bryce Canyon — one of the few major national venues we’ve missed – for yet another trip.  We also skipped Ogden, Utah – figuring the Osmonds wouldn’t miss us — and returned, instead, to Salt Lake City for a couple of days.  (Part of the motivation was grinding truck brakes that were overdue for service.)

The State Fair was in progress, and we spent an hour or two walking around it.  The most fascinating discovery was getting a behind-the-scenes look at preparation for the bovine beauty contest.  At dog Specialty Shows, we call it Conformation.  Baths and grooming are essential in both situations!

In 2012, during our Journey, we spent a week in SLC.  But Dot spent most of it flying back to Pennsylvania for her mom’s 90th birthday party.  While she was gone, I took a quick swing through the Pioneer Memorial Museum.   We went back this time to give Dot a chance to see it.  The Museum sits just below the Capitol building.  It was built by the Daughters of Utah Pioneers in 1950, styled to replicate the Salt Lake Theatre, demolished in 1929 but well evoked in the Museum’s interior design.

The purpose of the Museum, and its founding association, is the preservation of the history that defines Utah – the pioneers who came across the plains by any means prior to the arrival of the railroad in 1869.  Thousands upon thousands of artifacts are cataloged and organized in logical categories.  Some, such as pianos, clothing, medical equipment, lace making, hair art, musical instruments, military gear, et al, are categorized by function.  Others, like the Golden Spike, the 1947 Centennial, Pony Express and Brigham Young’s Beehive, Lion and Gardo (not a typo!) houses, deal with endeavors.  Still others are important relics, including Brigham Young’s wagon (yes, the one in which he traveled from Nauvoo to SLC) and The American Fire Engine No. 1, delivered to SLC in 1902 and fully restored to operating condition in 1994.

Oh yes, the well-traveled piano.  Abraham Hunsaker lived near Nauvoo, IL and joined the Mormons after they settled there.  He went west to Salt Lake City as one of the earliest pioneers.  After living there for a period of time, he traveled back to Illinois to retrieve his piano.   His second journey bogged down in Wyoming, where he buried the piano wrapped in bison robes, only to find his way back a year later to retrieve it!

A note on Brigham Young’s houses.  The Beehive House, built in 1854, was the residence of Young and his only legal wife (Mary Ann Angel) and his first polygamous wife, Lucy Ann Decker.  The Lion House, built two year later, housed most of his other wives and many of his 57 children.   He commissioned Gardo House in 1882 for his 25th — and favorite — wife, Harriet Amelia Folsom as her residence and as a reception hall where she would served as hostess.  Amelia, daughter of architect William Folsom, was young, talented and refined.  Her father was involved in the design of the Salt Lake Tabernacle, Pioneer Theatre and three area Temples.  “Gardo” is believed to be a term from a Spanish novel that was one of Young’s favorites.  Unfortunately, he died before its completion.  The two succeeding LDS presidents used it as their residence.  Pictures are all borrowed from Internet searches — begging  forgiveness rather than asking for permission!

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John Rowe Moyle’s home-made Wooden Leg

There are two relics of particular interest.  One is a black coat worn by Willard Richards, an 1847 pioneer who was in the room in the Carthage, Illinois jail when Joseph Smith was murdered.  The other is a wooden leg, fashioned and worn by John Rowe Moyle.  An 1856 handcart pioneer, he was a stonemason and stone carver who worked on the Temple.  Nothing unique there, until you discover that he walked 22 miles in the wee hours of every Monday from his farm in Alpine and walked back home on Friday night to tend the farm and his family – even after he lost a leg below the knee when a cow kicked him.

There’s more information on this museum in the Salt Lake City chapter of my e-book of the three year trip:  Even with this three hour second visit, there was still more to see — we have yet to go through any of the three historic houses!  Moab was calling us, but I hope we’ll return.

Discovering More in Idaho than Expected – Aug. 27 – Sept. 2, 2013

During our three year Journey, we made a number of stops in Idaho.  But another on our list was still unexplored.  We headed due south from Missoula to the city of Arco so we could visit the Craters of the Moon National Monument.

We lucked out at our campground of choice, Mountain View.  Not only was the rate reasonable; we were entitled to eggs, pancakes and coffee every morning.  We did every other day, and padded them with sausage or bacon for a nominal extra charge.  And the free meal benefit ended for the season on the day after we left!  The view from the campground was unusually great, too, and it included a  mountain that every Arco high school class has emblazoned it with its graduation year!

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve is the largest volcanic plain in the U.S.    It was formed by a series of eruptions along a 62 mile fault in the Snake River Valley called The Great Rift.  Eruptions began as long as 15,000 years ago and continued until about 2,000 years ago.  Future eruptions are expected, but not for at least 100 and maybe as much as 900 years from now.  So don’t cancel plans to visit.

Actually, eruptions began millions of years earlier.  Prevailing theory states that a hot spot under the area pushed magma, first a thicker rhyolite (the volcanic equivalent of granite) and later the top covering of basalt, creating a new landscape as much as 4,000 feet thick.  The hot spot hasn’t moved, but the earth’s plates have, and the hot spot is now believed to be under Yellowstone National Park.

The total Preserve is 1,100 square miles, about the size of Rhode Island.  There are actual three fields, Craters of the Moon itself being the largest.  Two others, believed to have occurred at a time when the Shoshone were present to see them, are the Wapi and Kings Bowl fields.  Tribal lore alludes to a giant angry snake squeezing the mountain and causing it to belch fiery liquid.   As with virtually every geological formation, there’s a new lexicon to learn:  cinder cones, spatter cones, vents, fissures, lava tubes, lava bombs, tree molds, rafted blocks . . . and others.

We toured the fields as best we could.  My aching back — a permanent arthritic affliction — had begun to restrict the distance I could walk.  And Dot was no better off; she had a foot issue that was destined for surgery when we got south for the winter.  So after a review of the Visitors Center maps and orientation, we drove the circuit and roamed off it as best we could.  All was not lost; we got a broad impression of the formations, and we saw the interaction of the cold magma and the growing things that survive in its environment.  We learned considerably more than is detailed here, but we hope the photos below will stimulate your interest, either in person or virtually.  They’re really not suitable for captioning, but you’ll get a random look at the picture

Unbeknownst to us, there was a second attraction to be seen in the area.  Arco has the distinction of being the first city ever to be electrified by atomic energy.

Not long after W.W. II, the Department of Energy began to explore the concept of a breeder reactor to generate electricity, espoused by Enrico Fermi and his colleague, Howard Zinn.  The Argonne National Laboratory at U-Chicago, originally involved in the Manhattan Project, established a facility in Idaho called EBR-I (Experimental Breeder Reactor).

The small team led by Zinn and project engineer Harold Lichtenberger, received their just reward when, on December 20, 1951, the switch was thrown and a string of four 200 watt bulbs glowed brightly.  The capacity was raised the very next day, and EBR-I generated electricity for 13 years until it was replaced by EBR-II, which in turn ran through 1994.  In 1966, EBR-I was dubbed a National Historic Landmark and became the museum it is today.  There’s a self-guided tour through the entire facility and process, and hosts field questions and make sure you get the answer.  Poised in the middle of the desert, the entire area is the 890 square mile Idaho National Laboratory.  In addition to the reactors, INL’s 4,000 employees pursue countless engineering projects.

One of the major functions of the installation is the processing of nuclear “leftovers” from installations throughout the country.  It’s not simply “waste” — the site was the recipient of all the core debris — 148 tons of it — from the Three Mile Island meltdown.   The story of the preparation and execution of that transfer, by rail without incident, is documented in the Museum.    Also found there are examples of the Lab’s attempt to create nuclear airplane engines, an experiment that was abandoned.

Glowing from our discoveries, we pushed on southward to the next state.

Missoula. . . Missoula . . . My Home Town – Aug. 10-26, 2013

Since we first visited Missoula in April, 2011, we’ve claimed that Montana is our favorite state and Missoula is our favorite city in the U.S.  There’s an asterisk on that:  Not between October 15 and April 15. 

We went there this year to rest and enjoy waking up with a view of the Bitterroots.   We went there because friends live 50 miles away, both north and south.  And we went there to commune with our favorite animals at the National Bison Range.

But the relaxation was tempered.  Several weeks earlier, I received an order for a large number of Nantucket baskets.  There was no way I could wait until we reached Florida to produce them, so I set up a workstation and spent most of our 17 day stay weaving away.  It really didn’t matter; being in the ambiance was the most important part.

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Delivering water to quench the Lolo fire

There was another reason for sitting tight.  A forest fire was raging in the Bitterroot Valley, as close as 25 miles from us.   Ash and thick haze blocked our view for most of the time, turning day into . . . well, see picture!  I drove down  to the Travelers Rest State Park in Lolo — the last Lewis & Clark bivouac before crossing the Rockies in 1805 and a key stop on their way back — to replace my tattered tee shirt.  I was blocked for an hour by fire-fighting helicopters hauling giant water buckets aloft to dump them.  As our visit went on, the fire became more contained, and Dot was able to head south past the fringe of it to visit our dear friend, Susan Buchard, in Hamilton.

The Bison Range is within Lake Missoula.  It existed during the Ice Age, and when the glacial dam that held the Lake broke with cataclysmic flooding, the cascading water traveled all the way to the West Coast, carving out the Columbia River Gorge — and many other of today’s geologic features both east and west of it.  The 22 mile white knuckle drive through the park gives you an opportunity to stare into its depths.

One other event brought a mixture of joy and tears.  We chose August 22 to hold a birthday party for all four of our Schips.  It was that date two years earlier that we lost Teddy, my heart dog, in nearby Bozeman.  It was truly a celebration for our four travelers and our five angels.


On To Helena — August 3-9, 2013

On our three year Journey, we didn’t include a stop in Montana’s Capitol.  We went through it as we traveled from Great Falls to Bozeman, but our prime focus at that time was on our beloved Teddy Bear Onyx, who breathed his last in Bozeman at age 15.  So we made up for it by spending a week there this time.

Helena is a lovely, fascinating city.  Our first adventure involved the Last Chance Gulch Train.   We departed from the city’s historical museum in a 100-plus foot Choo-Choo on wheels.  Recognizing that our train was half again longer than a semi-truck, we were amazed as our driver deftly wound us through the streets of the city for an hour, giving us sense, pointing out landmarks and regaling us with tales.  Most of all, she increased our thirst for more.

The “last chance” appellation refers to the miners who worked the city’s gold claims and provided so much heritage that Main Street is Last Chance Gulch!  As a bonus, our train trip entitled us to freebies along the way as we explored the shoppes along the Gulch.  A stroll down Last Chance Gulch gave us a chance to eye the many emporia, along with the street art, that we had rolled past on the trolley. The last of the three pictures below,  taken further down the street, shows the Gulch in an earlier time!

MT Hist Mus (2)Now it was time to search out the treasures to which we’d been introduced.  We started with Montana’s Museum, from whose doorsteps our loco-tour had departed.  Outside the front door is a larger than life metal sculpture, Herd Bull, by Benji Daniels.  Nearly 25 feet across from horn tip to horn tip, it was built from scrap sheet metal and represents both the vast importance (size) and tragic destruction (skeleton) of this classic American symbol.  When we first arrived for the trolley ride, a class field trip was using it as a jungle gym!

There were five galleries within the Museum.  One celebrated Charlie Russell, a nice refresher for us since it had been two years since we visited Russell’s home and gallery in Great Falls.  Eighty works ran the gamut from flat and 3D art to his illustrated letters.

The permanent collections also included a series of exhibits that chronicled life in the territory, dating back 12,000 years and bringing us into the 20th century.  Neither Empty nor Unknown is an exhibit chronicling the life of the six Native American tribal groups that Lewis and Clark met – or often failed to meet because of the region’s vastness and because he was traveling the rivers while they were off hunting!  The first three pictures are a sampling of more than a dozen describing the Native American nations.

There was heavy emphasis on L&C; the Corps was there, nearing the headwaters of the Missouri, in the summer of 1805.

The journey continues as Montana emerges, experiencing hard times and boom years.

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Big Medicine

On the upper floor stood Big Medicine, a white bison born on the Flathead Indian Reservation on May 3, 1933. Named in recognition of attributed spiritual powers, he epitomized the importance that such births meant to the Native Americans. Not a true albino, he had blue eyes and a brown hump.  When he died in 1959, he had exceeded the average life span by one third, at which point his coat was well worn and retained that way in preser-vation.  At one time, he was the second most popular attraction in the state –after Yellowstone National Park!

St. Helena’s Cathedral dominates the landscape.  It has a congregation of about 1,700.  Financed in large part by Thomas Cruse, a local gold miner/philanthropist, the Cathedral’s cornerstone was laid in 1908.  Built of Indiana limestone instead of Montana sandstone, it actually took until 1924 to complete.  But the dedication was on Christmas Day 1914– five days after Cruse’s death at 78.  His was the first funeral to be held there.  Over the succeeding years, most recently in 2002, it has repeatedly undergone restoration and renovation.  Repairs necessitated by a series of earthquakes in 1935 took three years to complete.  At this point, pictures will be better than words.

The Capitol sits on an expanse directly across from the Natural Historical Society.   Construction, of sandstone and granite, began in 1899, and the major financial resource was . . . Thomas Cruse!   It was designed by Frank Mills Andrews, and it was completed in 1902.  Like so many others, received wings on both sides in 1909 and 1912.

You enter under the dome, and the rotunda is impressively decorated by artwork representing the four forces creating the state:  Native Americans, gold miners, cowboys, and explorers.  Straight ahead is the Grand Stairway.  The first landing honors two people with statues:  Wilbur Fisk Sanders, lawyer, Civil War veteran, forceful prosecutor and one of Montana’s first U.S. Senators; and Jeannette Rankin, leading voice for women’s suffrage, and first democratically elected woman (U.S. Representative, 1916-1918) and lifetime advocate of women and peace.  Her first vote in Congress was against entry into W.W. I.  She did not survive re-election then, but she was returned to the House in 1940 and cast the only dissenting vote against our entry into W.W. II.  Hallways to either side lead to the Governor’s and the Secretary of State’s offices.

Continuing up the staircase, one reaches a mezzanine that heralds Montana’s favorite son, Mike Mansfield, longest serving Senate majority leader in history,  and his wife Maureen.   The legislative and judicial functions are found at this level.  The room to the east has had three lives:  Senate Chamber, Supreme Court Chamber and Meeting Room.  The opposite room was originally the House Chamber and now houses the Senate.  The much larger rooms in the added wings hold the House to the west and the Law Library to the east.  The Court now has its own Judiciary building elsewhere in town.  A statue of Thomas Francis Meagher, a former governor of the Montana Territory and commander of the Irish Brigade in the Civil War, was added to the front lawn on July 4, 1905,

Throughout the building are depictions of all the elements that have created Montana’s unique character.  As in the Historic Society, considerable attention is paid to the Corps of Discovery.  It’s culminated, in fact, in the piece de resistance: a painting by Charles Russell in the House Chamber, so large that Charlie had to raise the roof of his studio to complete it.  It’s entitled Lewis and Clark Meeting the Flathead Indians at Ross’ Hole

Montana’s Original Governor’s Mansion was built in 1888 as a private residence.  The state bought it in 1913, and it housed nine chief executives and their families until a new (ugly modern) mansion was built in 1959.  It had a variety of uses for the next 20 years until 1980, when it became an established city tourist asset and was restored to its 1913 image.

After a two week rigorous ordeal to portage the nine Great Falls in the steaming July heat, the Corps continued upstream through a cavernous section of the River half way between the Falls and today’s Helena.  Limestone cliffs towered almost a quarter mile above them and extended right down into the deep water.  Meriwether Lewis’s fascination with this geography was one driving force back to the Helena area for us. In his journal, Lewis wrote,  “I shall call this place:  Gates of the Mountains.   We were not about to miss the experience of taking a tour boat ride through it.

The boats leave from Upper Holter Lake and  provide a ninety minute, slow moving, vividly described journey down through Gates of The Mountains and back.  Our captain deftly approached the passage from four or five different directions so we could envision how it might have looked to the expedition 208 years ago.  He tirelessly explained geographic features, flora and fauna along the route.  He offered to put folks ashore at the Meriwether Picnic Area, one of the very few spots in the stretch that a boat could land (and where L&C likely camped).   It was near this area, in Mann Gulch in 1949, where a raging forest fire caused the worst disaster in smoke-jumper history — thirteen men were lost.  Again, our captain narrated a description of the disaster that was a virtual mise-en-scène.  We were also driven in close enough to see petroglyphs left by inhabitants prior to L&C.

We made a last trip downtown to visit the Great Northern Town Center.  We knew it was a boutique-y outdoor shopping center, but it also promised a L&C commemorative trail, and anything attached to The Expedition intrigues us.  We got there before the shoppes opened and the carousel started to turn, so we walked the esplanades with few others.  It was filled with plaques that told snippets of the L&C story along a “river” in the pavement.  It’s also interspersed with sculpture.

Gt Northern Ctr (25)The Town Center exhibit  that really peaked our interest was a clay frieze entitled Entrepreneurial Spirit of Helena, created by Seattle artist Kristine Veith in 2003 caused a stir when first unveiled.  It took me a trip through Google to identify all of the images portrayed, and what a collection! They include  Alan Nicholson, developer of the Town Center;  Lewis; Clark; Sacacawea; Thomas Cruse; Jeannette Rankin and Wilbur Sanders.  Bishop John Carroll builder of the Cathedral and founder of Carroll College in the first 20th century decade is there, along with Thomas C. Power, merchant and first Senator; three representative Chinese laborers; and  Archie Bray, brick maker and philanthropist whose Foundation for Ceramic Arts thrives today.  A large figure of “Helena” is in the center, representing the city’s name, applied by the many Minnesota miners from St. Helena.  But there’s more.  There are three brothel dancers in the montage.  Josephine “Chicago Jo” Hensley, an Irish immigrant lass who worked her way west from NYC on her back, moved to Helena and opened a “house” in 1867.   Her business grew exponentially; she owned four major establishments and partnerships in many other businesses in the city.  Her death, in 1890, prompted a huge funeral and many tributes.

And still more.  When the work was first unveiled, it was rumored that one of the dancers was a spittin’ image of Montana Governor Judy Martz, then in office as the State’s female top executive. Veith denied even knowing what the governor looked like!

So that’s Helena.  So much more than we expected.  I’m still not sure we gave it full justice!

Hardin: The Little Bighorn Battlefield — July 30-August 2, 2013

We had given short shrift to eastern Montana during our three year Journey and we’re making up for it now.  But since we were still unable to schedule completion of the Dinosaur Trail, that simply means that we’ll have to come back again.  At least we’ve now been to both ends.

Crow Agency, MT is the actual location of the Little Big Horn Battlefield, but we parked our rig about 12 miles away in Hardin.  It is a very small town (pop. 3,600), but it has a super qualified truck facility that found out why we were running on only three of the dually wheels on our truck instead of all four!

On The Journey in 2011, we’d bypassed the Little Big Horn site because the bulk of its antiquities, we learned, had been moved to a federal climate-controlled Arizona warehouse because conditions at the site were inadequate to protect them.  We didn’t realize, however, that the heart of the site couldn’t be moved.  Thus, the visit this year.  We spent two days there.

On Day 1, we took a tour of the visitor’s center – a quick experience since it was minimized and what you really want to see is out in the field.  We listened to an impassioned half-hour lecture from a ranger who was so into it that he could have kept us entertained for hours.  Then we took a one hour tour with Apsaalooke Tours through the center of the action with a Crow Indian guide (the Crow Federation has an exclusive license to run these tours).  I will leave the recast of history to the scores of treatises on the subject, but I will share some pictures and a few sights of wonder.

The road is on a rise that allows one to see down into the field where over 5,000 Native American families were camped – the target of Custer’s mission.   You pass named skirmishes along the way that resulted from Custer’s segmentation of his force:  Lame White Man Charge, Greasy Grass Ridge, Medicine Tail Coulee, Sharpshooter Ridge, among others.

The path runs five miles south to the Reno-Benteen Battlefield where the fateful day actually began.

Then it returns to Last Stand Hill.  We left the tour bus there and continued on foot.

In 1879, a wooden memorial was the first to be placed on the field.  Two years later, Lieutenant Charles F. Roe and the 2nd Cavalry built the granite memorial that marks the top of Last Stand Hill (above).  Marble markers locate the spots of the fallen soldiers, while granite markers denote Cheyenne fallen.

The Native American Memorial, completed in 2003,  honors the Lakota, Arapaho and Cheyenne losses.

A horse cemetery is also marked.

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Custer National Cemetery

Walking back down the Hill, we passed the Custer National Cemetery, adjacent to the Visitors Center.  It is not the burial place for the victims here; many of those were returned to their homes back east.  Custer’s remains were buried a West Point.  Now closed to new graves, the cemetery contains the names of many frontier soldiers as well as members of all forces through most of the subsequent wars.  There are approximately 4,500 graves in all.


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Lori Piestewa’s Memorial

One notable name is Pfc. (posthumously Spec.) Lori Piestewa (White Bear Girl), the first Native American to be killed in a foreign war.  Lori, a Hopi, is buried in Tuba City Arizona, but there is a memorial to her here, shown at right.  She was one of the brave soldiers involved in the Iraqi attack in 2003 during which she, Jessica Lynch and Shoshana Johnson were taken captive.  Lori’s head wound caused her demise shortly thereafter.


When we went back for a second look on Day 2, we also went to the adjacent Custer Battlefield Museum, a private facility located in the town of Garyowen, MT, the only town within the battle site, near the location of the mass Native American camp.  It houses a wide collection of artifacts from the battle and from the history of the opposing sides.  Out front is a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, reputed to be the only such site outside of Arlington Cemetery.  It was dedicated on the 50th anniversary of the battle and contains the remains of a soldier under Reno’s command.

The Museum proudly houses a collection of the photography of David F. Barry (1854-1934), whose portraits of Sitting Bull, Gall and many others on both sides are world famous.  But tourist cameras are strictly prohibited.

This ended our sojourn through the history of the Little Big Horn.  But there was more to see  “in the neighborhood.”  The first trip was less than desirable because I opted for shortest rather than fastest route and wound up on dirt road for more than half of the 50 miles.  The reward at the end was worth it.

One of the very few exact locations known to be reached by the Lewis & Clark Corps of Discovery is Pompey’s Pillar.  Rising 150 feet above the Yellowstone with a full acre footprint, this sandstone butte sits 25 miles east of modern Billings. A stele at the summit identifies it as being just under 3,000 feet elevation from sea level.  It is a well-documented landmark, named by Capt. Clark after Sacacawea’s son when he and his part of the expedition traveled back toward North Dakota in 1806 to link up with Capt. Lewis.  In fact, he carved his name and the date on its wall about half way up on the north side.  A snaking stairway leads you to the signature, where chatty volunteers love to swap stories with those of us who’ve explored the whole Trail.  That signature was somewhat protected in 1882 when the Northern Pacific Railroad installed a grate over it, , but it was not until 1954 that the current shield was put in place.  Meanwhile, the curious have had a field day of scratching their own graffiti at the site.

Declared a National Historic site in 1965, it was in private hands until 1991, when it was acquired by the BLM.   They manage not only the landmark but an informative museum in the Visitors Center that opened in 2006.

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Do you see the image?

A ranger who accompanied us between the signature location and the summit pointed out an image in the rock wall.  Native Americans called the Pillar “the place where the mountain lion lies,” and the image we saw might have been the reason.  I didn’t find it immediately, but when he highlighte it with a laser pointer, it became clear.



I made the return trip the long way on roads that were all paved.  And I’m doubly glad I did, because I got to visit Rosebud Creek, scene of at least two significant moments.  In chronological order, Wm. Clark and party passed through here after visiting the Pillar.  His documentation of the region was a major impetus to the subsequent fur trade that overran the area.  In fact, buffalo hunters took over 40,000 buffalo pelts in the 1870’s and ‘80’s, seriously affecting the Native American food chain and causing uprisings.  That, in large part, led to the second Rosebud moment.  On July 18, 1876, General George Crook fought a fierce battle with Crazy Horse and his Sioux/Cheyenne friends.  Despite being supported by a force of Crow and Shoshone, history will say that Crook left the field defeated and withdrew to his camp in Sheridan, Wyoming.  He decided to sit out the Little Bighorn campaign eight days later, and historians have a lot to say about that decision.

But we still weren’t done.  The Big Horn County Historical Museum opened in 1979 east of Hardin.  Originally 22 acres, expanded to 35 and added a new museum building in 2012.  Over the years, 24 authentic historic structures from throughout the county have supplemented the site’s original farmhouse and barn, each containing exhibits of the era. The new museum building includes a gift shop, research library, archives and offices.

Sadly, we only had a brief time left — only enough to skim the main museum building before heading back to camp to pack up for departure the following morning.

Glendive Proved How Little We Know — July 26-29, 2013

The tentacles of the Oil Boom in Williston reach far and wide.  Minot, 100 miles east, was flooded with workers, and the same was true on the other side of the enterprise in Northeastern Montana.  We wound up finding a campground vacancy in Glendive, MT, about 50 miles southwest of Williston.

Our site was nothing to write home about, but we found plenty to interest us in the Glendive C-of-C’s 92 page tourist and relocation guide. Glendive is the eastern end of the Montana Dinosaur Trail, a chain of 14 museums in 12 communities primarily across the northern reaches of the state.  Glendive sports two locations:  a downtown museum and Makoshika State Park, dubbed the “Badlands of Eastern Montana.”  

the burys

Hell Creek Music’s Steve and Christie Bury

First, the museum.  Steve and Christie Bury, Seattle expatriates, moved with their daughters Chantell and Courtney and $300 to Glendive a decade ago and opened up a music shop, Hell Creek Music, in a century-old downtown building. Walk in and you are surrounded with dozens of instruments and accessories covering every inch of the walls and counters.  If you walk half way down the store and glance right through the archway, you’ll find that a wall divides the space down the middle, and the view on the other side is considerably less contemporary. (Picture at left from the Billings Gazette)

Now it’s Hell Creek Music & More.  Half the space is the Makoshika Dinosaur Museum.  Steve and Christie’s other life is the preservation of artifacts from three ages of the area — Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous.  It’s an extensive collection of sculptures, replicas and real fossils, enough to keep you fascinated for a long time.  T-Rex dominates the scene as you enter.

Talented musicians, Chantell and Courtney have flown the coop and are now a popular touring duo out west.  Performing in many well-known hot spots on the coast, they’re known as H3LLOMYNAME IS.

Less than two miles beyond our site, Makoshika State Park is the largest in Montana.  It is at the upper end of the Cedar Creek Anticline, a 30 x 150 mile uplifting in the earth that is described as resembling a ripple in a blanket.  The Anticline runs from there down into the northwestern corner of South Dakota.   You may not be surprised to learn that Makoshika is Lakota for . . . bad land!

The Park and Anticlime are contained within the Hell Creek Formation, a layer of rock deposited at the end of the dinosaur age that runs from northern Colorado through eastern Wyoming and western Dakotas in an arc covering over half of Montana.  The Park, therefore, is a treasure trove of both geology and paleontology.   Erosion creates hillocks, ledges, mushroom columns and large flats, topped in places with sub-tropical grasses and trees.  Beneath the surface, more than 10 species of dinosaurs have been found, as well as an archaeological richness of many species.  The Park’s Visitors Center offers additional exhibits.


BNSF (2)

Make-ups day and night!

Over the years, we’ve found a strong correlation between the location of campgrounds and the presence of railroading, especially its sounds.  Glendive took that one step further.  About 200 yards away, the lower end of a six track make-up yard was active 24 hours a day.  Trains would come in from both directions and depart after being restructured.  The white noise was the idling diesel engines, and it was supplemented by the slams of couplers and the shouts of the crews.  To us, it was not only non-disturbing; it was a source of entertainment as we speculated on how many cars, how many engines, time of departure and direction.  Simple pleasures!

We had given short shrift to eastern Montana during our three year Journey and were making up for it now.  Read on!

Renewing our Lewis and Clark Connection

By this time, we realized that a stop in Williston proper would amount to nothing but chaos.  The entire area had been consumed by the Oil Boom and its attendant problems.  Not only would we have never found a site to stay in, there were already huge buildings that collectively held the RVs of hundreds of workers who’ve flocked to the area.

But the city wasn’t our real goal anyway.  Twenty-two miles to the southwest, just before crossing into Montana, lies the Confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers.  The Missouri continues west from there — the route Lewis & Clark took on their way to the Pacific.  On the return route, however, the two captains split up the party at Lolo, Montana.  Lewis and a few others headed north to explore the Marias River and learn more about the Blackfoot tribe.  Clark, Sacacawea and the others followed the course of the Yellowstone.  They planned to meet a month later at this Confluence.

Lewis and his party had the most trouble, including an unfriendly encounter in which the Expedition took he lives to two thieving Blackfoot braves — the only fatal encounter on the entire trek.  Clark and company were also hassled by the Crows, who stole 28 of their horses, but no bloodshed occurred.  The groups finally reunited as planned, but not without many anxious moments.

We expected the Confluence to be more of an L&C shrine than it was.  While the Interpretative Center certainly acknowledges the visit of the Corps, considerable other events of historic proportions occurred there as well, such as the building and manning of trading posts and military forts in the region.

We stayed for an hour, crossed it off our bucket list, and moved onward to Glendive, Montana for the next few nights.

Minot, ND — July 23-25, 2013

Our Rte. 2 journey next led us to Minot.  That was good and bad.  The northwest quadrant of ND has become the recipient of the Bakken Boom, an oil discovery in 2006 that is still pumping strongly today.  It has given the state the lowest unemployment rate in the nation and created a billion dollar surplus in the state treasury.  All very good — except to those of us who are not looking for a job or a place to live.  The core of this discovery (not to be confused with Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery!) is in Williston.  We were interested in visiting Williston while on The Journey because it was an area through which Lewis & Clark passed not long after their first winter in Mandan.   Today, Minot —  halfway across the state and still 125 miles east of Williston — was inundated with workers and commercial resources.  Our campground was the pits, hastily expanded to accommodate the families who’d come to seek their fortune.  There was a serious robbery from the rig next to ours and police intrigue on more than one occasion.  Our neighbors ran dump trucks that left at the break of dawn for twelve hours of runs through the area.

So we hunkered down and tried to slide into the community that existed before the maelstrom.  Several attractions got our nod.

Minot evolved when Jame J. Hill’s Great Northern Railroad stopped there in the winter of 1886 because of the difficulty of spanning the Gassman Coulee with a trestle.   The city was incorporated a year later.  A typical boom town, it took a great leap forward when the Pentagon built the Minot Air Force Base in the fifties, later to become the Strategic Air Command Bomber and Minuteman Missile Base.

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Entrance map

Scandinavian immigration to the area began as early as the 1870’s and continued strongly for many years.  Norwegians are the largest segment, followed by Swedes and Danes.   It’s no surprise, therefore, that the downtown landscape is visually and spiritually enhanced by the Scandinavian Heritage Park.   At the entrance, the Plaza Scandinavia features a 60 foot inlaid map of the five major countries that contribute new American citizens.  From it, paths lead to many fantastic exhibits, including the 30 foot high Dala Horse, the 60 foot high replica of the Gol Stave Church, and the Sondre Norheim Eternal Flame Monument.  In addition to Norheim, the father of modern skiing, celebrity statues include Leif Eriksson and Hans Christian Andersen.  One path led to a museum of history and curious artifacts.

Not surprisingly, we sought out the local railroad museum.  It took a couple of trips around the block to find it, and, when we did, the door was locked.  Walking back to our truck, we looked in the back door and found a group of people around a document-laden table.  They let us in!

Known as the Old Soo Line Depot Transportation Museum and Western History Research Center, the latter part appears to be the more important.  They are only open when staff is working, and they ask for a call-ahead.  They let us wander through the handsome building at will, but when I glanced at a stack of non-public documents that were sitting on one of the exhibits, they quickly swept them up!  But the displays were informative, and here’s a brief look.

I ventured north to visit the Dakota Territory Air Museum, near Minot Air Force Base.  Opened in 1986, it is fulfilling a dream of documenting both the civilian and military legacy of aviation in the region.  It displays almost three dozen of the former and about ten of the latter, and it continues to receive new exhibits.  An F-15 that flew out of the Base for almost 30 years is on the way this fall; it was part of a defensive squadron known as the Spittin Kittens!

The non-hardware part of the museum is filled with a conglomeration of posters, photographs, models, feature and first-person stories, and reams of documentation on the influence of aviation there and throughout the world – so much that the effort to organize and display all the stuff is a perpetual challenge (and still requiring a lot of work!).

One fabulous attraction remained.  A separate hangar reserves space each year for the arrival of the Warbirds of the Texas Flying Legends Museum.   Based in Houston, the Flying Legends is a collection of vintage aircraft that travels the nation annually as air show participants.  The fleet flies to Minot each May for a two month stay, then moves on to Wiscasset, Maine before returning back to Texas for the winter.   About to leave, they were being serviced for the next leg while we were there.  In fact, The Last Samurai, a Japanese Zero, was out at the shop, so I borrowed the picture of her below from the Museum’s website.

We were glad to leave Minot and not excited about having to drive through Williston.  But Montana — our favorite state — waited on the other side!

Grand Forks, North Dakota — July 18-21, 2013

Previous journeys have put us on east-west routes across lower sections of North Dakota.  Since we were up near the top of the Union anyway, we decided to try the northernmost path, Rte 2.  We took it out of Duluth and stopped first in Grand Forks, ND.  Actually we didn’t!  We stopped just short at East Grand Forks, Minnesota, just across the Red River.  There, the Red River State Recreation Area provided full hookup pull-thru sites spread widely through the park.  Not cheap, and with a daily use fee on top of it.  But spacious, comfortable and efficient.

We spent most of our time in Grand Forks ND itself, but we took in a fascinating experience in East: the Northern Lights Railroad Museum.  Originally started as a model railroading club in the 1980’s, it has grown to interpret the history of railroading in the Northern Great Plains.  It’s housed in a replica train depot built by volunteers after the 1997 flood (much more on that later) and has been expanded since.  Clearly a work in progress, it houses two model railroads, one in HO gauge depicting the Great Plains and the other in N gauge, depicting the Mid-West logging industry. Some of the tiny HO details are outstanding, such as a boy scout troop and a prison work gang, both shown below.

The Red River, a.k.a. the Red River of the North, forms almost the entire border between Minnesota and North Dakota.  Its source is at Wahpeton, ND, approximately 50 miles SSE of Fargo, and it passes Fargo and Grand Forks on its way a little over 300 miles to Lake Winnipeg, Manitoba, just north of its capitol.  Yes, it’s the river made famous by the song, Red River Valley, which probably originated in Manitoba around 1870 and has many different titles and sets of lyrics!

The “RRN” is best known for flooding.  You have listened more than once to The Weather Channel’s intimate tracking of its flood stages, which began in the paleo era but have caused devastation more recently in 1997, 2009 and 2011.  Of those three, the first was the worst in this area, in large part because the major metropolises along its route were better prepared to fight the onslaught after the 1997 devastation.

In 1997, water spread up to 3 miles on either side of its course, causing 100% of E. Grand Forks and 75% of Grand Forks to be evacuated for weeks.  After the wipe-out, Grand Forks built a series of retractable flood walls.  All of the homes on Riverside Drive and most of those on picturesque Lewis Boulevard were demolished or relocated to make room for the protective system.  Careful attention to detail allowed the Riverside Historic District to be placed on the National Register in 2007.  Numerous architectures, including Queen Anne, Bungalow, Mechanic’s Cottage, Tudor, Dutch Colonial and American Craftsman are represented in Riverside.  Numerous turn of the century commercial, consumer and government structures form another impressive tour.

The Grand Forks project worked.  2009 and 2011 produced the third and fourth highest floods in the city’s history, with no significant damage in the area.  Both of those wreaked more havoc north, in Fargo and in Manitoba.

The Grand Forks County Historical Society was established in 1970.  Today, it operates a campus-style museum that highlights much of the good that North Dakota represents.  It began through the auspices of the Campbell family.  Thomas senior and his wife homesteaded near the River in 1875.  They built a log cabin and sired a son, Thomas junior, in 1882.  The cabin was incorporated into their Dutch Colonial home.   Junior became “America’s Wheat King” (story below).  The family donated the house, 3 acres of land and a restoration fund to the Historic Society, and in 1971, the opening was dedicated to Junior’s mother, Almira Campbell, representing all pioneer women.

Joining the Myra Museum and the Campbell House, four additional buildings and a bandstand are located on the property:  Log Cabin Post Office, One Room Schoolhouse, Carriage House and Lustron Home.

The foundation of John E. Myra (1857-1939), a successful entrepreneur who was one of the largest landowners in the area at the time of his death, funded the construction of the Myra Museum, designed after the Campbell home.  With no natural heirs, he earmarked the bulk of his estate for charitable purposes, including making over 4,000 acres of land available to local farmers.

Numerous stories of interest are found within the museum.  GF Museum (11)Grand Forks was the home of Cream of Wheat.  The chief miller of a flour mill teetering on bankruptcy after the 1893 crash, devised a way to convert the leavings into the creamy product we know today.  It took less than two years for the product to turn the tables, and today it’s manufactured in Minneapolis.

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Campbell House

The aforementioned Thomas Campbell, Jr. (1882-1966), an avid student and athlete, received the first engineering degree granted by U-ND in 1904.  He created the largest privately owned wheat farm in Hardin, MT in 1918, over 95,000 acres.  He seeded 100 square miles of wheat annually.  Campbell showed his patriotism by volunteering in both WW I and II, rising to the rank of Brigadier General and establishing a close friendship with Dwight David Eisenhower.

Coincident with the efforts of Tom Campbell were the pioneering efforts of Gust Hagert (1873-1962).  Hagert emigrated from Sweden at age 16.  In 1906, he married Bertha Sand (1880-1973), a schoolteacher whose family emigrated from Norway.  The Hagerts had seven children.  Thanks to Gust and Bertha and generations of their offspring, the homestead that he began and built into a major enterprise survives today as the Hagert Seed Company.

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The Quiet Room

Bertha’s wedding dress had been turned into clothes for the children.  As a gift to their parents on their 50th wedding anniversary, Dorothy and Blanche, their eldest children, had a replica made.  Later, after the deaths of Gust and Bertha, the family created a memorial Quiet Room in the Myra Museum to honor them.  Mannequins of their parents were custom-made in France duplicating their wedding picture pose.  They now entice museum-goers to enjoy a few moments of tranquility in the Quiet Room.

Fred P. Nash journeyed from Vermont to the Dakota Territory to homestead.   Eschewing the farm, he opened a confectionery store and invited his brothers, Willis and Edgar, to join him.  The business went through the usual setbacks until 1889, when a boxcar of peaches was routed by mistake to Grand Forks.  Seizing the day, the brothers mortgaged everything to buy the load and wholesale it throughout the area.  Joined by 14 year old Harry Finch that same year, they eventually parlayed their skills to expand the business, and by the end of WW II, they also owned their own supermarkets.  Nash Finch stock did an IPO in 1983 and today is a multinational corporation on the Fortune 500.   Hey, there’s gold in them there peaches!

Perhaps the most unique of all was the Lustron Home.  In 1947, the Lustron Corp. received a major grant from the federal government to produce a prefabricated home made out of enameled steel.  It was virtually maintenance free, and it could be erected quickly to satisfy the needs of returning GI’s.  Expecting to build 40,000 homes in the first two years, only 3,000 were built, and the company closed its doors in 1950.  The house on the Historical Society property was one of about 20 in the area.  It was flood-ravaged in 1997 but carefully restored and re-erected here.  Between the house, the advertising and the artifacts displayed within, it is truly a déjà vu for those of us in our 7th or 8th decades.  See examples below.

This trip through the County Historical Society’s comprehensive exhibit ended our visit, with total satisfaction.