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Monday, July 25, 2005


Day five: Over the Continental Divide

Missoula to Gillette, Wyo.: 585 miles, 8.5 hours

Miles so far: 1875

Gas mileage so far: 34 mpg (Someone asked, OK?)

Big Sky country

Today’s drive was the West with a capital W. Mountains, buttes, and sky were all too huge to fit in a frame. Cattle, bison, and oil rigs are all picturesque, but what’s more remarkable than anything we saw is the vast emptiness that surrounds it. California has its share of lonely patches, but this feels like the population center of nowhere. Statistics support this view: In the nearly 98,000 square miles of Wyoming, there are fewer than half a million people, less than live in the 49 square miles of San Francisco. And Montana, which is more than 5,000 times the size of San Jose, has approximately the same population. There’s a tremendous amount of nothing out here.

There are two images that will stick with me, though. First is the pro- and anti-Indian graffiti in a bathroom in Hardin, Montana, just north of the Crow reservation. I was startled to see that there’s someone alive in this century who would respond to an Indian pride tag with the phrase “wagon burners.” Dude, it’s over. Whitey won. Maybe you didn’t get the telegram.

The second memory is more benign: a man riding horseback on the reservation, talking on his cell phone.

As I write this on Sunday night, we’re in the same motel as a number of competitors in the National High School Rodeo Finals, which is apparently a very big deal in Gillette. Maybe we’ll get to smell it tomorrow.

The red roads of Wyoming Storm in the distance, Wyoming sunset in the sideview