Ah, but you can, Tom! Perhaps what you find when you go back depends on
your expectations, why you left, and how long ago it was . . .
After living in Billings, Montana for eighteen years, Jim
had about enough of snow, what he calls the "S" word. Even though Billings is
jokingly called Montana's "banana belt," Jim endured some really frigid weather
and seemingly endless winters there before I joined him in late 1999. The five
winters I spent in Billings were unseasonably warm and dry. I was lucky to not
full force of a normal winter there.
I never had to deal with much snow in twenty-five years in
southern or central Ohio or the same amount of time in the Atlanta, Georgia
area. I was initially intrigued by the snow in Billings - until about the third
time I had to shovel it!! Neither Jim nor I could run as well as we wanted for
about eight months of the year because of the ice, slush, snow, and frigid wind.
We don't really enjoy skiing or snow shoeing. We just aren't "snow people" like
the friends we left behind when we moved to warmer climes two years ago.
We didn't leave Billings because we hated it. It's a nice
little city with great people that we miss. We loved the
summers and early fall, when we could drive one or two hours and be in the spectacular
Beartooth or Bighorn Mountains. But we could enjoy that only three or four
months of the year. We moved to find weather more suited to our lifestyle all
That meant moving somewhere without really high mountains.
The mountains closest to our new home in Virginia are in the 3,000-4,000 foot
range. We can run there all but about ten days of the year. And I can garden
most of the year, too, which is impossible in Montana.
The main thing besides the people that we miss about living out West? You guessed
it - the big mountains! So out we came for the summer. And back we'll go to
Virginia before the snow starts flying again out here.
That's our compromise - a real house for a home base
somewhere temperate, and our "mobile home" (camper) to enjoy the Rockies in the
REMINISCING IN BILLINGS
We are camped only a couple hours south of
Billings. Because of the high cost of fuel, we plan to visit friends and family
there on only two or three occasions while we are here.
The first trip up was today. It is a
beautiful drive along I-90 through hilly rangeland. Lots of pretty purple
flowers carpeted the ground among the clumps of sage brush. Despite a continual
drought on the east side of the Bighorn Range, the trees and grasses are mostly
Our freeway exit is only nine miles
from the Montana border. Much of the way is through the Crow Indian Reservation,
passing close to the famous Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument (of General George Armstrong Custer fame/notoriety).
We noticed a new entrance display with interesting metal sculptures at the more
southerly freeway exit to the battlefield.
When we passed through Wyoming two days ago, we saw
numerous pronghorn antelope grazing on tender grasses near the freeway.
It was unusual enough to us to be very noticeable. Same thing going to Billings. Sometimes they're alone, sometimes in groups, sometimes mixed in with the
We've never seen so many antelope along the road and don't understand
why they're there now. They aren't all bucks. It's about time for babies to be
born; you'd think the mamas would want to be somewhere more quiet and
safe (we saw several dead antelope on the shoulders of the freeway).
Jim joked that the Department of Natural
Resources or local chambers of commerce
put out "antelope food" to attract the animals for the benefit of
tourists. (More road trip humor.) A friend more pragmatically suggested the mothers and babies (we
haven't seen any babies yet) would
be safer from predators close to the freeway. Whatever the reason, we've sure
enjoyed the prolific wildlife display.
As we approached Billings we could see the
stunning snow-capped Beartooth Mountains to the west. Neither of us was sure at
first which mountains they were. Oh, dear. We should have remembered that! There
are beautiful views of the Beartooths from Billings.
We crested the last hill above the Yellowstone
River and looked down on the city, spread beyond both natural boundaries - the
river on the south and the rock ledges called The Rims to the north.
And, yeah, it almost felt like "home" again.
We accomplished several things on this trip:
visiting with two of Jim's sons who still live there, getting two new
tires for the camper to replace the ones that blew out driving to Wyoming,
buying some supplies, and getting a massage (just me) with our running friend, Kyle
Forman (who is more skilled than any other massage therapist I've had in
Atlanta or Roanoke).
Chris, one of Jim's thirty-something sons,
hung out with his dad while I got my massage. They went to the Goodyear store
and got one of two warranty replacement tires mounted on our camper rim (they
have to order the other one). Fortunately, Goodyear
absorbed a good portion of the cost of new ones.
Before having lunch with Chris and Garrett,
Jim's youngest son, we drove by our previous home in Billings. It was
interesting to see the subtle changes in our yard and neighborhood. We were
happy to see "our" herd of antelope still roaming in the
field behind "our" house! They were a treat to watch, even though they ate our plants
and pooped in our yard - which used to be their field until we and our
neighbors encroached on their territory . . .
Around town we noticed new houses, stores, bike paths (yes!), and
realigned roads. We got frustrated with the traffic construction,
further evidence of progress and change.
We enjoyed riding around Billings and seeing our old haunts, but we have
no regrets about moving. We'll go back up next weekend to visit with
Jim's sons and their children, get the other tire, and shop some more.
MEANWHILE, BACK IN WYOMING . . .
"Wyoming," is an adaptation of the Delaware Indian word meaning "on
the great plain."
Both Wyoming and Montana are renowned for their stunning landscapes:
spectacular snow-capped mountains (some even in August) that take
your breath away literally and figuratively, intriguing rock formations,
deep canyons, high plains rangelands dotted with sagebrush, thick stands
of evergreens, thundering creeks and rivers, high meadows filled with
wildflowers and grasses nodding in the breeze, blue sky that seems
endless in 360-degree panoramas, billowing white clouds or dark storm
Dramatic. Serene. Beautiful. Awesome. I need to find some new
adjectives to describe them! Both states are a true paradise for sports
and photography enthusiasts like Jim and me.
Although Wyoming is probably best known for its spectacular natural features,
history is also very interesting. The lore of the American West is
commemorated everywhere and heavily promoted around the world. State and local tourism boards still emphasize
the nineteenth century Wild West "cowboy and Indian"
themes to attract
visitors, as depicted in some of the photos below.
Wyoming's official license plate:
Banners at frequent intervals in Sheridan:
And this elaborate painted mural and metal sculpture in downtown Sheridan:
Whatever your feelings about the treatment of the Indian tribes in
the nineteenth century (and also the twentieth?), Wyoming pays tribute to its Native American cultural
heritage in many ways and has also earned its nickname of the "Equality
Wyoming was on the forefront of women's rights when it was the first
state to grant female suffrage in 1869. Soon after, Esther Morris became
the first female to be appointed as a justice of the peace. Voters in
Wyoming elected the first female to public office (perhaps Jeanette
Rankin as senator?) and later voted in the first female governor (we
don't know her name or the year). (Information
from the 2002 edition of the AAA Tour Book for Idaho, Montana, and
Wyoming, page 127.)
Nancy, can you help us out here? We don't have much internet time to
research this . . .
SHERIDAN, WYOMING IS COOL
Actually, it's been very hot this week, but that is
another story . . .
The delightful town of
Sheridan, with a population of about 16,000,
is rich in Western history. Many battles were fought over American
Indian territory inhabited by the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho. Famous
Indian chiefs like Crazy Horse and Dull Knife fought to protect their
hunting grounds from invading white men intent on finding gold. There
are several battle sites in the area. You know who eventually "won."
There are several historical sites in this area we intend to visit in
the next couple of weeks. One is an old ranch with an extensive
collection of Western art by famous folks like Remington. Another is the
Stonehenge-like Medicine Wheel up in the mountains. Other sites pertain to the
"Bloody" Bozeman Trail, the
Bridger Trail, and some of the battles in the region. I'll report our
perspective on them if we go.
After the battles and massacres ended, Sheridan's twentieth century economy was built around farming,
cattle ranching, and coal mining. A large source of business now is
tourism that emphasizes the region's history and its many recreational
opportunities in the Bighorn Mountains. The latter is what draws Jim and
Downtown Sheridan has interesting shops and many old buildings. There
are more than thirty buildings on Main Street that are on the National
Register of Historic Places. The Mint Bar, below, has occupied its site
for ninety-nine years:
Shown below is the Sports Stop store, sponsor
of the Bighorn Mountain Wild and Scenic Trail Races. It is in the center building with the squigglies at the top
and has nearly doubled in size since we were here three years ago:
I'll talk more about the role the Sports Stop and the race
committee play in another entry.
No, not the one in Ohio - the little one in
Wyoming where we are staying. Dayton bills itself as the gateway to the
Bighorns. Jim and I got out this week to take some photos around Dayton,
"A Little Piece of Heaven," population 678:
I mentioned that all four Bighorn races end in the
town's park adjacent to our campground (Foothills). Very convenient. It's a real drag to
have to drive anywhere after running 18, 31, 52, or 100 miles, so this
campground and the cabins are packed on race weekend. Right now, we have the
whole place to ourselves, if you don't count the permanent campers.
Entering town, runners cross the old bridge behind the sign
in the photo above, cross Hwy. 14, and pass next to the entrance to the
Then they run past the bronze elk at the end of 2nd Avenue
. . .
. . . and past the Crazy Woman Saloon (owned by two
women, and named after the Crazy Woman creek and canyon in the Bighorn Range)
. . .
. . . into Scott Bicentennial Park . . .
. . . and along a dirt path to the picnic shelter
next to the Tongue River (this view of the park is from the Foothills Campground;
the path is on the other side of the fence):
LOVIN' OUR CAMPGROUND
We are staying in the
almost a month. Lea and Marshall Hood, who own the beautiful property next to
the Tongue River and Scott Park, are very friendly, hospitable hosts. We've
stayed here several times before for the Bighorn races, but never this long. The
daily and weekly rates are very reasonable. The monthly rate of $250 for water,
electricity, a sewer, and what must be the world's biggest cotton tree outside
our door . . .
Actually, $250 is a steal these days. The tent
and camper sites are spacious. Because of the drought, the Hoods have been
spending hours moving their water sprinkler heads around the grounds to make the
grass greener before the Bighorn crowd shows up. This is the beginning of the
season for them, so there haven't been very many campers here yet besides us and
about ten long-term residents. We're looking forward to seeing friends come in
for the race in two weeks.
This is a view of the campground from the Hwy.
14 bridge over the Tongue River:
The water in the foreground is an irrigation
channel that diverts part of the river to a ranch on the left. Lea says they
have first rights to the water when it gets low in the fall and winter. (The
establishment of "water rights" has a long, sometimes controversial history in
the western United States. You rarely hear it mentioned in the East.) The channel rejoins the river farther downstream
in Scott Park.
This view of the Tongue River is from the
campground. There are lots of camping sites right next to the river.
This is the same river runners follow about
the last ten miles of the race. It's a good place to soak hot, tired
feet after crossing the finish line!
About that huge cottonwood tree . . .
The campground, adjacent park, and heck, the whole states of Wyoming
and Montana! are full of cottonwood trees. I've never noticed ones as large as
these, though. The tree outside our camper door is 18 1/2 feet in
circumference (we measured it), more than six feet in diameter. It's so tall that I couldn't get it in this
picture without going 'way far back:
Lea and Marshall have heard the tree is about 135 years old.
Some cottonwoods are cotton-less. Others spew forth white,
cottony bits of seed and fluff this time of year, looking like huge flakes of snow
when there is the least little breeze:
It's pretty weird to see "snow" falling in June from trees
with bright green leaves! It piles up on the grass, on the truck, in the dog water,
and in your throat if you run with your mouth open like I do!
We were dismayed to arrive in Dayton and find there is no
Verizon cell service here. Bummer. That's how we connect to the internet with
our laptop computer (as well as make phone calls, obviously). While discussing
the problem with the Hoods, we learned the following:
We can drive about two miles west toward the Bighorns and get
four or five bars (i.e., a good signal) on our phone while parked along the road
That's OK for occasional
phone calls, not OK for using the laptop - the batteries run out too fast.
Or we can sit very close to the Hood's house/office and
connect (free) to their new WiFi service. Access for the campers
is a work in progress.
Progress is slow because of all the gardening, mowing, watering, cleaning
cabins, washing sheets and towels, and other chores that keep the Hoods (who are probably about our age)
busy all day. Marshall put a repeater about thirty feet from our camper, but it
doesn't work for us yet and he hasn't had time to fiddle with it more.
Currently the best solution is for us to go up on the porch of
the Hood's house, plug in our computer to their electricity, and connect to the
internet with our wireless card, two feet from their kitchen window:
I told you these folks were hospitable!! Needless to say,
we feel like we're encroaching on their territory so we limit the amount of time
we're on the internet. That's one of several reasons I'm five or six days behind
in posting entries to this journal.
Oh, and because we've been running a bunch! More in the
next entry on the first of two training runs from the location of the Dry Fork
Ridge aid station up in the Bighorns. The views were awesome! Check back soon
for more blue-sky/big mountain photos.
Happy to be "home,"