Archive | December 2016

West 2016: Big Horn County Historical Museum

Day 1: August 5, 2016

I love those museums that have collections of historic buildings that have been saved and moved from their original sites.  So after we visited Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, we headed a few miles down the road to the Big Horn County Historical Museum in Hardin, Montana, about 15 miles west of the battlefield.

It is one of those small community historical museums, with a twist.  The indoor exhibits included a collection of Western Art and items, and a cool local photography exhibit and sale.  They had a replica tipi, a stuffed bison (we were to learn that stuffed bison are a dime a dozen around the West), and several other cool historic items.

The outdoor exhibits were fascinating.  The museum had a whole collection of dozens of buildings that had been moved to the site over the years.  There was a church and a dentist’s office, resort cabins, stables, a schoolhouse, a mortician’s office – they even had an original Pullman car!  The Pullman car was in very rough shape, and the inside was empty save for some debris, but it was really cool to see.

We wandered around outside for awhile, poking around in all the buildings.  They were connected by a series of boardwalks, and most of the buildings were open to explore inside.  We strolled slowly due to the heat until we needed to get on the road to our destination for the night.

And then there was the drive – a long, monotonous drive.  We broke it up with a stop at Top That Eatery, in the tiny town of Forsyth, Montana.  I had the twin taco – a hard shell taco inside a soft shell taco – smothered in fake cheese and olives.  Not healthy at all, but YUM!  It brought back memories of those awful, but delicious, convenience store nachos (at some point in my future I really should eat better…).  I did get my steps in for the day though, so I figured I could end the day with something terrible for me!

We hit Glendive, Montana after dark, and I was so ready for sleep!  Mom stayed up for awhile, but I didn’t know it – I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow!

Hotel for the Night: Comfort Inn – Glendive, MT
Distance for the Day: 275 miles (4 hours, 4 minutes)

West 2016: Little Bighorn Battlefield NM

Day 1: August 5, 2016

2:30 am comes early.  I know I have said this before, but I so love that 5 am flight, so I am willing to make some sacrifices.  There is just something about flying into your destination, and making it there before 11 am.  You still have most of the day to sight see!

We got into Billings, Montana before 11 am after a couple of easy flights, with enough layover time to get a quick breakfast in Seattle.  We picked up our car, and there was a bit of drama.  We had made our reservation through Costco – then prices dropped so we canceled it and made a new reservation.  Somehow, the car rental agency still had the first, more expensive reservation. It is important to pay attention to these things!

The clerk was having trouble fixing it too after we showed her our confirmation page with the correct, lower price. Eventually we got our car, a white Subaru with extensive hail damage.  It had golf ball sized dents everywhere, and the side mirror housing was ripped off on the passenger side.  We weren’t going to have to worry about any damage we caused!  Which I learned later, was a good thing (hello foreshadowing)!

We stopped at Walmart to buy a cheap cooler for our travels, since we were planning to do lots of picnic lunches on our trip.  Mom bought a camp chair so she could hang out and sketch or journal while I was out hiking at the various parks.  And we had a quick lunch at Subway.

Our first tourist stop was at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.  If you don’t know the story, Sioux leaders Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse resisted government attempts to force them onto reservations.  After gold was discovered in the Black Hills of South Dakota, the United States broke their treaties with the Sioux and allowed unchecked waves of gold seekers to move to the area.  As a result, many more Sioux and Cheyenne left their reservations to join the Native Americans who were already in Montana.  Custer and his troops were sent there to squelch the resistance.


Me doing my very best Vanna White with the Little Bighorn sign

Custer attacked a village of Sioux and Cheyenne; he misjudged the size of the village and mistakenly assumed that most of the warriors at the village would be sleeping in.  Oops…  The counter attack was swift and decisive.  Custer’s troops ended up retreating to a grassy hill overlooking the prairie and were killed on the hillside.  Of the companies directly commanded by Custer, there was not a single survivor.  Of the approximately 600 U.S. troops involved in the battle, 274 of them were killed.


The hill where Custer and his men retreated to make their last stand

It was very hot the day we visited; almost 100 degrees!  The battle occurred on June 25, 1876 – on what was probably another very hot day.  It would have been very difficult to fight in such conditions.  Custer’s soldiers knew there was nowhere to run; so they made the tragic decision to shoot their own horses to form a defensive barrier.  It wasn’t effective.  It is hard for me to wrap my head around the idea of killing my own horse; they must have known at that point there was no opportunity for a victory or for escape.


The gravesite of the horses killed at Little Bighorn. Custer’s men killed their own horses in order to use their bodies as shields.

We checked out the Visitor’s Center, and then ventured out to see the site. There are markers showing where Custer and some of the other soldiers fell.  There are also a few markers showing where Native Americans died, but the Native Americans removed their dead after the battle, so the accuracy of these markers is based on recollections years after the battle. A few years after the battle, the remains of the U.S. Officers were removed from the site and buried with honors at other National Cemeteries – Custer was reburied at West Point.  The enlisted men and scouts were re-interred in 1881 at the base of an obelisk at the top of the hill – 220 men in all.


The black marker shows where George Armstrong Custer originally fell and was buried. His body is now at West Point.


This obelisk marks the grave of 220 U.S. troops and Native American Scouts killed during the battle

Also at the monument is a memorial erected by the tribes to honor the Native Americans who served there.  It is beautiful and moving.  In 1991 the name of the monument was changed from Custer Battlefield National Monument, in order to honor the Native American story.  Although Custer and his men were killed there, it was not a bloodbath directed at killing U.S. troops – rather it was the culmination of a long period of persecution and murder of the Native Americans.  It was kill or be killed for the tribes at that point.


Me with the Native American Memorial

After we toured the battlefield, we listened to the Ranger Talk of what happened there.  He pointed out where people were at various points during the battle.  He talked about which tribes participated on which side of the battle and why.  It was interesting to hear both perspectives and to visualize the movement of both sides throughout the battle.

After Little Bighorn, we stopped to take the first of many photos of prairie dogs who made their home in a colony just outside of the monument.  Yes, I get all of the reasons why these cute critters are reviled, but they totally get a bad rap!  Prairie dogs are critical for a healthy ecosystem.  They provide food for predators like coyotes, foxes and ferrets, their burrows provide homes for those same ferrets and burrowing owls, and the process of burrowing helps to rejuvenate the prairie grasses that the bison need to survive.  No prairie dogs, no healthy ecosystem.  Take that, you prairie dog haters!


A prairie dog at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

We couldn’t watch the prairie dogs too long though, as we still had touristing left to do!  Next up – the Bighorn County Historical Museum.


Planning for The West 2016

In August 2016, my mom and I decided to do a road trip of the west. There are a number of National Parks in North and South Dakota that I have been interested in seeing for some time, and it was time to knock some off of my bucket list!  I am so glad that my mom was game to do this trip with me!

I looked into flying into Rapid City, South Dakota and was surprised to find that plane tickets from Washington State were going to be almost $1,000 each! Ditto with Bismarck, North Dakota. It was time to change the Plan of Action. Fortunately, I found flights for just over $200 per person to Billings, Montana. A bit more driving, but we were on our way!

The second hurdle was hotel prices. I was kind of surprised by the cost of hotels; I get that it was summer, but they still seemed really high for parts of small town North and South Dakota. Once I discovered that our trip coincided with the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota, it all made more sense… I did ultimately find some reasonable prices for hotel rooms, but it took more research – and we didn’t stay at luxury accommodations…  Good thing my mama is flexible…

The car was another matter. For 12 days, our car ended up costing $497; which, with the exception of Colorado, is much higher than I have seen for my other long trips. Peak summer period, plus I think some of the higher price was due to the fact that the Takata airbag recall had taken so many rental cars off the road – car manufacturers were telling people not to drive their cars and were giving owners loaner rentals at no cost.  That would do it…  We booked a car originally at $525, then rebooked when the price went down to the $497 that we ended up with.  Ouch…

With our flight schedule set, I planned a loop that would begin in Montana and go through North and South Dakota, before moving into Wyoming and finally ending up back in Montana to fly home. I had an ambitious itinerary (don’t I always!) – Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Wind Cave National Park, Mount Rushmore, Badlands National Park and Devil’s Tower National Monument to start. With the extra loop in Montana for flights, I expanded the itinerary to include Little Bighorn Battlefield, Yellowstone National Park, and Grand Teton National Park. Since we were going to be so close, I also put Jewel Cave National Monument and the Crazy Horse Memorial on the list!


Our route wasn’t quite what appears in the map above, as Google Maps was not cooperating as I tried to drag its little points around to where I wanted them.  Technology… Sheesh… It is close though, and you get the gist…

I planned a crazy-busy trip, and I was excited to get started!