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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Into the Dakotas

After seeing thunderstorms gathering around us the past two day but never having any rain we saw the end of our sunny driving end this morning.  Waking up early in the morning I heard rain outside and throughout the morning the we went through small squalls that put just enough water on the van to turn the dust from yesterday's run along Idaho A-20 into mud.

Before leaving in the rain we had the Best Western complimentary breakfast at Stella's Kitchen and Bakery.  The smell as we approached was pure bakery, being somewhat conscious of the waistlines we eschewed the cinnamon rolls that appeared to be able to enter "best I ever ate..." category as they were the size of catchers' mitts--and not Little League either.  Fueled up we headed out to the east-southeast to the Little Big Horn.

Even those with just a scant knowledge of U.S. history are aware that Little Big Horn is the site of Custer's Last Stand.  The exact location of the Last Stand is very well preserved with an information center, museum of artifacts, a monument and guides and guide books to let you know where you are.

The site also has a national cemetery where United States veterans and their spouses may be buried.  With perfect rows and columns of small granite markers in different areas of the cemetery, one is at once impressed and reverent to be in
National Cemetery at Little Big Horn, Montana
the presence of so many graves of those who served in our nations military and the setting where they are interned.  Our nation has a long history of respecting the service of the men and women of our military when it comes to burial and cemeteries; the national cemetery at Little Big Horn is very impressive.
 The Little Big Horn battlefield site is a spectacular setting.  Walking the hillsides with the prairie wind blowing the tall grass, seeing the undulating hills, the crags and crevices, the Little Big Horn river down the hillsides, I found it easy to
View from Last Stand towards Little Big Horn River (trees in distance)
imagine the battles that took place at the site in 1876.  There is the Lakota village was, here is where Custer led his men to flank the village to try to force a surrender, over there is where the Cheyenne fired on the remaining members of the 7th Cavalry forcing them into their Last Stand defensive position.

The hillside where Custer's men shot their horses to form a circular barricade and fought to the last man has an enclosed cemetery with markers where soldiers were found, a monument under which is buried the remains of soldiers found on the battle field, a small monument where the remains of the horses are buried, markers where the Indians killed in the battle were found,  and a monument to the tribes who were represented at the Battle of Little Big Horn, those who were defending the villages and those who were scouts for the U.S. Army.

Markers for two Cheyenne warriors killed at Little Big Horn

Sculpture at monument to Native Americans who fought at Little Big Horn dedicated in 2003

Markers for the 47 men killed in the Last Stand,  the marker just left of center with black is that of General George Armstrong Custer

Part of the Native  American monument listing the names of warriors and scouts involved in the battle
Monument where remains of horses killed by their riders to serve as barricades

Monument under which is buried the remains of U.S. military and scouts killed at Little Big Horn

After walking the battle site we headed east on highway 212, wandering through the hills and prairie land of southern Montana, cutting north at Lame Deer through Colstrip and joining the I-94 east towards our destination of Bismarck, North Dakota.

It was an interesting drive today, going through the curves and elevations of the hills and valleys of the prairie and then driving for ten, twenty, thirty miles through flat terrain with wheat, alfalfa or grazing land stretching as far as you can see.  There is no rhyme nor reason to the change in terrain, it just happens.  You can be winding down a large hill then climb the next after crossing over a creek or small river, after climbing the hill the land is incredibly flat and goes on seemingly endlessly with only a clump of trees several miles off breaking the horizon.

For most of the day we continued to parallel the Yellowstone River, which has wound its way along our route from yesterday afternoon until today when it left our route and headed north to merge with the Missouri somewhere near Glendive, Montana, just west of the border with North Dakota.

Driving along this afternoon I saw a sign for Hebron, North Dakota and called my brother Michael to let him know we were driving past this little spot on the map. Why? Because in the summer of 1977 during the summer after his junior year in high school Michael and four other campers and a counselor from Gunflint Wilderness Camp (now Camp Birchwood for Boys) were stranded in Hebron for a week when the station wagon they were taking from the camp in the upper northeastern edge of Minnesota to Jackson, Wyoming broke down.  Memories.

The call has some positive results as Michael soon sent us an email with a couple of dinner spots for us to consider in Bismarck.  We took him up on the suggestion of the Peacock Alley American Grill and Bar.  We shared some Walleye Cakes, a dinner salad and a Prime Rib sandwich with fried onions, swiss cheese and horseradish sauce--yummy especially with a few local brews.  We got sprinkled on as we walked to the Peacock, but with the nice high 70's temperatures it felt good.

The half mile or so walk back to our hotel was a good way to settle a good meal and mark the end of the "date" portion of our journey.  Tomorrow we drive to Camp Birchwood and will see the girls, our friends the Bredemuses who run the camp and spend a few days before we start part two of the SRT.

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