Part of it is is always the wonder I feel when I'm on the road and see how it changes from everything I focus on, how the world around me is different from the world of my ordinary life. My life is so focused on a particular room, a particular goal, a desk, a computer, a car. When I travel and finally look up and out, it amazes me to see how different it all is from my every day. Suddenly I was aware of the sky, the land, the water, with the snows of this last winter. I've never seen the rivers, streams and tributaries through these lands be this high, nor have I ever seen the land this green this late into summer.
And I'll admit, there's nothing quite like getting on I-25 and seeing the GPS say: "Go 354 miles and then turn left."
Other than getting on I-90 and seeing: "Go 973 miles and then turn right."
We were up and out of the house by 8, and I was just a bit more anxious than I usually am about getting stuff into the car and into the luggage. Not entirely sure why, but just anxious and worn and tired. We stopped by the Daylight Donuts on the way north, and got donuts and I stole cream for my coffee as we'd stripped the refrigerator bare in the last few days.
I've been doing the "imaginative cooking" thing for the last week, pairing leeks with red chili sauce and corn tortillas with eggs and cheese and pan enchiladas galore alongside pork fried eggplant and the last of the leftover rice. Lol. Ended up with takeout pizza the Very Last Night and it was something of a relief.
We headed out to the freeway with our breakfast, and the ride was smooth and wonderful. John'd gotten heavy-duty tires for the Eurovan, with solid loading for when it was loaded up with camping gear, all our gear for the three weeks, and us. And the rating really made a difference in how the whole load rides. No more wrestling the wheel when the wind blows.
I slept for the first four hours. Jet drew bamboo in my new journal, covering the margins with all kinds of bamboo and pine trees using a pencil and a lot of imagination and patience.
We fueled up and kept going until we got to Little Bighorn. I took the next four hours of driving, up from the gold of south Wyoming into the greener north. Thunderheads were building in all directions, a good indicator of why it was still so green, but the river valleys made it even more so. Eventually we turned left onto I-90 West and kept going into Montana, as the freeway heads north a good deal and then turns west.
John'd always wanted to see the battle site for Custer's Last Stand, and we got there and found a Memorial as well as Custer's National Cemetery, which included those fallen in the Spanish American war, all the battles with the Indians for the Territories, plus all the Montana folk that died in WW I, WWII, and the Korean War. It's a little cemetery, neat white stones all in rows, and I went through it and paid my respects to those fallen for us. I just... like doing that.
At the museum were lots of displays of artifacts of the folks of Custer's time, and some interesting facts. One of which surprised me. It was that 42% of the 7th Calvary at that time was made up of foreign-born nationals. People that had come to this country and joined the military either for adventure or to serve their new country. It was interesting to learn.
The other was that the Crow Nation, on which land the memorial was built, actually were Custer's scouts, i.e. they were on the US side of this particular conflict. The Crow Nation's reservation is on Montana and Wyoming lands, and it is more than twice the size of New Hampshire. The memorial is in their nation.
It's on high ground, a cup at the peak of the hill, where the back of the cup was a natural wall against people on that side, and the foreground sloped down to the River. It's beautifully defensible ground... unless you're the last couple dozen men of more than 200 against over a thousand people...
And I've always thought of the grounds as "plains" but it's really the rolling hills of Montana, where you don't get the horizon to horizon views. It's all dips and valleys, hillocks and knolls of grasses and rock. The ground up here reminds me of deep stormy seas with twenty five foot swells, always going up and then down and then up again. Driving this land would makes me think of being seasick after the dead straight flats of Kanasa and eastern Colorado. And the Site is no different. Swells and breaks, and here there's a knoll breaking away on all sides, one to the River, and to the other three to plains of grass and other smaller hills.
The broken land and the stretches of trees probably accounts, in part, for Custer thinking he could take on what amounted to 10,000 Indians who had between 1,500-2000 fighting warriors with only 500 cavalrymen, maybe he didn't see all that until it was too late?
There are white markers where the cavalrymen fell. One with a black face for Custer, at the center of all his men. Other markers are scattered further down, where a few broke away trying to get down to a ravine to escape to where the other two battalions were entrenched, but they died on the way down. There are dark markers now scattered as well, where they knew that the Natives died as well, lending a bit of visual balance as to all that died.
A little girl went by the dark markers and said, "Those are the black markers, they're for the Indians. They were the bad guys, weren't they?"
Her father answered, "No. They weren't bad, baby. They were just guys, doing what they had to do. Just guys, too."
Just guys. There is an Indian memorial too, organized by the Nations of the fallen, all listed by name. All the Crow scouts were named there along with the various Sioux (Lakota and Dakota), Arapaho, and Cheyenne. Their memorial looked down the other side of the hill from the Calvary one.
It was interesting to see both sides of the story represented, and I felt odd thinking that while it was Custer's Last Stand, in a way it was really the last stand of the Nations. This was the last time they'd win. The story of Sitting Bull, leading the Midnight Strong Heart Society, doing the Sun Dance Ceremony and predicting the outcome of Little Bighorn by cutting 50 pieces of flesh from his arms. Because he did the ceremony, he could not fight, he took care of the children, the women, and the elderly instead when they'd won.
And how that story differs with what happened after, with the Ghost Dance.
It made me thoughtful, and I remembered a lot about stray odd bits Carl and Earl have mentioned about the Magic West...
From there we headed into Billings, Montana, and stopped at a Howard Johnson's. Jet really wanted to eat at a Chinese Buffet, but we happened on a noodle bowl place that was cheaper and had much smaller servings and Blue Bunny ice cream truffles for dessert. *laughs* We went back to the hotel and swam a bit, in a pool with a huge water slide. John and I really enjoyed the hot tub after, as I was pretty sore from the last few days and from the driving, so the hot water felt really good on my muscles, and then we all went for the showers and bed.
So it's been a good first day, I think... and much more to come.