Day Fifty Nine: Big Sky Country: Montana (Bannack, Hardin)

Events of Wednesday May 13th, exceedingly belatedly blogged Thursday May 28th

Sincerest apologies for the unforgivable delay in getting these final posts up. The final days of the trip were lacking in either decent cell coverage, time, or both. And then I returned home and there was a too brief recovery period followed by an immediate dive into wedding related activities for a dear friend. The latter I am still enmeshed in, but I really want to finish the tales of my grand adventure despite the awkwardness of being so removed in time and distance. So onward we forge!

When last I left off, Annie and I (and Marigold) were camping at the Bannack State Park which is also home to an actual, authentic, real life ghost town. Did I mention there was a tipi we could have stayed in? Day Five or even Day Twenty Eden probably would have jumped at the chance, and Day Hadn’t Actually Left Yet Eden was all over it during the planning stages, but Day Fifty Nine Eden is tired and can only think “but I’d have to drag all my stuff in there . . . how warm would it be . . . would Annie be nervous and BARKBARK. . . where do I even find the person I would have to ask about availability . . .” and just stuck with her campervannie.

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(Side Note: while I was making my oatmeal, Annie was exploring our campsite on her tether. At one point she discovered a rodent corpse (mole, vole, shrew-something of that ilk) and gobbled it down, fur and all, bones crunching loudly, in about forty five seconds. I had an inkling this would not be good.)

After our morning stroll, we headed back to explore the ghost town some more with better light and less tired eyes.

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The building on the left was originally the courthouse (later a hotel) and the building on the right was Skinner’s Saloon where all the meanest, nastiest, most badass (in a bad way) dudes hung out. The courthouse was where sheriff Henry Plummer spent his days, and the saloon was where he spent his nights, as leader of a murderous band of outlaws known as The Innocents (Password: I am innocent). Fun fact, his Wikipedia entry lists his occupation as “Criminal, Sheriff.”

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Even today one can find the odd miscreant or two sniffing about the place.

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Plummer and most of his cohorts were eventually found out and hung from the town gallows which still stands today. Not gonna lie, there was an extremely creepy, somber, prickles on your skin feeling to the place, so much so I couldn’t even manage a wacky selfie. Later, a park ranger I encountered told me that in the early part of the 1900s local kids would dig up the bones of the executed and sell them. It is possible someone somewhere today still has the sheriff’s skull.

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Just past the gallows was Cemetery Hill where the more upstanding citizens were laid to rest. The picture painted here wasn’t much cheerier (and I do prefer my graveyards to be cheerful and upbeat). Most died from gunshot wounds or disease, and very few lived past their twenties. Even Sheriff Plummer, who had a long history of occupations both legit and otherwise, was a mere 27 when he met his demise. (No cemetery photos, but this is a view from the hill to show just how cut off and remote it really was).

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This was a harsh and brutal world and it’s amazing that they were able to carve out some semblance of “normal” life at all. But carve they did – there was even a school (just across from the Saloon of Death).

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Maybe fifty yards from the school are the jails-the original on the right, and the big fancy modern upgrade on the left. The original one has a view of the gallows from its tiny window. The roof of the bigger one is covered with sod and grass and was being visited by a robin as we walked by. I thought that was pretty cool.

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But once again the time had come to saddle up and get back on the road. Everyone assumed their positions.

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Montana is a big state, so there was a lot of driving. And a lot of teeny little Western towns.

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In Montana you can buy your dog a cuddly little bullet toy to snuggle and play with.

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Midway through the day I noticed that Annie seemed to be acting strangely. At one point she crawled in to the passenger footwell where I kept a full duffle bag and some other things stored, and draped herself across them in an awkward and rather uncomfortable looking position.

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Throughout the rest of the afternoon and evening she was extremely sluggish: eye droopy, restlessly moving about the car in what appeared to be failed attempts to get comfortable, showing little to no interest when I would leave Marigold to fill up the tank or take a pee break, and just generally giving off an unhappy vibe. It was worrisome to say the least.

This was another day when I didn’t really have a set agenda as to where I wanted to end up for the night, I just wanted to make solid progress across the country so that Wyoming would be easily reachable the following day. As the day wore on and I started searching for campgrounds, I became aware that we were not that far from the Little Bighorn Battlefield. It hadn’t made my original itinerary, but knowing it was nearby intrigued me, and I decided to make camp at the nearest possible spot so that we could pay it an early morning visit.  The choice came down to another branch of the KOA chain or the “family owned” and majestically titled Grandview Campground. Based almost solely on the indications that the Grandview had a laundry facility whereas the KOA did not, I chose the Grandview. I chose wrong.

Stepping in to the “Office/Gift Shoppe” I was immediately struck by the overwhelming aroma of cat pee. As I looked around I noticed that the whole room appeared to be an ADD hoarder’s paradise. The entire place was crammed with clothing, ugly tchotchkes, random papers, cleaning supplies, sunglasses, half empty boxes, and other assorted bric-a-brac scattered helter skelter across every available surface with no apparent rhyme or reason. The counter where one would presumably make a purchase or check in for a stay did not have a single glimmer of available space. And the proprietress appeared to be engaged in a bitch session with a random policeman in the backroom.

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Fighting back the urge to run, I secured a campsite. Once again, upon enquiring about the heavily promoted WiFi connection offered, I was met with surprise and frustration and directed to one of two spots that “maybe” had a signal. That taken care of, I loaded up a bag of dirty clothes, leashed up a still lethargic Annie, and moseyed on over to the laundry room. Whereupon I realized that I had used my last batch of detergent in Washington. Of course. So Annie and I wandered over to the Gift Shoppe to see if any of the various and sundry items available for purchase there included anything actually useful like detergent. Nope, just “replica” bear claws and the like. (Also, the place was wide open but the owner had vanished like the wind.) So we went back to the laundry room in the hope that maybe there was an overlooked vending machine hiding in a corner somewhere. And the door was locked. With most of my clothes inside. Because some little children, who appeared to make the campground a permanent residence, were playing some game that involved locking themselves in. Because THAT’S NOT ANNOYING AT ALL!

I pounded on the door, scowled at the kids, grabbed my belongings, drove across the highway to a truck stop which was what actually comprised the “Grand View” (along with a tract home development) I had from my campsite, procured some Tide pouches, gave more than a little thought to switching up to the KOA, and resignedly returned to camp.

My mood was not improved by the behavior of my traveling companion who spent the evening sacked out under the picnic table, showing no interest in either my dinner or the various free range cats on the property, or even just doing a bit of BARKBARK for the hell of it. In fact, she didn’t utter a single peep that entire night and I was giving serious consideration to foregoing Little Bighorn in favor of another trip to the vet.

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I could leave you with that cliffhanger but that just seems cruel, so I’ll spoiler the next entry to say she makes a full recovery from what in the final analysis appeared to be a severe case of “Corpse Belly.”

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