Saturday, August 22, 2015

Wandering through Montana

After leaving Glacier National Park we have wandered a bit. I am a planner and am not as comfortable with "going wherever we feel like" as I would like to be. This summer I planned the big stops, Yelllowstone, Glacier, and Mt. Rushmore. This left several weeks unplanned. But you have to be somewhere every day...

I had lost touch with an old Santa Cruz Mountain friend who moved to Montana six or seven years ago. But when I started posting a link to my blog on Facebook, she saw we were heading in her direction and we managed to reconnect.

Shellie Lee and her husband Dennis are the proud owners of the Sunshine Health Mine in Boulder Mt. It is a very peaceful place, and people come from all over the world for the alternative treatment of their radon mine. 

Merikay, Shellie Lee, and Craig 
We asked Shellie about radon, noting that some of our relatives in Wisconsin had to pay lots of money to get less radon in their basements.  She explained that, like wine drinking, it's a matter of degree.  Many underground (or partially underground) sites have dangerous levels of radon.  She said that several abandoned mines in the Boulder MT area have reliably low levels of radon that have been know to help or cure a surprisingly wide array of medical problems.

On one of the days we were there, Shellie took us to a "ghost town" in the area. Elkhorn is an old mining town, with many old buildings.

These two buildings have been preserved and are open to the public to look through. When I put quotes around "ghost town", it is because the town is still very much occupied, both in some of the old run-down buildings and in a number of newly constructed homes. It is an interesting place. To me the amusing thing was that although Shellie had been there once before, when she was being shown around by the previous owner of their property, she had not come back for another look in the years since.  We all do that, don't we? Not visit our local attractions until we have visitors!

The rainy weather lent a perfect atmosphere to explore the hilltop cemetery. Umbrellas open, we walked among the old graves trying to make out names and dates. Surprisingly,  the most recent burial was in 2015. The town was indeed still inhabited.

All too soon we were on our way again, southeast to Cody Wyoming, where we spent two afternoons at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.  

It is arranged so that each of the five wings is a different subject museum. Buffalo Bill, Natural History of the West, Western Art, Indians, and Firearms. Each was very well done. We were delighted to be able to listen to two excellent guided tours. We try to read all of the information in the displays, but sometimes it is nice to have a guide put things together for you and answer questions as you go. It came close to Trip Advisor's acclaim of Best Museum Ever (in the image above).

We all probably remember learning about the buffalo hunters of the 1800s and how the buffalo almost became extinct. I knew many of the reasons behind the slaughter, but I learned two more at the museum. First the buffalo hides were needed for the many belts used by the machines of the industrial revolution. Buffalo hide is very strong and durable. Second, the bones of the buffalo were used to make fertilizer

We did not go to the rodeo.  We lived in Texas for a few years and have been to several. 

The sky continued to be thick with smoke. My eyes burned a bit, but neither of us had any breathing difficulties. The sunset was interesting however.

Our next stop was Garryowen Montana, near the Battle of Little Bighorn National Monument.

As school children we all knew it as "Custer's Last Stand". 

Seeing the battle field, watching a movie, looking at the museum display, listening to a ranger talk and finally taking a one hour Indian-narrated bus tour gave us a good look into the history and understanding of what really happened that day.

Custer was an arrogant leader, who refused to listen to the Crow Indian scouts in his command.  He was pursuing Sitting Bull and when he learned the Chief was in the Indian camp on the Little Bighorn, he ordered an attack. His information was that the camp contained 500 individuals. His scouts told him three times that it was much larger and estimated up to 5000 people. 

If he had listened, he would have backed off and waited for reinforcements. But as it was, he ordered the attack and his force was wiped out.  One fact that amazed me was that the final battle probably lasted less than fifteen minutes.

Personally I find visiting and learning about historic places to be very interesting. By seeing these historic places, we are seeing the past from more than a textbook vantage point. But our learning does not stop with our visit this time. Craig bought two substantial books, one about Sitting Bull and one about Crazy Horse. I'm sure they will both be good reads.

I'm sorry to report that I find Montana scenery a bit depressing (if not ugly) at this time of year. Everything (except active wheat fields) seems to be dead gray or brown. I have tried to imagine how beautiful the rolling hills must be in spring when the grass is green, or even starkly white when covered with snow, but August is pretty blah! 

But very big! And when not smoky, the big sky feels endless.  Montana, we're not done with you yet!


  1. In Cody back in May of 1992 I remember walking up to the Buffalo Bill center front door, looking at the price to get in then deciding I couldn't afford it. So regrettably I missed it. Did do the Custer battlefield around the same time though & really enjoyed that. A very moving experience driving & walking around on the very ground that piece of history took place, I too like those kinds of historical places.

    1. You could see the Buffalo Bill Center this fall, as part of your journey from Ontario to Arizona. They give you two days for the price of one nowadays, as well as a senior discount. (Or one for the price of two if you're a pessimist.) If you go, ask whether the heavyset young man who teaches at a local university is available as a tour guide. He gave us a terrific tour on the subject of Yellowstone NP.

  2. sounds as though you thoroughly enjoyed yourself...wonder if the Buffalo Bill Center would make more money by lowering prices and therefore having more visitors...

  3. The Center is worth the admission if you take the time to enjoy it for 2 days.

  4. You two are great at making the most of every experience.


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