Dumb Ideas Are Our Territory

We both woke earlier than usual this morning as Dad had set his morning wake up call from Caroline the night before but we were up with our eyes adjusting to the lights before that. I’ll load half the stuff in the car and leave the hotel room door open so I could get back in but return to a locked front door that doesn’t open till 7am. Luckily there was a woman with a key who let me in so I wasn’t stuck waiting for a half hour.

Sat down to breakfast and were served water in Prindy’s Place personalized plastic cups and coffee in diner mugs. I can appreciate the small town conversational vibe but this morning is loud with excited bikers on their way to the biggest annual event for them with concerts and competitions. It also seems they have an hour jump-start on their caffeine intake. We’ll finish our meal and move our conversation to the car to drive up the 78 towards Roscoe.

We’ll get on the 87 and get some coffee. Between Red Lodge and Roundup we’ll have seen rolling hills with turkey, cows, and deer; a lone tractor and miles later a windmill. We’ll have driven over stony curvaceous land with dead trees on the top leading to green and late fall foliage below before empty meadows that are tired from hooves but re-energized by the summer sun.

Some stores in Roundup have been closed for 20 years and others maybe only two. This is just one town of many like it along historically popular routes through parts of America. At one point, people were out here for railroads and resources. Now, travelers such as Dad and I can come and photograph and fantasize about what used to be and what stories and treasures are still held within the walls of decay.

Drive through Petroleum County and see more miles of straight road with both living and dead cows and pronghorn between the road and the fence that used to contain them than we do the one oil pump. The road begins to curve again as the hills return with some treetops just as high and a large pond with migrating birds taking advantage of the bathroom and breakfast amenities.

Dad reminds me that I’m not from California as I wasn’t born or raised in the state, but have spent six years in San Diego. This is a question that comes up when meeting fellow travelers and my answer has changed over the years. Sometimes I start with the country I was born in (Germany, 1986) or the state I was raised in (Texas, 91 – 04), or the state I met my spouse in (Virginia, 2005). I choose to start with where I live as an answer to small talk or to compare the distance traveled to be in the same place at the same time.

I used to tell people I was from Texas but my mother no longer lives there. When in the Middle East it’s ok to just be from America. I know how lucky I am for all the places I’ve been and don’t feel the need to brag about it, except on this website that’s all about me. I want to listen to others to gain insight and inspiration to help tell a story that began thousands of years before me and that someone else will carry on when I’m gone.

Stopped at Ezzie’s Wholesale in Malta and skipped the Great Plains Dinosaur Museum. The bank sign in Hinsdale shows 39°C. We’ll skip the six-mile Cut Across gravel road and continue on the 2 E through Glasgow before going north to St Marie where there are old forgotten houses with steel cabinets next to newly painted houses, same for the garages. I take the cabin air filter, with dead bugs in it, out of the car and feel the temperature drop.

We roll the windows down to let the a/c defrost and Dad reminds me that there’s no wiper fluid either, to help tame the mass slaughter of grasshoppers taking place on the windshield. I don’t remember being taught to have an abundant supply of Clorox wipes in your vehicle over other matters that should be on a safety checklist, but I also was never in an official driver safety course; which is why I still struggle to parallel park.

We see a couple coming out of a neighboring house with the same curiosity as us about the military housing for the old Air Force base in St Marie. We’ll explore a few more as we drive around before continuing on to rolling hills covered in beautiful yellow, green, brown, and white grasses. The sun is in the clouds, the pronghorn in the field, and the hawk on the fence post (the one we can’t capture on camera).

Found a barn at one-third capacity of barley next to a cute (from the outside) house that was falling apart inside. I’d have walked in but the doors are blocked with debris so I grab a long board and shove myself half in the window in an attempt to get a pan off the antique stove for Dad. I get the pan halfway across the stovetop when it rolls to the floor, where it shall probably remain for another 60 years.

We see deer by Ophiem on our way to the Canadian border near West Poplar, SK. We also passed sheep and one of them appeared to temporarily be a tapir on a vacation high north from home in South America. We get to the border and an agent drives up, on his way to work across the parking lot, to tell us not to go under the gate, eh. We let him know we wouldn’t be going that far and he said that was fine.

We get to Scobey around 8pm and the hotel clerk advises us to get dinner before bothering with check-in before we’re out of luck. I run into the pizza bar that doesn’t serve food on Thursdays past 3pm so we drive to the only other place in town that does – Scobey Golf Course & Club House. A lady at another table asked how we’re doing, surprised we’re way out here, and excited to suggest we visit Canada and the local Daniels County Museum, which looks like a well kept pioneer town.

Our drinks arrive via Erin, a 19-year-old headed to Missoula University, whose parents, Don and Laura Hagen, engage us in conversation. We listened to their history, married in 2001, and are impressed with the 4,000 acres they own to grow the wheat that makes spaghetti; at least before companies started using beans and veggies too. Stories of Europe leave us all wanting to go to Ireland and though we love the small town kindness it was time for us to get to one of the only hotels within 30 miles that doesn’t require a passport.

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