Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Chapter 34 - Gardiner to Billings, Montana

Tuesday, July 28th:
We decided this morning to take the easy way out and head north away from Yellowstone. While we have yet to cancel our reservations in Cody, Wyoming or for that matter make new reservations somewhere around Billings, Montana, we just thought that attempting to pull our travel trailer through Yellowstone was not the safest thing to do.  As we drove north back towards I-90, Kathy took this photo of the local mountains. Considering the cold temperatures last night we were not surprised to see snow on their tops. Two days ago when we followed this same road south there was no snow. There is probably snow up in the mountains of Yellowstone as well and considering that we are Florida folks, snow on a summer vacation just does not make any sense, so we are running away (just kidding, we are driving away).

We called from a Rest Stop and made reservations at the Billings KOA. They claimed in their online literature that they were the first ever KOA and that they were established back in 1962.  Hope that does not mean that everything in their park is over 50 years old.  We arrived in Billings around noon and were delighted to find everything at the KOA looked very much up to date. 

Our space was well shaded and across the street from where we parked was the Yellowstone River with rock bluffs rising straight up from the river on its other side. It is pretty hard to find a prettier location. On another positive side, the weather here in Billings is sunny and the mid-afternoon temperatures are in the mid-70s.  We decided that for the remainder of the day other than going out for supplies, we would delay being tourists until tomorrow.  Billings is the largest city in Montana having a population of around 167,000, and considering our last minute decision to visit Billings and the largeness of the area, we thought it best that we do a little research first and decide what we wanted to visit, before we charge out into the city.

Wednesday, July 29th:
Both Kathy and I and Cabo as well, had a great sleep last night and we arose when it was already light outside at around 5:30 am.  It is amazing that after so many years of sleeping in a cushy king size bed, that we could become comfortable sleeping on a rather hard queen size bed that every time one of us rolls over the whole trailer rocks slightly. Try sleeping when the wind is blowing hard and the trailer rocks in the wind like a boat in the water.  I suppose that when we consider the conditions facing the early Oregon Trail travelers, we got it made (although they weren't paying $40 plus a night for a campground space.)

Our visit to Billings began at 8:30 am this morning when we drove to a park located on a high bluff above the city and I took this photo of Kathy and Cabo. The bluff was almost at a level elevation for at least three miles and it offered drivers numerous places to pull over and take photos or just enjoy the incredible views.

Our next adventure was a visit to the Pictograph Cave State Park that was located about five miles to the south of Billings down a winding up and down hilly road. The scenery consisted of dried grass pasture lands with lots of rocks and high rocky cliffs like the one in this photograph of Kathy and Cabo standing under the entrance sign into the park. The caves can be reached after a short hike and they contain on their walls ancient Indian paintings known as pictographs said to be upwards of 2,000 years old.  Archeologists began excavating in the caves back in 1937 and since then they have uncovered thousands of artifacts including animal remains thought to be the byproducts of human consumption (meaning food waste.)

This photo of Kathy in one of the caves shows her studying the walls looking for the faint pictograph markings.  The pictographs which were hard enough to see in person unfortunately do not show in this photograph. Considering that the markings show up at all is remarkable considering their age.

If one excludes the historical significance of the Pictograph Cave State Park, the incredible beauty of the area itself is enough to demand that anyone visiting Billings must come and view this place.  The photograph of Kathy and Cabo above displays some of the beauty but it also shows Kathy studying a sign that warns of rattlesnakes.  For a few minutes she actually refused to proceed but fortunately she changed her mind.  Cabo naturally demanded that he be carried.

It seems that many cities in The West have their own Boothill cemeteries and Billings, Montana is no exception. It was a must visit for us, although Garmin had trouble finding it and there were no local signs pointing to its location.  Fortunately Kathy spotted it up on a hill so we parked and made a brief climb.  Unfortunately all of the original grave markings were (long) gone, they were probably mostly constructed of wood in any case, and all that remained were a few more recent structures like the one that Kathy and Cabo are studying in the photograph.  It was still a fun visit and of course it gave us a chance to see additional areas around Billings.

Incidentally, speaking of Lewis and Clark . . . on their return voyage back east in 1806 they passed through the Billings area traveling along the Yellowstone River.  I suppose it is remotely possible that they may have even camped on the site of the Billings KOA.  One has to wonder such things being a history buff.

Our last tourist activity today was a visit to downtown Billings.  Frankly, and I have stated this before, I do not really like to visit large downtown areas but Billings came as quite a pleasant surprise.  For one thing, it was not at all crowded both in the streets or on the sidewalks.  This was not good for the stores but it sure was good for us.  Furthermore, we found a prime parking spot right on the main street and all it cost was 25 cents per half hour.  Like a few of the other western towns that we have visited there are colorful hanging potted plants down the streets, there are shade trees, and here in Billings at the major cross streets there was a huge canopy that completely covered the intersection.  The canopy shows in the adjacent photograph.

One of our destinations downtown was a Native American Nations store that sold all kinds of mostly handmade Indian articles from jewelry, to headdresses, to carvings, and even arrows.  Kathy, Cabo, and I spent quite a bit of time in the store although we were viewing it more like we were visiting a Native American museum instead of a store much to the chagrin of the store owners.  We were probably not alone in this regard.

We ended our visit to downtown Billings with a stop at a local coffee shop where we sat down and enjoyed our drinks at an outside table where we could watch the goings on in this very pretty downtown setting.  Who would have though.  Maybe I am just mellowing in my old age? 

On our way back to our campground, Kathy spotted some horses close by the highway so we quickly stopped (in the middle of the highway) and I took this photo (fortunately before a car hit us from behind).  I must admit that finding such a setting near our home in Estero, Florida would be impossible.  What a country.

Tomorrow morning we head down south again to a small town known as Buffalo, Wyoming.  Another new experience in this third month of our trip across America.


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