Cowboy country.

Well, here we are in Billings, MT at the first KOA campground ever, where they just installed a wireless network yesterday, so finally my internet-related luck has come back. Which means, dear readers, that I can tell you how things are going out here on the road.
We careened across North Dakota until we reached Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the western end of the state, where we found a lovely campsite in the park along the banks of the Little Missouri River amid cottonwoods and a cool, dry breeze. We fixed a (rather salty) soup-like dinner from canned chicken, canned peas, and ramen noodles stewed in perhaps a bit too much of Mr. Holland’s cooking wine. We then proceeded to enjoy a drink in our really cool collapsible camp chairs, which proved a bit precarious, but only because of the cooking wine, I’m sure. The weather was so nice that we set up the tent sans rain fly, and enjoyed an amazing view of the stars as they can only be seen on a perfectly clear night in the middle of nowhere. There was a cool breeze, and we slept better than we had yet.
I understand where people are coming from when they say that the plains are boring, but I think the flat landscape is only dull if you fail to notice that, in open country without mountains, the landscape is not just the terrain, but the sky as well. I noticed this during fall travel in Texas last year: I expected the long superhighway drives to be boring, but they were anything but that. The sky provided more than I could have asked for in terms of interesting landscape. It can tell you so much about where you are: inland, it seems to go for miles, near the Space Center you can just feel the proximity of the ocean. Out here, the land and the sky are simply big and expansive, and they make my heart feel full and swollen, like a gas expanding to fill a greater volume. It’s amazing.
In the morning, we fixed pancakes, packed up, and then drove around the south unit of the park, where we saw buffalo, wild turkey, wild horses, and lots and lots of prairie dogs. (Rodin even made up a song about the prairie dog town; it will be in the video release.) We had a picnic lunch and then headed south on 85 into South Dakota. The countryside remained amazing, and in the distance we saw rainstorms moving across the hills.
We spent the evening driving through the Black Hills National Forest, which was gorgeous, similar to the terrain of the Sierra foothills. We stayed at Kemp’s Kabins in Keystone along Battle Creek and the railroad tracks, which we’d wholeheartedly recommend as a fabulous campground to stay at if you’re ever in the area. A steam train passed by twice during the evening. We made a delicious dinner of baked beans and kielbasa, and the weather was cool.
We arose before sunrise to go see Mt. Rushmore in the early eastern light. Unfortunately, a thick bank of clouds had moved in, so we missed the full effect, but it was nice to be there before the park opened to avoid the crowds and fees. We got back on the road and went up I-90 to Sturgis, home of the bikers’ festival, where we had a great diner breakfast, before heading back on the highway into Wyoming.
It rained most of the day, but we made a little detour to go see Devil’s Tower, our nation’s first National Monument, which some of you may recall from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It’s pretty awesome-looking, though it might have been nice to see it from afar, which you really couldn’t in the thick clouds and fog of the rainstorm.
By the time we made it to Sheridan, WY, the rain had cleared up for the most part. We parked on Main St. and went looking for cowboy boots for me and Rodin. We found a great store, Dan’s, where Rodin eventually bought a pair of boots, but my search was far less fruitful, stores seeming not to stock any boots I really liked in my size. Also, they tend to make women’s boots with incredibly pointy toes, and it’s just not my style. So we’re going to continue the search as we go along, but Rodin is outfitted.
We also found a really nice cafe in town, and had some fancy coffee while we walked around. Sheridan is definitely a livable town, a place you could really feel at home. We were impressed. Many of the towns we’ve passed through have just had these awesome main streets, with old department stores and theaters with amazing marquees and classic box offices. And we’ve seen a whole mess of great diners. If only we could eat at them all!
From Sheridan, we continued up 90 into Billings, where we stumbled on a horse sale/show at the Billings Livestock Commission, and tried our best to blend in with the locals peering over the fence. It was a good substitute for the rodeo Rodin wanted to see, and definitely less of a spectacle and more authentic and local. We then got some groceries and found this KOA, which we will soon be departing for Butte and some back roads.
Our plan is to tool around Montana today and tomorrow morning, come down through Idaho and Wyoming tomorrow, and end up in Colorado Springs by the end of the day on Monday or thereabouts, to stay with Kristin for a little while before heading back east.
Until next I have internet, which may be Colorado, I wish you all well. We’re rockin’ the West and Cowboying Up. Speaking of which, I should go check on the AL standings…

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