Yes. You guessed it. I am not beyond using a provocative headline to lure you in. It works for Trump…so why not me?
I know. It seems pretty early to start talking about politics. So I won’t… much.
The fact is, in Day 2, we were mostly struck by the huge disparity in lifestyles along a single stretch of 550 miles of I-90. We saw a town that had “beaten the Government” to save itself from being lost to “progress,” and we saw loads of little towns that have found a way to exist, in spite of being mostly forgotten, while resisting the urge to “give in to a quick buck.”
And, we saw loads, and loads, and loads of huge new developments in the larger cities, driven by a new industry that is perhaps even more controversial than legalizing pot.
OK. Once again, I may be sensationalizing a bit…but, Fracking and Medical Marijuana do illicite the same visceral responses from “outsiders” who don’t see the economies that are springing up around them both.
Oh. And we passed on the Testicle Festival. Not that it didn’t sound great…but that we needed to keep moving on, and it is still more than a month and half away.
But, we DID take the course less traveled…to see parts of America that needed a bit of “Rediscovering.” We did this on Day 2…knowing that on Day 3, we would be throwing ourselves into the mass culture tourism that is Mt. Rushmore.
We started in Spokane, and for the most part skipped the strip malls and urban sprawl along the breathtaking panoramas of I-90…following the trail of both Lewis and Clark, as well as the lesser known, Yellowstone Trail that we discovered in the most unlikely place ever…a prison.
All the while…listening to the final chapters of “Serial” and starting a new book-on-tape by Anna Quindlen, called “Miller’s Valley,” (no…we didn’t pick it for the name…it was a book club choice), that is ironically about a town fighting the government against its own extinction.
There are probably a few facets of the new fracking/oil mining culture that I would like to see go extinct. But, I’ll save that for later… But first, the story of a town who almost DID go extinct, and beat back big government, by using a protective device that was made BY the government.
As I said…sometimes it take Big Balls…and the guy who saved Wallace, Montana certainly had some. When the Feds and the State wanted to bulldoze his town, Harry F. Magnuson told them to “pound sand.”
He sued the Feds and State…and in the end, pulled a major switcheroo- by getting the entire town deemed a “National Historic Site” on the National Register of Historic Places.
Genius. And it is a beautiful place…including the Brothel Museum. The town is easy to miss, because they “flew” I-90 over the town, with a huge, tall, overpass. But, the town is for the most part untouched, and like a Rockwell Postcard at every turn.
In the basement alcove of the Bordello Museum. Come on…you know we had to go downstairs…that’s where all of the good stuff is, if you a fan of “American Pickers.”
There is just miles and miles of open road in Montana along Hwy. 90. Almost all of it looked like this. Breathtaking…with lots of sky.
The few towns that dot these open stretches look to be all but abandoned, with weathering artifacts of a day before the Interstate passed them by, and changed the course of their futures forever. As the saying goes (we heard this in the Quindland book) “everyone wants to eat…but nobody wants to farm or ranch.” That seemed obvious in lots of areas.
And then you stumble upon a town who has reinvented itself, and prospered, by turning another dark chapter of its history, into a HUGE tourist area.
Deer Lodge, Montana could easily have turned into another semi-ghost town. In fact, the “town proper” has seen better days. But, on the outskirts of town, you come to the Historic Montana Prison complex, with building after building of museums, shops, and collections, all centered around the old Montana Prison.
Don’t let the cheery paint, and immaculate storefronts fool you. This place is CREEEPY. It was a “diversion” that cost us more than a unplanned hour from our 8.5 hours of planned driving…but was worth every second. I could have spent another three hours there…in the car museum alone.
In this location…we had our first “Ghost Hunters” experience, when my fully-charged video camera suddenly blinked, and went dead…the battery drained. The Ghost Hunters guys are always talking about how the ghosts suck the energy from stored systems. Not sure if I believe it…but that place was freezing cold, on a 97 degree day…and the battery was a testament to something being off…
Cement shoes anyone? These were placed on prisoners who were inclined to run. 20 lbs of cement soles were supposed to slow them down. OK then.
Prison Infirmary. Nice.
One of the “Dark Cells” where the worst of the worst were punished with no light…and just water and bread for days on end. Yes. It made my skin crawl.
This is about 1/8th of the cars they had in this place. AMAZING. Cars from 1895, through current “muscle cars,” they had something for everyone.
Including…a “55 Bel Air”… Somehow, seeing this “dream car,” and the promise of a better life that cars from this era offered, I was reminded of my song, “55 Bel Air.” It seemed more appropriate than ever… LISTEN HERE.
We pushed on, for another few hundred miles…before reaching our next rest stop in Billings, Montana.
Billings…what can you say about Billings? Well…it is one of those places that has blown up with “progress” from Fracking. Almost every area coming into, and leaving, was covered with new development, most of it in support of the “Boom” of the oil fracking industry.
The desk clerk at the recently converted Raddison, was a military veteran of the Afghanistan “war on terror.” He was a sweet, gentle kid…who looked to be tired, yet happy to tell me of his multiple battle wounds. I won’t go into detail here, but suffice it to say, he had sacrificed a great deal serving to protect us from the faceless enemy that is terror (which is a concept, rather than an army). But his wounds were real, as was the fact that this was the best job he could find after returning home, and after months of rehabilitation.
The “Boom” of the oil fracking business seemed to draw every kind of person imaginable. We shared space in the diner/lounge with tables of young, sinewy looking men, as well as a table of what appeared to be Russian businessmen who hardly ate their meals, but had several rounds of drinks, as they took cell call after cell call, the harried single waitress trying her best to cover the floor and keep everyone happy.
There is more to say on this topic. Much more. But, suffice it to say, there is a paradox in a country that is so huge, open, and rich with resources…and still has “immigration problems” as one of the key campaign points this political season.
In the meantime…small towns are disappearing, or figuring out ways to morph. Or if you have enough balls to pull it off, becoming protected by the same government that was trying to wipe you off of the face of the map.
On to Day 3…and the glory of Mt. Rushmore.