Getting My Griswold On – Day 2: Billings, MT

Miles traveled today: 570.6
Total miles traveled: 945.9

Next Time Remind Me to Write a List

I was served a reminder today – in the form of an early morning thunderstorm as I was loading my car to depart Spokane – that I forgot to pack a jacket. Or a sweatshirt, of any sort. All I’ve got are t-shirts, shorts, and a single pair of jeans. Granted, it’s summer, but you never know when you’ll be caught in a surprise downpour. The weather is unpredictable pretty much everywhere east of the Cascades. It’s my own fault; I didn’t bother writing a list because I was relying on my mental acuity to remember what to pack. Note to self: do not rely on your mental acuity.

White Supremacists Have Beautiful Vacation Spots

Twenty minutes after setting out from Spokane, I crossed the Idaho border. The scenery was breathtaking – Idaho is criminally beautiful. Especially Coeur d’Alene and its namesake lake. This resort town has traditionally been linked with the Aryan Nations white supremacy group. I hate to have those idiots associated with such a gorgeous part of the country. I was traveling through the panhandle portion of the state, which means it took me only about an hour to reach the Montana border. For some reason, I was really excited to be driving through Idaho. Probably because it’s one of a handful of states I had never been to before. Now I can cross it off my list.

Why Did The Turtle Cross The Road?

Fortunately, the wonderful scenery did not change once I crossed into Montana. Neither did the speed limit – 75-mph in both states, baby. Love it! Unlike yesterday’s journey through a rather dull landscape, today was a smorgasbord for the eyes. The Rocky Mountains were a feast of snow-capped peaks, and the rolling prairie was dotted with pine trees and the occasional swiftly-flowing stream. I was reminded of the movie A River Runs Through It which was set in Montana. The only downside to my drive through Big Sky Country? An annoying series of lane closures due to construction, which caused me on several occasions to switch the cruise control off from the 75-mph I’d become accustomed to and crawl at a miserly 55-mph instead. Or slower. At one point a car in front of me swerved to the left, and a moment later I saw why: a turtle was inching his way across the busy interstate lane. I managed to avoid him, but I have my doubts he made it safely to the other side.

The weather was interesting. I experienced a little bit of everything – bright sunshine, overcast skies, and at one point, a torrential downpour that reminded me just how hard it can rain out here. Thunderclouds built up over the mountains and began drifting across the prairie. I love thunder and lightning, which is sadly much too rare in the Pacific Northwest. I’m hoping to experience some big storms on this trip.

Western Outlets, Gun Shops & Casinos

Montana is a breathtakingly beautiful state. Until you get to Billings, that is…and naturally, that’s where I’m holed up tonight. In a motel room that cost about twice what I wanted to spend, no less. I found a coupon book at a rest stop advertising a great deal on a room at the Days Inn, so I loaded the coordinates onto my GPS and made my way over there. I walked in the lobby, they quoted me a price, and I turned my nose up at them. “That’s a lot more than I want to spend,” I said, and left, because there was a Super 8 right across the street. Which turned out to be just as expensive. And the other two motels I tried were even more expensive. Exasperated, I asked the clerk at the Howard Johnson’s what made Billings so special it could afford to charge an arm and a leg for a motel room, because from what I’d seen of the town so far, I was unimpressed. She said it’s summer, people are traveling, and there’s a special event coming up this weekend. Well, it’s summer, people are traveling, and there’s a special event coming up in Spokane this weekend, too, but they didn’t rake me over the coals for a motel room. In retrospect, I should have gotten back on the freeway and stopped, I don’t know, twenty or forty miles further down the road in some tiny little town where I’m sure the rates would have been much more acceptable. Oh well, live and learn. Fortunately, I’m spending considerably less than I’d budgeted for gas so far, so hopefully it’s all a wash.

Once I returned to the Days Inn with my tail tucked between my legs, I decided to give Billings the benefit of the doubt and check out its downtown. Maybe it was hiding a gem or two. Sadly, no…it’s really nothing more than one big strip mall with western wear outlets, gun and pawn shops, and dozens of casinos. What’s up with that? I returned to my motel room with takeout yakisoba chicken from a surprisingly good Asian place and watched a thunderstorm drift by from my motel room window. Billings may not be very impressive, but tomorrow I reach the Black Hills, and I’m very excited for that!

Lake Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.

Typical Montana scenery. Look - a river runs through it!

Thunder clouds building over the Montana prairie.

"Downtown" Billings, Montana.

The view from my motel room window, and a passing thunderstorm.

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Categories: Travel

Tags: , , , , ,

29 replies

  1. Dude, you are a WRITER. WRITING lists should be a no-brainer. On the up side, you are taking some GORGEOUS photos! Cleary you must be a journalist 🙂

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  2. Ooooo….I’ve ALWAYS wanted to see Montana.

    LOVE these photos, Mark. Bellissima!

    Especially that last one of the lightening – WOW!

    Happy travels, bud!

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    • You should have seen me, Ron. I removed the screen from my window – I kid you not – and sat there, leaning on the windowsill, pointing my camera in the direction of the dark clouds, finger on the trigger, just waiting for a flash of lightning. For that one good shot, there were about ten failures that promptly got deleted. 🙂

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  3. I’m enjoying hearing this bit of your trip… I was on a tour of the middle states last year, starting up in the Black Hills, then parts of Montana (a stay in “beautiful” downtown Billings LOL) Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, and down to Salt Lake City. You’re reminding me of it as you go. There is so much beautiful country out there. Enjoy the journey!

    Oh, and for all the traveling I’ve done, I still always work from a list… one too many times repacking multiple times as I remember (oops) one-more-thing I nearly forgot…

    Drive safe!

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    • You stayed in Billings last year?? Ha…how about that. Was your impression of the “city” closely in tune with mine, too? I tried to give it a chance, but with Spokane yesterday and Rapid City looming ahead of me tomorrow, it’s just sadly lacking.

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  4. SO happy that they stopped for the turtle! How heartening.

    And 75 mph sounds like a great speed limit. On interstate-type highways in France, it’s 81 mph (130 kph), which seemed quite fast to me…

    As for Coeur d’Alene, to be fairer to the town which is populated with people embarrassed by the racism connection, I might say that the groups have been linked to the town rather than the inverse. Maybe I’m too picky?

    Also, LOVE the new headers. A great improvement on readability! I suppose it’s more common these days online (which I hope doesn’t make it pandering to the LCD) but it suits your posts!

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  5. Next time, you can count on me to remind you about the jacket and a number of other items you may have forgotten–as I am the QUEEN of over-packing–EXTREME OVER PACKING! I will have to come back with a link to my post about this ISSUE!

    At any rate, the photos are stunning! Can’t wait for the next installment.

    Stay dry!

    Kathy

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  6. Ah, you never travel without a hoodie or jacket in the summertime. Hell, you never go to the BEACH around here without a sweatshirt or a long-sleeved shirt in your beach bag.

    I love that you’re doing this and I’m so glad you’re having a blast so far. So glad you’re taking us along on the journey!

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  7. I was going to suggest camping instead of staying in hotels… but then I figured that if you forgot a jacket or hoody, camping wouldn’t be your thing.

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  8. I forgot to tell you to take more self portraits, like one of you standing in the rain with no jacket 😛
    Drive safe and continue having fun!

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  9. Loved the layout and content in your blog. The pictures are fantastic. Maybe you can pick up a cheap jacket at a thrift store in one of the towns you pass through for your trip. Keep safe!

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  10. Bye bye Billings….I too, am sadly disappointed…(see, I told you I was going to live vicariously though you.) I am, however, really looking forward to the Black Hills. It’s been 30 years or so since I’ve been there and although Mt. Rushmore will, in all likelihood be the same, I’m curious to know how much the Crazy Horse memorial has changed. That’s if you make it there…which I hope you do!!

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  11. Hey Mark’s readers! Are any of you concerned he’s taking some of these shots when he’s supposed to be driving?!

    The photos are lovely though. I hope you show us more of Montana, it looks breathtaking with all the mountains, so jealous!

    P.S. So you forgot a coat, big deal. You did pack a good book to read, right? Right!!

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    • LOL…I’ll admit, I’ve weaved a bit on the road trying to capture some of those shots. Shh…
      (I only take them when there aren’t any other cars around. Which is pretty damn often, it turns out). And yes, I have a book, but I’ve been too busy to read!

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  12. Great photos!

    I wonder if pricey motels in Billings are directly related to casinos in the area?

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  13. I grew up in Billings, and that isn’t a picture of downtown. I hope you find yourself there again. With a little more time to explore. Hope you had a good trip!

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