Charles M. Russell, Prairie Dogs and Cottonwoods
Our morning wake-up call was our neighbor’s generator at 0600. The dogs were both there to greet us, barking and jumping, when we emerged from Blue. We would not be discouraged or dismayed, however. We were in Big Sky country and we intended to enjoy every minute.
Our first rest stop was at Tall Timber Visitor Center … great name for a logging town, huh? Here, we were proudly introduced to Charles M. Russell … Charlie to the locals … by the VC hostess. A wooden sculpture of the famous Western artist sat on the visitor center’s porch.
Railroad tracks ran parallel to our route. Trains passed by regularly ... coal cars, tankers and cattle cars mostly. Grain elevators and lumber mills were placed within strategic locations along the tracks for easy loading.
We made a quick stop in Greycliff when I spotted a beckoning sign for a prairie dog town. Having lived in Colorado for so many years, this really shouldn’t have been a major draw, but we pulled off anyway. There were, indeed, a few scruffy prairie dogs, but it was an undeveloped town in our estimation. We’d seen much larger towns in our neighborhood in Aurora, Colorado. We’re obviously prairie dog snobs.
Columbus, Montana was our destination for the day. Itch-Kep-Pe Park was a city-run park which offered ‘free’ campsites (donations appreciated) to visitors. This hospitable little town park was a most pleasant venue for camping under a canopy of tall narrow-leaved and plain cottonwood trees. We had all the amenities: flush toilets (hallelujah!), fresh water, free campfire wood, picnic table, fire rings and level parking.
The park extended along the banks of the Yellowstone River and after a river walk, we sat and enjoyed the evening. Cottonwood seed puffs floated by on a gentle breeze. Doves cooed and a woodpecker in a nearby tree tapped out “D” in Morse code ( _.. ). We heard train whistles in the distance all night long.
Four Dances in Billings
If there was any doubt at all we were in ‘the West’, just taking a look at our surroundings would have convinced us. As we headed towards Billings, we saw more and more stores advertising Western apparel and ranch supplies, guns and ammo and billboards encouraging us to ‘eat genuine Angus beef’. The ever-present Burlington-Northern railroad trains chugged past, whistles blowing, hauling those beef and that grain to market and the tankers of refinery oil to its distribution depots. We passed through little tired western towns with names like Roundup and Grass Range.
We needed a walk and after some consideration decided Four Dances BLM ‘natural area’ was close and offered what we we needed. The trail led us to the top of a bluff with great views on one side of the Yellowstone River below.
The wildflowers were, as usual, varied and abundant. Grasshoppers in great numbers hopped and jumped and collided with us rather regularly. The insects and the profusion of cone flowers and purple prairie clover soon erased the refinery scene from our senses.
A hotel night in Billings gave us the opportunity to do laundry, catch up on internet and blogs and just hang out for an evening with no mosquitoes or pit bulls to keep us company.