It was just a beautiful day for a long drive, and nothing like what I expected this far north in October. 80 degrees and the day bathed in sunlight. It was something that I needed, refreshing and revitalizing. I finally made it to Montana and then turned east along Route 94. The feel was actually something I thought about in all of my rides west and north. The setting sun. It really is about the small things. Throughout so many miles, I typically found myself driving with the sun glaring into my eyes, trying to position the visor just right in front of me or to my left, swinging it over so I am not blinded. The drive to Bismarck had the sun at my back and I watched the shadow of my car speeding in front of me.
It’s interesting to me of the mileage as well. The country can be so big and also so small. If you drive across the entire state of Montana, even starting from the first major city west, Missoula, to the first (and only) major city in North Dakota, Bismarck, it is 756 miles, or about 10 1/2 hours of driving. That is more than the trip through the entire Northeast. Bangor, Maine to Washington DC is 670 miles through 7-8 states–and most of that is Maine.
I’m still winging it. I really did try to plan things out a few times and it tends to just overwhelm me. There are definite disadvantages to winging it, as I have shown in the “misadventures” category. But I think the surprises make up for it. Just wandering and rambling has its advantages. I hot one on my way to Bismarck.
The other day, I was on the phone with Mike Pearce, Papa Bear, who has been keeping tabs on me. He asked where I was. I told him I had absolutely no idea. I was somewhere in Wyoming with very sketchy cell phone coverage. I posted on Facebook that for once, I knew exactly where I was. I was about to blow past it on the highway but slammed on my breaks and took the exit: The Battle of Little Bighorn National Monument, Custer’s Last Stand.
As far as National Monuments go, this one was excellent and very well done. We all hear and learn about the battle, one of the last major conflicts of the era, and Custer’s blunder over splitting his forces and underestimating his enemy. You can read about it, see pictures and even watch videos but nothing comes close to what the monument has to offer.
Through signs, markers, and monuments, with paths and roads, you see exactly how the battle played out, almost reliving it. Markers are places all over where fallen soldiers on both sides were found, and then their remains removed for proper burial. There is a cemetery there for both sides and civilians killed in the battle. Until the cemetery reached capacity in 1978 (?), veterans could request their remains be interred here so there are also graves for soldiers up through the Vietnam war.
Th monument was not what I was expecting. Though it shows how the battle played out, it is also shows the evolution of peace. In the present, it hosts the annual prayer for world peace.
Two of the higher rankings survivors met at this place and shook hands and “buried the hatchet” years later. There is a memorial for the Indians killed (designed by someone from Philadelphia). In 1991, the name was changed by an act of congress and signed by President Bush. The experience of being there took me by surprise.
The northern states are taking me by surprise. It makes me wonder a lot about our nation’s history. I speed through in my car. People, trailblazers, and settlers walked here or traveled by horse. If I just simply walked back along the way I came, on the nice, even, paved highway, it would take me four days–if I walked non stop. I try to imagine what it was like for the original people out here. Through wilderness.
Montana changed to North Dakota and the change was subtle. Montana is true cowboy country, with long straight flat highways and vast herds of cattle. North Dakota was an ocean of grass. I don’t know what I was expecting. Reindeer? I guess I read too many fantasy books. I always remembered a line I read about how cold it was somewhere because the only thing between the arctic winds was the occasional reindeer. But I entered North Dakota on this gorgeous, sunny, 80 degree day with the ocean of grass before me.
Even “ocean of grass” doesn’t do it justice. An ocean has swells, waves and rocky outcroppings jutting up from deep beneath the surface. That’s North Dakota. The road winds through all of this with the grass rippling and rising, falling and broken here and there by outcroppings. It was beautiful, mostly brown with the turn of the season.
And then there was the time zone. Time zones have been screwing me up since day one. Who made these things? I realize that science dictates a certain uniformity, that the movement of the sun has a defined path, but sill? East and west coast states have it simple–aside from the Florida panhandle. Mountain and central? It’s a mess. I entered the central time zone from mountain about an hour into North Dakota. I’ll actually be going back into Mountain time tomorrow when I head to Rapid City, South Dakota. On the other side, and during the first part of my journey, I hit the same thing. Indianan, Kentucky and Tennessee are split between eastern and central. I don’t know, but if I was a citizen of these states, I’d rise up in revolt and demand they pick on or the other.
But now for a down day in Bismarck. I’m going to go for a walk in a city I know nothing about but have always been oddly curious about.
Aloha for the sunny far north.
Battle of Little Bighorn National Monument
Ocean of Grass