The Wild Wild West

August 02, 2021

A lot of land; not many residents; lots of vacationers.

We left Washington state with our sights set on Glacier National Park.  Passing through (very expensive) Idaho, we made our way to Logan State Park, halfway between Libby and Kalispell, Montana.  Nestled amongst pines on a chain of lakes, we swam daily in heat of the day, meaning late afternoon, as this far north and west, the sun didn’t set until 9:30 pm.  A nice respite with the heat still descending upon us.  We explore this remote region as we have heard how beautiful Montana is.  While we are in a valley, surrounded by mountains, there are not many defined trails to hike or trailheads.  It seems that water sports on the many lakes is the primary recreational activity, not hiking.  We meet nice people here and are invited to “roast” bread on a stick, that when “baked”, it easily releases from the stick and split it in half, I put butter and cinnamon and sugar on mine, Sean opts for melted chocolate and Reeces peanut butter cups. 

We have set our sights on first-come, first-served campgrounds to find our way to Glacier National Park.  We can’t find any reservations.  Since it is the weekend, we can only find one-night’s stay at a flathead lake campground called Wayfarer state park.  While I scan the internet to find other sites, EVERYONE is camping and we decide to forego Glacier to another day and head south to Big Canyon Lake, near Helena, MT, part of the Missouri River, another point of reference from Louis and Clark.  Again, there are many first-come, first-served sites and all are full.  We backtrack to a county fairground in the state capital of Helena, MT and that is full too.  Some kind folks explain that there is a girls state softball tournament going on and we can probably find a spot next door at the sports field complex and we do – blend right in.  The night games are held about ½ mile away at Helena’s High School and we start to walk, but find a well-kept, small Jewish Cemetery (behind the school) on the way that we explore and don’t get to the game.  This part of the country is quite young compared to our former home of Hull, MA that was incorporated in 1622.  These headstones date from the mid 1800’s and beyond.  We trek on and have a good night’s rest amongst the players and their families.

We set our sites on the lower part of Canyon Lake to find a campsite, but again get distracted.  A “Welcome East Helena Rodeo Fans” sign catches my eye, as the dates are for that day.  I plug in the East Helena Rodeo into Waze and it is a mere 2 miles down the road.  We pull in, park and find the folks in charge of this annual rodeo event and explain our dilemma of no place to stay.  They welcome us, say we can stay on the rodeo grounds and tell us that this is an annual town event and there is a parade at 1 pm and a car show going on.  Despite the heat, we have a very fun day and evening.  We go to the parade, eat at a local, recommended restaurant called Smith’s Place, we go to the car show and return to the RV for a quick nap before the rodeo that starts at 6pm.  We meet so many nice folks at the rodeo and I keep the times on the score sheet from the program that I share with all around me, kids and adults alike.  We return to our RV and it takes 2 hours for the grounds to empty.  The RV is filled with dust from the grounds; doesn’t matter, we had such a great time for a day in East Helena, Montana.  Still in Montana following the Missouri river – just can’t help it.

We find and get a couple of nights at Missouri Headwaters state park.  This park is where the confluence of 3 rivers combine to create the great Missouri River; these rivers (named by Louis and Clark) are the Madison, the Jefferson and the Gallatin.  Lewis and Clark explored and mapped these rivers as well. It is still hot and wild fires are starting all over the northwest because of the unceasing drought.  We discuss with the camp host the route we want to take to Yellowstone and he agrees as he took the same trip the day before.  We enjoy a few dips in the Madison river and are a bit envious of the many vessels (boats, rafts, blow-up rafts, inner-tubes) we see people floating down the river.  This is a 2-night stay, we head East, but not before the camp host stops by and makes us aware of some road closures due to fire and smoke.  We discuss with him and choose a different route to get to Yellowstone. 

We arrive at West Yellowstone West entrance with ease and decide to walk around and have lunch before we drive through during late afternoon so we don’t encounter a lot of tourists as they are most likely leaving the park for the day.  We find a great diner and start our journey about 4 pm.  I call ahead to the next campground to confirm for late arrival.

With so much hype about Yellowstone and given our trip thus-far, we’re a bit underwhelmed by our drive through Yellowstone.  We take the southern route near the geysers and see 1 buffalo and a couple of moose.  With all the people about, this hardly seems like “wilderness”.  We pass through with ease and make our way to Buffalo Bill Campground west of Cody, WY on the Shoshone river.  It’s a nice campground and we have a spot right on the river.  Its late, but we like to explore and the sun sets late here.  We cover ourselves with bugspray and wade through the weeds to find the river, but the mosquito’s are swarming us (not biting), just a fog of mosquitos.  We came, we saw and we return to the RV.  Mosquito’s win.

Making our way East without a lot of choices of places to stay, we decide to do a quick overnight in a Walmart parking lot in Rapid City, SD.  That is, after a full day’s drive across Wyoming and the hardly ever mentioned Big Horn National Forest.  WOW!  I think most people must take interstate 90 and don’t drive through this mountain range.  Beautiful and Wild!  Not an easy drive with demanding elevations, we stop and have lunch near the pass for this range, give our engine a rest so as to not overheat.  We see a herd of Buffalo and a moose as we drive through.  We get to Walmart in good order and do a bit of shopping.  Our first stay in a Walmart’s parking lot is an interesting experience with the other RVer’s that are there too.  All is quiet once the store closes at 10 pm.  We get a good night’s sleep and most other RV’s gone at sunrise.  We have the habit of staggered bed times and rise times.  I go to bed first and get up first, allowing us both “me-time” at the end and beginning of our days.  Everyone needs consistency and this allows me to review email, news and business/client needs before the day gets rolling.

Off to the Crazy Horse Monument 30 miles south of Rapid City, SD; we will leave Mount Rushmore for another day since there are so many vacationers around here, we keep heading east.  Crazy Horse Monument is a work in progress and only 1/3 completed of entire sculpture into the mountain.  We have a very informative presentation about how the Indians have persevered despite the repeated attempts of “re-culturization” via land-theft from broken treaties and taking of their children to be “educated”, with only love in her heart, this native American shares the story of her people.  This was real cancel-culture.  And yet Native Americans endure and persevere to revive and embrace their ancestry.  With a Native American dance with her daughters, we are sent on our way with a greater appreciation for those who lived on this land before any of their white brothers and sisters.

We have been seeing signs for Wall Drug since we were in Wyoming (the least populated state in America) and all the way through South Dakota thus far.  We head a bit further north as we did find a great overnight reservation at a park near Pierre, South Dakota.  But before we head north, we have to stop at Wall Drug where any and everything is for sale.  Any need, from attire, tools, home furnishings, food, pharmacy . . . you name it, its for sale at Wall Drug in Wall, South Dakota.  We leave with a few items; most importantly, a wallet for Sean in the style we’ve been searching for the entire trip at Wall Drug tack shop.  Off to Oahe Downstream Recreation area right outside South Dakota’s Capital of Pierre.  Again, we find ourselves on the bank of the great Missouri River.  Before this trip, I never knew the beauty and majesty of the Missouri.  I knew well the path of the Mississippi, but not the mystery of the Missouri.  Lewis and Clark paddled against the current up the entire Missouri River to its source, at the convergence (Missouri Headwaters State Park) and beyond at Three-Forks, Montana.  Against the current, they persevered.

The next leg of our trip will be with family as I was born and raised in rural north-central Iowa before moving to the northeast.  We will catch up with cousins, nieces and nephews and their new families as well as siblings and childhood friends, traveling through southern Minnesota and Iowa.  From there we will again head north to see our Global View family in Waukesha, Wisconsin, enabling us to explore northern Wisconsin and Michigan on our way home to the Northeast.

We’ve been on the road for 6 months and driven 12,000 miles.  Looking forward to this last month of travel before heading to the Northeast.

Still enjoying the journey,

Sean and Kelly