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Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
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"You can't go home again."
- Tom Wolfe


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 experience the 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 year long.

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 summer.


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 green.

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 cattle.

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.



"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 clouds.

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, its 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 State."

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 . . .


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 me here.

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 Foothills Campground and Motel (cabins):

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):


We are staying in the Foothills Campground for 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) very 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,"

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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2006 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil