Well, the month of August is over and what a month it was. We had a delightful visit with Dolly in Livingston, Montana. She is working at the Sky Mountain Guest Ranch as the Manager of the Diningroom. We agree she has found a beautiful place to work. Before our visit, we completed the Helena and Lewis and Clark national forests. After a wonderful hike and lots of good food, we left Dolly headed south to the Bighorn National Forest in Wyoming. Boy, the adventures we had there!
As your friends here are a few things you should know about Montana before traveling to this part of the world:
- The folks in Montana welcome visitors with more or less open arms but don't even hint that you might be interested in Moving/staying in "their country".
- It seems there is a casino on every corner. There is even a gas station chain that features "Lucky Lil's" casino just beyond the coffee and pop (soda to some of us) section. In most states we have visited, gambling establishments were found on Reservation land but not in Montana.
- The speed limit on Montana's major roads is "Safe and Prudent." Try and find that on your speedometer! Dolly claims, "We don't have accidents around here. We have fatalities."
- Gasoline octane levels are another area where Montana differs from the other states we have visited. Not only is gas one of the most expensive (47 cent/gallon state and federal tax pushes it way up there) but offered 85, 85.5, 87, and 91 octane levels. We were told elevations and lower humidity found in Montana permit the use of the lower octanes. While we had no real problem west of the Divide, east of there Kermit started sounding like a cheap electric coffee pot.
- Folks don't "water" their yards, they irrigate, two or three times a weeks. This involves setting out the sprinkler and letting it run for hours.
- And last, possibly the greatest wonder of Montana is that east of the Divide it is totally different from the Montana found west of the Divide. It is almost as if there are two states of Montana; two topographies, two climate, and two states of mind. Eastern Montana is rolling hills with golden waves of ripening grain alternating with pasture land filled with various livestock (Suzi's favorite is the "Oreo" cattle with black front and rear ends sandwiching a white middle) and an occasional mountain reaching skyward. To the west there is very little rolling topography. The mountain ranges jut skyward and grab at the passing clouds. Creeks run fast, rivers are clear, and the lakes are various shades of blue. In the western regions of the State, Pacific storms give up the last of their moisture and the trees grow tall and thick. In the eastern portions of the State,
cottonwoods mark dry creek beds and line irrigation ditches while lodgepole pines shade mountainsides. Here rivers are wide and brown, and all the lakes are man-made. Life is not easy anywhere in Montana but west of the Divide we were told, "You have three months to make the year's mortgage payments." Tourism is the primary business there and it appears to be less reliable than the weather. To the east, tourism is important but ranching and farming is still the mainstay of the economy.
Overall, Montana is a magnificent, wonderful, and interesting place. It is also very hard, demanding, and unforgiving. Our hats are off to the folks that make Montana their home.
After a month in Montana's prairie, we were pleasantly surprised by the Bighorn National Forest in Wyoming. This is possibly the most photogenic national forest we have visited. Imagine eight, nine and twelve-thousand foot high mountains in the middle of semi-arid plains. Each mountain peak seems to be a little different. One looks like the back teeth of some giant bear. Another is rounded and topped with a downy cover of grass. Still, another one is nothing but bare rocks stacked on top of more bare rocks. The whole range is crisscrossed by creeks, streams, and rivers. Clear, fast flowing, and full of trout, these waterways run through dense lodgepole pine, Engleman spruce and Douglas-fir groves and across enormous meadows. Simply beautiful.
One of our more notable and best adventures for the year occurred in the Bighorns. We had been surveying the campgrounds on Bald Mountain. We pulled into an interpretive site about 37-miles east of Lovell, WY and 46-miles west of Dayton, WY at about 9,100 feet. As we rolled in to park, our faithful Kermit died. Not a strutting stop nor a moments pause, but a sudden drop dead death. The fuel pump was gone but we didn't know that yet. So here we are in a place where five cars drive by the first hour and the
wind was blowing hard enough to force our words back down our throats. First, we flagged down a rancher (who didn't have a mobile-phone but gave us the phone number for Keith, his mechanic), then a Forest Service person (who did have a phone) stopped. To make a long story short, Keith drove up The Mountain (part of which is a fourteen mile pull up a 10 to 12 percent grade), diagnosed the problem, ordered the pump from his supplier in Billings, MT (about 100-miles north) who promised to deliver it by 8 PM, and towed us back to his garage in Cowley (on the other side of Lovell), WY where he replaced the fuel pump. We had a delicious dinner in the best (and only) eatin' place in Cowley while Keith, his son and a friend, did their magic. The whole adventure, from stranded to back in our own bed, lasted about nine hours. It was definitely an adventure to be remembered.
September will see us winding down for this year. We plan on completing the Bighorn and Medicine Bow National Forests in WY before heading back to Bisbee (via Estes Park/Denver, CO and Albuquerque, NM). After three years it will probably feel strange to be in a stationary structure permanently attached to the ground but it does sound like a nice idea. We should be able
to provide you all with our new mailing address in the next edition of the Wanderings.
Suzi and Fred