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Devil’s Tower; Railroad Bill’s BBQ Sauce; Mamma Clouds; An Automated Firewood Dispenser? “Nah, It’s Just a Ford”

From South Dakota’s Black Hills, we traveled west to visit Devil’s Tower, a lava monolith in far eastern Wyoming. Both of us had always to wanted to see this iconic piece of rock that is held sacred by many Indian tribes, and we were not disappointed by its magnificence. Our visit started with a bit of mis-adventure, however, when yours truly neglected to check the fuel level on the toad, our Honda CR-V that we tow behind our motor coach. We arrived at our campground just a mile from the rock, and I gasped when I saw 10 miles left on the “distance left to doom” counter. Quickly trying to deflect my guilt, I said, “Suzanne, you didn’t fill the car up before we left Custer! We’re almost out of gas!” She looked at me at first with guilt, then with a bit of indignation… (Oops, I may have overstepped my bounds with that remark!) She said sweetly, “But Darling, shouldn’t You, the Man, have checked it also?” I replied gruffly, “Don’t confuse me with facts… what are we going to do now? The nearest town is 8 miles away.” My Lovely Bride replied, “Look, it’s only a mile up the road to the visitor center. Let’s drive up, hike, and then we’ll get gas.”

This may have not been the best decision of our collective consciousness, but there we were. It was a Saturday, and throngs would be arriving soon, so we made the most of the opportunity to visit Devil’s Tower before it got too crowded. We drove uphill (can you see this coming?) and after one mile, the doomsday counter went from 10 miles to 4. Now we couldn’t get to town at all. So what else? We went for a hike. There were scores of people on the short hike that circled the base of the tower on a paved trail, but almost no one on the 3 mile hike (yep, on real dirt!) that went down to the Belle Fourche River and through the Red Beds, a colorful geologic feature. Oh, did I mention that it was in the low 90s by then? Anyway, we finished our hike, turned on the engine long enough to get out of the parking lot and headed fair, and then coasted downhill in neutral back to the entrance of our campground and parked right by our coach. We had exactly 1 mile of gas left on the counter, enough to hook up the car and tow it to our next destination, where we filled up at the first gas station we came to. It was a lesson learned that I hope MLB will never forget. Smack!

On the way out, we took this photo at the gate of historic Campstool Ranch, est. 1882, the home of the Driskill family who has owned and farmed 5,000 acres of land adjacent to Devil’s Tower for six generations.

After departing Devil’s Tower, we headed northwest to Montana. On the way, we stopped for barbecue and found this excellent sauce, Railroad Bill’s. It had special significance for Suzanne, whose dad Bill was a railroad engineer. He started as a youngster shoveling coal on an engine that looked much like the one on the bottle label, and drove for the Pennsylvania and Penn Central railroads before finishing his career with AMTRAK on the Main Line route west of Philadelphia.

The weather here on the Great Plains can be very changeable. As a lifetime sailor, I am always watching the sky for signs of impending rain and high winds. One of the cloud formations that I never care to see close-up is this one… mamma, or mammatocumulus, clouds. These breast-shaped clouds are often composed of ice crystals, and are associated with anvil-shaped thunderstorms that produce lightning and even tornadoes. I have been told by MLB that I see these shapes even when she doesn’t… what can I say? Maybe it’s a guy thing.

Our next stop was at Salmon Lake State Park, Montana, just for two nights. I wish we had booked a longer stay, because it was a very quiet campground next to a beautiful lake. There was absolutely NO cell phone service, and of course no wi-fi, either, but for a relaxing place to get off the grid, it had a lot to offer. I call this shot “A chair with a view.” It evidently belonged to a stand-up paddleboarder (SUPer) who was out on the lake, and I am sure that he or she thought that they had one of the best spots on the lake.

Rudy and Gretchen were anxious to go out and meet some of the local inhabitants, but our better judgment made us keep them on lead while this guy was around. Otherwise, our little hunters would have had him for lunch. This little fellow is a handsome example of the Columbian ground squirrel (Urocitellus colubianus). They are often considered pests out west, and more than one horse has stepped in their burrows and injured a leg. They are called “Seven sleepers” because they hibernate in their burrows from Fall until Spring, only emerging for 5 months of activity.

Montana is blessed with many waterfalls. We hiked to this one, Morrell Falls, in Lolo National Forest, and for the first time this trip carried bear spray, just in case (we are now deep in grizzly country). Fortunately, we didn’t need it. The only danger on this hike was falling into the cold water. You can tell that Suzanne is happy with the surroundings – waterfalls make her smile every time!

I like to get out in the woods to avoid modern life and technology, but you can see that it has even arrived in rural Montana’s state parks. Here we found a wood dispenser; just plop in 16 quarters, and a bundle of firewood is dispensed at your feet… sheesh, what’s next, a robot to build your fire for you?

This next photo is for My Good Friend Bob. I mentioned in a previous post that because he had helped me on several occasions with his big Ford F-350 truck, I wouldn’t make fun of Fords. Well, like any politician, some promises are meant to be broken… Here’s the story: we were leaving the campground one day, and came across a guy with the hood of his Ford truck in the open (I’m in trouble now) position. We pulled alongside and asked if we could help. He replied with a grin, “Nah, it’s just a Ford…” (As in “Fix Or Repair Daily”.)

From Salmon Lake, we moved on to Whitefish, Montana, just outside Glacier National Park and home of Suzanne’s nephew Matthew, his wife Eleanor, and their beautiful daughters Olive and Ruthie. We went out for dinner with the family and Eleanor’s dad Shawn, and the only picture I remembered to take was that of Ruthie sleeping while we ate… but it’s priceless!


  • Lynette
    Posted July 26, 2016 at 5:54 pm

    Here in Okielandia, Ford stands for Found On the Road Dead. I do miss my bigass Dodge Ram pickup. What a great update. Two days disconnected must have been pretty wonderful after the initial shock 😊

  • Ty and Suzanne Giesemann
    Posted August 7, 2016 at 4:53 am

    Lynette, Thanks for your kind words. Loved the FORD description… will mention that one to My Good Friend Bob with a Ford F-350! 😉

  • S/V Magnolia
    Posted December 14, 2016 at 3:36 am

    We have NEVER left short of Fuel in the dink….(lighting bolt)


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