We pulled out of Deer Lodge, Montana a little before 10am Friday morning. Our stay there was uneventful – our aim was to get a good night’s sleep and dump and flush our holding tanks. We only stayed three nights at Coeur d’Alene Elks Lodge, but we expected to have some dry camping nights ahead – full fresh water tank and empty holding tanks are the best policy on the road.
We headed east on I-90 and climbed steadily. At times we climbed steep grades and soon found the Continental Divide which we crossed at an elevation of 6,393 feet above sea level. The Continental Divide is a drainage divide – in North America, watersheds west of the divide drain into the Pacific Ocean while those east of the divide eventually drain into the Atlantic or Carribean Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico.
We hit a couple of areas of road construction which slowed us down but the traffic kept moving. Driving through Montana, the term traffic is relative – at times we seemed to be the only vehicle on the road. We hit Billings, Montana a little after 3pm, only stopping once at a rest area.
At Billings, we pulled into the Cabela’s parking lot and set up for the night. There were signs that said “No Overnight Parking” so we went inside and asked at the customer service desk. The friendly girl at the counter said we were fine for one night, but no extended stays. Perfect.
We shopped and I found some creek shoes on clearance for $8.99 and a couple of T-shirts – two shirts and a pair of shoes for a total of $25! It was hot outside – around 90 degrees so we had to run the generator to power the air conditioners. We shut the generator down around 9pm and went to bed by 10pm. Next door a couple had a gasoline powered generator in the bed of their pick-up truck to run the A/C in their fifth-wheel trailer. They ran it all night and it was a noisy unit.
Donna researched some stopping points for us on the road ahead. Our goal is to take care of business at the Department of Motor Vehicles in South Dakota and also find an area where Donna can do some final training rides before she hits the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI). Originally we planned to stop in Gillette, Wyoming but the National High School Rodeo Championship is going on this week and we couldn’t find a place to stay – so we changed the plan. Flexibility is key when you’re on the road.
We left Billings around 10am after Donna took an early morning run of four miles. We headed southeast on I-90 toward Wyoming. The terrain changed considerably from western Montana. We were in rolling hills – some quite steep – and more open terrain. The day before we saw nine antelope in a field by the interstate and I expected to see many more in this part of Montana, but we didn’t see any! Maybe it’s the heat of the day that has them bedded down in a cool area instead roaming around in the open meadows.
After driving 510 miles on I-90 through Montana, we exited at the Little Bighorn Monument and hit US212 east. The Little Bighorn Monument is the battlefield where General George Armstrong Custer led the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the US Army into a disastrous battle. The cavalry was routed by an overwhelming force of Lakota, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes.
The native American tribes call it the Battle of Greasy Grass but most people know it as Custer’s Last Stand. Although books have been written and movies made of the battle, historians don’t agree on the actual events of the battle. The cavalry was demolished and no one could give a true account. The Indian leaders gave conflicting accounts of the battle and their strategy. At the end of the day, everyone agrees that the 7th Cavalry had bad information and didn’t realize the size of the force they were up against. Based on flawed intelligence, Custer lead them into a trap. Nearly 300 soldiers lost their lives.
US212 is a two-lane highway that runs through the Northern Cheyenne Reservation and Custer National Forest. We hit road construction on this route, including two areas where we were on dirt road. The second stretch of temporary dirt road was a couple miles long with no construction workers present. As we were near the end of the dirt, a tractor-trailer rig approached from the opposite direction. It appeared as though the driver didn’t realize the pavement ended and he hit the dirt too fast. He swerved toward the shoulder and cranked back to the center – his trailer whipped behind the truck. Luckily he gained control before we passed each other.
Around 1:30pm, we pulled into the town of Broadus, Montana. This is a small town with about 400 residents. There’s a city park on the south side of town right on US212 which is called Park Avenue. US212 enters town from the west on Holt Street then makes a 90-degree right turn on Park.
On the south and west sides of the city park there’s ample parking on fairly level dirt surfaces for RVs. We read accounts of people dry camping overnight here, but found signs posted that were ambiguous.
Since there were cars and RVs parked around the park where these signs were posted, we took it to mean “No parking of livestock and livestock trailers.” There’s a rodeo ground across the street so that makes sense.
We found a spot and set up for an overnight stay. It was hot out – the high reached 96 degrees. I had the generator running all afternoon and into the evening to keep the A/Cs running. Donna walked to the IGA in town and picked up a few groceries. Around 9pm, some people came into the park and set up a white sheet and projector. I asked them what they were up to. It was the community movie night – they were going to show Beauty and the Beast. Families with young kids came to the park to watch the movie. This is small town America – I love it.
We watched a few episodes of Homeland in the evening, then shut down the generator around 10:30pm and went to bed. We’ll head out this morning and continue on US212 southeast to Rapid City, South Dakota. We plan to spend a few nights at the Elks Lodge there.