We left Waterton National Park in Alberta first thing in the morning for the short trip to the U.S. border. Even if you have been out of the United States for only a few days, it is always good to get back home in the “Good Old USA”. The drive along the east side of Glacier National Park was beautiful. We wanted to take the “Going to the Sun Road” through Glacier National Park from St. Mary’s to West Glacier, but being the middle of June, the road at the top had not be plowed through and was closed, so we had to drop down to East Glacier and take Highway 2 west to West Glacier.
Our destination was Whitefish, Montana. John’s family took the Northern Pacific Railroad from Seattle to Whitefish when he was a sophomore in high school for a Christmas ski trip. This was a return trip he always wanted to make to see Big Mountain, now known as Whitefish Mountain Resort. He was laughing, remembering a story about his ski instructor amazed that his mother actually skied at her age! She was 40, so a young persons perception of age is really funny, today she would seem really young!
The town is a delight with many things to do. We drove up to Big Mountain and it certainly has changed, it didn’t seem like any of the buildings dated back to 1962 when John was last here. It is very impressive and quite the destination for skiing during the winter and very active in the summer season. The Whitefish town has many restaurants, stores and hotels and was bustling with tourists.
Of course we drove over to one of the local golf courses, Whitefish Lake Golf Club with two courses. The staff recommended playing the South Course, which we did the next morning.
The next morning when John was out and about he saw the deer in the RV park we were at, wildlife everywhere. We packed up the RV and started our drive to Bozeman Montana. We decided to head south to visit the National Bison Range run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
It was established in 1908 to provide sanctuary for the American Bison. They control the number of bison based on the optimal acreage and moving or selling off excess bison to keep the heard a healthy size. The herd is about 300 at the present time and expands to 350 after babies are born. Once the babies can be separated from the mothers is when they decide which animals to cut, some of the Bison are also sold for meat
The heard is pure bread bison which is important to maintain since over time a lot of cattle have gotten mixed with the bison making it unusual to find pure bison.They exchange bison with Yellowstone to keep the herd with fresh DNA. We drove through parts of the 19,000 acre range on muddy clay and rock roads. They use to keep the herd in fenced off areas and rotate them so they could tell visitors where to see the herd. Now the range is completely open and with rut season coming soon there were lone males soon would be battling to mate but we did not see the heard. We came upon several bison, a lot of mule deer and one elk. It was worth the detour to visit.
The roads were all dirt washboard and the white RV was covered with reddish brown dirt. We decided to find a place to wash it. Being about 11 feet high, very few washing stalls can handle the height, We were going south and east to end up in Billings. We found a place in Butte Montana to get the vehicle washed. We took an exit and then passed by the entrance so we had to turn around. Up the road was a light and we tried to make a U-turn but could not make it and pulled into a cemetery to turn around. What happened next was extraordinary.
In front of us was a sign that had an arrow on it and it said “Evel”. We laughed and both said “No Way”! We had to drive over and see if it really was. Sure enough, we had missed a turn and found Evel Knivel’s grave. Our discovery goes down with when we found the world’s largest ball of twine in the middle of Kansas a number of years ago. There was a young man at the grave that had driven all the way from Portland just to see it, he was hardly old enough to have seen the attempted jump over the Snake River.
For those unfamiliar with who Evel was:
Evel Knievel, the hard-living, death-defying adventurer who went from stealing motorcycles to riding them in a series of spectacular airborne stunts in the 1960s and ’70s that brought him worldwide fame as the quintessential daredevil performer, died yesterday in Clearwater, Fla. He was 69.
Mr. Knievel amazed and horrified onlookers on Dec. 31, 1967, by vaulting his motorcycle 151 feet over the fountains of Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, only to land in a spectacularly bone-breaking crash.
He then continued to win fame and fortune by getting huge audiences to watch him — typically dressed in star-spangled red, white and blue — roar his motorcycle up a ramp, fly over 10, 15 or 20 cars parked side by side, and come down on another ramp. Perhaps his most spectacular stunt, another disaster, was an attempt to jump an Idaho canyon on a rocket-powered motorcyle in 1974. From New York Times Obituary December 1, 2007
The RV wouldn’t fit at the wash site so we headed to Bozeman, Montana for the night. We did find a place to wash the RV and then headed for the local Walmart to spend the night in the parking lot. We don’t know what the deal is, but Bozeman was one of the most expensive cities we have found to stay in an RV park. That certainly explained the large number of RVs that were spending the night at Walmart.
Walmart actually has a national policy that anyone can park their vehicle, RV, car or truck overnight unless there is a local ordinance against it, so it is a popular “free” RV park.
We drove on into Billings the following morning. On the way we notice the front left tire was low and stopped to fill it up, when we arrived in Billings we went to the local Walmart, being Sunday and not a lot of options. They took the tire off and after filling it several times found the leak, the wheel rim was cracked and that was where we were losing air. Finding a Mercedes Sprinter wheel rim was a Monday project. They put the spare on and off we went o visit John and Nancy Bohlinger.
We were in Billings to spend the evening with a wonderful old family friend of John’s, John Bohlinger. John and his deceased wife Bette had been very close friends to John’s parents when they lived in New York. John had just gotten married to Nancy Cooper in May and it was our pleasure to meet her for the first time. Nancy’s family were Montana founders and had been cattle ranchers for over 100 plus years in the Billings area.
Nancy’s Family Ranch
“Cooper Ranch is a family owned and operated cow calf operation 10 miles South of Billings, Montana on Blue Creek. It was homesteaded by E.N. “Nate” Cooper in the late 1800’s. Nate raised draft horses until switching to cattle when the need for work horses ceased. Upon Nate’s death in 1929, his son Homer operated the ranch raising Hereford cattle. Homer’s son Dick Cooper has been operating the ranch for the last 40 years and is now raising Red Angus cattle.”
What a spectacular lady, we just enjoyed our stay so much. Nancy had known John since high school and it was so much fun hearing all the old stories about our dear friend. (John, don’t worry she didn’t tell us everything!)
Monday morning we found a rim at the local Mercedes dealer, got the tire fixed and headed out, destination Medora, North Dakota.