Our departure from Calgary was under sunny skies. After a brief stop in Lethbridge we crossed into the US with no problems or delays. By the time we reached our destination of Great Falls, the thermometer was reading 29C. We had filled a propane tank in Calgary before leaving and we think due to the hot weather it vented, so the trailer alarm was buzzing when we stopped at the KOA. We opened windows and had the fans on high and by the time we got back from the Nature Walk 45 minutes later the smell was gone and we prepared supper.
What a treat to wear shorts again. The Nature Walk was through the KOA planned shelter belt which is situated directly on the Lewis & Clark Trail. This piece of land was part of the Portage Route around the thundering “Great Falls”. The trail markers tell the story of the region – from mining, including the rare red Sapphire. One of the many reasons Montana is called “The Treasure State”. Garnets and gold were also mined throughout the state. During the 1800’s the prolific mining operations uncovered dinosaur skeletons, which bought more attention to this largely unnoticed area of the US. Oil and gas industries employ many people in the area. Great Falls is part of the “Golden Triangle”, running from Cut Bank in the NW and to the Havre in the NE and at the centre to the south is Great Falls, the bottom of this inverted triangle where a large percentage of US wheat production is grown. Beef ranching is also a big industry.
The RV Park was getting ready for winter – watering all the trees in the shelter belt – it was very nice to see proper care for these trees that are to often ignored. Of great interest to us was the productive vegetable garden growing out of bales of straw. Irrigation hoses ran up and down the rows of bales. We must do more research to learn the method.
We arrived from the north after our 3 hour drive to Billings via Hwy’s 87, 191 and 3. The River Park was only a short drive from Billings Village RV Park where we strolled around picturesque Josephine Lake, home to the first settler’s in Billings, the Cochran Family. Many of our fellow Canadian travellers were happily resting, enjoying the path and honking their displeasure at us interrupting them, who but Canadian Geese.
Up early today as we have a long day’s drive to Rapid City where we will meet Orval and Darlene. A hour drive on the I 90 and we arrive at Little Big Horn Battlefield National Monument. An informative video disputes the stories we have heard about Custer- we learn he was a highly decorated soldier from the Civil War. The pamphlet that accompanies our admission fee is titled “A Clash of Cultures”. A very sad statement to describe what happens to the American Indians. Each June 25 the descendants of the Lakota and Cheyenne people gather to honour their ancestors. On June 25, 1876 approximately 260 officers and soldiers were killed during the battle, the Indians lost less than 100. (Indians is how American natives are referred to in the film we watched and literature we received.) The Indians won the battle but lost the war against the US gov’t who wanted to end the Indian indepentant and nomadic way of life. The 1874 gold discovery in the Black Hills in the heart of the new Indian Reservation lead to a stampede of gold prospectors. The government could not stop the prospectors, the Indians would not sell the Black Hills back to the US Government to avoid confrontation. The Lakota and Cheyenne resumed raids against the trespassers and on Jan 31, 1876 the government ordered the Indians to be treated as hostiles.
The area is a very moving site, the story a very sad one but not unfamiliar to any country that has an indigenous population.
In 1890 white headstones were placed marking the place where Custer’s men fell, dot the landscape. 109 years late in 1999 the National Park Service erected red granite markers at Cheyenne and Lakota warrior casualty sites.
Back on the fantastic I 90 just after noon and just south of Sheridan we hear a loud pop and pull into a historical marker a mile up the road where we discover a tire on the trailer has blown. My role is tool gofer, go for this tool and that tool, while Terry changes the tire and 30 minutes later we are heading back to Sheridan to buy a new tire.
Wyoming is beautiful, hilly and grassy. Beef ranch, sheep herds, long coal trains and enough oil and gas facilities to make Terry feel right at home. Irrigation systems support the required hay bales production. The herds of antelope loved these green acres, we wondered what the farmers do with them during the spring and summer in order to keep them out of their fields.
After we left Gillette we found the speed limit increased to 80 mph, Terry happily drove 65 mps as everyone passed by us and disappeared over the hills. About 30 miles from the South Dakota border the grasslands become forests.
We set up in the dark at Hart Ranch RV Park, a highly recommended place to stay but don’t follow the GPS instructions.
October 23 Mount Rushmore
Majestic, awe-inspiring, magnificent and an impressive work of art as Gutzon Borglum, sculptor, hoped and meant it to be. Doane Robinson who first perceived the idea of a massive mountain carving and Senator Peter Norbeck who carried the torch for the idea and Borglum selected 4 great presidential figures for the carving. Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln.
Begun in 1927 and completed in 1941 the project was actually only 6 1/2 years of work time. The project would shutdown due to financial shortfalls. 400 workers built roads, ran the hoist, generated power, sharpened drill bits, set dynamite charges (these were considered the most skilled workers making $1.25/hr), or did finishing work on the sculptures. These workers had to walk the equivalent of 40 stories up the mountain twice a day, as blasting was done during lunch and at the end of the day. Recording of interviews with the workers who said “When they first started it would take them 30 minutes and by completion of the project they could do the walk in 9 minutes”.
In places 100 feet of rock had to be blasted out before solid granite was reached. Almost a million tonne of rock was blasted in the 6 1/2 years. Dynamite was the main tool in the sculpting process, the sticks were cut into small pieces to dislodge rocks to sculpture lips and eyes.
The model Borglum made was a 1:12 inch scale, one inch on the model equals one foot on the mountain and was used as the blueprint for the mountain sculpture.
Each face is 60 feet tall, each eye 11 feet wide and the noses are 20 feet long.
Borglum died before the sculpture was completed, his son Lincoln who worked with his dad spent 7 months refining the monument. The US was preparing for war and funds were needed else where therefore the mortar sculpture does not match the scale model
Chief Henry Standing Bear of the Oglak Sioux wrote Sculptor Korczak Zlolkowski, who worked as an assistant to Borglum at Mount Rushmore, asking him to consider carving a giant sculpture dedicated to the American Indian, “so the white man know the red man has heroes also”.
He agreed and started work in 1948. No state or federal funds are accepted so this explains why the sculpture is not completed, though the family of Korczak is slowly working on it. Apparently they have recently received a $10,000.000 donation with the qualification the horses head be completed within 10 years.
The model Ziolkowski made depicting Crazy Horse atop his horse will be 563′ and will be made in the round (seen from both sides and the front) when complete.
At the Welcome Center a video is shown, you can decide to take a bus to the base of the mountain or begin touring through the Center with its vast collection of Indian art, including bead works; paintings; sculpture’s; baskets;pottery; traditional clothing items; weapons, including arrow collections and portrait collection of American Indian leaders.
The history and the future plans of Crazy Horse are amazing and we sincerely hope they will be realized. We spent 3 hours here reading and learning but there was still more to see and learn. It is certainly worth visiting
October 25 – Deadwood
in 1875 John B. Pearson finds gold in Deadwood Gulch.
It seems that everything you have watched in old western’s happened here in Deadwood. Fire, Flood, Indian Raids, Murder, Robberies, Brothel’s, Gunfights, Hangings, Gambling, Cheating, Cattle Drives, Rodeo’s and probably more.
Deadwood is one long street with steep cliffs on both sides, no wonder the floods and fires devastated the town 5 times. Wild Bill Hockok was shot in the back while playing cards in Saloon NO. 10 in 1876. Hence the name “Deadmans Hand”, aces, 8’s and the 9 of diamond’s.
Wild Bill is buried in Mt. Moriah Cemetery. Calamity Jane asked to be buried next to him as is Potato Creek Johnny, John Perrett who found a 7 3/4 ounce leg-shaped gold nugget in May 1929.
The Adams Museum is considered the Black Hills oldest history museum. It has a very interesting and eclectic collection and well worth the visit. Tales of Deadwood Dick, Poker Alice, Canadian Seth Bullock and Charlie Utter make fabulous reading. This museum was ranked #3 among the True West Magazines 2009 Top 10 Western Museums.
IN 1961 the entire city of Deadwood was designated a National Historic Landmark. In 1947 gambling officially ended in Deadwood. November 1, 1989 is the first day that legalized limited-stakes gaming begins. Deadwood begins a transformation from a town struggling with a crumbling infrastructure and dwindling population and fewer tourists to a financially secure community who has paid homage to their past with their historic preservation and restoration, an ongoing process. A very enjoyable day.
October 25 – Custer State Park
A drive through landscape of grassed rolling hills, very few trees. We see bison, burrows and mountain sheep. A stop in Custer for ice cream and then home to get ready to leave tomorrow