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!
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.
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!
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 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!