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Sunday, August 13, 2006

2006 Vacation: Day 5 Summary

Day 5 Summary
Billings, Montana to Casper, Wyoming
Thursday, July 20, 2006

Day 5 tied with the final day of my vacation in having the worst weather – which isn’t saying much, because the worst weather of my vacation really wasn’t as bad as it could have been. For the first half of day 5, the sky was completely cloudy and looking ripe for thunderstorms. No precipitation ever ended up falling, but it actually would have been a good thing if it would have. North Dakota and eastern Montana are both going through a serious drought this year and any rain that could have fallen would have been appreciated.

I had planned to go up into the rimrocks north of Billings to take pictures of the view, but the cloudy weather put a stop to that. It wasn’t a big loss, as I was able to see the view of Billings from the rocks in 2002. This time, I had just wanted to visit without having a broken ankle.

From Billings, it was off on Interstate 90 to the city of Hardin. Compared to what I saw in Montana during the previous day, the scenery along the interstate between Billings and Hardin was a bit different. Because there were no rivers or creeks nearby to provide fertile soil, there were significantly fewer trees. There was also a great deal of fairly large hills that kept appearing more and more mountain-like.

The arid landscape gave way to a lusher one once I got past Hardin, since the interstate closely parallels the Little Bighorn River from there until the Wyoming border. The river causes quite a dichotomy in the scenery in the area. As you travel along the Interstate, it’s easy to see how fertile the river valley is, as there are numerous trees and farm fields within close proximity of the river. If you look up toward the sky, however, you’ll be able to see the see brown, barren, seemingly lifeless hills like the ones along the road between Billings and Hardin.

From just outside Hardin until the Wyoming border nearly 55 miles away, the Interstate is also located within the Crow Indian Reservation. Although there are a few casinos along the road, the biggest tourist attraction in the reservation is undoubtedly the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, one of the few battlefields located west of the Mississippi. It was here that the Crow Indians and a group of Americans led by General George Custer staged a bloody attack during the summer of 1877. Although the Crow ended up triumphant, they later lost their traditional way of life and were forced onto a reservation.

The battlefield was much like the Civil War ones in the east I have visited, with the only real exception being that it was set in a barren, sagebrush-laden environment and not a heavily-forested, green one.

Exploring the battlefield meant driving down a 5 mile paved road with stops along the way that featured informational placards and depictions of what the area would have looked like had you been there during the battle. At the end of the road was an interpretive hiking trail that provided some great scenery.

It’s a fairly quick drive from the battlefield to the Wyoming border. Around Ranchester – about 12 miles from Montana – is where I first got a glimpse of the Big Horn Mountains, the tallest mountains I would see during my trip. They got bigger as I approached Sheridan, which, with 15,804 people, is the largest city in the northern half of Wyoming.

The clouds that had largely been around since the morning finally began to break up south of Sheridan. Before they completely dissipated, however, I was able to get some nice photos of the sun’s rays breaking through and shining down on the mountains and countryside.

With a population of 3,900, Buffalo is another one of the largest cities in northern Wyoming. I didn’t get a chance to see anything there, but I wanted to mention it because the 114 mile expanse of Interstate 25 between Buffalo and Casper could easily be considered one of the most isolated stretches of Interstate in the country. There is just one town even close to the road the entire way, and even so, it was only big enough to support one gas station. Despite the isolation, the Interstate past Buffalo is quite scenic; there are modest (6000+ feet) mountains to the west of the road and hilly plains to the east.

The nearly complete absence of civilization after Buffalo makes it even more awe-inspiring when the city of Casper – population 49,644 – suddenly appears off in the horizon.

Casper, a city with mountain range to the south and a brown, drab landscape in all the other directions, was where I spent the night of day 5 of my vacation.


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Scenery along the interstate between Billings and Hardin

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Here's a coal train passing through what is a good example of the contrasting landscapes near Crow Agency

The following thirteen photos were taken inside the Little Bighorn Battlefield - I have provided captions where necessary
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That's the windy road that leads through the battlefield

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The haze in a lot of these photos was caused by wildfires burning nearby

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The Little Bighorn River can be seen in this photo

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For an additional fee, visitors can get on a bus and have a tour guide take them through the battlefield

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Gravestones such as this were scattered all throughout the battlefield

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The battlefield is also home to a national cemetery

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In a scene the horses have probably seen countless times, a coal train with 6 locomotives (2 helpers on the rear) slowly begins going downhill after reaching the summit just outside of Parkman, Wyoming

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This coal train has just begun to pick up speed as it starts going downhill in Parkman

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The sun comes through the clouds right over the Big Horn Mountains near Sheridan

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A scene of the isolated Interstate just south of Buffalo

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Another scene of the Isolated Interstate, this time somewhere closer to Casper

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It may be a little blurry, but this was the best photo I could get of the "skyline" of Casper

Low-grade camcorder pictures:

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An eagle mural on the side of the post office in Crow Agency

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Wyoming welcomes you


The Big Horn Mountains near Sheridan


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Mitch's Blog began on December 23, 2001