Tag Archives: Pompey’s Pillar

September 17: Across into Big Sky Country

I got a fairly early start this morning, mostly because the sun came over the horizon and hit Merlin square in the windshield [g]. Today was an Interstate day, mostly because there’s really no alternative to I-94 in southeastern Montana without going way out of the way.

This is actually in North Dakota, just before the Montana state line.  Anyway, I find it amusing.
This is actually in North Dakota, just before the Montana state line. Anyway, I find it amusing.
And on into Montana.  I've lost track of how many states/provinces I've been through at this point.
And on into Montana. I’ve lost track of how many states/provinces I’ve been through at this point.
Classic southeastern Montana scenery.
Classic southeastern Montana scenery.

I’ve driven this stretch before, and there’s not a whole lot to say about it. I stopped for lunch in Miles City (named after one of the generals who finally caught up with Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce back in 1877), and didn’t stop again until I arrived at Pompey’s Pillar. I know I’ve posted about Pompey’s Pillar here before, in 2012, which was the last time I was in this neck of the woods, but I do find it fascinating, and it was interesting to see it this time of year (the last time I was here it was June, and all the early summer flowers were in bloom). The other thing I didn’t realize from when I was here before is that modern-day travelers approach the pillar from the opposite side that Clark and company did (this was during the part where he and Lewis split up on the way back to Missouri so as to explore more territory). It hadn’t even occurred to me where the river was [wry g]. So that was interesting to me.

Pompey's Pillar itself as seen from the highway.  It was named after Sacajawea's baby son, nicknamed Little Pomp by William Clark.
Pompey’s Pillar itself as seen from the highway. It was named after Sacajawea’s baby son, nicknamed Little Pomp by William Clark.
Seeing Clark's graffiti will never get old.  Well, it is old, but you know what I mean.
Seeing Clark’s graffiti will never get old. Well, it is old, but you know what I mean.
Looking back from the signature towards the Yellowstone River.
Looking back from the signature towards the Yellowstone River.
A better view of the river.
A better view of the river.
I've never seen pink snowberries before, but that's what they said they were at the Pompey's Pillar visitor center.
I’ve never seen pink snowberries before, but that’s what they said they were at the Pompey’s Pillar visitor center.
Pearly everlastings at Pompey's Pillar.
Pearly everlastings at Pompey’s Pillar.

From there on it was just plowing on to Billings, the largest city in Montana, where I planned to get a motel room, get Merlin’s oil changed (for the third time), and go to the grocery store. Also to do laundry, but due to the fact that the motel’s laundry facilities weren’t available, that didn’t happen. I got to Billings about three in the afternoon, spent the rest of the afternoon getting stuff done, and that was my day, I’m afraid.

I did check when I went online this evening to see if the Beartooth Highway, which among other things was Charles Kuralt’s choice for the most beautiful highway in America, is still open for the season (it goes over an almost 11,000 foot pass, so it’s only open in the summer). The Montana DOT website said it is, and since I’d planned to drop down into Yellowstone for a day or two (pass that close to the park and not go? Inconceivable! [g]) and it’s actually the most direct route coming from this direction, I thought, why not? I’ve never driven it before.

Three weeks ago, Day 11

 Lewis and Clark, well, Clark, anyway, again

My journal entry for today begins, “A week from today I will be home <sigh>.  But I still have seven days to go.  That’s a lot.”  And later in the same entry, “I’m less than 250 miles from Butte, according to the signs on the Interstate — which means I’m less than 2 full days’ drive from home — but not yet.”  These trips always go too fast.

Neither I nor my car nor the Motel 6 in Miles City blew away overnight, although not for lack of trying.  The weather had calmed down considerably by morning, thank goodness, and after a grocery run and a fruitless search for block (as opposed to bag) ice again — the last ice I’d bought was the last available block at a convenience store in Williston, which lasted approximately twice as long as the bag I’d bought before that — I got back up on the freeway and headed out.

Although I forgot to mention my third (and determinedly last) quilt shop of the trip the afternoon before in Miles City, which had some wonderful tan tone-on-tone fabric created from national park maps.  I collect national park fabrics — I once made an entire quilt made in a national park theme, as a matter of fact.  So I jumped on this one with glee. 

Anyway.  Back to I-94.  It took a couple of hours for me to get to my first stop today, Pompey’s Pillar National Monument. Pompey’s Pillar is another of those newfangled national monuments, like the Upper Missouri Breaks, administered by the Bureau of Land Management instead of the National Park Service.  I know of a third category of national monuments as well, administered by the U.S. Forest Service — an example of one of those is Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, a couple of hours south of where I live, and it seems there’s at least one more category other than that.  Apparently after a certain date, who administers a newly-created monument depends on whose land it was carved from.  The land on which Pompey’s Pillar NM sits was purchased from a private individual.  I assume when that happens the monument is assigned to whichever agency seems most logical.  

At any rate, I seem to be digressing something fierce today.  Pompey’s Pillar has always been sort of a minor item on my personal bucket list.  It was named from Clark’s nickname for Sacagawea’s baby son.  Lewis was not with Clark (they had split up to cover more territory on the way home), when Clark stopped to carve the graffito on the side of the pillar that is the only tangible in situ evidence of the entire journey.  “Wm. Clark, July 25, 1806”  From my journal again, “I’ve seen a lot of old documents in my time — the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, etc.  But there’s something mindboggling about seeing the name of an explorer carved in a rock along the actual route he took.”

Many wildflowers were in bloom, too, along the trail and the stairs leading to the top, from which was another of those it’s-got-to-be-more-than-180-degrees-from-horizon-to-horizon views.  And the ‘interpretive’ center, which was bright new, dating from the bicentennial of the expedition in 2006, was well-done.  I picnicked there, and then drove on to Billings, just past where I-94 ends as it runs into I-90.

Billings is the biggest city in Montana, and it actually looks and feels like a city, with tall buildings and everything.  I needed to do some practical things, like get gas and cash and do laundry, so I spent a couple of hours there.  I think I was most impressed by the flowers in people’s yards.  I am inclined to notice such things, anyway, and it was early June, after all, but they really were lovely. 

 It was fairly late in the afternoon by the time I left town, and I had thought of finding another motel, but after being cheated out of camping the night before by the weather, I really wanted to camp.  Besides, the weather had cooled considerably, and I was back in the eastern foothills of the Rockies, at last.

So I drove on to the small town of Columbus, where I saw an RV park by the side of the highway.  I stopped there, only to be told I had to have an RV to stay there, but the lady said that if I went south through town to where the state highway crossed the Yellowstone River, there was a nice free municipal campground.  So I did, and there it was, right on the river, shaded by the ubiquitous but very pleasant and enormous cottonwoods, where I settled down for the night.

The river was very full, and the place was very peaceful except for two extremely unexpected sheep.

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Repeating History, “A GRAND yarn you can’t put down.” Janet Chapple, author of Yellowstone Treasures