After learning that our RV couldn’t be serviced until May 24th, we settled in at the Billings KOA. We were only able to extend our stay to three days. We would have stayed longer but there was no availability on Sunday, May 21st.
We learned that the Billings KOA was the first KOA. It sits on the banks of the Yellowstone River and was well designed and beautifully landscaped. At $62 per night, it was the most expensive campsite, but also the most beautiful KOA we’d stayed at. There are very few campgrounds in the Billings area which also explains their ability to charge such high rates.
We were exhausted after our many days of long drives and took it easy on Friday, May 19th. We walked along the Yellowstone River and admired the scenery. We even spotted a pair of bald eagles on the ridge.
On Saturday, May 20th, we went out exploring the local attractions. Our first stop was at Pictograph Cave State Park where we were able to see pictographs from up to 9,000 years ago. These caves were excavated by WPA workers from 1937-1941.
Next, we drove up on Rim Rock Drive and got a panoramic view of Billings.
Our next stop was at Boothill Cemetery, the burial grounds for the Yellowstone River town of Coulson, the predecessor of Billings.
After lunch at Famous Dave’s, we drove downtown to see the Moss Mansion, home of one of Billings’ most famous family and now a historical house museum.
On Sunday, May 21st, we packed up and moved 50 miles east to the Hardin KOA.
We spent three days at the Hardin KOA, which was nowhere near as nice as the Billings KOA but also not nearly as expensive. The campground was largely a wide open field in the middle of the Montana prairie, but it was well maintained and had nice views. The owners live in Wisconsin and displayed Wisconsin Badger signs all over. Phil learned from the owner that his son had gotten his doctorate at UW – Madison in veterinary science. Phil, of course, had to share that our daughter had also gotten her doctorate there.
On May 22nd, we visited the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, which is about 15 miles from Hardin. We began with a stop at the Visitor Center where we watched a video on the history leading up to the conflict and details regarding the battle on June 25, 1876. We learned that the U. S. government had signed the Fort Laramie Treaty in 1868, establishing the Great Sioux reservation with the Lakota, Cheyenne and other tribes of the Great Plains. The reservation covered western South Dakota, eastern Wyoming and part of Nebraska. In addition, the Indians were granted the right to travel and hunt in “unceded” territory in much of Wyoming and parts of Nebraska. However, in 1874, the U.S. economy was struggling and gold was discovered in the Black Hills, leading thousands of gold seekers to swarm into the region in violation of the treaty. In response, the Lakota and Cheyenne left the reservation and resumed raids on the settlers and travelers. When the Indians defied an order to return to the reservation, the U.S. Army was called in. Lt. Col. George Custer led the 7th Cavalry in one of three expeditions against the Lakota and Cheyenne. The 7th Cavalry, which numbered about 600 men, encountered about 7,000 Indians, including 1,500-2,000 warriors. 40 U.S. soldiers of the companies led by Maj. Marcus Reno were slaughtered when they first attacked the Indian camp. The companies led by Custer were then completely wiped out, losing 210 men, including 42 on Last Stand Hill. Although the tremendous loss of life was tragic, this battlefield visit left us with the unusual emotion of not really knowing who the “good guys” were.
In 1890, the army erected white headstone markers where each of the soldiers had fallen. In 1999, the National Park Service erected red markers at known Cheyenne and Lakota casualty sites. The visit to the battlefield was enhanced by the use of lengthy audio narratives, using our cell phones, at 30 stops along the 6-mile road that extended the length of the battlefield. We parked and walked along several trails that brought us closer to the battle sites.
We had lunch at the Custer Battlefield Trading Post and Café. We each had a Crow Indian taco, which was made using Indian fried bread. It was very good but also very filling.
On May 24th, we arose early and drove back to the RV dealer in Billings to get the rig inspected. After having waited six days just to get a diagnosis, we were not surprised to learn that the dealer would have to order a replacement leg from the manufacturer. We left without knowing how long it would be before the part was available. Rather than just sit around waiting, we decided to resume our travel itinerary and return to Billings on June 7th, the next open date on our schedule.
The forecast for the afternoon of May 24th called for high winds in Billings, with gusts up to 50 mph, so we left town as soon as we got the news. The first hour of our drive east was very windy but the winds died down after that. We decided to drive 150 miles to Buffalo, WY, where we spent the night at Indian Campground & RV Park.