[This is day 1 of a 7 day trip to Montana and Wyoming in September 2012]
We had decided to go to Montana as a family. Billings, Montana, is in the southeastern corner of the state. It is the biggest city in the state but, coming from a metropolitan area of around 3 million people, we weren’t planning to spend much time there. Since the conference was at the end of a week, we focused on how far we could travel in the days prior. As on previous trips, we were going to focus on things we could only see while we were out there.
The first challenge was the airfare. Flying from Toronto (YYZ) to Billings was going to be cost prohibitive. In fact, airfare in Canada is obscenely priced unless you are going to the Caribbean on a resort trip or to large business locations served by Porter Airlines. It quickly became clear that we could save around 50% of the price of the ticket by flying out of the US. We decided in the end to go to Detroit Metropolitan, leave our car, and fly from there – via Minneapolis-St. Paul – to Billings.
That process went unbelievably smoothly. We stayed the night before just outside Detroit with family, where we left our dog instead of popping him in the kennel. We arrived about 2 hours before our flight, but the shuttle from the $8 a day Green Lot picked us up and we were checked in with Delta with plenty of time to spare. One mistake we continue to make is to fill the water bottles before we get to security, so, just as I had in France, I found myself drinking nearly a liter of water!
The flights out West were uneventful. Mostly. Two kids experienced some of the pain that occurs when your ears don’t “pop”. This was exacerbated a bit when the pilots called off the landing at Minneapolis and came around for a second try because, they said, there was a problem with an automatic thruster. There was a lot of yaw on landing but we experienced the same roughness on our way back so perhaps that’s just part of landing at MSP.
Billings is a typical regional airport and we quickly moved from airplane to baggage claim. In fact, the family collected the bags about 15 feet from where I picked up the rental car. Or truck, as we requested. One of our first activities was to drive into Wyoming’s Red Desert and we wanted to make sure our vehicle would take the dusty roads. We also needed unlimited mileage. Our experience with Enterprise Rental has been positive and they are so consistent in providing a reasonably priced vehicle with unlimited mileage that, even when I comparison shop, I usually end up using them. We ended up driving more than 1,300 miles in the next 6 days so it was worth it.
Now it was time to hit the road. It was now about 1:30pm and we were going to immediately head as far south as we thought possible on this first day. We piled our two suitcases, 5 backpacks, and 5 bodies into the medium SUV and headed south. Our route took us through Cody and on to Riverton. It was very smoggy in Billings and we realized, as we drove south and it cleared and then grew cloudy south of Cody, that we were seeing the smoke from the forest fires that are burning across Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. We stopped at a beautiful rest stop on Gooseberry Creek, about halfway between Cody and Riverton. We started to see the pronghorn antelope that would soon become so common a sight that we became accustomed to looking for their white rears in fields on both sides of our route.
Things We Didn’t Do
One thing we had on our list of things to see were the pictographs and petroglyphs that are dotted around this area. One, the Legend site, was located south of Cody and north of Riverton. When we got there, we found that we had to pick up a key from a location 30 miles away, then drive back, then return the key. In the end, we didn’t see Legend nor the Castle Gardens site that is located about an hour south and east of Riverton. If you are interested in these sorts of things, Riverton is centrally located for most of them.
Another thing we had on our “if there is time” list was something to do with dinosaurs. The Wyoming Dinosaur museum in Thermopolis, about 30 minutes north of Riverton, is definitely worth a look. People kept mentioning it. We did not get a chance to see it because our trip to the Red Desert took much longer than we expected.