Aug. 31, 2011 (Day 5)
We have had another long, but full, day. Lots of travelling, but sightseeing also. We started out with a quick trip to Walmart in Spearfish, then drove 10 miles up to Belle Fourche. (That’s pronounced Bell Foosh--Joe asked!) About 20 miles north of Belle Fourche is the calculated exact center of the United States (including Alaska and Hawaii.) So as we passed through the town, we of course had to stop and take a photo of the monument to The Center of the United States. They also had a lovely little museum detailing pioneer life in the Black Hills, with lots of items donated by residents of the town who had “roots” there. It was a nice visit to start our day.
From there we drove about 200 miles, leaving South Dakota, cutting off a very small corner of Wyoming, and then entering Montana (I get to add a new state to our map!) We stopped midway for lunch in Broadus, before continuing on through the Cheyenne and Crow reservations. The terrain was first grazing and ranching land, but right after Broadus, it began to rise, and we entered the Custer National Forest. We went up and over some quite hilly land before coming down into the valley of the Little Bighorn River at around 3:30pm. As the afternoon grew later, our views became more and more dramatic, and for a couple of hours our history lesson was enhanced by the changing light against the grassy hills.
The Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument is really well done, in my opinion. There is a nice interpretive center which tells you a lot about the Indian culture, the personalities involved (such as Custer and Sitting Bull), the historical context of the Campaign of 1876, the details of the battle as far as they are known, and the role of archaeology in figuring out how the battle progressed. We saw a 17-minute film which gave a very good overview of some of the complexities of the battle. Then we left the building to drive along the 5-mile road which is marked with information panels, monuments, and, most poignantly, white and red markers indicating the places on the hillsides where soldiers and Indians had died.
The terrain, of course, is still the same as it was, which allowed us to stand in front of an information panel, look out in the directions indicated, and “see” in our minds the movements of the troops and the Indians who encountered each other. In the distance, or even at our feet, were the markers--sometimes singly, and sometimes in clusters, indicating where a skirmish involving a large group had taken place. The scenery was fabulous, but of course it is the battle which is the most riveting part of the experience in seeing the battlefield. It was really very interesting and history definitely comes alive when it is studied this way!
We didn’t leave the battlefield until about 5:30. We could see in the distance how a line of thunderstorms was moving, and the weather, which was quite hot earlier in the day, had cooled with the arrival of the cold front sweeping ahead of the storms. We had a panoramic view of the horizon and could see the rain coming down miles away. We also could see that we were driving right toward it. Fortunately it was only a brief encounter, however, and we made good time to Billings, where we stopped for gas and propane at a Flying J, and then on to Red Lodge, MT, which is a “gateway” to Yellowstone. Now we are ensconced in a campsite with a noisy little brook nearby. The wifi has proven to be okay for reading websites; I sure hope it will cooperate when I upload this blog.
I feel as if I left out a lot about today--it was really a lovely day and we enjoyed all of the roadside scenery; the herds of black cattle looking so beautiful against the green pastures up here near the campground; the small group of prong-horn antelope I saw at one point in, I think, Wyoming; and all the other little things we notice as we drive along. Tomorrow we are going over the Beartooth Highway into Yellowstone, and I won’t have any wifi until Saturday night. So I’ll try to upload as much as possible tonight--I did take some good photos. We are looking forward to Yellowstone!