Archive | April 2019

Circus Trip 2018: Sheridan

Day 10, Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Sheridan, Wyoming is a cute little town…  It is a place where the Old West meets cute, kitschy shops and apparel boutiques.  King’s Saddlery Shop is one example; Don King began making saddles in 1946, and opened the shop in Sheridan shortly after.  It is a traditional saddle shop, the kind that you just rarely see anymore.  They sell everything tack related, from all types of saddles to ropes, saddle pads, bits and bridles and every other tack imaginable.  Their saddles are beautiful!

King’s Saddlery also has a museum.  The collection of saddles and other tack is huge, ranging from side saddles, cutting saddles, roping saddles, parade saddles and even some English saddles.  And yes, in case you don’t know, there is a different saddle for every type of riding.  The museum also has all sorts of bridles, spurs, a wagon or two and other riding accessories.  Some of the tack was owned by famous people, and many of the saddles were designed and made by the Don King and his sons.  There were many ornate and unique artifacts here; the shop and the museum are truly labors of love!

After visiting King’s I spent a bit of time wandering the downtown streets of Sheridan, poking around in a few of the shops.  I also checked out some of Sheridan’s cool sculptures – I like when towns have artwork for people to enjoy outside.  However, I was feeling lonely.  I had been on the road for ten days at that point, so it was bound to happen; the majority of my time was spent alone.  It happened from time to time on my trip, and I always tried to have a balance of being gentle with myself, but also still pushing myself to not just give up and quit.

It was lunchtime, so I went and found the Black Tooth Brewing Company and ordered a beer, and got some Pad Thai from the food truck parked outside.  I sat outside in a shady spot and enjoyed a bit of time relaxing.  I would love to visit this brewery again with someone!

 

 

 

 

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Moving On

Somewhere, in that space between the loss and the letting go of it, you must feel its whole, heavy, crushing weight.  That’s what grief is. No one prepares you for how heavy that weight is, how hard it is to carry, or how long it will linger in your heart.  But you have to feel it in its entirely, in order to feel the light begin to peek in the cracks on the other side of grief.  It will never go away completely; you will always carry some of it with you.  It changes you, but in time the light will come back and you will see the road forward with new eyes.

My last three years have been largely about grief.  The end of my marriage, a job with a toxic environment, the loss of two beloved cats, and having my life upended by my father’s sudden death.

There were nights I cried myself to sleep, and days I felt so numb that I thought I may never cry again.  I walked with that weight pressing me down, invading every inch of my soul.  I walked even on days when I thought I couldn’t possibly have any more strength.  I lay awake most nights at 3 am, turning over every word, every feeling, every look I had received, trying to make sense of what went wrong.  I did this even when I knew logically that I did the best I could, I did exactly what I was supposed to do, I upheld my end of the deal.  Not perfectly, but I did the best I could.

I lay awake with the weight of knowing that you can’t make somebody else step up to the plate, or keep the promises they made.  Knowing that sometimes you just run into assholes, and kindness won’t make them stop being assholes.  Knowing that sometimes we all get the shitty end of the deal, no matter what we do.  When I did sleep, I had vivid nightmares.  My brain is very, very ruthless. For me sleep came and went, with the insomnia returning with each new trauma.  At some point, the sleepless nights once again became nights where I slept more peacefully.  It creeps up slowly, so you aren’t really sure exactly when it happens.  I still have those nights that I wake up at 3 am and turn over everything in my mind; they are coming less often now though.

The light seeps into the cracks, and you find your smile returning.  Sometimes other people notice it before you realize it’s there.  You find yourself laughing where you faked it before.  You find yourself looking forward to things again, instead of seeing each day as something to be endured.  My road trip helped me immeasurably.  With each mile that I drove, and each place I visited, and each kind person I met along the way, the weight lessened.  My heart lightened.  But time played a part too – and the distance that time creates.

No, it never really truly goes away.  You still have the memories.  The good memories, that bring you joy and peace.  And the bad memories hit you like a gut punch when you least expect it.  They also remind you that you can get through it, as long as you don’t give up.  You change.  The grief will still be a part of you.  But it will no longer define you.  So yes, somewhere, in that space between the loss and the letting go of it, you must feel its whole, heavy, crushing weight – there isn’t any other way.  I’m not quite there yet, but one day, it will feel lighter.

 

An Iowan Robin

My long work days have kept me from writing, but I hope to get some done this weekend! Meanwhile, as I was going through photos I found this one of a robin in Iowa, with dinner in his mouth.

I’m glad the weekend is here!

Circus Trip 2018: Pompeys Pillar NM

Day 9, Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Livingston, Montana was just a one night stopover, although I would have liked to have spent more time around Bozeman and Livingston.  I had already been in Montana for a week, and although I could have been happy exploring there for several more weeks, the purpose of my trip was to see more than just Montana!  So, moving on…

I got on the road about 9 am, and headed east on I-90.  I did stop at a rest area in Grey Cliff, Montana to sort out a few medical insurance details, and talked to a friend on the phone.  It is nice that it is so easy to stay connected these days!

My destination for the day was Pompeys Pillar National Monument.  I imagine many of you haven’t heard of it, so here’s the scoop.  Pompeys Pillar is one of the smallest national monuments in the United States, encompassing only 51 acres, and protecting a natural sandstone pillar that juts out from the flat land around it.  It was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1965, and upgraded to a National Monument on January 17, 2001.  In case you are wondering, Pompeys is officially spelled with no apostrophe – let that get your inner grammar geek worked up!

Pompeys Pillar Sign-posing

But why is it so special?  Pompeys Pillar marks the spot with William Clark and his crew – half of the Lewis and Clark expedition – stopped on their way back east during the Lewis and Clark Expedition.  He came down the Yellowstone River after making it all the way from present-day St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean via the overland route, and found this place.  He and Lewis had split up for a few weeks; Lewis and a team of 9 men further explored the Marias River while Clark continued down the Yellowstone River.  They were to meet up again in early August.  Its exact location may never have been known, except Clark carved his name into the pillar, along with the date – July 25, 1806.  It is the only known visible evidence of the expedition that remains today.  I was there a day too early for the anniversary!

 

 

Pompeys Pillar was named for the son of Sacajawea, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, a little boy who came along on the expedition strapped to a cradle board; he carried the nickname Pomp, or Pompy.  Clark originally named the site Pompys Tower, but the name was changed in 1814 when the official history of the expedition was published.  Native Americans have been using the area for about 11,000 years; it is located about 25 miles northeast of Billings, Montana.  Native Americans had carved on the pillar too – pictographs of animals in the area and other symbols.

The day I was there was another scorcher, but despite the 90 degree temps I still climbed the steps to the top of the pillar – the views are incredible!  It is 150 feet high, so you can see the river and the landscape for miles around.  I saw the spot where William Clark inscribed his name and date; it is protected by a plexiglass plate now.  Previously, it had a metal grate protecting it; that grate can be seen in the Visitor’s Center today.

Me with William Clark’s Inscription

 

William Clark’s Inscription

It was threatening rain when I was wandering around outside, but I still walked down to the Yellowstone River after I climbed the pillar.  There was so much sand on the banks – I wasn’t expecting that.  And even though the signs promised snakes; I didn’t see any. There were a lot of mosquitoes though!  It started to rain as I was headed back to the Visitor’s Center, so I feel like my timing was great!

Me on the bank of the Yellowstone River

 

Dark clouds over the Yellowstone River

When I left Pompeys Pillar I continued on my way to my destination for the evening – Sheridan, Wyoming.  The GPS took me on a shortcut to get back to the freeway, and I spent about 15 miles bouncing along slowly on a well-maintained but dusty gravel road.  The road had some great photo ops, with abandoned homes, prairie sunflowers and birds.  It was cool!

 

 

I crossed into Wyoming a little after 6 and stopped to do some sign posing – Wyoming has a pullout so you can park and get out for pictures with the sign – thanks Wyoming!

I made it to Wyoming!

I checked into my campground shortly before 7 and chatted with my neighbor – a woman traveling solo from Cincinnati, Ohio.  She looked and dressed like a hippie, but complained a lot about the hippie culture of Oregon, where she had been most recently.  You can’t judge a book by its cover.  She was a bit odd, but it was nice having some company while we drank some wine.

It was a nice day, and I was now in my 4th state of the trip!

 

 

Circus Trip 2018: Museum of the Rockies

Day 8, Monday, July 23, 2018

After I left Bannack, I meandered through the back roads to make my way to Bozeman.  There are so many beautiful pretty back roads in Montana!

In Bozeman, I had just enough time to visit the Museum of the Rockies before they closed for the day.  Admission was $13 with my AAA discount. I started out with a movie in their planetarium – Faster than Light, which explored the technology required to get to the next closest planet of the next closest sun that could potentially have the right criteria to be able to support human life.  It boggles the mind to think about it!  The journey now is so far outside of a human lifetime, but scientists are still working on the technology to make it possible.

The museum has an incredible exhibits on dinosaurs!  The area that is now Montana had conditions that were near perfect for fossilization, so there are a lot of dinosaur fossils found there.  It was so neat to see the variety of dinosaurs that walked the earth.  I loved the fossil Triceratops skulls that they had there – seeing them up close really shows how big these animals were.  I had no idea that there were two different species of Triceratops!  They lived about a million years apart, and one was a descendant of the other.  I learn so much in my travels!

 

The Museum of the Rockies also had exhibits on the history of Montana and the Bozeman area.  They even had an exhibit on different types of guitars from around the world, including an “air guitar”!  It is nice to see museum curators who have a sense of humor.

 

Outside they had a historic pioneer home on the property that you can visit, but it was closed when I was there.  The Tinsley home was the second home of the Tinsley family, who homesteaded in Montana and raised eight children in a one room cabin.  The house was built in 1890 and was moved to the museum in 1986.  I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get to go in the house, but I did see a cute Magpie hopping around though!

The Tinsley House; built 1890 on a Homestead Act claim

I went to Ted’s Montana Grill in Bozeman for dinner.  I was really hungry at that point, and it seemed easy and familiar since I have been to a Ted’s Montana Grill before.  I had the steak salad and it was ok, but I regretted not getting the bison burger!  I paired my salad with a Red Lodge Bent Nail IPA.  After dinner I had to drive to the next town over – Livingston, Montana, because I wasn’t able to find a campground in Bozeman.  That was one of the only times I wasn’t able to find a tent site in the town I wanted to be in.  The place in Livingston was decent, it was right on the river, but the tent sites were pretty small and close to the neighbors.

At the campground, I did laundry for the first time and talked with a kind, elderly man who was on a solo trip with his RV.  He was 79 and still traveling with his motorhome; he was trying to get back into it after his wife passed away the year before.  He was friendly, and we talked for a while about solo travel – he said his kids worried about him, and I could relate!  It was nice to just spend some time talking and watching a movie on TV with some company.

What a fantastic (and busy!) day!

 

Circus Trip 2018: Bannack State Park

Day 8, Monday, July 23, 2018

After a night spent in Dillon, Montana, I departed for my day’s destination.  I was going to Bannack State Park, which preserves the ghost town of Bannack.  Bannack was founded in 1862 after gold was discovered there.  It was remote then – it was connected by the Montana Trail wagon road to Salt Lake City, but was also rough and dangerous, due to the risks posed by Native Americans and weather extremes.  Bannack is still remote now!

The Bannack Sign

Bannack is named after the local Native American tribe that inhabited the area; the Bannock Indians.  When they sent the paperwork to Washington, D.C. the agent misspelled the proposed name and nobody ever corrected it.  Bannack it remains.

The town has quite a colorful history; it was the capitol of the Montana Territory for a brief period in 1864, until it moved to Virginia City.  And here’s a story for you!  The Sheriff of Bannack, Henry Plummer, was a criminal who had served time for manslaughter at San Quentin prison.  Apparently no one found out about his history when they elected him as Sheriff.  In Bannack, he was suspected to have been leading a band of road agents who were allegedly robbing and murdering travelers.  Some claimed that Plummer’s band had committed over one hundred murders!  That’s where the story gets stranger though; modern historians believe this number is very inflated, since only eight deaths were documented during the period in the area.  People believed what they wanted to though, and Plummer and two of his deputies were hanged without trial, and over twenty more received an informal trial and then were lynched by vigilantes.

The Bannack Jail

One man named Joe Pizanthia was killed when the vigilantes turned to mob violence.  They tried to question Joe, but he refused to leave his cabin.  A large crowd gathered, and two men volunteered to bring Joe out.  Joe ended up shooting them when they attempted to enter.  That got the crowd all worked up, so they borrowed a cannon, shelled the cabin, and injured Joe.  Then they dragged him out, and shot him over one hundred times, set the cabin on fire and then threw his body onto the flames.  Wow – they didn’t mess around!

Stranger still is that many suspected the vigilantes of framing Plummer and his deputies in order to hide the fact that they were the real bandits…  Yikes…

Today in Bannack, sixty log, brick and wooden homes and business remain.  Many of the buildings are open to visitors during the day and you can wander freely through them.  It was so cool to be able to explore these buildings!

With so many deaths among the suspected road agents, and the people murdered on the road, there are bound to be ghosts there. One story in particular that stuck with me wasn’t about the men murdered here.  The Bessette House was owned by Mitty Bessette, who arrived in Bannack in 1864 and died of old age in 1919.  The house was used as a quarantine house in the early 20th century, housing people during outbreaks of influenza, scarlet fever, diphtheria and whooping cough.  The house is believed to be haunted by the ghosts of children who died during these epidemics.  Some visitors hear the sound of crying babies coming from the house.

Bannack Home Interior

It was hot while I was there, but I enjoyed wandering and checking out the various places.  In a ghost town that is covered in snow each year and winter winds, it was great to see how well preserved it is. They even have some original outhouses!

I found one of the toilets!

 

The birds are plentiful there, with many birds nesting in the rafters and beams of the various old buildings.  Good from a birding perspective, but not so good from a historic preservation angle.  Birds are pretty hard on buildings.

Bannack has two cemeteries.  There is one at the top of the hill above town; it was the original cemetery.  Almost all of the stones are gone now and there isn’t much to see.  Down the road a little ways from the town site is the second cemetery.  This one has graves in various states of decay, it is always interesting to see cemeteries that are mostly rocks and sagebrush.  They are so different from the ones at home.  I spent a bit of time checking out the headstones there.

It only costs $6 to visit Bannack and it is free for Montana residents.  They also sell an informative guidebook for $2 more. I loved visiting Bannack!  Writing this makes me want to go back and see it again!

A Chipmunk!