Wednesday morning at Greg’s, there was some confusion about when the kids were leaving for camp, and we ended up getting up earlier than needed to say goodbye to them – but it was ok, because we got to spend some more time with them. Then we drove down to Portland and got there around three. We got to see my friend Roz’s old apartment (and cats) and her new house, a lovely little cottage in a nice neighborhood, and met her boyfriend. I went with her to pick up some paint and some pizza, which we ate for dinner out on her deck. Then John went to the hotel and she took me out for desert and some “girl time” chatting.
Thursday we spent wandering Portland (downtown and the eastside) and then met up with my high school friend Daniela and grad school friend Rick for dinner. We had some good food at a Thai place that was basically a bar with appetizer-sized portions of food – this let us try lots of different things. Then we went to desert with them too, then (a bit late) got on the road. We drove along I84 to Boardman, OR, which we had picked as a reasonable stopping point. In the AM I walked to town (such as it were) and walked along the river, where I saw few people and a fair number of birds.
We decided our next stop would be Bozeman, MT so we called and made a reservation there for Friday night. The drive was quite beautiful but much of it was along smaller roads and the day was very long. (Luckily the last part was interstate between Missoula and Bozeman, and luckily John can handle late night driving.) Highlights of the drive included: (1) a camel in a field with a few horses (there was a sign on the fence identifying him as Izzy and saying that he was available for birthdays etc.) (2) a stop at a gas station that also sold horse feed (3) dinner in a tiny town a bit before the entry to the Nez Perce and then Lolo National Forests where, at about 6 PM, they told us it was another 4 hours to Missoula (turned out to only be three, or three and a half) (4) a brief chat with a couple of bikers at another gas station whose t-shirts said “veterans for peace” and who told us it was less time to Missoula (yeehaw). Driving in the country at sunset tends to be gorgeous, though the downside is that it usually means there will also be driving in the dark later.
We got to Bozeman quite late but slept well. In the morning I checked online and found a breakfast place called Stockyard Cafe that was sufficiently off the beaten path that John didn’t quite believe we were on the right road as we drove to it. But we were, and it was good. Seemed to be a bit of a locals-in-the-know place but also, clearly, there were lots of visitors – presumably most of them found them the same way we did. The food was good and the atmosphere was fun and a little funky. The waitress got irked at John for taking pictures but forgave him when it turned out they were both cat people.
Saturday morning we headed off towards Yellowstone. We entered from the north and drove along the northeastern corner of the loop, leaving at the eastern entrance. We saw lots of dead trees (oddly beautiful), several buffalo (oddly close and non-threatening, though the signs suggested otherwise), three or four American white pelicans, and the “grand canyon of Yellowstone” which also entailed a couple of waterfalls. We also stopped at a few random places along the road. We didn’t walk up to the (single) petrified tree, framed by a fence, but did go for a short hike by the grand canyon. It was interesting that although there were dozens of people on the paved walking path and the “view” areas, virtually no one ventured onto the trail although it was clear and not really that steep – we only saw two or three others.
We headed out of Yellowstone going east, toward our night’s desitation of Sheridan, WY. It was sunset and really, really gorgeous, very quiet and peaceful. John took some nice pictures of the moon rising over mountains when we stopped to clean up a spill in the car. We saw the Buffalo Bill State Park and dam (yet another dam!) and drove through a really cool tunnel. We stopped in Cody for dinner, where we asked a random man with a child where was a good place to get dinner and it turned out he was also a traveller. He said he was from Europe (Hungary; I asked) and that he wouldn’t eat at an Italian restaurant (which he had walked by a few minutes earlier) here in the US. We ended up at a fairly nice restaurant where John had a ball (not slice) of steak that was listed on the menu as a “baseball” cut and I had lamb chops.
Then we kept driving east. There was some construction, which was a bit disconcerting, and what appeared to be a small airport (later googling suggested it was an airplane museum/graveyard of some sort) outside of a tiny town called Greybull. Stopped there for gas, and John wanted to buy a Redbull in Greybull. Done. Kept going and ended up in the Bighorn National Forest. No one at all there – we passed maybe one, maybe two, cars for the next two or three hours. There were some signs pointing to rock walls stating the type of rock, or maybe it was the layer, and the age — in 100s of millions or in billions of years. One of my goals for this trip had been to see the Milky Way. This seemed like the perfect place to try, though the full moon seemed likely to interfere, so we stopped at a lookout. Alas, John asked, “what is that light?” that was showing on the rock wall opposite us – the moon was so bright that at first he thought it was artificial light. Very cool, but not a prayer of seeing the Milky Way. On and off we have been listening to Heinlein’s The Cat Who Walked Through Walls. Somehow it seemed particularly fitting on this part of the drive, which felt almost sci fi all by itself. Closer to the interstate, passed a town where the population was listed as 600-something and at least 100 people were standing outside a single building. This at somewhere around 1 AM on a saturday night.
Sunday morning we drove through lots of nothing to Moorcroft, WY, which was the exit for Devils Tower. The only notable thing on this part of the drive was the absence of cars and the fact that I saw a completely unmarked exit off I90 that was a dirt road. We also saw a coal plant of some sort just east of Gillette.
On the way to Devils Tower we tried to help a guy whose diesel pickup had broken down. No luck except for letting him use my cell phone, which actually got service (as opposed to his or John’s). Several other people also came by and offered suggestions or sympathy while we tried to help. After a bit, we drove him to a nearby KOA so he could, he hoped, talk to his insurance people from a landline. We went on to the tower itself. We went on a short hike around the tower and took lots of pictures. It was a nice hike and a nice area, but in some ways I thought the tower itself was more impressive from a distance. I did like that there seemed to be an effort to balance mainstream tourism with the Native American regard for the place as a holy site.
We then stopped in Deadwood for dinner. It turns out that pretty much everything in Deadwood is inside a casino, so we ate at a Chinese restaurant in a casino. Then came along to our motel in Rapid City and got here at the ridiculously early hour of 10:15 PM. This one is owned/run by a couple, and they usually close the office at 10. The man had said he’d leave our key taped to the door, but he had instead kept the office open and greeted us himself. Very nice.
Monday – yesterday – we had bagels in Rapid City for brunch. A man came by, asked if we were local, and told us that this restaurant belonged to his son and daughter-in-law. Then we drove around a bit, checking out the woods in the area. There are several one-lane bridges that frame views of Mt. Rushmore. We also took an 1880s steam train that went from Hill City to Keystone and back. It is the only working model of this type of train left in the world. Pretty cool to ride, but kind of sooty from the engine. Interesting to see things along the way, too. Dinner in Hill City, then we went to Mt. Rushmore, saw the statues at sunset and heard part of a performance by a military band. We saw a goat silhouetted next to the statues, but had decided to try to enjoy something without the cameras (except the iphone, which barely counts) and so we weren’t able to take any pictures – though it was kind of cooler for just enjoying it as is without trying to catch it. Stayed at the same motel as Sunday night. Today it is off to the Badlands.