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Day 5 :: September 25, 2004: 12:27 PM

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2004
Day Five

Having checked into a motel late and in the dark we were surprised when we opened our room door and saw the Big Horn mountains complete with snow right in front of us. The previous evening we had seen an internet café in Buffalo. And I downloaded two days of blog. We passed a store with 44oz soda fountain drinks for 79 cents…but I have had my one soda for the year…the root beer, so we passed on that!

The terrain we drove through was lumpy, with short and dried out grass. The previous evening in the gloom we had seen these lumps silhouetted at both side of the roads and they looked like the slag heads of my youth in a steel making town. The landscape had changed. We saw a graveyard and the cross at the entrance appeared to be made of welded girders. Beside there, was a car tossed over the edge into the Tongue River.

Montana had a sign!

The scenery changed again. Often the two sides of the road were different with snow covered mountains on the left and desert-like mounds on the right. Later that reversed and the right had hills covered in evergreen trees with mountains beyond them and on the left far-reaching plains with the occasional group of deep gold leaved trees to enliven the almost monochromatic landscape of newly cut field of grains.

When our trip odometer reached 2195 we saw a distant and low stretch of mountains – our first glimpse of the Rockies!

We passed the Little Big Horn Battleground and the Custer Memorial. Sitting Bull’s Camp advertised free arrowheads and clean restrooms…Fort Custer was painted a deep red in a landscape short on strong colors, very noticeable.

At Billings we reached the most northerly point of the trip. Just outside the town the I-90 had rejoined the I-94: the two had split way back in Wisconsin. We used the GPS to find the mall where I knew there to be a Starbucks. Yay for triangulation! Microsoft did not fail us - though triangulation remains my least favorite drawing technique. Had lunch – there was casino in the mall! And a lot of pawn shops. Got gas and ice and off we went. Billings is mostly surrounded by the Rimrocks, strange flat rock formulations around the city perimeter – very unusual. We rejoined the I-90 for a short time then took the 212 south west into Yellowstone Park. We will probably not go on the I-90 again till we next end up at the Starbucks on Wolf Road or need to mail a package on a weekend when only the Colonie Post office is open.

The 212 is an astonishing drive! It takes you over the Beartooth Pass (10,947 feet) and the Colter Pass (8066 feet.) On the way up we passed Fort Rockvale restaurant which boasted the cleanest restrooms in Montana but we did not check this out! As we approached the Rockies the temperature began to fall though the day was beautiful with a bright blue sky and a few wispy clouds. We passed field after fields of Black Angus cows and Arabian horses. At an overlook 9000+ feet up we encountered some very bold chipmunks – one ran up Mike’s leg to see if he had food in his hand! At this point the memory card in the camera started to complain so we sat there, in the thin, now cool air and downloaded to CD 131 images. The laptop detected wireless up there, presumably something governmental.

We continued this spectacular climb up into areas decorated with the light snow of the previous 48 hours.

As we entered Wyoming, still high in the Rockies the weather began to change for the worst. We went though thick cloud. The temperature fell to 34 degrees; the snow had been thick enough to plow. As we approached the summit the temperature fell to 28 and 25 a few minutes later. We worked our way slowly down the mountain in fine snow. Workers were cutting down pine trees beside the road and the air was filled with the scent of pine. Signs proclaimed “Grizzly Bear Country” and “expect cows in the road” as we continued on in heavier snow inside a cloud but the temperature rose to 36. Before we got to Colter Pass the snow became light rain. We re-entered Montana, bought a small amount of $2.40 gas in Cooke City so we could use the restrooms there, passed through Silver City ( these last two are small western towns that look they should be on the set of a B western.) We entered Yellowstone at around 5pm, the temperature was 34 degrees and all lodgings were full and camping did not seem wise. We went through the park to Gardiner at the North East Entrance and joined a line of cars stopping and trying to find motel rooms. On the edge of town (right next to the Montana state sign) we found a room. Walking around the town later we realized just up the road the Best Western and Comfort Inns we preferred still had vacant signs but at the time we just wanted something in the vicinity. No internet….

During our ride through the top part of Yellowstone we had seen bison, pronghorn antelopes and saw and heard elk calling. In Gardiner they were everywhere eating peoples’ plants and standing beside the road. One male with huge antlers was particularly noisy. We had also passed a sign saying we were crossing the 45th Parallel, half way between the Equator and North Pole and had passed in and out of Montana and Wyoming several times. Yellowstone had already surprised us…the size, so big and we had seen just a tiny part…and the landscape, which in that area was scrublands, dry prairies and small hills. We got an early (for us) night to be ready to explore….

We finished the day with 2464 miles of our trip completed. We had traveled 356 miles and crossed the Rockies.

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