two days on the road   12 comments

Posted at 2:57 am in Uncategorized


we say goodbye to Writing-on-Stone and the Sweetgrass Mountains

It’s been about two weeks since I’ve been able to put up a post. I was never able to resolve the problem of setting up the iPad for use in the states, so my only means of posting is to find a wifi hotspot. My wanderings over the past while have not taken me to the kind of places where that would be likely to occur. However, tonight we are holed up in a motel for a night, so I’m making the best of this opportunity to reconnect.

Although I’m now far beyond the places I describe in this post, I wanted to include the following musings. When I’m on the road, scenes and personal encounters flow past in a way that plays out rather like a movie. On the two days I’ve chosen to write about, I scribbled key words in pen on a paper towel — enough to remind myself of each sight or incident. If this account seems oddly disconnected, that’s just about how it feels many times when I’m on the road.

~ * ~

A week after arriving at Writing-on-Stone, there’s a change in the weather and I’m feeling that it’s time to turn south.  I had planned to cross into Montana at a border station near the park, but one look at a pick-up truck that has just driven over that road tells me it would be a poor choice on this day.  The truck is so heavily plastered with mud that the rear license plate looks like a slab of grimy slate.  I now turn toward Milk River to cross at Sweetgrass, Montana.  I came north by this route last spring and remember the countryside as bleak and lifeless.  However, under autumn skies, it has a different feel.  The fields rolling off to the horizon are shades of golds and warm browns rather than the cold grays I was expecting.

There is a large storm front moving in from the west.  Towering clouds race eastward and powerful winds buffet the van as I drive south on the interstate.  At a rest area, I call my brother on the blackberry and report that i can almost lean forward and let the wind catch my fall.  There are dozens of election signboards along the highway.  Some are obviously homemade and rattle wildly, looking set to tear loose in the gale force winds,  I don’t want to be anywhere in their path.  As I near Great Falls, the western storm front is colliding with a similar front from the east. An angry swirling rorschach is unfolding directly above the highway.

My plan was to look for a campsite around Helena, but snow clouds loom ahead.  Taking the freeway exit, I choose the closest motel.  They have pet friendly rooms, so I check in, then pick up burgers for the dogs – a treat they enjoy on the rare nights when we motel it.  We return to our room and I’m feeling a certain relief for being indoors this night.  The wind is bitterly cold and I dig around in the truck looking for my wool hat and gloves when I take the dogs for their final walk of the evening.

The next morning, I’m not quite certain of my plans.  I’m feeling tired from the previous day of driving against the wind.  Merging onto the freeway, I decide to drive as far as Dillon and perhaps look for a campsite.  However, once on the road, I feel better and up to a longer day.  Between Dillon and Butte, the weather turns ugly.  I remember this stretch of highway from my spring trip, and that I took note of how I would not want to drive this particular pass in snow — but here I am in the middle of a snow squall.   There’s a snowplow up ahead. I adjust my speed so that I won’t overtake him.   It’s one of those mountain highways with two lanes in each direction and a concrete barrier snaking in between.   Most of the traffic is going my speed, but on one steeply curving down-grade, I’m passed by a pickup truck towing a slat-sided gooseneck livestock trailer sardined with ice-encrusted Herefords.  He’s blasting past everyone. In the open pickup box, a large, brindle farm dog stands hunched, eyes squinted tightly, looking like he’d rather be any place else.

On a tight bend, a forested mountainside fills my entire field of vision.  It’s lightly dusted with snow beneath dark conifers.  Quite unexpectedly, I am hammered by the memory of the many times that Don and I would hike in just such forests during the early season snows.  It’s this element of surprise that always feels so painful – like the sudden twist of a knife – as I think of how it is that we will never walk together in a wintry forest again.  However, I must quickly release such unbidden thoughts as the road is too slick to allow for distraction.   

At last, we reach lower elevation and the snow abates.  Now I’m driving through a landscape of ranches with barns and houses clad with dark, sun-scorched planks.  I arrive in Butte and decide to keep going. This morning’s fatigue has been thrown off and now I feel like getting to a place where the snow can’t find us.


A certain landscape catches my eye and I can’t resist turning off the interstate to take a few photos.   I stop the truck just shy of a cattle guard grate and wander ahead with my camera.  Sage begins to bark crazily, but I ignore the rising crescendo and snap a few more pics.  As I turn to make my way back to the van, I spot the source of her agitation.  A hulking Hereford bull is walking directly toward me – more curious than threatening.  He snorts and his eyes follow as I cross over the cattle guard once more.

A couple of miles further on, Sabrina yelps twice to signal that she wants a drink. It’s a new system that she has introduced for this year’s trip. Fortunately, there’s a rest area just ahead. It’s unusually tidy for such a place. While filling the dog bowls, I notice a bearded man picking paper trash out of a hedge. He’s trailed by a strawberry-blonde, bob-tailed dog carrying a frisbee. Periodically, the man tosses the frisbee as his dog races ahead, leaping high into the air to intercept its flight. As they pass by, I remark on his bright, beautiful dog. The man looks pleased.


Along our southward route, rivers lined with golden-leaved cottonwood are an almost constant delight.  Now I’m crossing the state line into Idaho.  Glancing in the rear view mirror, I see the dogs looking restless.  I take the next exit, which turns out to be the access road for Stoddard Creek recreational area.  There’s a wide spot on the shoulder where I park the van.  A street sign points the way to Porcupine Pass.  I walk the dogs up a lane leading to a gate.  For some reason, This feels like a good spot for a cemetery.  We approach the gate and discover that, in fact, there is an old family cemetery beneath the trees.


While helping Sabrina climb back up into the van, I spy something moving about in the rabbitbrush next to the road.  I watch for awhile and see a small creature descend to the ground.  A short while later, it reappears amid the spent blooms of a nearby plant.  I approach with my camera and take a few photos.  The creature turns out to be a colorful little chipmunk which is gathering seeds and fluff from each plant.  I’m feeling lucky to have been in this place at this time.

Soon, we’re back on the road.  I decide that I’ll try to get us to City of Rocks – a place we camped last spring on our homeward trip.  However, as we reach the area, I see mountains covered with snow and realize that we’d probably be quite miserable up there.  For the second time in two days, I find a pet-friendly motel and call it an early day.    Determined to make the best of a bad thing, I use the motel’s laundromat to replenish my supply of clean clothes.  Yes, it’s pretty mundane stuff, but being on the road for weeks at a time does have its less than romantic moments.  I’ve now done laundry in coin washes in a host of towns all over the map.  It’s all just a part of living the life of a nomad.

That afternoon, a large charter bus rolls into the parking lot near my room. The passengers disembark and disperse into their rooms. They’re Chinese and at first I’m thinking they’re tourists. However, then I notice that two of the passengers are fussing with food storage coolers and a couple of large woks. Shortly after, everyone departs on the bus. Late that evening, they reappear. This is interesting. I puzzle over who they might be. The next morning, the front page of a newspaper in the motel lobby features a colour photo with a headline about JIGU! Thunder Drummers of China playing in town the previous night.

At last the weather clears up ahead and we’re back on the road. It’s been an odd but familiar couple of days.

NOTE: I will probably be without a net connection for another week or so. We’ve been having a good trip and I’ve been taking plenty of photos. When we arrive at the rental house in Bisbee, I’ll have some catching up to do.

Written by bev wigney on November 16th, 2010

12 Responses to 'two days on the road'

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  1. It’s so sad to ever hae to rush across any landscape.


    16 Nov 10 at 10:15 am

  2. fred – That’s very true. For the past two weeks, I’ve been camping and hiking in southeast Utah. It’s been wonderful to get to know a little about this area — and enough to know that I will return and hope to spend more time wandering the more remote canyons at some point in the near future. I feel this way about southeast Arizona as wee, which is why I have continued to return. Now there are explorations in Nova Scotia as well. there is so much to learn about each of these places -even the smallest area such as Stoddard Creek where I saw the chipmunk. Many times I think of how I would like to just stop and stay awhile – and sometimes I do just that. more about that a couple of posts from now.


    16 Nov 10 at 10:21 am

  3. I’m so glad to see a post here, bev. Been thinking about you and hoping all has been well, and am glad to see that it has. Sounds like it’s been a good journey with time for exploring and time for laundry. That Montana sky is so beautiful. Looking forward to reading your posts when you get to Bisbee.

    robin andrea

    16 Nov 10 at 10:55 am

  4. I enjoyed sharing your travels this way. I love that country and can imagine being there again myself. When we went through southern Utah in the spring, I thought that it’d be a wonderful place to spend a few weeks. I am looking forward to what you found there to see if it’d be places I’d also want to be. We rushed through so fast as we had to get home but there were homes from rent through VRBO and I thought some year I want to get one of them and spend a month as Southern Utah does have a lot of the same appeal to me as Southern Arizona except I know it less well.


    16 Nov 10 at 11:51 am

  5. Good to hear from you again. You and Sabrina and Sage have been in my thoughts. Especially liked the part about the Thunder Drummers of China. This journey has a new rhythm. Don’t know how else to describe it. Love the photos as always.


    16 Nov 10 at 1:55 pm

  6. That’s too bad about the iPad and no access. Technology is surprisingly fragile, and paper is still the universal medium!

    The Hereford bull brought back a memory from when I was a teenager. We lived in a rural area and I had taken up jogging along the highway where our house was. Up the road about a mile, one of the kids in the family was raising a bull calf for a 4H project. It was staked in the grassy area inside a jug handle (a turnaround). The family’s house was across the highway and up a very, very steep hillside, so they couldn’t see what was happening.

    I passed by on a couple of jogs and it would race to the end of its tether toward me so I began crossing the road to pass it. Good thing I did, because one day it ripped the tether out of the ground and started chasing me. I was never a speedy runner, but that day I think I did a 4-minute mile!

    I can only assume they caught it unharmed — after that I jogged in the *other* direction before turning to go home.


    16 Nov 10 at 6:03 pm

  7. Hi Bev. I’ve missed you. Thanks so much for bringing us all up to date with your adventure. The landscape looks beautiful, although I can say that from the warmth of my living room couch. You did send a chill through me as you described the snowy weather. Brrr.

    I would love to know your general itinerary, then I could plot it out on a map and have a sense of where you are headed with each leg of your trip. I haven’t done too much travel across these states, and find it very interesting to see it through your eyes.

    I hope each day brings new wonder, or pleasant memories. I too feel the occasional sharp cut of the reality that I will never experience certain things with Michael ever again. These days I’m trying to remind myself that it hurts because I have something worth appreciating. All part of the process.

    Travel safely.



    17 Nov 10 at 1:15 am

  8. Glad to hear you made it that far south ahead of the big snowstorms. When I read your description of the dog in the back of the truck, it brought to mind the scene from Trains, Planes and Automobiles with Steven Martin and John Candy in the back of the pickup truck, shivering, and the mean ol’ farm dog snarling at them with frosticles hanging from his snout. More humans should be made to ride in the back in winter with their dogs, give them a wee taste of what it’s like. Dogs should be up front with their blanket and pillow.

    Travel safe, and keep us posted when you can.



    18 Nov 10 at 11:02 am

  9. I did see Trains, Planes and Automobiles, one of my favorite movies and remember the scene with the dog in the back of the car…I agree with Rose Marie about some humans that should see what it is like to be in the back with the dogs in that situation, absolutely, dogs should be up front with their blanket and pillow toasty warm deservedly…….

    Kathy Demarest

    18 Nov 10 at 6:10 pm

  10. robin – All has been well, but this has turned out to be a very solitary trip – a lot of time spent alone in the back country. I look forward to sharing some of the photos and stories once I get settled for the winter in Bisbee.

    Rain – I hope you do make thie time to visit southern Utah some day. Once you get a bit off the beaten track, it soon becomes apparent that there is so much there to see that it would take a whole season to scratch the surface. I do plan to return and get to know that part of the state much better.

    am – You’re quite right. There is something very different about this year’s journey. I suppose part of it had to do with covering so much new ground and not revisiting old. Also, my mind is in a different place this year – perhaps feeling more comfortable with being alone and feeling more like a whole person and less like the wounded survivor of a company of two.

    firefly – Great story about the bull. I think I would have taken another route too! (-:

    Dan – I’ll try to put together an itinerary for this year’s trip as I think it might be both interesting and useful to others who might want to do some explorations in Utah. I’ll work on that in my next post.

    RoseMarie and Kathy – It very much bothers me to see dogs in the back of pick-ups in hot or cold weather, but also just because it seems so dangerous. One sudden swerve and a dog could be flung out on the road as so many stand leaning far out over the side and quite insecure.


    19 Nov 10 at 9:49 am

  11. I am really enjoying your travels… Thank you for sharing so many pictures and stories about places I may never venture.

    We have recently moved from town to country and I am loving it. I often think about a statement made by a little girl over 50 years ago, when I sit by the pond in our front yard…

    The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be.
    – Anne Frank

    have a safe journey.



    21 Nov 10 at 11:53 pm

  12. Bev, it’s a pleasure to read of your adventures along the journey to Bisbee this time around. For some reason or other, the old Nelson Riddle theme to Route 66 comes to mind as I am writing this. It must be those gorgeous wide Montana skies and fields, those splendid hills.

    Re your Hereford bull…. I remember a sign I saw once on a fence in northern Ontario. It read: “If you are considering crossing this field, you had better be able to do the hundred yard dash in record time – the bull can do it in 10.6 (seconds)”.

    Oh yes, and we have snow. The city is now a sea of wet snow and icy slush, very messy stuff indeed.


    26 Nov 10 at 8:17 pm

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