On Friday, May 21st, Gwen picked up Marshall at work around 10:00 a.m. and they went home to pack the car. This year they would be traveling in Gwen’s mother’s Chrysler Minivan. It has a digital compass built in and it needs no calibration. As a show of good faith and fairness, they agreed that she, Artilla, could come along. Since she had driven up from Texas it just didn’t seem right to leave her behind. The stated purpose of this trip was to broaden the grand kids knowledge of the world and it is to be an educational trip. The grand kids couldn’t get out of school until 1:00 so Gwen went to pick up some lunch around 11:00 while Marshall packed the van. In the meantime, Northern States Power began doing some upgrade work in the neighbor and turned off the power. That was ok since we had been forewarned and did not need the power for anything else anyway. The automatic fish feeders were in place, and battery operated, and Bernie the World Famous Guinea Pig was visiting some friends.
Gwen came back with some fried chicken and two big "SURPRISES" in the form of Alan and Amber. They had all conspired to surprise Marshall with an early departure and it had worked! The grand kids had both gone to their teachers and had asked for permission to leave early. For some reason I get the feeling that there may have been a slight ulterior motive here but what the heck.
After a quick lunch we loaded up and left on a song and a prayer. A prayer by Gwen for her late father, Bennie, to watch over us and to pull a few strings and provide us with some good vacationing weather. The song was Tommy Emmanuel’s "Villa de Martin". A wonderful soft jazz instrumental by the four-time winner of Australia’s "Best Guitarist" award. Amber and Alan, the grand kids, started opening their "goody bags" and were surprised to find some highly sought after items: game boys and Barbie doll art kits among other items. We are off!
We rolled across the hills and farmland of Minnesota and crossed the Red River. For you folks to the south; "No, not that one"! This one runs north into Canada and has nothing to do with separating Texas from Oklahoma. All Texans are very thankful for that other Red River though! We passed through Fargo and traveled rapidly across North Dakota. This is the prettiest that I have ever seen North Dakota; lush and green and plenty of water. Even at it’s best we still have no desire to slow down until we stop that evening for a picnic. It is nice and cool and the kids get a chance to run. When we reach the western side of the state and the "Painted Canyon" or the badlands of North Dakota, we stop again to take in the scenery and stretch our legs. Alan thinks this area is "super".
As we continue down the road we run into a most unusual thunderstorm. It is raining so hard that the wipers can barely clear the rain away, but the sun is shining so brightly that I can barely see! Amber banged her head on the window and said that she saw stars. We asked her if she hit her head hard enough to …."rattle her teeth" or …"knock herself silly". She said that she did not. Marshall told her that she should be happy that she did not hit her head so hard that "sparks flew from her behind". Amber responded that if that had happened we would be able to call her "Sparky"!
A short while later we stopped for the night in Glendive, Montana. Amber has not stayed in too many motel rooms and was fascinated by the fact that there was a "Holy Bible" in every room. We covered about 600 miles in about 10 hours. Not too bad!
We arose the next morning and had a Montana sized breakfast. When they sat Alan’s plate down his eyes got almost the size of the pancakes on his plate. He had never seen pancakes the size of a plate before and he had two of them to eat! He gave them a run for their money and we headed west again.
This is the country that Marshall worked in for a short period back in the oil boom of ’81. It was actually a little further to the north in the Sydney, Culbertson, and Bainville area but that is another story all together. That story is probably best left untold but you will meet one of the characters from that period later on.
We drove down the Yellowstone River valley through ever changing scenery. We travel through both wide and narrow valleys, over rolling hills and steep and winding roads. On our way to the Little Bighorn Battlefield the kids get their first glimpse of real mountains; the Bighorns. They are off in the distance, about 100 miles away, and Marshall has trouble convincing them that they are not clouds but are indeed snow-covered mountains. Amber wants to climb them.
When we arrive at the Little Bighorn Battlefield we watch a film about Custer and Crazy Horse. Custer obviously thought highly of himself and his men. He took 400 men and attacked 10.000 Indians. Dumb ass white man. We tour the battlefield. The kids and Artilla are surprised to find that the battlefield covers almost four miles. Seems like things got a bit on the hectic side and a might scattered at some point.
The road leads west through Billings to Red Lodge, Montana. What a beautiful old town this is. We stopped by to see Hungarian artist's, Peter Toth, Indian sculpture. Marshall happened through here back in 1980 when all that was carved were the feathers. It is still a fine piece of work. Toth has now placed a totem pole in each of the 50 states and another 15 in Canada as a part of his "Trail of Tears" sculptures. His purpose in doing so, he said, was to promote unity among all people.
Bear Tooth Pass is accessed through this town but it is not going to be open until at least the first of June. It seems that the snow is still a little on the deep side at 10,900 feet. That is a shame because this is one of the most awesome drives in the country.
We do drive up the canyon and let the kids run up and down the creek (that is pronounced "crick" in these parts). We seem to have stumbled upon the perfect combination: kids, water, rocks and an occasional snowball. The kids love it. They run up and down the banks scrambling over boulders and throwing rocks of every size. They are firing off snow and ice balls from a patch of snow hidden in the shadows. Alan is throwing the biggest rocks he can pick up into the deepest pools he can find. He has figured out that the bigger the rock and the deeper the pool, the louder the sound that is made. We leave here and drive on toward Livingston. This is a beautiful drive over rolling green hills and clear creeks and rivers. We pass small and large ranches along the way. There are calves, colts and lambs everywhere. There are snow-capped mountains to the south and west. Amber is convinced that she can climb them all if we would just pull over and let her show us. I tell her I will let her climb tomorrow. She is satisfied with this as we pull into Livingston
A friend of Marshall’s (some say his only friend), Sam Senecal, is supposed to meet the group for breakfast. Sam and Marshall met during the oil boom of ’81 out in eastern Montana. Sam is originally from Missoula in western Montana; Marshall is originally from various cities and towns in south Texas. The odds of these two meeting at all are pretty slim. The odds of them meeting and becoming good friends are astronomical. The odds of them meeting this morning are becoming questionable or is Sam just fashionably late? As the group is sitting down for breakfast Marshall is paged for a phone call. Sam is just over the hill in Bozeman having coffee with a friend that he stayed with last night. He should be here in about 20 minutes.
We order breakfast; we finish breakfast; Marshall paces the parking lot. Sam finally arrives in his, what the heck is that he’s driving? Sam has shown up in some unusual rides in the past but what is this? A Ford what? An E-X-P? What the heck is that? Does anyone else own one? After hugs and handshakes all around, Marshall piles in with Sam and the two-car caravan heads south to Yellowstone. Sam is sporting a ghoststache; you know, one of those white mustaches. In a matter of minutes Sam and Marshall are both laughing as usual. Anytime the two get together it is nothing but laughs the whole time. It seems like only last week that the two last saw each other; not eight years ago!
We stop in Gardiner, Montana just before entering Yellowstone and Alan joins Sam and Marshall. As we drive south into the park, Marshall points out to Alan that the river is flowing up hill. Alan is not buying this for one minute. He informs Sam and Marshall that this is an optical illusion. Sam informs Alan that this is not an optical illusion but that it is "optical confusion". Alan agrees that he is confused about whatever it is that Sam and Marshall are laughing about now.
We get to Mammoth Hot Springs and go for a stroll… up hill. It is amazing how quickly you become winded at 6,800 feet. Marshall is assigned to keep up with the kids; God help him! Amber is in a dead run uphill and shows no signs of slowing down. Alan is asking Marshall questions about what he sees around him. Marshall gives him an explanation in between gasping for breath and walking quickly up hill. The springs have really dried up from 10 years ago. The formations are mostly white and there is very little activity here now. There are two or three small areas of activity but that is about it.
On the way to Tower Falls we hit a wildlife bonanza. We see elk, mule deer, antelope, coyote, buffalo, Stellar’s jays, magpies, and chipmunks. This is where Marshall plans on letting Amber do a little climbing. We have a little picnic lunch and then Sam reveals the scar where his leg attacked a chain saw. The chain saw won hands down. Logging is tough business. We are going to the bottom of Tower Falls. There is a winding trail that drops around twenty stories over a half mile of zigging and zagging. Sam, Marshall, Alan and Amber make the descent. At the bottom the fall generates it’s own wind and drizzle. The spring runoff has the falls roaring like Marshall has never seen before. This is his third trip to the bottom but the water has never been pouring over like this. After some pictures and more rock chunking and climbing, the crew heads back to the top. Amber is in the lead and thinks the whole thing is a cakewalk. After walking up 20 stories, she wants to know when we are going to climb something!
We double back and around to Norris Geyser Basin since Dunraven Pass is still closed on the east side of the park. The kids really like the geyser basin even though this one is not all that great. As we head east over to the big waterfalls, we stop for some sweat and snow pictures. It is 70 degrees out and there is snow all around us. We get to the upper and lower falls of the Yellowstone River and the water is THUNDERING over the falls. Artilla is completely awed by the power of the water and the falls. We go back across the park to West Yellowstone; Sam and Marshall are laughing all the way. Alan thinks they are nuts. We eat at Bullwinkle’s (Wayne’s moose?) and have a fantastic meal. The place is a little pricey but the food more than makes up for it.
At breakfast the next morning, Sam and Marshall keep everyone at the table laughing. They have the waiter and the cashier laughing. If they could put this in a bottle and sell it they would be rich! That’s about right though, the only thing that they are really good at is not something you can't collect on. Ain’t life grand?
We head back to the park and continue on through the Midway and Lower Geyser Basins and paint pots. We run across a rock chuck hanging out around the walkways. How do we know this is a rock chuck? We asked Sam; he’s on home turf. We spend all morning walking and taking in the geysers. We finally work our way around to the big one but first we take one more side trip and see the Aurum Geyser erupt. This is a good one and the kids love it. We time our walk back so that we arrive just before Old Faithful erupts. This is the highlight of Alan’s trip; he thinks it is "sweet". Amber thinks it is a bunch of hot water in the air. A tough critic, this one. She finally concedes that it was "neat".
Gwen stops at a restroom and loses the keys to the minivan. This starts a manhunt that ends when Marshall finds the keys in the ignition! It seems like the alarm on the minivan quits after a while if you leave the keys in the ignition. Alan issues his grand mother a "no-brain" ticket. We drive down the road to a secluded picnic area that Marshall remembers from past visits; this is number sixteen! It is a lot more secluded than normal. There is a single lane entering the area for about 50 feet and the snow is waist to chest high all around. This does not dampen anyone’s spirits. We back Sam’s car in and use his hood for a picnic table. This is a nice spot and we are visited by a mouse and a chipmunk. The chipmunk is an absolute hoot. He snatches crumbs here and there and goes bounding out over the snow like "Pepe LePew". The kids, all of them young and old, are playing in the snow. After lunch the inevitable snowball fight occurs. There are no winners. Sam has to head back to Deer Lodge. We all say our good byes and head east. It was nice while it lasted.
On Yellowstone Lake there is a geyser basin. You have the geysers with the lake and the Absoraka Mountains in the background; it is absolutely beautiful. This area is much more active than in the past. The lake is about 7500 feet in elevation and it is still frozen over. We go north to the source of the Yellowstone River. The kids are excited about seeing where the river that they crisscrossed for last few days begins.
From here we head east over Sylvan Pass and down the canyon to Cody, Wyoming. Along the way we came upon a couple of mountain goats. These were the first that Marshall had seen in Wyoming.
On Tuesday we sleep in until 6:30. Gwen and Artilla take on Cody while Marshall takes the grand kids to the Bill Cody Historical Center. The center contains the Bill Cody Museum, the Plains Indian Museum, a firearms museum, and a western arts museum with a lot of Charles Russell and Frederick Remington pieces. A large painting of Bighorn Sheep fascinated Alan and Amber. No matter where you stood in the room, the head of the sheep was staring directly at you; not just the eyes but the entire face. It fascinated Marshall, too. Alan loved the museum but then he loves nearly all museums. He especially liked the Gatlin gun and the Tommy gun. Amber liked it for about an hour. She especially liked the beadwork on the plains Indian outfits. It was entirely too much walking but she hung in there for about four hours. This is a huge museum. Since she was a sport we went to Dairy Queen for lunch and ice cream.
That afternoon we went to "Trail Town". This was a project that was started back in the late ‘70s. The fellow that runs the place started gathering up some of the historical buildings around Wyoming and brought them together in one place. He started this project on donations, several from Marshall over the years, and has really assembled a great collection of buildings, furnishings, and even graves. Yeah, graves. Jeremiah "Livereating" Johnston was re-interred here after being moved from California. One of the buildings used to be the hide out of the "Hole in the Wall Gang". You know, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’s gang. There are saloons, complete with bullet holes, schools, stores and other buildings. It is really a great place.
We went to Irma’s for dinner. Irma’s is the hotel built by Bill Cody and named after his daughter. The back bar was a gift from the Queen of England and is made of cherry wood. The have a wonderful prime rib here and Gwen and Marshall always look forward to dinner here. Artilla now agrees with them. The kids were really excited to be eating in a place built by Buffalo Bill!
The next morning we are up early and head for the Bighorn Mountains. We decide on the southern route up Ten Sleep Canyon.
We see three moose on the way up the canyon. There are two adults and a calf. This is a beautiful drive and there is plenty of snow on Cloud Peak Pass at 9666 feet. Amber assures us that she can climb the snow-covered peaks if we will just stop and let her show us.
We cruise east over the Powder River Breaks to Devil’s Tower. We stop to wander through the prairie dog. They are really irritated about this and bark at us all the way. There are little ones all over the place and the kids are in awe. We go up closer to Devil’s Tower and Amber tries convincing us that she can climb it. She does get to climb around in the boulder field at the bottom of the tower. This is not enough though, she still wants to climb the big one! We stop in Spearfish, South Dakota for the night.
The next morning we drive up Spearfish Canyon and into the Black Hills. There has been on heck of a windstorm down this canyon! The tops of some trees have been snapped off for miles and miles. Not one or two trees but hundreds and hundreds of trees! We go through Lead and pass the gold mine. We go on down to Keystone and the highlight of Amber’s trip; Mount Rushmore. She is really excited about this one and yes she wants to climb this too! We go on to Crazy Horse Monument and the wonderful museums there. The kids were amazed to learn that Mount Rushmore will fit on Crazy Horse’s face. This is going to be one big statue.
We take a slight detour down to Hot Springs and a surprise stop that no one has been told about. This is the sight of an ancient sinkhole that contains the remains of a known 51 mammoths. Forty-eight are pre-Columbian mammoths and three are Wooly mammoths. This is a dig that is housed inside a building and it is a truly fascinating place. The bones are all in place and there are several nearly complete skeletons. This is a big hit with everyone but Artilla is really amazed at this one.
The next morning we go up to Hill City and start with a little shopping and some Gwen pleasing. Marshall and Artilla are forced, at gunpoint, to participate in a "old time photo shoot". We both elect to be shot but have a change of heart and participate in the photo since Gwen does not ask much of us. Alan and Amber are willing participants and it turns out to be a good way to kill a little time. Why were we killing time? We were waiting for a train.
The train we were waiting for runs on the Black Hills Central Railroad and travels to Keystone and back; about 20 miles round trip. It is powered by a steam and climbs some incredible grades. At 10 miles an hour it takes a while. We saw woodchuck, mule deer, ducks and colts along the way. This is a pleasant trip through the hills. You pass by old mines and farms and several historic sights. This is right up Amber’s alley. Kick back, take your shoes off, prop your feet up and watch the scenery roll by. No walking!
Later we went to Rushmore Cavern "The Prettiest in the Black Hills". All I can say is if this is the prettiest I don’t need to see anymore.
We took a scenic drive back to the room. We went through Custer State Park and had a real enjoyable drive. We saw pronghorns (antelope), mule deer with antlers in velvet, and a huge gathering of buffalo. There were probably 400 – 500 animals all in a small valley. Amber got out and surveyed the situation. She placed both hands on her hips and uttered these great words of wisdom, "Where there’s a herd, there’s a turd". Needless to say, we all lost it and headed back to the room in Custer.
"Where there's a herd, there's a turd"
On Saturday we were up on Central Time about 5:00 a.m. Mountain Time. We drove back across Custer State Park and on to Rapid City and then the Badlands National Park. We let the kids out let them run around some. We head on to Wall Drug for a short stop and then roll east. We stopped at the "1880 Town" for lunch. We ate at the ‘50s Diner. What a mistake that was. Next time I’ll eat dirt. It could not be any worse! We make a mad dash for the house and arrive home about 9:30.
About a mile from the house Gwen is rolling right along. A police car approaches her and flips his lights on. Oh no, a ticket a mile from home? It is Gwen’s lucky day because the lights go off and the police car continue on their way. A visual warning. Imagine our surprise when we pull in the driveway and nearly every light in the house is on! Since the power was off when we left, we never thought to go around and turn them off!
We only had two thunderstorms along the way. The weather was beautiful and nothing went wrong. Thanks for the string pulling Bennie!
~ The End ~