Primary Highways: Montana and South Dakota

Well, this long process is nearly at it’s end. And this time, we really mean it, there are only two states left, Montana and South Dakota. I had an opportunity to visit both as a kid in 1988. It was only as I prepared to write this article that I realized this was twenty years ago!

We came into Montana at night on I-94, which we previously mentioned in this series when we visited Indiana and Detroit. The night sky in Montana is an amazing experience, as is the complete darkness if one stops the car and turns out the lights. A little eerie, actually. I grew up the suburbs north of New York City, so such clear and dark nights were a new experience.

I-94 ends quietly at junction with I-90 near Billings, the largest city in Montana. I don’t remember much about it.

We did visit Yellowstone National park, which is mostly in Wyoming. But the northern entrance, featuring the Roosevelt Arch, is in Montana:

We discussed Yellowstone in more detail when we wrote about Wyoming. But I didn’t mention the fact that I was there during the massive fires of 1988, that burned about one third of the park. The smoke and the various closures certainly colored my visit. I do need to go back again and experience Yellowstone as an adult and without the fires.

From Yellowstone, we traveled north and east, stopping in the town of Butte. Though quite small, I recall it looking rather large as one approached from the east at night on I-90. We at CatSynth would not deign to make jokes about the town’s name.

Ultimately, we headed north on US 93 to reach Glacier National Park. This was an altogether different experience from Yellowstone. Not only were the skies clear, but landscape was more the standard forests and lakes and mountains one associates with Rockies:

Among the striking features of Glacier Park are its lakes, such as St. Mary Lake (pictured here) and Lake McDonald. Lake McDonald in particular is quite deep, as it is formed from a valley between mountains, though not as deep as Crater Lake in Oregon. The park does of course have Glaciers, but they have been retreating quite dramatically, victims of climate change.

Our trip back from Montana took us through South Dakota on I-90. The main feature of I-90 in South Dakota were the frequent billboards advertising Wall Drug, which we of course did have to stop at, after having fun with the concept for the preceding hours. We did of course visit the more monumental attractions, including the dueling carved mountains of Crazy Horse and Mount Rushmore.

We ultimately continued east on I-90 to Chicago, the hometown of the likely winner at the end of this long contest.

Primary Highways: Wyoming

Even though we're already on to Mississippi today, I did not want to forget the state of Wyoming, which caucused this weekend.

Wyoming is the least populous state in the U.S. The capital and largest city, Cheyenne, is about the same size as my previous hometown, Santa Cruz, CA. The entire state is significantly smaller than my current hometown, San Francisco. But Wyoming is large, and open, something I experienced years ago when driving out from New York to California on I-80. We have gotten to visit a lot of states along I-80 that I remember as part of this series. But coming west, the almost desert-like conditions, wind and brush and emptiness, were a welcome change from largely flat farmland of the previous thousand miles.

We did actually take a detour from I-80 south on US 191 through the Flaming Gorge] area down to Dinosaur National Monument in Utah. The two highways split in a remote area, with mountains and canyons to the south:

One thing I remember quite strikingly was how 191 curled up into the hills heading south from the freeway. Unfortunately, I don't have any of the photographs from the trip available, but this photo from illustrates it quite well:

It turns out I had encounted US 191 in Wyoming on a previous trip as well, as it enters Yellostone National Park via the south entrance:

Yellowstone is of course spectacular, and quite a different experience from the starkness of southern Wyoming. It also is the oldest and one of the largest national parks. Although mostly in Wyoming it does extend into Montana and Idaho as well. I leave you with this image from the northern entrance to Yellowstone, in Montana:

The inscription reads “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People,” with the dual purpose of preserving this natural land and making it accessible to “the people.” It seems like a sentiment that is sadly lost in contemporary politics, but that is a topic for another day…