August 25 - 27, 2015:
I suspect the ride from Lewistown to Billings, Montana on a clear day is quite beautiful, but on this day the air was so smoky and hazy that I couldn’t hardly see it. It was all hay fields and cattle range along the route as I stopped for at roadside sign. The sign got me thinking how cattle ranching really did change everything in the west and the end result is not all a pretty picture. The landscape was a roller coaster ride for much of the way, up a steep incline, then back down, up, down over and over again. The 70 MPH speed limit gave the hawk quite a workout.
|The sign tells much|
As I came to the town of Roundup, I had to stop, take a few photos, no way to avoid it. It’s a true western town, no fake store fronts, no tourist signs, the real deal.
|One of several such buildings in Roundup|
Entering our destination of Billings from I-90 was not impressive, I’m hoping it’s the bad side of the city. It doesn't quite look the Billings travel brochure ?
We then arrive at our campsite at the Holiday Inn. Well, it's not really a campsite, more of a rough parking lot behind the hotel with an electric hookup. The setting is a little scary, across from a casino and what looks like a welfare hotel. You might wonder, why are we at the Holiday Inn ?
We had checked for RV Parks and found that they were few here and very pricey. We then checked for free places such as Walmart, Pilot truck stops and other such places in the area. In doing so, we read how the local KOA campground had complained to city management about the situation of allowing free overnight camping in town at such places. As a result the city established new ordinances on overnight camping which allow a maximum stay of 10 hours, strictly enforced and very restrictive. We then learned of the Holiday Inn which has electric pedestals installed in a portion of their parking lot and they allow unlimited overnight stays for $25 a night. We didn’t count on it being being quite as trashy looking, but we had no problems there although we probably wouldn’t do it again.
|Holiday Inn parking lot not so scenic, but lots of room|
|Casino across the road, the palm trees light up at night|
While I’m complaining I might as well mention the casino situation. Every town in Montana has had these small tacky casinos on about every block with nothing but electronic game machines. I don’t know when or how this all started, or if they collect a lot of tax revenue from this, but they are setting new standards for sleaziness.
Billings is another railroad town, but came about under strange circumstances. The existing town of Coulson was in the path of the approaching Northern Pacific Railroad as it was being built. The Coulson town fathers were sort of greedy and inflated their property values greatly in anticipation of the railroad buying their property. As a result, the railroad decided to start a new town virtually next door which became the city of Billings. Billings was named for the president of the railroad, Frederick Billings. After being ousted from the railroad, Billings and a group of investors started the Minnesota & Montana Land and Improvement Company, buying 90,000 acres of land and selling building lots in Billings. Agriculture continues as the leading industry in Billings followed by Energy. The Billings area now has three oil refineries and business is booming due to the recent oil bonanzas in western North Dakota eastern Montana.
|The Train Depot was used for three or four railroads |
|Old signs are numerous in Billings|
|I went to an antique shop along here|
|I liked the way this mural integrated into|
the fire escape
|The classic Babcock Theater|
|7 up, you like it, it likes you|
|A beautiful Kress Store|
|The Roxy Hotel looking plenty rough these days|
|Great old sign on one of the oldest buildings in town|
Billings is another place that Lewis and Clark came through on their epic journey, Lewis craved his name in the limestone rocks nearby at a place they named Pompey’s Pillar. Billings was and still is the home of the Crow and Cheyenne Indian tribes who have reservations in the area.
On Wednesday, after a breakfast at Cracker Barrel, always a favorite although we always notice that the clientele seem to be quite overweight. I had noticed the old guy there in a fancy suit going around handing out candy and talking to customers, but he didn’t approach our table. On the way to the parking lot, Twinkles held the door for him and ended up having a conversation in which he gave her one of his informative binders. He was quite the character, 96 years old, a former WWII B-17 pilot, a dedicated born again christian, now traveling around the country promoting his beliefs. Reading his handout, I was alternately impressed and repulsed by his thinking. These people who are so fanatical about their religion are quite scary and dangerous.
Another weird sighting in Billings was this poster for a quilt and gun auction Gala, that an unusual combination.
|It might be an interesting Gala to attend ?|
We then go for a walk along the Rimrock Trail which follows the bluff edge which was once the shore of an ancient sea, now overlooking the city of Billings. One of Billings hero’s is Yellowstone Kelly who was a trapper, a wilderness guide, a military officer who was buried on the highest point of the Rimrock. I was distressed to see that his grave site and the park area is not maintained at all, very sad as he is an historic icon of the town. We then went to the Boothill cemetery, another historic area that is also mostly unmaintained.
Our next stop was the Western Heritage Center housed in the beautiful former Parmly-Billings Library building opened in 1901. It was vacant in the 1960's and almost demolished for a parking lot (why is it always a parking lot) , but ultimately saved.
We also went to the Yellowstone Art Museum, which I had hoped would have much Will James art on display, but unfortunately it didn't. They did have an outstanding Botanical exhibit done by scanning flower heads and plant parts using a carbon ink printing process that was beautiful, it made the museum visit worthwhile.
|A smoky view from the rimrock overlooking Billings|
|The trail view looking back|
|Yellowstone Kelly was a great one|
|I believe this is his grave, but it's not really marked or maintained|
|View of Boot Hill|
|Plaque on the monument base|
|Monument at Boot Hill|
|The Western Heritage Center|
|Remember the Hippy Shake, it started in Billings|
In the evening I checked out the open mike music session at Yellowstone Valley Brewing Company in downtown Billings. It was the best session I have seen all year. There is a six brewery walking tour in Billings along along a 1.5 mile route. Montana has strange rules for these breweries, which they call tasting rooms. They don’t need the expensive liquor licenses required of bars, but have limited operating hours from 4-8 PM only and can only serve each patron two pints. The traditional bars have challenged these Brewery rules in court, unsuccessfully to date, claiming that the breweries are taking much of their business away.
We took a look at the Two Moon Park along the Yellowstone River. It was pretty dumpy, but you can always find something of beauty.
|Milkweed is beautiful|
Thursday evening I go downtown to the “Pub Station”, on old bus station converted into a live music pub. A touring band from Tennessee, the “Black Lillies”, were playing. They were a talented band, good musicians, who sort of blend cowboy western and southern country together with a rock edge that sort of keeps everyone happy.
Goodbye Montana, next stop is Cody, Wyoming,Twinkles and Slick