Climbing the Rockies: MT to WY

Crow Community Baptist ChurchThis morning Dave and I got up just in time to say goodbye to Heather, who was on her way to Idaho. We had french toast for breakfast then got ready for church.

I thought we’d have time to pack everything up and load the car before we left for church, so we could just leave immediately after church, but we ended up leaving earlier than I thought we would (because Dave and Dave had to get there early to get the music organized), and we weren’t even close to being packed and ready. So we all piled into the minivan and drove down the interstate to church.

The church we went to is a Baptist church on the reservation. Dave and Kristen have close ties with several of the families who attend this church. Most of the people who belong to the church are Crow, but the church service is pretty much a standard Baptist service. The only Native American element to the service is when all the men go up to the front of the church to lead the congregation in singing a few Crow hymns.

Apparently it was a large turnout this morning. There were about 6 Crow families, regular attenders of the church. Then, in addition to Dave and Kristen, there was a small team of guys from Belgrade, MT, who had been around for a week or so doing a couple of construction projects at the church. There was also a family from Florida (who may have had about six kids) who found the church randomly and were just passing through on a road trip of their own.

The service was definitely a cultural experience. The church has been without a pastor for four years, so the trustees take turns leading the service. The man who was the worship leader this morning admitted as soon as he stood up that he had forgotten all about leading the service this morning because the Crow Fair had taken everyone’s attention over the past few weeks, and also because he and his family had been up very late doing a prayer service at his home the night before. He did his best to keep the service moving, making sure we sang some praise songs, did a prayer time, etc, but he also interjected personal stories at random in between the various elements of the service.

His son Laren gave the message. Although he did actually go to college (something that is very unusual among the Crow), he doesn’t seem to have a seminary degree, nor much experience preaching. He started out talking about prayer, but then proceeded to touch on a variety of topics that had been on his mind, taking advantage of the opportunity to share his opinions on various issues. The issues weren’t unrelated to the church life, but they were certainly a tangent from the passage he had read.

In the meantime, Caleb had fallen asleep on my lap. He is a darling boy and very cuddly. The pews in the church were hard, though, and the sermon was so long… it was not too comfortable.

Church had started a little after 11 am, and didn’t end until after 1 pm. It wasn’t the most spiritually uplifting church experience Dave and I have ever had, but it was certainly an interesting glimpse into some of the issues facing the Crow people, and Christian Native Americans in particular.

Jenn and Dave with the Mark familyWhen we got back to Dave & Kristen’s house, we quickly changed, packed up all our stuff, and got it all organized inside the car. Kristen and Dave kindly gave us some lunch, and when we were done, we all took a photo on the front steps of their house, gave the kids hugs goodbye, and then drove off.

We topped off our tank in Hardin because it seemed cheaper than anything else we were likely to see (still $1.95) and then got on the interstate. As we drove, we planned the meals for our camping trip, and decided that we needed some equipment.

So when we got to Billings about half an hour later, we went to the Super Walmart, which Kristen had told us about. It was, as Super Walmarts are, enormous. We did a loop through the usual Walmart layout, finding the camp cooking gear we needed, and then headed over to the supermarket part of the store. I don’t think Dave had ever been into a Super Walmart before (he tends to avoid Walmart in general), and he was amazed. We got groceries for the next three or so days, managed to do the express checkout, and then got back into the car and got on the interstate.

Jenn in the snow on Beartooth HighwayWe weren’t on I-90 for very much longer. We turned off onto 212 to head toward Yellowstone. Most of the drive wasn’t that interesting until we got to the national forest that surrounds Yellowstone National Park. It was spectacular, driving toward the Rocky Mountains, then driving up them. I was driving, and quite enjoying driving on the twisty mountain roads. My little 4-cylinder Focus did a good job handling the steep grades, and I was pleased once again at having bought a car with a manual transmission. Dave was pleased to not be driving so he could take photos. We stopped a few times at some of the scenic overlooks. It was very cold at 10,000 feet. As you’ll see from the photos, there was a decent of snow up there (considering it’s August).

Then we dipped back down in elevation and the temperature wasn’t so bad. It took quite a while to finally get to the entrance to Yellowstone National Park. I think it was about 6:30 pm when we finally got to the entrance, which meant it had taken us 5 hours total to get from Hardin to the park gate. We shouldn’t have been surprised, since that’s what Kristen had told us, but somehow it had seemed like it would be much shorter when we originally got onto 212. It was beautiful, though, so it wasn’t a problem.

Sunset at Mammoth, YellowstoneOnce inside the park, it took us another 2 and a half hours to actually reach our campsite. There was a road closed, so we couldn’t take the most direct route to where we were camping. Also, the speed limit inside the park is 45 mph. So it was pretty slow going. We saw a lot of wildlife, though. When we first entered the park, we saw several individual bison. The first one was mere feet from the road; another a few miles later was actually lying down sleeping. Later we saw some elk, including a male with huge pointy antlers. We also had a bunny run across the road in front of us a couple of times (to continue the bunny theme of our trip).

By the time we got to our campsite in Canyon Village, it had been dark for a long time, and we were so tired it was hard to even be hungry anymore. But we built a fire and put up our tent, and made grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner. It’s pretty cold here in Yellowstone (we’re over 7000 feet at this campsite) and we’re not much in the mood for sitting around the campfire, so it’s off to bed. We have a lot of sights to see tomorrow in Yellowstone National Park.

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