US Road Trip Day 3 – A Man named Griz and the Bad Bad Lands

I woke with a start to the sound of Sprocket barking. My friend leapt from her bed to calm him as I dressed hastily and went out into the motel corridor to see what the disturbance was. A lady with a room service cart disappeared into a motel room halfway down the hallway and suddenly, from nowhere, a smiling, delightfully lived-in face with a full beard and oodles of character popped into view and said “No horses allowed here.” I was still half-asleep and looked confused until he explained he had been shouting down the corridor at a colleague when Sprocket had barked in response. “He sounds big enough to be a horse,” he grinned, and then his face changed to one of concern. “I didn’t mean to wake you, I’m so sorry.” “Oh no,” I reassured him, “you’ve helped us get up in time for breakfast for the first time since we hit the road.” As I said this, I checked my watch and realised we had actually missed breakfast and were now in danger of missing check out time. The previous night’s harrowing drive along Beartooth Highway had obviously worn us out and we’d slept late. Again. “The name’s Griz,” he offered, and I wasn’t sure I’d heard him correctly, but a quick glance at his name tag confirmed it in big shining letters. “Last name Bear, middle name Lee.” I shook his hand as I told him my name, and went back to my room to pack up my stuff.

We checked out with seconds to spare, and Griz appeared to help us with our luggage. Sprocket had done so well in the car the day before that we decided to see how he would get along in the back seat without his crate. Griz volunteered to tie the crate to the roof rack while we stuffed our overnight cases and laptops in the front seat. As he clambered on the roof and expertly knotted ropes around the crate, he told us of his life in the mountains where he resided in a teepee and made moccasins and leather clothing which he sold at markets around the area. When he’d finished securing the crate, he sprang down with the agility of a gazelle, which was remarkable, because he looked at least mid-sixties. Eager to show off his teepee, he led us to his truck parked nearby and pulled out a few photos; one of his teepee, one of him behind a market stall, and a third of a young boy in military uniform. “That was taken just before I went to Vietnam,” he said quietly, and put the photos back in the truck. As I looked into his eyes I wondered what terrors that young boy had seen, what hardships the young man returning from the war had overcome, and what kind of journey had brought him to his life now. Nothing about Griz made sense; the mountain man working in a motel who imagined dogs to be horses, and I loved him for it. Griz is the type of person you only meet on road trips, which is why I think everyone should do a road trip at least once in their lives.

I opened the back door of the car and patted the seat. Sprocket hopped up and looked back at me, surprised at the lack of crate. His doggy eyes met mine and then he did the doggy equivalent of a shrug, turned around and flopped down on the seat. I got in beside him, thrilled at all the extra space in the back seat now the crate was on the roof. Just to be safe, I grabbed a drool pad from the back of the car in case the new travel arrangements got the better of my canine companion.

As we’d missed breakfast yet again, we decided to get something to eat in Red Lodge before hitting the highway. The main street had a welcoming, rustic feel to it, with lots of wood and colourful brick buildings. Red Lodge began its life as a stage coach stop back in 1884, and later served time as a mining boom town when coal was discovered in the 1890s. Those days are long gone, but the spirit of those early years seems somehow to still resonate through the streets. On this day, however, the streets were filled with bikers on their way from the annual motorcycle rally at Sturgis in South Dakota. Red Lodge was well-prepared for their arrival, with ‘Welcome Bikers’ signs on display everywhere.

As we walked the length of the main street I was struck by the number of references to teepees. There were neon teepees hanging over store fronts, ads imploring you to stay in teepee lodges, an entire shop window dedicated to paintings of teepees. After a little research, I discovered several theories as to how Red Lodge got its name, all of them agreeing upon one thing. The Crow Indian Nation used to dwell in the area during summer months, and they lived in teepees (or lodges) that they coloured using local red clay. Hence the name Red Lodge – and the teepees.

us road trip red lodge teepee painting montana usa america driving

It was such a glorious day that the thought of retreating indoors for food didn’t sit well with us. Instead, we bought breakfast sandwiches at a small bakery and piping hot cappuccinos at a nearby coffee shop and sat in a park watching the world go by. These are the meals I enjoy the most; meals cobbled together from different places. It reminds me of biking along cobbled streets in Germany, selecting a ripe Camembert at the cheese shop, purchasing a warm loaf from the bakery, choosing fruit from a market stall and stacking up the purchases in the white wicker basket on the front of the bike. As the basket filled up, so did your soul, and the food tasted all the better for it. Supermarkets are a necessary evil in today’s world. We move at such a frenetic pace and are so constantly short on time that it makes sense to shop in one-stop-shops where bread and shoelaces sit side by side in fluorescent-lit aisles. But I can’t help thinking that somewhere along the way, we lost something precious in return for convenience.

It was high time we were on our way, so we got back in the car and followed Highway 212 until we met I-90 again. At Billings we headed north onto I-94 which would take us through North Dakota. The thought of leaving Montana weighed heavily on me; for I had fallen in love with this state and its impossible, perfect skies. Oh, those skies made you feel like you could fly. Driving along the highway almost felt like flying, the way the horizon dropped down so low and the heavens opened up so wide. It filled you with such joy and hope and freedom, imparting a sense of weightlessness that was intoxicating. I can only imagine what early pioneers must have felt when they first set foot on the earth under Montana’s wide blue yonder.

Past Miles City, the Big Sheep Mountains loomed large, giving us a sneak preview of the terrain up ahead and then we were through Glendive and across the border into North Dakota. Pretty little hills of sage green and rust red, dotted with squat shrubs, lined both sides of the highway. We pulled off at a rest stop and promptly mislaid the car keys, each of us convinced the other had them last. Sprocket was all too happy to help us look for them as we walked the perimeter of the rest stop in search of the keys, which eventually turned up at the bottom of my friend’s voluminous handbag.

us road trip sage green hills north dakota badlands usa america driving

The gentle rounded hills gave way to sharply eroded buttes with steep inclines and spiny pinnacles as we travelled further into North Dakota and closer to the Badlands. These were bad lands indeed; early pioneers must have cursed this harsh, rugged landscape as they struggled to traverse its inhospitable terrain.

us road trip north dakota badlands erosion usa america driving

us road trip north dakota badlands black cows usa america driving

We turned south into Theodore Roosevelt National Park with a couple of hours of daylight left to drive through the park and see some of North Dakota’s baddest lands. Shadows lengthened behind the buttes as our car travelled the winding road up the slopes and onto the prairie.

us road trip north dakota badlands striation usa america driving

Off to the left, the prairie dogs had built a town, and we got out to watch their antics. As we walked through the brush, our boots crushed wild sage which grew in thick clumps all around us, and the crushed leaves released their clean, spicy scent with such abandon that it made me a little light-headed. Well-fed, chubby little prairie dogs emerged from their burrows and barked at our advance, but when we stopped at a safe distance, they went back to business as usual. We watched them bustle about for a few minutes and then returned to the car, not wanting Sprocket to feel we had disowned him in favour of smaller furry friends.

us road trip prairie dog town badlands north dakota theodore roosevelt national park

Up and up we drove, rolling the windows down to enjoy the fragrant prairie and slowing down when we spied some wild horses in the distance, and then something remarkable happened. The scent of the horses caught Sprocket’s nose, and he popped up in the seat and stuck his head out of the window, his nose sniffing delicately and his eyes wide with wonder. It was the first time he’d ever put his head out the window and I caught my friend’s eye. She looked for all the world like a mother seeing her son walking off to school for the first time, unbearably proud of her little man. I was just as proud of Sprocket as she was. A breeze caught his ears and they flapped gently, and that was the undoing of us both. A lump formed in my throat and my friend hastily brushed a tear from her lashes as we watched Sprocket experience a canine rite of passage. Every dog deserves to feel his ears flap in the wind, and today was Sprocket’s day.

And just like that, it was over. Sprocket plunked back down in the seat and lay his head on my lap as if nothing had happened, but we knew differently. We drove onward, both of us with irrepressibly idiotic smiles on our faces.

us road trip badlands outlook theodore roosevelt national park usa america driving

Badlands overlook in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Sunset turned the sky a furnace of purples and golds and roses as we wound around the main loop of the park, spotting buffalo as we went. Sprocket ventured forth once more, getting a good sniff of the buffalo before deciding they were too big and too close for his liking. He snuggled closer to me in the back seat.

us road trip north dakota badlands sunset usa america driving theodore roosevelt national park

It was dark as we left the park and found a little bar serving pizza and neon yellow soda. As we ate our pizza and avoided the strangely luminous soda at a wooden picnic table outside, we witnessed the moon rise full and bright over the badlands and in a moment of absurdity that only very long road trips can inspire, we decided to teach Sprocket to howl at the moon. He watched with curiosity as we raised our voices to the moon, and then joined in with gusto. I know full well he didn’t care about the moon; he just wanted to make us look less foolish. Victorian novelist Samuel Butler got it quite right when he said “The greatest pleasure of a dog is that you may make a fool of yourself with him, and not only will he not scold you, but he will make a fool of himself, too.” See Sprocket in full howl in the short video of today’s journey:

We drove on in darkness as far as Bismarck where we stopped for the night. At last, we had managed to arrive somewhere at a decent hour so I took the opportunity to soak in a steaming hot bubble bath. Tomorrow we would get up early and drive all the way to Hartford, Wisconsin, where my friend’s family owned a little farm. It was a twelve hour drive, so we needed to be well-rested. I tumbled into bed and could still smell the sage brush as I drifted into unconsciousness.

(continued here)


About ailsapm

Hi there! I’m Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney. I’ve lived in many places, and travelled to many more. I had a lot of fun getting there and being there, wherever there happened to be at the time. I climbed a castle wall in Czesky Krumlov, abseiled down cliffs to go caving in the west of Ireland, slept on the beach in Paros, got chased by a swarm of bees in Vourvourou (ok that wasn’t fun, but it was exciting), learned flower arranging in Tokyo, found myself in the middle of a riot in Seoul, learned to snowboard in Salzburg, got lost in a labyrinth in Budapest and had my ice cream stolen by a gull in Cornwall. And I’m just getting started. If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read so far, I’d love you to follow my travelogue - - and remember, anyone who tries to tell you it’s a small world hasn’t tried to see it all.
This entry was posted in Montana, North Dakota, Photography, Travel, United States and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

84 Responses to US Road Trip Day 3 – A Man named Griz and the Bad Bad Lands

  1. scrapydo says:

    Very interesting landscape! Lovely photos I must say!

  2. writecrites says:

    What an absolutely wonderful journey, from Griz Lee Bear to howling at the moon and everything inbetween. But, hey, where are the pics of Griz?

  3. Margaret says:

    Great photos! I’ve always wanted to go to The Badlands.

  4. pommepal says:

    I am really enjoying your road trip, I agree every one should experience the joy and freedom of just going… Love the photos and video I feel as though I was sitting in the car with you.

  5. I’ve been enjoying this ride with you, and the freedom of it all. The landscape is breathtaking.

  6. Angelia Sims says:

    What a beautiful journey. I must admit Sprockets joie de vivre made smile. A road trip like this would be once in a life-time. I’m loving every step. Amazing images.

  7. what a great story! we don’t want this to end! z

  8. Marianne says:

    Loved reading about your trip today, Ailsa – and Sprocket´s howling was the icing on the cake!! His face told us that he was obviously only joining in to spare your blushes – he didn´t want to really!! 😉

  9. Lucid Gypsy says:

    Now I do love a good howl myself so thanks for sharing yours. And the trip is pretty wonderful too 🙂

  10. Gunta says:

    This trip sounds like so much fun. I’m loving every one of your adventures crossing the country. I’m so glad you’re staying safe and happy. And I’m especially glad Sprocket is getting so much better at traveling!

  11. adinparadise says:

    What a fabulous trip. I remember almost getting a traffic ticket just outside Billings. I felt so sorry for hubby, who had to get out of the car in the freezing snow and ice. Love your awesome sunset pic. You paint such a lovely picture of Sprocket’s ears flapping in the breeze. 🙂

  12. adinparadise says:

    What a fabulous trip. I remember almost getting a traffic ticket just outside Billings. I felt so sorry for hubby, who had to get out of the car in the freezing snow and ice.Luckily the young cop took pity on us. 🙂 Love your awesome sunset pic. You paint such a lovely picture of Sprocket’s ears flapping in the breeze. 🙂

    • ailsapm says:

      Yaay, glad you didn’t get the ticket after all, ad. Oh, it was such a wonderful thing to see Sprocket’s ears flapping, I’m getting a little verklemmt again just thinking about it 🙂

  13. hungryheart62 says:

    You wrote: These are the meals I enjoy the most; meals cobbled together from different places. It reminds me of biking along cobbled streets in Germany, selecting a ripe Camembert at the cheese shop, purchasing a warm loaf from the bakery, choosing fruit from a market stall and stacking up the purchases in the white wicker basket on the front of the bike. As the basket filled up, so did your soul, and the food tasted all the better for it.
    So agree with you, very true and you put so well drawing us a wonderful picture of your purchases! Really enjoying your account of this trip…..feel sure there is a book in it or on one of your other trips.

    • ailsapm says:

      Ooh, thanks hungryheart62. Now, if I only knew someone in the publishing industry, hee hee 🙂 Thanks for the kind words and I’m very happy you’re coming along for the journey. xxx Ailsa

  14. autumninbruges says:

    What a wonderful journey Ailsa, and the way you describe every step is amazing… xx

  15. ledrakenoir says:

    Really enjoy read this post, very intersting and great shots and video too… 😉

  16. Debbie says:

    This road trip brings such mixed emotions as I read through each episode, happiness of many of the same memories of a long ago road trip with a good friend through much of this same country but also a sense of sadness as I long to return to the time that I could simply pick up and go. Ahh, to desire the days of no responsibility. Out of my head little voice that nags, “you have outgrown this…it is for the young…this is not your life…live with what you have.” Sigh:(

    • If this stuff is for the young, then Earth, let me ALWAYS stay young and wild at heart =)

    • ailsapm says:

      Ahh, I’m with TheRewildWest on this, Debbie, you never outgrow this, and there will come a time when your responsibilities diminish and you can hit the road again. And when you do, make sure to write about it. xxx

  17. I enjoyed your Badlands post and photos. It is a fantastic landscape (the prairie dogs are cute and they all hid when a coyote sashayed through). We were there, too, yesterday, on our road trip from Oregon to Minnesota. You might find my blog post interesting!

  18. Max510 says:

    Great Photos and movie. Lovely Sprocket 🙂

  19. Loving your road trip stories and that second photo of the Sheep Mountains is gorgeous. I’m so glad Sprocket is over his car sickness. Guess it’s a good example of ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!’

  20. Sas says:

    You’re making me really jealous hearing about your road trip. I know what you mean about food shopping from different, local places and avoiding big supermarkets. I always shop at my local real food market when I’m home in Cardiff, you never know which stalls will be there every week and what amazing new treats you’re going to discover!

  21. Amazing shots – really enjoyed the tour, thanks for taking us along ( and such a character that Mr Griz!)

  22. LubbyGirl says:

    I so much love those impromptu picnics! And Sprocket is so special.

  23. sued51 says:

    Incredible photos!…Thanks for the adventure!

  24. christ I can’t WAIT to get off parole…I’m gonna do another month+ road trip, at least!! Stunning pictures…that purple sunset is orgasmic.

    –Love and Liberation–


    • ailsapm says:

      Yes, Jan, that sunset over the badlands is something I will never forget. When you get to do your road trip, be sure to write about it – and take lots of photos! 🙂

      • Oh, I take like 200+ pictures a day when I’m at a spectacular natural place, so that’s not something you have to worry about!! I’m definitely going to start doing travel memoirs when I can freely travel again (hopefully I’ll get off parole next March!!) =)

  25. Gianni says:

    “the type of person you only meet on road trips” Very true words.

    i’m looking forward to reading more of your adventures! and themes!

  26. stephglaser says:

    Ailsa, Griz sounds like such a memorable guy; and I totally agree that everyone should go on a road trip, so they can meet new characters. It sounds like you’re having a great time. I love the big skies of Montana, too. Road trips, rule! Happy travels and thanks for stopping by Travel Oops and liking the funny sign post!

  27. viveka says:

    Another interesting part of your journey. Wonderful photo of a naked landscape with a little roughness and brutally – the sunset photo has warmness and fire. Really enjoy how you tell your story.

    • ailsapm says:

      Just getting caught up on comments, viveka! Yes, I have been so lucky to have seen the most dramatic sunsets on this road trip. Each one more beautiful than the last. xxx

      • viveka says:

        I can understand that you have some comments to catch up on – don’t worry about mine … it’s like a catch 22 … when you have replayed on one – there is 2 more arriving. *smile Thanks for taking the time.

  28. trishworth says:

    Great writing, Ailsa!

  29. Love your writing style in the road trip blog. And have fallen in love with Sproket who will clearly have to come to Scotland now and live with us….also love your Grizzly encounter. I think when we travel we are so much more open to difference, not just around us , but in others. It’s one of my many favourite things….the people I meet travelling 🙂

    • ailsapm says:

      I shall let Sprocket’s mom know that she should start feeding him haggis and teaching him to pee on the wrong side of the road in preparation for his journey to Scotland. 😉

  30. Loving the doggy quote. So utterly true.

  31. Love Montana! Yes, I know exactly what you mean about it. The most beautiful blue skies and puffy white clouds are the images I will never forget. I am very partial to the Northern Rockies and Glacier National Park. So magnificent! The Badlands in N. Dakota remind me of very similar areas in eastern Oregon. It’s all outstanding!

    • ailsapm says:

      I’ve heard eastern Oregon is quite similar, Peggy, so I must make a point of visiting while I’m on the west coast. It sounds spectacular. And I haven’t yet made it to Glacier, so I shall be revisting Montana sometime soon. So glad you enjoyed the post. xxx Ailsa

  32. Such a lovely site you have here…your writing makes me feel as if I’m on the journey with you and the photos are awesome! Thanks for visiting my corner of the world and liking the gaura post.

    • ailsapm says:

      Hurray, so glad we found each other’s sites, southernheart1, I really enjoyed your post, and I’m glad you enjoyed my travel tale. 🙂

  33. Thanks for finding my newbie blog! You’re travelling through nice country…my former adopted home state. If you’ve not yet passed Valley City, definitely try the little tea house there for lunch. Incredible family-run old house breakfast and lunch spot. The name escapes me, but you’ll find it…a little green house on the south side of Main St. coming into town. Love your writing!

    • ailsapm says:

      Ooh, thanks for the tip, walksandrambles – I didn’t make it to Valley City, but now I have a very good reason to return! Thanks for following along with me on my road trip! xxx Ailsa

  34. I have a photo so similar to your sunset one from probably the same highway running through the Theo. Roosevelt Badlands! It is the same area where we saw the most beautiful double rainbow. Wonderful contrast to the Beartooth Mountains! ~ Kat

  35. BEKABULUH says:

    Hell for early settlers, heaven for modern day travelers. Well, at least for me it would be.

    • ailsapm says:

      It’s an incredible place to visit, labodalih, and when you’re passing through, you can’t help but imagine how awful it must have been for early settlers to traverse. xxx

      • BEKABULUH says:

        Or ranch hands a.k.a. cowboys? I couldn’t help but ask myself this question as I happened to write about cowboys in my graduating paper. In the olden days, it could take them weeks to bring cattle to the nearest railway station for trade. Add this kind of terrain to the task, now that’s hell.

  36. Tahira says:

    Ailsa, you’ve reminded me what an amazing place the United States is. Thank you. Your photos are amazing.

    • ailsapm says:

      Thanks, Tahira, next time you’re back you should do a road trip too. I wonder what it would be like to do a road trip in Saudi? Now that would be different!

  37. indrafortney says:

    Thanks for checking out my blog. You have great travel stories. Hope you stop by again.

  38. I couldn’t refrain from commenting. Exceptionally well written!

    • ailsapm says:

      Thank you so much, Alberto. I’m very happy you enjoyed my post, I’m just now getting caught up on comments because I’ve been busy travelling with only occasional internet service. Hope you’ve enjoyed the rest of my trip too, it’s turning out to be quite an adventure! xxx Ailsa

  39. MiniPaula says:

    you are stil looking for a job? you are a stunning writer already! I have a novel half read by my hand, but your travel blogs are far more interesting than the book!

    • ailsapm says:

      What an awesome comment, Paula – I may just have to turn this into a novel, there have been plenty of adventures along the way. I can’t believe how much I have written, and it’s still not over! xxx Ailsa

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