Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Day 8 - Devil's Tower to Billings

Day eight started with the realization that there had been no close encounters of any kind during our brief stay.  I really hoped to see a spacecraft or Richard Dreyfus.  It was a mere 43 degrees when we got up and chilly enough to fire up the electric fireplace complete with glowing flames.  I know, it's really roughing it but one must stay warm.  Before preparing breakfast, I went outside to get one last pic of the whale in all her splendor.  Then Lowell agreed to model his new oilskin duster coat and since the usual method of photographing him is "spray and pray" I had to take the opportunity.  The fifth wheel stranger in the photo was at a neighboring site.  The folks traveling in her have had it for only a month.  It is 41 feet long and their last camping rig was a tent!  The trailer made Brett very happy because it broke down just after they parked it.  He being one who loves to go visit with the neighbors actually figured out the problem and helped then get it sorted out.  Hope he can do the same should any misfortune arise for us.  We started about 8:30am this morning.  Our first chore was to wait for the pilot car to lead us through the avalanche area again.  Upon closer examination, it was revealed that one whole side of the road had slipped off the side of the mountain and said side was being rebuilt.  Glad I was nowhere near when that happened.  The GPS did not make us backtrack our incoming route and we were able to go about 30 miles on a non-interstate to enjoy a closer look at the scenery.  We all agree that these roads are nicer for getting a good look at things but sometimes when you need to get from point A to point B and you need to get there with your house behind you it is easier to rely on the interstates. 
Some things noticed were:
Water (in the form of a lake) which turned out to be the Keyhole Resevoir.  This was formed by the Keyhole Dam on the Belle Fourche River.  It is quite low because of the drought but still looks very big out here in the vast spaces.   Yesterday I had been wondering who Belle Fourche was and why there was a town and a river named after her.  Turns out there is no lady by that name.  French trappers named it when they settled in the vicinity and engaged in fur trading.  It means "pretty fork".   We saw a lot of evidence of fires.  These trees were burned not too long ago and throughout the day we saw many spots where the land was simply scorched black.  None of the photos are really clear today as the air did have a lot of smoke in it from all the active fires in the region.  We could see the smoke plumes from several in the region as we threaded our way through.

 The cow statue was found at a truck stop in Moorcroft, WY.  Just as we were about to get back into the truck, another truck pulling a little 1964 Scotty travel trailer stopped beside us.  The wife says "Maine?".  But of course.  And, small world, they tell us that they are from Freeport on their way to Yellowstone.  They came by because the wife noticed Lowell, who was wearing his hat, and she thought she had spotted a real cowboy! I panicked and failed to get their names or take their picture.   

There was a sign advertising fresh doughnuts.  Brett really wanted a doughnut but the sign was on the other side of the road.  Brett:  We could turn around.  Lowell:  Three point turns are for sissies.  I've watched James Bond.  Just get up a good head of steam and turn the wheel really fast.  The force will swing the trailer right around with us.  Brett:  And when we all regain consciousness we can discuss why that wasn't a very good idea.  We didn't get any doughnuts.

We also saw a few flocks of sheep.  This was a nice break from all the cows.  Also present were pronghorn antelope.  I copied this photo from Wikipedia.

File:Pronghorn antelope.jpg
They just wander around with the cows and help themselves to all the best grass.  We saw more of them each time there was any kind of irrigation.  Wyoming is famous for their pronghorn hunting.

We also saw evidence of industry other than ranching.  There were a fair number of oil wells scattered about.  Then we noticed several very long trains pulling coal cars.   A while later there appeared to be mining taking place.  This doesn't look like dig in a hole in the ground mining but rather the scrape it all off the top version.  The land here is so eroded that I'm not sure it's really easy to tell whether Mother Nature or Man had a hand in it.  Then we saw a few of these factory type building.  I couldn't determine precisely what they were up to here but it must be related to the coal.  I did read that the whole area is enjoying a sort of economic resurgence due to the extraction of methane from coal.  

This is very barren country.  The word desolate comes to mind.  We saw a lot of these heavy duty fences lining the roads.  I learned that these are two meter tall wooden snow fences.  They sure look a lot sturdier than the orange plastic ones that I remember from Presque Isle.  I'm thinking that I also wouldn't care to be near here in the winter if it takes this kind of fencing to keep the drifts off the road.  Yikes!

I guess these fences really impressed me because they've shown up twice in my photos.  Another charming sight (not) was the
abandoned car junk yard right by the highway.  Honestly, you'd think with this much space around you might want to leave the really trashy things a bit further from the main road!
In amongst all the ups and downs of this land we came upon one flat, green space.  It was the 4.5 square mile city of Buffalo, WY(population 4500) and it did look like an oasis sprawling along.

I am sorry to say Wyoming that if I were coming across your state in my covered wagon and I stopped to see what was coming, I would burst into tears.  What on earth motivated a person to keep moving through and what would have caused them to stop and live here?
The Wyoming state motto is "Equal Rights".  I propose changing it to simply "Why?"

The hilly photo was taken from the rest area where we stopped for lunch. 

As we approached Billings there were a few more trees in evidence.

We also noticed a lot of long tailed black birds which were probably black billed magpies.

Trucks full of sugar beets started showing up around Hardin, MT.  Irrigated sugar beets are a big crop in this area and they are expecting to have a record harvest this year.  The trucks are taking the beets to the beet dump where they wait in huge piles until the refinery needs feeding.

I also saw a stockyard on the Billings outskirts.  Mercifully it was not full of stock.  And I saw my first cowboy in official cowboy duds riding an official cowboy horse. 

Our 295.5 miles of driving today got us to the Billings KOA on the Yellowstone River in the outskirts of Billings.  This was the very first KOA and has been open since 1962.  It is very well tended and has an interesting view.  The river runs between these bluffs and the cement wall.  We were told that when it is running high it comes right up to the wall.  We couldn't find any water in it today.

We've taken a trip to Albertson's grocery store to stock up for our 4 days at Yellowstone.  Everybody is very excited to see what adventures will unfold on our first trip to this national park. 

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