First of All –
- First time driving in Montana
- First bighorn sheep ram seen
- First time having to stop at a boat inspection station
- Rapid City
- Belle Fourche
- Powder River
- Little Bighorn
- Miles Driven today: 575
- Total Miles Cruised to date: 5,047
- Hours Underway: 14
- Fuel: 45 gallons
- Morning House Battery Reading: 14.3 (plugged in)
- Wind Speed: 10 ; Wind Direction: W
- Daily High Temperature: 94
- Water Temperature: NA
We sit in the cockpit of the boat and eat breakfast, looking out at the little town of Interior, and the South Dakota Badlands which dominate the skyline to the north and west. It’s a lonely place, which seems to have once been busier and more substantial, but not by much. We pull out of our campsite around 8am and drive a short distance, back inside the Park and over to the visitor center. We watch the introductory film, which is excellent, and then wander through the center, with its exhibits on the geology, human and natural history of the Badlands. Then we take the scenic loop drive, stopping at a couple of places to get out and take in the wonders. It’s unfortunate that we can’t pause and really experience this place. Our primary purpose today is to cover miles, and by 10:30am we’re once again out on I-90 rolling along at 70 mph. We drive past Rapid City and skirt the Black Hills. Billboards shout at us, urging stops here and there but we ignore them all. We even resist detouring for a quick look at Mt. Rushmore. We’ve seen it and the Crazy Horse carved mountain before, and it would be pointless to navigate our towed sailboat through hordes of tourists for another fleeting peek. On the other side of the freeway, all heading east, are streams of motorcycles. The famed Sturgis Motorcycle Rally has just wrapped up, and bikers from all over the US and Canada are thundering homeward. We stop for lunch near Belle Fourche, memorably pronounced “Bell Foosh” by John Wayne in True Grit. That’s actually how they pronounce it. I’m sure real Frenchmen cringe at the pronounciation.
Not far beyond our lunch stop we cross into Wyoming, and it’s there on the eastern fringe of this great and true wild west state that we’re subjected to a holdup by modern day highwaymen. Actually, they’re fish and game men, and instead of our gold and jewelry, they’re holding us up to inspect our boat. They place signs on the freeway, directing all watercraft to pull over at the rest area turnoff. Law abiding citizens that we are, we do as directed. I’m certain that we’re the first sailboat in the history of the program to stop and report last cruising on Lake Huron. This distinction entitles us to receive the full attention and treatment of the young men at the inspection station. They do a careful walkaround, carefully examining this potential harborage of nasty invasive species. They look the trailer over, crawl under the boat and look into the centerboard well, and they pay particular attention to the transom, which is still adorned with small, very dead barnacles. They ask that I open the water ballast valve, which is empty of water. I’m informed that they will need to attach engine flushing ears onto the lower unit of our outboard and flush the outboard with 140 degree water. I lower the engine and they start their water pump, carefully measuring the temperature of the water to confirm that it’s at the prescribed temperature. They place the ears on the cooling water intake and I start the engine. After a couple of minutes, this supposedly has killed any nasty creatures still lurking inside our engine, and I shut it down. Then they crank up their pressure washer, and proceed to blast away at the transom, knocking off all those little barnacles. This seems very strange, since those salt water barnacles have long been deceased after being in fresh water for the past 3 months. I explain this simple fact to them and they just shrug their shoulders, saying that their boss requires that they do this. I do get a free cleaning of the back of the boat, however, I’m not pleased with the more than half hour delay which this all costs me. Finally, they’re satisfied that our boat is no longer a threat to Wyoming’s waters and I get a carbon copy of their inspection form. They affix a small cable to the boat trailer, sealing it with a soft metal compressed slug, which prevents me from launching the boat without first breaking the cable. They tell me that Montana also has an inspection program, and that my receipt and the cable should allow me to pass through with minimal delay.
We start up again, driving through the storied Powder River Basin which was the scene of some of the most bitter fights between Indians and cavalry during the 1860’s and 1870’s. A short distance off the freeway, the happless and foolish Fetterman succeeded in getting his entire command wiped out by Red Cloud and his warriors. When the Indians win it’s termed a massacre. When the cavalry prevails in an attach on a defenseless winter village full of women and children, like at nearby Wounded Knee, it’s called a battle. At least, that’s how traditional histories treat such tragic events. Today, the Powder River Basin is mostly known for its energy production. A sign we read at a stop along the way proclaims that 1/6 of the world’s current energy production comes from this basin, mostly low sulfur coal but also natural gas. That’s a statistic which is hard to fathom.
We pass the cities of Buffalo and Sheridan, near the base of the Big Horn Mountains, and then cross into Montana. I warily watch for boat inspection station turn off signs, but see none. We do see numerous signs related to the Little Bighorn Battlefield, which until recently was known as the Custer Massacre site. From a distance we can see the lonely hill, with tiny white specks marking the location where 7th Cavalry troopers fell and died. Once again, we’ve previously visited this historic place, so we motor on. Around dinner time we approach Billings. I see a generic logo sign for “food” and turn off. Unfortunately, restaurants are nowhere near the exit. We end up in a hopeless traffic backup. It seems that even in Billings they have rush hour traffic. The presence of carnival rides some ways off also suggest that we may be caught in traffic related to a local fair. I manage to swing a “U” turn and get back on the freeway. We go to what I take to be an exit on the western fringe of Billings, which also boasts “food” signs, however, once committed to the exit, additional signs tell us that the restaurants are 1 to 2 miles down the road, right in the heart of downtown Billings. I stop at the first place we come to, a Dennys, and against my better judgement, we turn in. The parking lot is nearly deserted, as is the restaurant itself. This speaks volumes regarding the qualities of the food served here. At the conclusion of our meal we conclude that we’ll never stop at another Denny’s again. Realizing that it would be hopeless to respond honestly, I lie like crazy when the waitress asks us how everything is tasting. In addition to serving terrible food, the service is slow and uninspired, and it’s after 8pm before we get back on the road. I’d hoped to make it to Three Forks today, knowing that there’s a nice state park there, and that this location would put us within comfortable driving range of home for our final day on the road. However, it’s getting late and I’m weary of driving. We roll into Bozeman around 10:30pm and stop at a rest area there. The truck parking area is completely full, however, I find a double parking space in the car parking area, and pull in there. We climb into the boat for our final night’s sleep in the vee berth.