Sunday, July 31, 2016

We Find Our Jeep, Visit a Sacred Lodge, and Catch Up With Good Friends

Wednesday, July 27 - Sunday, July 31, 2016
Moorcroft, Wyoming

At 196 miles, Wednesday's drive to Moorcroft, WY, is longer than usual, but on  I-90 it's an easy drive. The area around Sheridan and Buffalo is particularly pretty, and I remind myself we want to stay here next time through.

We're in Moorcroft because it's half-way between the two things we want to do in the area - see friends and see Bear Lodge.  Rangeland Motel and RV does nothing more than give us a place to park with FHUs and 50 amp. And it does this quite well. Another set-up where you back into your site from the city street, the gravel pad is level, the site and area clean, and the owners friendly and helpful. As we end up staying a couple extra nights, I'm glad we like it.

It rains overnight and is still cloudy with more rain in the forecast for Thursday. The area is parched, and the rain is very welcome - you can hear the earth sucking it in!

I have been checking for used Jeeps along our route for some time now. There is one in Sioux Falls I'm interested in, but since they usually sell pretty fast, I'm not convinced it will still be there when we are. So I'm excited to see one available in Gillette, WY, just up the road where our friends live. With the weather iffy for outdoor activity, we head for the "big city."

Meeting all our criteria except a data port in the music system, we test drive the Wrangler and decide it's a good fit for us. We're happy with the deal, and they will move the towbar and brake-assist from the Cherokee for us. 

Unfortunately the plate won't fit the Wrangler so they order us a new one to be shipped overnight. They can do the install on Monday if we can wait a couple days. We can. 

Piper, the new member of the family
Just driving through town with the air conditioner on, and not worrying about whether it's going to stall in an intersection, is such a relief that I'm even more thrilled with our decision.

Reading the manual on the way home Bill makes a discovery - and we listen to our music on one of our thumb drives plugged into the data port in the center console :-))))))

Friday morning we get up and out early, hoping to beat the expected much hotter temps. We're going to see another bucket list place - Bear Lodge (Devils Tower National Monument). 

Everyone warns you that seeing it from the highway is amazing, and that's an understatement. There isn't anything else that looks like that, and I can understand why the native peoples have held it sacred for so long. The giant bear claw marks are visible for miles - hundreds of years ago, what else could have made those marks?

Known as Bear Lodge to the Lakota
Our hopes for a light crowd are dashed as we sit in line to get in the park. The parking lot is nearly full, but a few people are leaving and we find a spot in the dirt.

We're taking the Tower Trail which makes a 1.3 mile loop around the base of the tower. It is very popular. 

Several times we stop along the paved path to let noisy hikers pass by. It's wonderful that kids and teenagers are experiencing this wonderful place, but they sure miss a lot by just looking and not listening.

Interpretive signs along the trail provide geological and cultural information
Colorful prayer cloths 
Looking in the crack for the elevator button
Note the (lack of) shoes on her climbing partner
See the climbers? No? Because it's a million miles up there!
"Around back" the trail comes out of the forest with beautiful views across a green valley. It is a pretty spot, although without the shade of the trees it is getting very hot, very quickly.

Cattle country
Beautiful views of the Black Hills National Forest
Smaller rock formations
Three distinct layers are more visible from this side
As the trail climbs again we're grateful to be back in the shade. The crowd thins some and we enjoy the bird song and slight breeze in the trees. A little cutie named Violet is getting a piggy-back ride from her daddy. A couple looks through binoculars for climbers. The tower looks very different on this side.

After 40 million years sometimes you just need to take a break
Flat formations along the base
With no wildflowers in bloom, bright leaves provide a spot of color on the forest floor
Back at the parking lot both the temps and the crowds have increased significantly - I'm very glad we got here early. The tiny visitors' center is packed as expected and I make a quick walk through before joining Bill and Tessa.

Bear Lodge is a unique and amazing place. I need to come back when the noise and chaotic energy of vacationing crowds are gone. I miss the spiritual connection that I know is here.

The legend of Bear Lodge
If it hadn't been filmed in a sound studio, that famous movie space ship would have landed where the VC stands
We were going to walk the South Side Trail for a different view of the tower, but it's too hot. Instead we make a stop at Prairie Dog Town, and then at the Day Use Area. I can't leave without seeing the Circle of Sacred Smoke monument.

Over a hundred prairie dogs live in this town of burrows
A quick pose 
The Circle of Sacred Smoke is a beautiful piece made by Junkuy Muto. One of three sculptures designed as symbols of peace, the others are at the Vatican and at Buddha's birth place. Of all possible locations in the world, Muto believed these sacred places most speak to his vision. Muto is searching for four additional sites to complete his work. 

For the Lakota this is the site where White Buffalo Calf Woman gave her message to the people. Ceremonies are still held here throughout the year.

Good heart and mind required
Polished and raw marble from Italy, standing on rock from Crazy Horse Monument
I have never had allergies, but something here is making my nose run and my eyes water. As much as I want to spend more time, I'm too miserable to stay. 

Piper's first day trip - pretty special
There is still a line of cars coming in as we leave the park. We drive eight miles to the tiny town of Hulet for lunch, then return home.

Lunch in Wyoming is often under a deer head - Ponderosa Cafe, Hulet
Saturday afternoon we are joining friends Polly and Buddy for dinner at her house, and we hang out at home until it's time to head for Gillette.

Polly and I graduated together in 1973, and is a long-time friend of both Bill and I. She met Buddy in Gillette a few years ago and he has become one of the family after joining us at the annual reunions.

We enjoy great conversation and a delicious meal, and way too soon our evening is over. We love it when our route takes us to see good friends!

Polly and Buddy - love these two :-)))
Polly's brother Coy is also a good friend - his place in the SoCal desert is where we took the motorhome on it's maiden voyage. He lived in the small town of Newcastle, about 45 minutes south, for 25 years. We take a day trip to check it out.

The pretty canyon where Coy lived
Lots of green along Hwy 16
Large clouds
Small flowers 
Old brick buildings line the main street
Hotel Antlers - of course
Built in 1867
The Weston County Courthouse is beautiful, but I fail to take a photo.

It's a warm and windy day, a nice day for a drive, and we enjoy just being out seeing the sights - in a strong-running, air-conditioned Jeep!

Monday we're back to the dealership to get Piper ready for towing.

For those who aren't fans of the cable television show Orange is the New Black, Piper is the main character :-).

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A Day On the Battlefield

Monday, July 25 - Tuesday, July 26, 2016
Garryowen, Montana

Some places have been on my list of must-experience long before there was any thought of traveling full-time.

Little Bighorn Battlefield is one of them. It's why we're in the area for a couple days.

Sadly, our first day we head to Pierce RV Supercenter in Billings, MT, for a 9 am appointment. This wasn't on the list :-(

This place is huge. The reason I'm able to get in so quickly is because they have a Same Day Service program. You pay extra for it, and most warranties don't cover it (just the additional cost, it doesn't change what the warranty covers), but I think it's brilliant to have this option. Otherwise we can get in two weeks from now.

While waiting to sign-in there is a 5er being moved up to the bays with the forklift. All slides are open and the stairs are down. I'm feeling pretty good about just having one slide issue!

After a good breakfast at a local coffee shop recommended by the service tech, we return to see if they've made any progress. They've diagnosed a bad wire and are working on it.

It's so hot that hanging out in the air conditioned waiting area sounds preferable to exploring.

I really like the Minnie - it  has no slides and no steps!
Tessa is one of five dogs enjoying the cool carpet - these two are such clowns
We go check out the nearby Yellowstone River Campground to see what a $81/night place looks like. It looks like a $40/night place so I have no idea why it's over half full. It's nice, but not that nice!

Next we stop at the Jeep dealer and check out the Wrangler Unlimiteds on the lot. We've never sat in one, and we do that. Very sweet, we could be happy with one. Not today.

Another few hours and the rig is ready to go. Even with the additional hourly rate, and nearly nine hours of work, the cost is surprisingly reasonable. Best of all, we've only lost a day to get it fixed.

Having no desire to return to Hardin, MT, we continue to Garryowen and 7th Ranch RV Park. And find one of my favorite parks so far. After the worst park the night before, this is a beautiful place. Set in the rolling hills with terraced sites that all have lovely views to the south, it feels wonderful here. It's still light at 8:30, and is the latest we've ever arrived.

Views from our front yard 
About 11 pm the lightning show begins. The clouds illuminate like dozens of photographers using their flash just beyond the gray veil. Occasional brilliant strikes add to the powerful exhibition. Soon thunder, wind and rain join in, and then pass on within 45 minutes. Wonderful!

Monday we're out early to see the battlefield before the heat of midday makes it too uncomfortable. The "symptoms" of the Jeep's illness include not being able to run the air conditioner while traveling at slow speeds. Like when you're driving through a national monument.....sigh.

Everyone has the same plan, and the parking lot and visitor's center are packed. Standing room only for the small theater room. Outside there's seating available for the ranger talk so we join that. 

Exhibits include artifacts from the local tribes
and photos and documents of Custer and other army officers
Telling the very detailed story of the Battle of Little Bighorn
This Ranger really knows the history of the battle, and the days surrounding it, and does a great job of sharing it with us. Hearing the story while looking at the scene of Custer's Last Stand makes it very real. With few exceptions, the area looks much the same as it did on June 26, 1876.

The large cemetery includes veterans from multiple wars, reaching capacity in 1978. 

With the details of what happened where, we drive the 4 mile loop. The interpretive signs highlight specific locations where different companies of the 7th Calvary engaged warriors led by Crazy Horse and other tribal leaders.

At 45, Sitting Bull remains behind at the huge camp along the river, and he is here when the cavalry opens fire on  women, children and elders 
Soon the warriors arrive and drive Reno's company across the river
This river, at exactly this spot! Walking history is so much cooler than just reading it!!
Headstones of unknown soldiers spread out throughout the hills and gullys
make the loss of life very real
A combination of survivor accounts and identified bodies tell the story of what happened in each location
A small herd is walking along the road and this beauty stops and looks in my window, waiting while I get his photo before moving on
His buddy couldn't be bothered with a cameo.....
The monument at Custer's Last Stand is huge with the names of all who fell here that day. The remains of enlisted men are buried beneath the large stonework. The officers' bodies were removed from the initial burial site and returned to the east. Custer was re-buried at West Point. His two brothers and nephew died with him on this hill.

Memorial to 7th Cavalry soldiers who died in the final battle
Marking where they fell. Custer's stone is highlighted in black.

Across the road is the Indian Memorial, dedicated in 2003 to the warriors who lost their lives in this famous battle. Long overdue. 

While the original monument is interesting, this circular memorial is moving. I read every word, some through tears. It is not sad, it is inspiring. It is powerful.

"If this memorial is to serve its total purpose, it must not only be a tribute to the dead; it must contain a message for the living...power through unity..."
Enos Poor Bear, Sr., Oglala Lakota Elder

All the tribes that fought and died here are represented 
We still don't get it
Often vilified as traitors to their people, the Indian scouts who fought with the army are also honored here
You enter the circle through one portal, and depart from another
As the ranger said in his presentation, it was Custer's last stand, and also that of the natives. Never again were they to win a major battle against the white man, this was ultimately their ending.

Those who died in their home land were identified by family and friends who lived there
Far from their homes, most of the soldiers were unidentified 
I would love to return when the temperatures are milder and walk the Deep Ravine Trail. Most of the major sites are identified along the road, but there are many on the walking path throughout the park as well. 

After lunch at the lone cafe (good food, good service, very nice store), we stop at the Custer Battlefield Museum. 

From the website and brochure I'm not expecting a cheesy gift shop and Subway. Out front is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Dedicated in 1926 by General Edward Godfrey, who fought at the Battle of Little Bighorn, and White Bull, Sitting Bull's nephew. Along with the remains, they buried a hatchet and other artifacts. Thus the "bury the hatchet" reference for agreeing to move forward after a disagreement. It is a pretty significant memorial to be found in a gas station parking lot. I find the surroundings a bit insulting.

The museum is a private undertaking, receiving no government or foundation funding so I cut them some slack and pay the $7.50 each to enter past the red rope.

Where my opinion immediately changes. This is a small museum, but it holds an incredible collection. There is no photography allowed. I admit to sneaking a couple on my phone, but I won't share them here. 

Many artifacts from the battle were uncovered when I-90 was built, and several of those are displayed here. Rifles and other weapons, tools and camp items, even belt buckles and buttons. 

Perhaps the most impressive exhibit is the collection of photographs by David F. Barry. His individual photos of the warriors and officers line three of the walls. Most are taken before the fight and include many who did not return. Others are taken afterward, some the day before the warriors and their families were forced back to the reservations. 

The journal of John Martin (Martini) who carried Custer's last orders to Reno, includes what Martin writes are pieces of Custer's hair. He doesn't explain their significance.

We watch a 40 minute documentary, narrated by author Jerry Orbach, which sounds very much like the ranger talk we heard earlier. In some cases word-for-word. Still, we learn more about Custer's 100 other battles, including Civil War victories that won him two Medal of Honor citations. His brother Tom was also awarded. While arrogant and driven are the words used to describe him, he is also recognized as a leader who lead from the front. Like Miracle Whip, he was either loved very much, or hated very much.

So if you stop here and are tempted to keep going when you pull up, don't. It is a worthwhile stop, and a great addition to what you'll see at the national monument. I can't say which "order" would be best to see them, they just work together.

Tuesday night we are entertained with a repeat performance of lightning in all directions. With the lights out and the blinds up, we watch the show. It's even more spectacular than the night before. Again we get the rain and wind, but soon it passes to the east and all is calm.

I am so very glad we stopped here, I already want to come back.