Monday, August 23, was again a “no rush to get on the road” day. Despite getting up most mornings around 6 AM, I am NOT a morning person. I like to sit in my pajamas, drink a protein shake, read the news brief, write/work a little bit, and THEN shower. Showering straight out of bed is just a bad thing for my sanity. So I was happy to oblige when MW said we needed to pull out at 9 AM. In fact, without hurrying, we pulled out early and were done dumping before 9 AM, so win-win. As we left the park, I took the above pic of the pop-up library at the front gate. What a cute idea! Our first stop of the day was just a few minutes away at the dam spillway. It was a beautifully sunny, but chilly day. Well, on one side of the ridge, that is. There was a fog/cloud bank hanging just over the hills on the other side of the lake. Walking around, the wind made it actually a little bitter…in August! Love it!! Just beyond the spillway bridge, we entered what looked a lot like the badlands, a stark contrast to the cottonwood grove we just left.
We headed south on MT-24, which is a beautiful drive. We turned east at MT-200 after stopping at the rest area and making a few phone calls. At MT-253 we turned south to I-94, then west to Miles City. It was again a day of change. We started in the beautiful cottonwood grove at the campground, then passed over the dam and into a rough, desert-like area similar to the badlands, then opening up occasionally into more grazing land with a few crops. There were plenty of deer and pronghorns along the way, and some really beautiful scenery.
Our first stop in town was the Black Iron Grill & Rotisserie for lunch. We shared the pretzel bites, which were not “bites” at all, but large blobs about the size of a racquet ball served with both a spicy mustard and a cheese dip. To be honest, they were kind of “meh”. I had shrimp tacos, which were great, but small on 4-5″ shells. (I really like to have some leftover when I pay $12 for lunch.) MW had their version of a Cuban sandwich, which was very good, but the house-made chips were the big winners. They were exceptionally thin, crispy, and awesome. After lunch, we headed over to Big Sky Camp & RV Park.
On Tuesday I took care of some work before we headed out to do errands. We ordered our replacement spare tire from e-Trailer, our preferred site for online buying for Petunia, but they are experiencing delivery issues due to staffing shortages at shipping companies. Ugh! MW found Rolling Rubber in Miles City, who had the correct tire and wheel in stock. It ended up costing us $20 more, but the peace of mind is priceless. Check your spares regularly, folks! While our cord snapped, I’ve also heard of them being stolen. Downtown in Miles City we found the Montana Bar for lunch, which has been in business since 1908. The food was good…MW had a patty melt, and I had nachos. I picked up a movie from Red Box, so that was our evening entertainment. It was “News of the World” with Tom Hanks, which I thought was pretty good. Neither of us had ever heard of folks going around reading the news back then, but it would definitely have been a valid occupation.
Wednesday started with laundry. The campground had a little laundromat with two washers and two dryers, but we had plans for the afternoon that required me to knock it out. I went to Express Laundry Center, which was very clean, but above average on cost. While I was waiting and getting some work done, a woman and two men came in together. It was apparent when they spoke that all three were mentally challenged in some way. It sounded like they lived in a group home and were there, like me, to get chores done. (Really the woman would be the only one actually doing any work.) They were laughing and cutting up as they entered, and the two men sat on a bench nearby. Except for noting their entrance, I was concentrating on a spreadsheet. That is, until they started talking about me. They both had a sweet, slow, sing-songy way of speaking, and this was the conversation: “There’s one for you.” “She’s married.” “How do you know?” “She has a big ring on!” “Well, maybe she’d be interested in stepping out!” The whole time I can see them in my peripheral, and they are grinning, elbowing each other, and pointing in my direction. What??!! That was unexpected!! It was all I could do not to laugh out loud. There was no malice in their voices, but they clearly did not realize I could hear. When the woman walked back up, the older one said “Shhh!” and that ended the discussion. It was hilarious and flattering and made my day!
My phone was due to be delivered to Verizon, so I stopped next door at Wendy’s for a sandwich and worked a bit while waiting. Then, on the way back to the campground, I popped in and picked it up. After getting everything put away and relaxing a little bit, we headed over to check out the Range Riders Museum. In 1939, a group of cowboys and stockmen formed the Range Riders Association to preserve the memory of the pioneer range riders, a huge part of eastern Montana’s history. Members must have ridden the open range before 1910 and within 150 miles of Miles City. The original log building was completed on the Fort Keogh Cantonment #1 site in 1942. It has since grown to more than thirteen buildings and thousands of artifacts and displays. The items are all donated, and represent a bit of everything…military, stuffed animals, bones, Native American objects, tools, guns, fashion items, vehicles, farm tools, cattle drives, homesteaders, riverboats, railroads, etc. The works of several early photographers are on display, and there are photos of hundreds of ranchers and cowboys from the Miles City area, all with personal histories written by the subject or a family member placed in little tubes on the frames. (Copies were in books, too.) It was basically a time capsule, but focused on people. Pretty neat idea. One of the Officer’s Quarters buildings was moved from the old Fort Keogh and set up as it would have been when active. There were also dioramas of Fort Keogh, a local ranch, and an Indian village, and a life-sized replica of downtown Miles City with eleven of the original businesses represented. We were surprised that there was a Music Conservatory in town back in the day. It truly is a lot to take in, and a person could spend hours wandering around. It is open six days a week from April 15 to October 15.
We can thank the arrogance of Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer for the existence of Miles City today. After the catastrophic loss at Little Bighorn, Colonel Nelson A. Miles was sent to build the Tongue River Cantonment as a base for battles against the hostile Indian factions. As is typical, merchants set up shop near the encampment. The next year, 1877, work began on Fort Keogh (named for Captain Myles Keogh who died at Little Bighorn) a couple of miles upriver. A post office was built in the nearby settlement that same year, and by the time the fort was completed in 1878, the town was born, named for the man who would later become a General. With lots of open range and the eventual addition of the railroad east, the little place quickly became a cowtown. That heritage is still evident and honored today. The place certainly has grown a lot since my first stay in 1982ish.
We headed back to Petunia for a little bit before our evening entertainment, the Eastern Montana Fair and the Rodeo! MW LOVES him some fair food, so he was pretty excited. We always try to frequent the local-based vendors instead of the regular carnival trucks, and it was pretty good. After dinner, we walked around and checked out the rides before heading over to the arena. Events included bareback riding, steer wrestling, team roping, saddle bronc riding, tie down roping, and bull riding. They also had something we had never seen, chuck wagon races. Pretty cool to see wagons with four-horse teams coming hell-bent for leather to the finish line. It’s apparently a common event in Canada. There was supposed to be ladies barrel racing, but a technical glitch with the start lights postponed it until the end, then cancelled it altogether. I hated that for the girls waiting to compete. In the bull riding event, my favorite, there were only four riders and none made the 8 seconds. The first fellow out, though, got his clock cleaned by a smack in the face. His head and the bull’s hit so hard it actually broke his face mask! Dang!! He was out cold when he hit the ground and was dragged to the side, but he ended up walking out of the arena. I once thought that NFL players were the toughest athletes, but it’s really bull riders. Don’t believe me? Watch a PBR event and see a cowboy get smacked around, thrown, and stomped on, and then jump up and run to the rail. Oh, then do it two more times the same night. I promise you the next time one of your team’s players is laying on the field holding his leg, you’ll be yelling “get up you wimp” at the TV! After a perfect rodeo night, we headed back to Petunia.
Big Sky Camp and RV Park is a small, private campground just off of the interstate east of Miles City. It is less than 10 minutes to downtown and provides easy access to anywhere in the area. There is a big hill between it and part of the interstate, which I think cuts down on the noise somewhat. We slept with the windows open once and didn’t have any issues. Amenities include a pool, recreation area with pool table, and laundry (2 washers and 2 dryers). There are also private restrooms and showers available. A few regular trailer homes are on the property, but everything is very clean and neat, and the residents are quiet. You have to give them a call to reserve, and they do not accept anything but cash or check. There are 20 or so pull-through and another 10ish back-in gravel sites that are all full-hookup with picnic tables. The owners live onsite, too, and as far as private campgrounds go, it isn’t bad. It’s location just off of I-94 makes it a good overnight stop, and we would stay again for activities in the Miles City area. Cell (Verizon) and over-the-air TV reception are both great. Oh, and there are cows right next door, which is always a plus for me. For this stay in August 2021 we paid $135.00 for three nights.
Thursday we were on the road before 9 AM, headed south on MT-59 down to US-212 west. The scenery in this part of Montana is just spectacular, and there were plenty of deer and pronghorns along the way. At Ashland we stopped at Maggie’s Cafe for burgers that were pretty darned good. They also had cinnamon rolls, so one of those went home with me for later. Just prior to the stop we passed a forest fire, and I asked a guy in the restaurant what started it. He said it was a fire in a coal seam and happens often. Huh? I really don’t think about Montana as coal country. Before the day was out, though, we would see serious coal mining operations. Back in the truck, we crossed the Tongue River and entered the Northern Cheyenne Tribe Reservation. We turned south on MT-314 at Busby and went almost to the state border before arriving at our destination for the next few days, Tongue River Reservoir State Park.
We were the only ones down at our little cul-de-sac on Thursday night, so it was really peaceful. Friday morning we sat outside and enjoyed the cool weather. Our entertainment was a little rabbit that wandered around in the grass area in front of us. He was either too young to be scared or people had been feeding him, because he came to within a couple of feet of MW. There are some swarming bugs here that look a bit like mosquitoes, but thankfully, they don’t bite. In the mornings they aren’t as bad as later when it warms up. Then they are everywhere! Later in the morning I headed down to Sheridan, Wyoming, about 30 miles away, to get some work done. (Cell signal at this park vacillates between none and very slow!) Thankfully, McDonald’s has now opened up their dining rooms, which gives me a place to work with free wifi. I spent several hours catching up, then headed back with supper from Powder River Pizza. It was pretty darned good.
Sheridan is AWESOME, and the drive down is spectacular…beautiful, multi-colored hills and open spaces with the Bighorn Mountains way off in the distance. It was a bit hazy in that direction on the drive in, but I hope to get good pics before we leave this area. They have an extensive downtown district with historic buildings and lots of nice shops, not just touristy stuff. There are really neat statues everywhere, and plenty of nice restaurants and bars. There is also a pretty nice greenway trail and lots of sidewalks, too.
Saturday we were up and outside enjoying the morning early. Cloudy and a little cooler than the day before, the skies were threatening, especially south towards Sheridan. After a while, the storms made it to us, and we were forced to head inside. It rained pretty good for a little bit, but then started to lighten up. About 10:30 AM, we headed out. The drive to Sheridan was pretty rainy this time, but no less beautiful. Our first stop was the Cowboy Cafe downtown, number one on the TripAdvisor list of restaurants. We had to wait a few minutes to be seated, but the food was worth it. MW had a reuben with corned beef made on site and house-made chips. He said both were great. I had an open-faced Smoked Salmon sandwich with tomato, cream cheese, cucumber, mixed greens, and Tzatziki sauce with sweet potato fries. The sandwich was delicious, but the sweet potato fries were the bomb; thick cut hunks sans grease. Yum!! After lunch, we headed up the street to check out King’s Ropes and Saddlery on Main Street, which also houses the Don King Museum. This is a saddle and tack store with decorative stuff thrown in, plus a museum full of just about every kind of saddle you can imagine and a whole lot more. Donations are requested, and I’m sure anyone could find something interesting to see. Once done, I took a few pics around town, and we ran an errand before heading back. The weather had cleared up for the drive, although the Bighorns were still in the clouds. The temp stayed in the upper 60s, and except for the neighbor’s dog barking incessantly while they were away, we had a nice afternoon.
Sunday morning dawned foggy and pretty cold. I couldn’t sleep and was tossing and turning, so I spent most of the night dozing in the recliner. It’s amazing what you hear when you can’t sleep. In this case, there was a guy next door that snored worse than anyone I’ve ever heard, and that includes Dad2, who was once a champion! There were also people partying across the lake at around midnight. I don’t think most folks realize how sound travels around water. We’ve heard some pretty intimate conversations over the years just sitting by a lake. MW sat outside enjoying his coffee until it started to warm up and the bug swarms began. At around 5 AM, there were several packs of coyotes singing in the distance, too. I took my time getting my act together. We didn’t have any plans for the day, so I headed back over to Sheridan to get some writing and work done. Well, I also didn’t mind driving that route one more time! It truly is gorgeous. Unlike the previous trips, this time I saw a lot of pronghorn. We noticed an osprey’s nest on the way back on Saturday, so I stopped to check that out, too. This time there were two sitting there. I ran by the store on the way back to pick up a few ingredients for chili. I also popped in at Walgreens to get my first shingles vaccine. No fun, but I don’t want to get that nasty piece of business! While I was gone, MW finished upgrading the drawer slides in the living area. Twice we’ve had drawers dumped out in the floor after particularly rough roads, so that shouldn’t happen anymore. As an added measure, we are adding strong, magnetic catches, which should be delivered to our next campground.
Tongue River Reservoir State Park is a pretty nice setup centered around water activities on the lake. It is a bit remote, but restaurants, bars, shopping, and things to see are all about 30 minutes south in Sheridan, Wyoming, and as I said above, the drive is gorgeous. It is also within driving distance to the Rosebud and Little Bighorn battlefields. Amenities include a beach, sheltered picnic areas, playground, a marina store, a dump station, fish cleaning area, two boat ramps and plenty of vault toilets. Water is available onsite during the summer, but winter campers need to bring it with them. The Campers Point section is paved, and sites have parking areas adjacent. The other sections are dirt roads and sites. There are 81 electric sites with picnic tables and fire rings, 27 of which are double, as well as more than 80 non-electric sites. (In the winter, only 11 electric sites remain open for ice fishermen and are first-come, first-served.) There is a little bit of road noise and the occasional train off in the distance, and you can see the coal mining operation across the lake. We picked up several TV channels using just the antenna, but cell signal was minimal to nonexistent. All-in-all, we found it very nice. This stay in August 2021 cost us $146 for four nights.
That’s enough for now. Next up…North Dakota! See you on the path!
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