Tag Archives: Billings

To Yellowstone and Beyond

17 Aug

Our last full day on the trip was a good one because went to my favorite place, Yellowstone National Park. We didn’t have time to go into the heart of the park and see the geysers. However, just entering its borders provided a feeling of being somewhere special.

We exited the interstate at Livingston, Montana, famous for being the filming location of A River Runs Through It. Livingston is a small town that can easily be turned into a scene from the early 2oth Century.

This church can be seen in the movie.

Before it became a movie locale, Livingston was known as the “Gateway to Yellowstone”, as travelers disembarked at its train station to take coaches into the park. Although, the north entrance has little traffic today, at one time this is how everyone entered Yellowstone. It’s ease and its history makes it my favorite way to go in.

The road out of Livingston follows the Yellowstone River through a valley filled with farms, ranches and vacation homes. We passed livestock and people fly fishing. As everyone took in the scenery, my mind drifted into the past. I was last in Yellowstone fourteen years ago. I had spent some time doing research in Butte and decided to spend my last weekend at the Old Faithful Lodge. It was a different time and place in my life, and I couldn’t help but think how much things have changed.

Finally, we made it to the gate that, at one time, everyone went through.

Gateway to Another Dimension – a Dimension of Natural Wonders

This led us to Mammoth Hot Springs, one of the park’s least appreciated wonders.

It looks better than it smells.

After walking the planks around the hot springs, we had lunch at the Roosevelt Lodge, where a Tennessee girl was our waitress. It was nourishment, but that’s about it. But, I needed it because I hiked with my nephews at Tower Falls. Going down was a lot easier than coming up. However, we got some good pictures.

Tower Falls

Proof that I hiked to the river.

We left the falls and drove toward the park’s exit and Cooke City. From the back seat, I said, “This is the first time I have ever been to Yellowstone and not seen buffalo.” Around the next bend, we saw buffalo, the best thing in the park, and my trip was complete. There is nothing that provides me with the feeling of the West like seeing these majestic creatures, the ones that were almost extinct.

There was once millions of buffalo throughout North America.

We stopped in Cooke City for a short break before driving on. We knew that there was a beautiful drive ahead, and I seemed to remember going that way on my previous trip. However, we were not prepared for what was about to happen. We went winding up and up until we reached an elevation of 11,000 feet. It’s one of the highest roads in the United States. As we went up, the air got colder and the sky got darker. Before we knew it, we were above the tree line, and it was snowing. Pictures can probably describe it better than I can.

That’s some cold water.

Only George Custer would have a national forest named after him that had no trees.

Remember, this is early August.

As my nephews played in the snow, my dad, my brother and I were wanting to get off this mountain as fast as possible. We finally did that and found ourselves in Billings, the city where the trip began. We even got the same hotel rooms that we had on the first night. After checking in, we ate at Jake’s, in downtown Billings, and talked about the past week.

We all had a great time and saw some great places. However, the best part of the journey was completing it together.

Baseball, Crazy Horse and a Great Big Rock

7 Aug

I have returned from my ventures in Montana and can report that a great time was had by all. The best part was spending time with my dad, my brother and my nephews. We picked on each other, laughed and learned a few things along the way.

The trip began as we landed in Billings and found our way to the hotel. It was immediately apparent that my oldest nephew would be the navigator of the trip as we felt our way through the town. We had planned a journey through history, agriculture and different landscapes, but first we needed to do something for my youngest nephew. That meant going to a baseball game.

Good looking bunch, isn’t it?

We saw a Rookie League game between the Billings Mustangs and the Helena Brewers, and you could tell from the quality of play that this was about as low in professional baseball as someone could get. There were dropped balls, balks and wild pitches. However, the action is not what caught my attention. These guys were living the dream of playing pro ball and trying to move up through the ranks. Then, I realized that the Brewers are part of the same organization as Nashville’s AAA team. Those guys were working hard to get to Tennessee on their way to Milwaukee.

While living their dream, the players were offering entertainment for the community. The stands were filled with people of all ages, from the very old to the very young. The outfield fence was lined with people in lawn chairs. We found ourselves in a real community event, and that is one of the things I like about these kinds of trips. At times, you can avoid the typical tourist destinations and immerse yourself in another lifestyle.

We talked to the people around us and learned about life in and around Billings. We got free t-shirts for being among the first 500 fans. We paid reasonable prices for food and paid a dollar to enter the pitching cage. For one night, we were honorary citizens of Billings.

The next morning, our driving journey began as we headed down Interstate 90 toward the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. This is where George Custer and the 7th Cavalry was defeated by Sioux warriors led by Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. It is my favorite historic site and an event that I have read many volumes about. We drove to Last Stand Hill, where my nephew wanted to film me giving my lecture on the battle. I talked about the events that led to the fight. I talked about the battle as I looked over the land and pointed out where different stages took place. When I finished, I turned and discovered that about 20 people had gathered around to listen. Then, I spent time answering questions.

As a historian and a teacher, there is nothing better than being able to talk about an event where it took place. I wish I could beam my classes to different places as we cover them.

The site of two big events – Custer’s Last Stand and my lecture.

After a drive through the battlefield, we went across the street to KFC. Yes, the Sioux won the battle but the Colonel won the war. Unfortunately for the Kentuckians, the KFC didn’t open when the sign said it would, so we went to the Custer Battlefield Trading Post instead. I had fry bread stuffed with meat, cheese and beans. After that, I had fry bread covered with honey. It wasn’t as good as the sopapillas of New Mexico, but beggars can’t be choosy.

As we dined, a photograph of an imposing Native American looked down on us.

This is a Native American warrior – not a founder of a chain of strip clubs.

I didn’t pay much attention to the photo because images like this can be found in books and places throughout the West. Then, the owner of the trading post came by the table to see how we were. My brother told him that I was a historian of the West, and the guy asked:

“Do you know who that is?”

“I don’t think I do.”

“That’s Crazy Horse.”

Here’s the thing. Every book I have read and every teacher I have heard tell the same story. Crazy Horse refused to have his picture taken. Now, the owner of a tourist trap is telling me that I am looking at the image of Crazy Horse. After the meal, he took us to another room; pointed out the smaller original; said that the descendants told him privately that it is a photo of the warrior; and, gave me a free copy to put in my classroom. Is it really Crazy Horse? I don’t know, but I hope it is.

We left the trading post and got into the SUV. Unfortunately, our door hit a red truck parked next to us. The woman in the truck jumped on us pretty good, and we got out of there as fast as possible. George Custer could only wish that he had our instincts.

We drive north and hit a back road (interstates suck on these kinds of trips) toward Pompeys Pillar.

Did Sean Connery and Nicholas Cage make a movie about this place?

This rock was seen by William Clark on his return voyage with the Corps of Discovery. As Meriwether Lewis traveled on the Missouri River, Clark went down the Yellowstone River.

The Yellowstone River

Clark climbed the rock; named it Pompeys Tower in honor of Sacagawea’s son; and, carved his name on it. People say that it is the only permanent mark the Corps of Discovery made on the land they explored.

William Clark was here.

I’m not sure about that. They told the Native Americans that the land they lived on was owned by the United States. Over 70 years later and only a few miles away, the Battle of Little Bighorn would be one of the results of that statement.