Every April for the past several years, my boss Dan Tribby and I have planned trips up into Montana to meet artists and get to know their amazing work. These trips usually focus on the Northern Cheyenne and Crow reservations.
We have a shared affinity for this particular drive - going northwest out of South Dakota, crossing the extreme northeastern corner of Wyoming, and into Montana. Driving west (we have decided long ago) is definitely the best.
We try to explore something new along the way each time, and while we will always love our Black Hills home, we are always just a tiny bit crestfallen to have to turn back and head towards home after such a wonderful trip. Why are westerners hard-wired to want to keep on going towards the west?
The goal of these annual excursions is to network and meet new artists, but we have have also made a lot of friends over the years…and always look forward to meeting some new ones.
The trip begins: April 21, 2011
Dan and I left for our annual buying trip to Montana early in the morning on Thursday, April 21st, heading up on Highway 212 to Indian Country. The day was cool and partly cloudy, so the sun was a presence and the shadows shortened as we drove northwest. When we got just past Boyes, Montana, we got to the first divide that looks over the Powder River valley and we dropped down into that historic watershed.
Historical note: This river valley was the arena for much intertribal warfare, as well as the Powder River Expedition in 1865 under General Dodge and the Powder River Campaign in 1876 led by General Crook with General Terry and General Custer, and we all know how THAT played out.
The Powder River itself is sluggish and silt-laden, and the color of coffee with a lot of cream mixed in. The ranching town of Broadus is on the Powder River, and from there the highway splits and goes west into Cheyenne and Crow country or north up to Miles City on the Yellowstone River and on into the Big Open, which is virtually roadless and very unpopulated ranch country. The austere beauty of the Big Open is very powerful.
We kept going west and went over the next divide that lies within the Custer National Forest and down into the Tongue River Valley to the town of Ashland, which lies on the Tongue River and is the eastern boundary of the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. We detoured north on an unpaved road north of Ashland to go through the Amish community there, and we knew we were there when we saw buggies parked in the garages of the houses that we passed.
Interesting note: I have heard that the Amish saddlemakers are making the wooden saddletrees for those elegant Crow saddles, with the oversize pommel and cantle.
We turned west again along Rosebud Creek and came out on the oil road between Lame Deer and Colstrip near Deer Medicine Rock.
Historical note: This is where Sitting Bull held a Sun Dance just before the Battle of the Little Bighorn; this is where he received his vision of “the soldiers falling into camp”.
It was quite exciting to be on a new road and in the backcountry at that. We were in the wide pastureland along the creek bottoms, with that beautiful ridge country all around...