Posted by: edandracheltravel | October 1, 2009

Update 35: Branson, Missouri to Florence, Montana

By now we planned to be in Salisbury, North Carolina, having passed through Arkansas and Tennessee, on our way to Oktoberfests in Mocksville, North Carolina, Walhalla, South Carolina and Helen, Georgia. A radical change of plans occurred, and we are currently in Florence, Montana. Rachel’s mother had open heart surgery on August 24, and we have been tending to family business since arriving. Margaret Aplin, Rachel’s mother, is doing well. She has a new heart valve and a steady, solid heartbeat. Rachel’s father, Bob Aplin, is also doing well. Your prayers for continued healing for Margaret and peace and strength for Bob would be appreciated.
 
Travel Progress 8.2009 Change of Plans

 

 When we planned to leave Springfield, Missouri, on July 7 after a great week of family history research in and around Billings, Missouri, it was the end of the official July 4 holiday, and as a result our next park was not available on Monday when we usually move. Many of our membership parks reserve holiday weekends for their owners. We are owners in Western Horizon parks. We are not owners in the park we chose at Branson, but do belong to Resorts of Distinction, a group of RV resorts that allows owners of other RV parks to use their parks. So, we extended our stay in Springfield a day, and moved to Branson and set up on Tuesday.

 

After we were set up, we jumped in the Sebring and drove the main street, State Route 76, through Branson amid heavy traffic—which never seems to cease. This is the street on which most of the theaters are situated, and there are many, many of them! Each performer or show has its own theater, and the two- or three-mile strip of them has restaurants, churches and general businesses interspersed.

 

Downtown Branson by the river

Downtown Branson by the river

At the end of the strip is the historic downtown, situated on the shore of a river. We ended up there, parked and walked through downtown. Afterwards, we drove south toward Arkansas a few miles away, then doubled back along the shores of Table Rock Lake, on which the local showboat/sternwheeler is located. The sternwheeler and park where it is based, along with several other Branson attractions, are owned by Dolly Parton, but since we planned to go to Dollywood when we got to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, we skipped those in Branson

Steamboat Branson Belle

Steamboat Branson Belle

On Wednesday, July 8, we worked around the house. I worked on my family history project and finished Update 34 and posted it. On Thursday we went to Silver Dollar City. (See Link) This was one of two attractions recommended by nearly everyone who had been to Branson and knew we planned to be there. Thanks to those of you who suggested we go. We really enjoyed it. In addition to the typical theme park businesses and thrill rides, there are shops in which artisans continue to practice old trades. The major attraction, and the feature around which the park was developed, is Marvel Cave. It is a natural cavern thought originally to contain huge amounts of quarry-able marble. A mining town was established above it and plans were made to mine it out. Turns out what looked like marble was actually bat guano—that’s bat poop for those of you who are unscientific. The mine fizzled after the guano was removed and used for fertilizer and gun powder, but the cavern became an attraction—re-named Marvel Cave, and the town developed into a theme park with crafts persons as well as rides.

Eleven stories beneath the entrance in Marvel Cave

Eleven stories beneath the entrance in Marvel Cave

  

Live belt system in the woodshop

Live belt system in the woodshop

 For instance, there is a wood shop, completely operated by a live-belt system—where a system of wheels and belts power all the machines in the shop instead of each one having its own source of power. In this shop, they make fine furniture with intricate designs in the detail. Other artisans demonstrating were a glass blower, a basket maker, two wood carvers—one doing relief work and the other chip carving, a blacksmith, and a knife maker. It was while watching the knife maker and conversing with another tourist we first heard the apparently Southern expression, “Golly Bill!” as in, “Golly Bill, I didn’t know anyone could do that.” It has replaced “Holy cow!” in our vocabulary.

 

Silver City's glassblower

Silver City's glassblower

 

Knife maker. Golly Bill!

Knife maker. Golly Bill!

 

I belong to several genealogical online “lists,” and almost daily I receive mail to each family group asking members for information seeking ancestors. That night I “discovered” Find a Grave. (See Link) It consists of a data base compiled by a group of dedicated people who photograph cemetery headstones and then create online memorials for each person buried containing their name and as much other information as they have. Others look up family names, and when they find a family member posted, they can add photographs, biographies, newspaper articles, obituaries and other details of that person’s life. I never knew it existed until I happened to read one post from the Church of the Brethren list and a contributor suggested someone look at Find a Grave for information.

 

That night I went to bed very late, having discovered a wonderful site full of information on several of my family lines and even some photographs of great grandparents on my mother’s side I had never before seen! Since then, I have been supplying information and photographs to existing memorials, creating new ones of people not already posted, and updating my genealogy records with information carved in stone. If you are interested in genealogy and are not aware of Find a Grave, I suggest you check it out, but only if you have quite a lot of time. I spent the entire next day online posting and gathering family information.

 

On Saturday afternoon we went to the show, “Noah the Musical.”  In addition to a great story line (Genesis 6-9), the show had an awesome stage set. The ark appears to be built as the show progresses. The most spectacular scene has the interior of the ark surrounding the audience on three sides, at least 200 feet in length and 45 feet high! Many live animals were used in the show—oxen, cows, chickens, llamas, camels, sheep, goats, pigs, rabbits, dogs, horses, ostriches, burros, cats, donkeys, doves, pigeons, peacocks, ducks and others—two of each, of course. The show was very touching and emotion-provoking, as well as well-acted and staged. We thoroughly enjoyed and felt blessed to have had the opportunity to see it.

Center part of Noah's Ark interior stage set

Center part of Noah's Ark interior stage set

Another thing several people recommended was a particular genre of restaurant experience. There are at least two of them in existence, one in Branson, and another north between there and Springfield. Since we were already in Branson, we chose Falls Restaurant, Home of Tossed Rolls. The food was food, but the thing that makes the place a destination is that Rudy the Bun Thrower comes out of the kitchen with a tray of fresh-baked rolls, and when you catch his eye, he throws you one across the room! Yes, some hit the floor, but not many.

 

Branson is like a smaller, wholesome version of Las Vegas–without the debauchery. There are perhaps a hundred shows. We had lots of recommendations and had to choose between them. We selected Silver Dollar City and Noah the Musical. Unlike people who visit Branson once on their annual vacation (and probably spend the rest of the year paying for it), we actually lived in Branson—for a week, and then our practice is to move on to the next place with its attractions and live there for a week, and on and on, seeing what there is to see, but also engaging in hobbies, doing housework, visiting the dentist, shopping for groceries, and yes, even washing windows.

 

Just like most of our friends, we don’t have the time or money to take in everything a place has to offer in a week—and everything the next place has to offer the next week. When we arrive in a place, sometimes with foreknowledge and events planned, we scope out what the locals think are not-to-be-missed attractions. If time and funds permit, we take those recommendations. Often, we get just a taste of the area, a sample, leaving us with the excitement of the possibility of a return one day.

 

All that having been said, we soon had a drastic change of plans! That evening, after we had prepared the RV to move to Shirley, Arkansas, the next day, we received a phone call letting us know that Rachel’s mother had been in the hospital for a second time with a heart problem. The first time, we merely “kept our ear to the ground,” sensing whether we should go to Montana to be near family, but at the second issue, we knew clearly that we needed to change our plans. The next almost two weeks did resemble a typical family vacation as we traveled each day, cramming in the attractions along the way, doing as much as we could, not knowing when or if we would “pass this way again.”

 

We developed an itinerary from Branson to Florence, Montana, in the shortest possible time, but within our traveling limits of not much more than 200 miles a day, and added in a couple extra days where needed. We canceled our reservations in Shirley, Arkansas, and made a reservation in Kansas City at the park at which we had previously stayed when we met Mike and Kay there. That park was Walnut Grove RV Park in Merriam, KS, a suburb of Kansas City. We called owners Greg and David and asked if they had a spot for us. They arranged for us to have a pull-through spot, meaning we could drive right into the spot without backing and leave the truck hooked to the RV, saving us the need to spend the time setting up and then hooking up again the next day before leaving. We enjoyed visiting with David and Greg, who gave us vegetables from their garden, home made potato salad, and green tomatoes for fried green tomatoes. We also enjoyed a tour of Greg’s shop and seeing jewelry he makes and sells. Early (for us) the next day, we continued our journey, first north and then westward at an average distance of 200-225 miles a day (unless we had a special reason to stay longer).

 

Council Bluffs, Iowa

 

Our next two nights were spent at Council Bluffs, Iowa. We parked the RV at a casino there that had 50 amps and water, but no septic, so we used the RV area showers. We were just 100 yards from what appeared to be a great casino, but we never did set foot inside. We stayed two nights in order to get the truck serviced on the day between. It was a little overdue and we really like to take care of her, so we made the appointment before we left Kansas City.

 

We were impressed by McMullen Ford. They did everything right—which some other dealers have not, and they even checked the air pressure in the spare tire under the truck, noticed and replaced two failed clearance light bulbs on the dual fender flares, and they washed the truck!

 

We had a little time left in the day at Council Bluffs, with Omaha just across the Missouri River, so we selected one of several museums—the Union Pacific Railroad Museum to go to for two hours until closing. We took the address from a booklet on Omaha, and plugged the address into the GPS and followed it across the Missouri River into Omaha, Nebraska on I-80, past the largest steam locomotive and the largest diesel locomotive ever made, displayed on the hillside with a “Welcome to Omaha” sign. Rachel was able to snap a photo from the freeway, but we thought it would really be nice if we could get closer.

 

We got to the museum address on the GPS, and it was a one-block street, and nothing like where the UP Museum was supposed to be. We typed the address in again, this time in Council Bluffs, across the river in Iowa, and sure enough, that is where the museum was. We got to the museum just in time to go completely through and finish at exactly closing time. After the museum, we loaded into the GPS several other landmarks in Council Bluffs, such as the Grenville Dodge House and the Golden Spike Memorial, and we drove to them. Then we agreed to go back across the river to Omaha. We drove through the old market district, now upscale restaurants and loft apartments. Then we tried to find the locomotives on the hill—from the back side. We homed in on it, but were stopped by a closed and locked gate. The park where the locomotives are displayed (and from which they are seen as part of the Omaha welcome from the freeway) is open from 9 until 4 each day. We had about 200 miles to travel the next day, so we resolved to prepare the RV for travel and pull it out into the casino parking lot, and drive the Sebring back to the park the next day. Rain was predicted for thatday, but not until noon, and by then we planned to be part of the way north toward Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

 

We did as we planned, and by 9:30, we were standing beside two of the largest locomotives ever made, both steam and diesel. The Union Pacific 4023, nicknamed “Big Boy,” and one of only two remaining of the 25 built, had four lead wheels and eight drive wheels under the front half of the locomotive, and eight more drive wheels and four trailing wheels under the firebox at the back of the locomotive. The giant tender is supported by seven sets of wheels. This is the most powerful, heaviest and longest steam locomotive ever built.

 

Due to the extreme length of the locomotive, the front half pivots separately from the back half, and the lead trucks pivot independent of the drive wheels, as do the trailing trucks. This articulation allows the long, long locomotive to negotiate curves that are designed for shorter locomotives. It is the same principle used for logging Mallets (pronounced MAL ees) so that they could negotiate sharp mountain curves.

 

Rachel admires Big Boy 4023  Rachel admires Big Boy 4023

 

Ed stands beside UP Diesel 6900 Ed stands beside UP Diesel 6900

   

Ed prefers steam locomotives!

Ed prefers steam locomotives!

We were thankful for the error we made entering the address of the museum which caused us to drive past the locomotives, and eventually to stand beside them. I mentioned earlier that rain was predicted for noon. Just about 10:30, lightening started and within just a few minutes, large raindrops were falling until by the time we got back to the car, we were drenched! The weather guessers missed the time of the rain, but we had already finished our photos when it started. We returned to the casino parking lot, got the RV, and drove north on Interstate 29, and within about 50 miles, the sun was shining again.

 

Sioux Falls, South Dakota 

 

We reached Tower RV Park just west off I-29 from downtown Sioux Falls in mid-afternoon. Have you ever wondered why it is called Sioux Falls? I hadn’t considered it. While we were waiting for an RV park employee to cut a hanging branch so we could back into our assigned space, we read a brochure that talked about the Falls of the Big Sioux River. Aha! Sure enough, after the RV was set up, we got in the Sebring and drove downtown to Falls Park and spent the next hour or so enjoying the beautiful falls.

Sioux Falls Park with old penstock and powerhouse buildings across the cataracts

Sioux Falls Park with old penstock and powerhouse buildings across the cataracts

They have created a wonderful park all along the river, which drops in a series of cataracts over half a mile or more, and there are several viewpoints from which one can enjoy the sights and sound of the river. The downtown is also very nice, with vintage brick and local pink quartzite stone buildings. It is South Dakota’s largest city at nearly 125,000 population, but it has the feel of a much smaller city.

 

The next morning, we drove another 200 miles west from Sioux Falls, now on I-90. By dividing the trip into relatively equal segments, no day’s travel was much more than any other. On the way was something we had read about long ago and never thought we’d see. But, since we were on the route and it was in our path, we visited the world famous

Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD. (See Link) It is really “amaizing” and hard to “cornceptualize”—their jokes, not mine. It draws over half a million visitors a year, and sports large murals over the front and one side made entirely of multicolored corn cobs, grasses, straw, milo and sourdock. These murals are changed every year and it takes hundreds of volunteer hours to design and construct them. Inside is a presentation on corn,  several more permanent corn murals and “corncession” stands vending all manner of corn products—popcorn, popcorn balls, corn on the cob, etc. The palace also houses a gymnasium/auditorium where the local high school basketball team plays, called, to be expected, the Kernals.

 

Mitchell Corn Palace

Mitchell Corn Palace


Corn Palace Murals

Corn Palace Murals

 

Two hundred miles put us in the little town of Presho and the New Frontier RV Park, about halfway across the State of South Dakota. Presho is a small farming town, proud of its pioneer heritage, with a nice rural museum complex just across from the RV park, and the ubiquitous grain elevator and railroad loading facility present in every grain-growing town. We wandered the museum grounds and drove the streets of the little town that evening, getting a sense of what life might be like there. We ate at Hutch’s Café, the one thriving local business, and enjoyed a conversation with our server, a high school student there. After a final, brisk evening walk around the circumference of the park we retired and rested for the next day’s run.

 

Presho Grain Growers Tanks

Presho Grain Growers Tanks

Good thing we did, too, because the next day was full of adventure. Soon after leaving Presho we began to see billboards advertising South Dakota’s 1880 Town. (See Link) When Richard Hulliger bought 14 acres at Exit No. 170 on I-90 in 1969, he had no plans for an attraction.  In 1972 a gas station was built and the idea of creating a frontier town was hatched. A movie company went to a nearby town to make an 1880’s film, a main street set was constructed and it was furnished with many antiques borrowed from Richard’s father, Clarence. When winter set in, filming was abandoned, and the set was given to Clarence for the use of his antiques.

 

Rachel "window shops" at 1880 Town

Rachel "window shops" at 1880 Town

The movie set was moved to Richard’s property just off I-90, and 1880 Town was born. Since Rachel and I love this sort of thing, we absolutely had to stop and spend a couple hours walking the streets. All the buildings are authentic and historic, and have been moved to 1880 Town from elsewhere in South Dakota and nearby. Many of the props, animals and set features from Dances With Wolves are displayed here.

1880 Town in South Dakota

1880 Town in South Dakota

 

 

 

 About 40 miles farther west on I-90 was the turnoff for the Badlands National Park. (See Link) We had planned on driving straight through from Presho to Rapid City, South Dakota, but we realized that we might not pass through here again soon, if ever. So, on the spur of the moment, we turned off the freeway onto State Route 240, a windy, sometimes steep, narrow secondary road, with 65 feet of truck and fifth wheel trailer, followed by the convertible. We spent the next 38 miles and two hours driving past and hiking among fantastic formations. The grades in the park were very steep, both descending and ascending, but the Ford F-350 is a “tractor,” and had no trouble.

 
The South Dakota Badlands
The South Dakota Badlands

 

Ed hikes the Badlands

Ed hikes the Badlands

 

The Badlands

The Badlands

 

State Route 240 re-enters Interstate 90 at Exit 131, the same exit one would take to go into Wall, South Dakota, home of the famous Wall Drug. Now Wall Drug is not just a pharmacy, but rivals many other attractions. It covers 76,000 square feet, covers most of a city block in downtown Wall, South Dakota, and houses several restaurants, a multitude of shops of all sorts, gold panning, and a life-sized dinosaur that comes to life, roaring and breathing fire every 20 minutes. I distinctly remember the bumper stickers from former times that have been revised to say, “Where in Heck is Wall Drug?”

 

Yes, that's ALL Wall Drug!

Yes, that's ALL Wall Drug!


Inside Wall Drug

Inside Wall Drug


Ed visits with a Floosie

Ed visits with a Floosie


Rachel visits with the floozie!

Rachel visits with the floozie!

 

 

 

What started out to be a 200-mile, four-hour drive turned into a 220-mile, eight-hour day of travel, full of interesting things to see and do. By the time we arrived at our next destination, Rapid City, South Dakota, it was early evening, and we drove straight to our park, set up for a three-night stay, and went to bed.

 

The next day was Sunday, and Rapid City has a Calvary Chapel, so we attended services there. The pastor, Greg Blanc, trained and interned with Mike MacIntosh at Horizon Christian Fellowship, our home church, so it was fun visiting with him after services. He invited us to participate in a community outreach in the city park that evening, and we told him of our plans for the rest of the day and said we would stop by the park if we returned in time. We had planned a full day after church, but were hopeful we could help out.

 

We changed clothes at the RV park and set out south on Highway 16 to Mount Rushmore. Rachel and I had both always wanted to see it, but the plans we had made did not include being anywhere near for several years—until our change of plans. While we were trying to get to Florence without wasting any time in case we were needed, we felt we had time to enjoy sights and sites we might not pass again anytime soon. Mount Rushmore was one of them, and there were four others nearby.

 

Five great faces!

Five great faces!

 

The Sculpture

The Sculpture

 

We thoroughly enjoyed our time at Mount Rushmore. (See Link) We did the whole thing: audio tour headsets, the film presentations, the hike to the base of the mountain sculpture and to the sculptor’s studio, the book store, the museum and the gift shop. Oh, and the ice cream shop, too. The sculpture is spectacular and amazing. The story of its creation is fascinating as well. http://www.nps.gov/moru/historyculture/mount-rushmore-national-memorial.htm

 

We left Mount Rushmore and drove the additional few miles to the Crazy Horse Memorial. (See Link) This memorial to a great Chief is completely private, funded by donations and admissions charged for parking at the site ($10 per car load). The massive memorial carving is plainly visible from the huge museum complex, but there is also a bus tour to the base of the mountain ($4 additional each) that is well worth the cost. The museum, finished on the interior completely with knotty pine, has two theaters, an education and conference center, the Indian Museum of North America, Native American Cultural Center with native craftsmen working on their crafts, the sculptor’s log studio and home, a 1/34 model of the monument, a snack shop and a full restaurant.

The Crazy Horse Memorial from a distance

The Crazy Horse Memorial from a distance


Closer view

Closer view


Model to memorial comparison

Model to memorial comparison


Interpretive Center--all pine!

Interpretive Center--all pine!

 

Though it was late in the day, we decided to take the long way home through Custer State Park, just south of Crazy Horse. It covers 71,000 acres and is home to a herd of buffalo numbering over 1,400. On our drive through the park we drove through most of them—I mean they were on both sides of the car and in front and in back. Do you know that a full-grown buffalo is larger than a Chrysler Sebring? In this case, the buffalo were 1,400 times larger! What an exciting drive. Before dark we also saw herds of deer (both mule deer and whitetail deer) and elk. We got home well after dark, and completely missed serving with Calvary Chapel Rapid City at the park.

 

The best we could do under the circumstances

The best we could do under the circumstances

 

 General George A. Custer is most remembered for his defeat at the Battle of Little Bighorn, but before that he led an expedition into the Black Hills where they discovered gold. The publicity brought a throng of fortune hunters which eventually took a toll on wildlife. In 1913 the Dakota legislature created a game preserve in what has become the Custer State Park.

 

Mining and Western history have long been an interest, and both of us enjoy mining towns. I had read about Deadwood City and Lead (pronounced LEED, after the mining term, not the metal). Now we were a mere 44 miles from them, so how could we not go? Also, the now-closed Homestake Mine is the new home to the deep research facility rejected by Leavenworth, Washington. I wanted to see the town of Deadwood, where gold was discobvered in 1876 and where Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane lived and died and are buried. We had seen the markers in the street of the town square in Springfield, Missouri where Wild Bill and Dave Tuit shot it out and where each stood 75 yards apart during the shootout. Deadwood is where he ended up and we wanted to see it.

MO 135

Marker in Springfield, Missouri, street where Wild Bill killed his opponent in the first recorded gunfight

 

Hickcock Grave 1876

Hickcock Grave, 1876

So, on Monday we drove to Deadwood, South Dakota. As we drove into town, the cemetery sign was one of the first things we saw, so we drove up the steep street, parked and walked into the burial ground. The graves of Wild Bill and Martha “Calamity Jane” Canary/Burke were not hard to find, since they were well marked by signs and by the crowds gathered around. They soon mostly cleared and we were able to get a photo.

 

 

 

 

 

Hickcock Grave, 2009 Hickcock Grave, 2009

 Hickcock, a guide for the Custer Expedition, was killed during a card game at Deadwood’s Saloon No. 10, holding what became known as the Deadman’s Hand—black aces and eights, with a black jack to spare. Later, when she died in Terry, South Dakota, in 1903, Calamity Jane’s dying request was, “Bury me beside Wild Bill.” Whether he would have wished it is disputable. She claimed to have been his “girlfriend,” and that is the legend, but there is little evidence that was the case.

 

We wandered town for a bit, enjoying the atmosphere of the old West feel, including the opportunity to see a room on the third floor of the Lincoln Hotel. We also spent some time admiring a very nice model railroad in the basement level of one of the main street casinos. Many of the main street building fronts have been carefully restored as a result of profits from the casinos located behind those fronts. Several large ones occupy many of the downtown buildings, but the Old West atmosphere is preserved by the authentic building fronts.

Downtown Deadwood from Mt. Moriah Cemetery

Downtown Deadwood from Mt. Moriah Cemetery

 

Part of downtown Deadwood SD, Lincoln Hotel, center

Part of downtown Deadwood SD, Lincoln Hotel, center

 

We wound our way to Lead by way of Central City, another late-1800’s mining town, but we could find no remaining trace of it. We arrived in Lead and pulled into the Chamber parking lot in time to reserve a spot in the last Homestake Mine tour of the day. The tour took us through the main part of Lead and up to the hoist house of the mine. We saw the giant hoist engines and, in fact, while we were inside, one of the hoists was in operation, though mining ceased when the mine was closed in 2002. Many of the mine structures have been removed in a clean-up effort. 

 

The only buildings left from the once massive Homestake Mine operation are those needed for the Sanford Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory located deep underground in the old mine workings. The lab located here after Leavenworth, Washington rejected overtures by the company to locate near there in the Icicle River drainage. Local residents were concerned that the construction of the tunnel needed to get far enough underground would spoil the pristine nature of the canyon, and environmentalists opposed it there because it would have been located deep beneath a wilderness area. Lead, on the other hand, welcomes the research facility and counts on it to bolster the economy for many years to come. 

Remaining Homestake Mine Buildings

Remaining Homestake Mine Buildings

Our return trip to Rapid City was by way of I-90, and to reach it, we traveled northward to the town of Sturgis. If you don’t recognize the name, you are not too aware of Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Every year thousands of Harley riders (and others) travel to Sturgis for a rally. We missed the rally by one week, but we did not miss a multitude of riders everywhere we went in the area.

 

The next day we hitched up and started for our next overnight destination, Buffalo, Wyoming. When we reached the little town of Sundance we realized we were only a short distance from Devils Tower National Monument. If you have not been there, you may still remember it if you saw the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Devils Tower figured prominently in the film. We left the RV in Sundance and took the Sebring to the park. We were fortunate to find a parking place close to the trailhead, and we walked the nearly mile-long trail completely around the tower. We were fortunate to observe climbing parties, one ascending and another descending. We also visited with a climber who had made it back down—which, he said, was the most difficult part of the process. We will take his word for it.

Approaching Devil's Tower

Approaching Devil's Tower

On the way back to Sundance to get our RV and truck we passed a roadside restaurant we had seen on the way there, and what stuck in our minds was the sign outside that said “Eat here so we both won’t starve.” We did. The Indian tacos they serve were both large and tasty. When we left, we were definitely not starving. We trust they won’t either. We returned to Sundance and resumed our travel to Buffalo and Indian Campground there. It was right off the Interstate, and we left the truck hooked up and retired early, ready for our next several days’ travel.

Devil's Tower from the trail around the monolith

Devil's Tower from the trail around the monolith

The next day took us past the Little Bighorn Battlefield on our way to Columbus, Montana. We optimistically drove the truck and RV right up the hill to the park area, only to find that parking was non-existent due to the large number of people visiting. We returned to near the highway and parked the RV in a grassy field between an Indian casino and an Indian hospital and drove the Sebring back up to the park. We were fortunate to arrive just in time to hear a talk by a volunteer explaining the battle. He had been called in to replace the regular rangers who were all in a meeting. He had done the lecture for several years during the summers on vacation from his history teaching job. He was a very interesting, entertaining and informative lecturer.

 

Following the talk, we hiked first to the Indian memorial and then to the Cavalry memorial. Custer’s remains are buried at West Point, but the remains of many of the U.S. Soldiers lost that day are buried in a mass grave at the top of Last Stand Hill where the last of the battle took place. Markers inside a fenced area show where soldiers fell that day behind inside the circle of horses which they had shot to use as breastworks as they made their final stand. In 1999, the National Park Service began erecting markers at known Cheyenne and Lakota casualty sites. We got in the car then and drove the 6-mile road to other important sites that figured in the battle. It was a sobering experience, but one we felt we needed to take in as long as we had the opportunity.

 

Battle site at Little Bighorn

Battle site at Little Bighorn


Markers of US soldiers killed in battle

Markers of US soldiers killed in battle

 

Markers of Indians lost in battle

Markers of Indians lost in battle


Entrance to the Indian Memorial

Entrance to the Indian Memorial

 

Columbus, Montana undoubtedly has many fine features and attractions, but you couldn’t prove it by us. We finished our day by driving off the Interstate into the RV park, hooking up to utilities, eating a bite of dinner, and going to bed. There aren’t too many towns we have stayed in that we haven’t driven the streets, visited the museums, and seen what there is to see. This was one. The next day we crossed the Continental Divide, and this time, heading westward there was no doubt. Homestake Pass tops off at 6,368 feet, and the RV and I were both glad when we had crossed and were safely on the relatively flat valley where the City of Butte is located. 

Butte, as far as I am concerned, is one of the most interesting and enjoyable cities in the world, next to Virginia City, Nevada. The many mine headframes in the city make it interesting, and the Bernekey Pit and the relatively new Continental Pit make it doubly so. We arrived in time to find our spot and cross a fence line to the office of the Chamber of Commerce just as the last City Tour of the day was loading. We have been to Butte many times and every time we learn something new. Neither of us had ever taken the city tour, and this one was driven and narrated by a junior high school history teacher. Nobody teaches junior high history unless they are interesting and entertaining—for long. This fellow was both, and we really enjoyed the tour and learned quite a lot of new information.

Typical mine headframe in Butte

Typical mine headframe in Butte, one of many

 

Copper King Mansion in Butte

Copper King Mansion in Butte Butte Boardinghouse

The next morning before we left on the last leg of our journey we were fixing breakfast before calling Rachel’s Aunt Royette to see if we could stop by for a short visit before leaving Butte. Rachel opened the door under the sink, and there was quite a lot of water standing where no water should be. Our visit time was spent bypassing a water filter that supplies a drinking water faucet and the refrigerator ice maker. The RV water lines are all polyvinyl except for a 14” section of flared copper supplying the water filter. Guess what was leaking!

 

Missoula and the Bitterroot Valley of Montana

 

After the shortest drive of the nearly two-week trek we arrived at Florence at the rural home of Tom and Kathryn McCleerey. Kathryn is Rachel’s next older sister. Her parents, Bob and Margaret Aplin, and the McCleereys live on adjacent 10-acre plots about four miles east of Florence, which is located 16 miles south of Missoula in the beautiful Bitterroot Valley. Rachel’s brother Rob and wife Cyndie live in Missoula, so ¾ of her immediate family live within 20 miles and ½ live very close. The other ¼ of the family, sister Judith and her husband Ron live at Jefferson City, about 50 miles toward Helena from Butte, which is 147 miles from Florence. Judith visits her parents frequently, so the entire family is close by quite often.

 

We arrived to find Margaret carrying on normally after receiving a stent. Aside from tiring easily, she was able to lead a normal life. So, instead of the emergency we had feared, we were pleased to have the opportunity to visit socially and in a more leisurely manner than usual, when we drop in for a week and everyone’s schedules are interrupted while we try to get together.

 

In the time between when we arrived and when we took a week’s “vacation” we had the opportunity for Rachel to join her father in his morning walks, and for us to help Tom and Kathryn paint their house and garage, float the Bitterroot River from Florence Bridge to Chief Looking Glass Campground, harvest vegetables and berries from Bob’s garden, go into the mountains and help Bob fall, buck, load and haul firewood (then later split and sta

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