Karen and I had been talking about a two week trip down to Wyoming to see some of the sights she's seen or heard about while working there. As summer became fall, time slipped away, and our trip never materialized. As luck, or rather bad luck would have it, Karen was summoned to testify in a lawsuit involving her former Wyoming boss. The details of this little bit of dirt are not really that important to this story. It was decided to make a short holiday out of the trip, as I was free to travel.
The deposition was set for Thursday the fourth of November in Casper, Wyoming. It's a good six hour drive from Bozeman to Casper via US 90 and 25. We've made this trip countless times. There are always towns and side roads we pass but never get to explore. Armed with a map, we discussed sights to see on the return trip. From Bozeman we first head east to Billings. We debated whether to stop for breakfast at Mamacita's Cafe, but decide the chicken sandwiches I've prepared will taste good about the time we reach Sheridan.
At Billings Highway 90 turns south east and heads towards Hardin. This is on the north edge of the Crow Indian Reservation. At Hardin, the highway again turns due south towards Crow Agency on the Little Big Horn River. Yes, it's that Little Big Horn, and the site of the newly renamed Little Big Horn Battlefield. The locals decided it might be inappropriate to have this area named after the man who came out on the short end of the arrow. Even from the highway, this is a haunting and sacred place. We've still got 60 miles to go until our first stop, Sheridan, Wyoming, so we press on at full speed.
Sheridan is a wealthy town by Wyoming standards. It's a railroad, and agricultural center. The Queen made a visit to Sheridan a few years ago. Karen retells the story of how they rolled a carpet across main street and stopped traffic so she could visit King Ropes. I think the Royal Family also attended a rodeo and polo match while in town. Over the years we've spent a fair amount of time in this town, and know a few of the hot spots. Ten years ago, Jim Kehoe and I had come down in search of a pair of guitars my father had spotted on an antique hunt. In the end the Jazzmaster I had designs on turned out to be a mess, but Jim picked up a nice Les Paul. More recently Jack Tielman joined us on a trip to meet up with the Nomads tour in Denver. We spent the night in Sheridan, eventually ending up at the Rainbow bar. The small friendly crowd seemed intent on hard drinking. The bar maid and her friend talked about the previous night out, but neither could remember how they got home after each downing a bottle of tequila. When some gibbo stepped up to Jack and mumbled some indecipherable gibberish, we took the hint and headed back to the motel.
This time through there is just enough time to check out the pawn shops, and eat our sandwiches at the city park. The shopping fails to turn up anything worth opening up the wallet for. I do find a few boxes of dusty albums, but the only interesting title is a dB's Christmas 12". We figure one of us already has it, so we load back into the car and continue on.
After Sheridan it's nothing but wide open spaces. Just before Buffalo is one of Wyoming's more infamous landmarks. They've built the interstate up on the plateau rather than follow the old highway through the valleys. This particular bit of road runs across a severely unstable bit of soil. Last year a quarter mile stretch of often repaired roadway slid down the side of the hill. When we passed through in August there was still just a big hole. Three months later, they've filled in the hole, but we are still diverted around the construction.
Casper is a nasty little town that was once an oil boom town. It's still the center of the remaining petroleum industry, but most of the money is gone. As you reach the edge of town you pass through Bar Nunn, a town that seems to be piles of junk, trailers, and a strip joint advertising "Girls, Girls, Girls". We head to the federal building to meet up with Karen's co workers, and wait to learn the outcome of her boss's own deposition. At five o'clock it becomes apparent that this is going to run long, so we decide to check in at the hotel, and await word about the evening's plans. It's seven pm when John calls to let us know he's nearly done after eleven hours of questioning.
Wyoming is not known for fine dining, but in Casper there is one standout, Bosco's Italian Restaurant. Everyone agrees to meet up there and get the scoop on the grilling John has suffered through. He arrives with glazed eyes, and fills us in on the days proceedings. I enjoy the dinner and the company; and listen intently while John gives Karen word on what to expect the next day. We are surprised to learn that John is required to return the next morning for further questioning. This means Karen's deposition won't even start until 10 am. I've mapped out a morning of junk shopping, but we are still unsure if we'll have to stay a second night in Casper.
Over the years, we've found these small towns can be full of discarded musical treasures and curios. I scan the phone book for pawn shops and music outlets. With my Casper A-Z in hand, I plan out the morning's travels. The first two stops prove to be a bust. I don't even bother to stop for the United Pawn shop, as it seems to now be a low cost cigarette outlet. There are several promising addresses on the other end of town. As I make my way, I start to sort out the layout of the city, and make a few mental notes of major landmarks.
At Mr. Money/Mr. Music, a pawn shop with a proper music store in the back, I finally find something of interest. I'd been looking for a Lexicon LPX-1 reverb since I'd had the chance to use one at Egg for the mix of Call Down The Moon. Once I finally find the correct power source, I'm disappointed to find the unit isn't working. Ah well, I just save $220. Out in front there are thousands of cds, so I take a close look through the stacks. Success, I turn up a copy of Lindsey Buckingham's incredible first solo album, Law And Order. I've nearly worn the grooves off my album, so a used cd is a welcome sight. For some reason I've never managed to find a copy of this release, new or used. Much to my surprise I also discover a copy of the Barracudas 1991 reunion album, Wait For Everything. I'd hesitated to pick this up at full price, not sure if it was as good as their classic run of albums from the early 80's. It's turns out to be a good one. I also spot a copy of Scott McCaughey's solo album, My Chartreuse Opinion. I've already got it on vinyl and cd, so I pass. The previous owner has put a sticker on it with his name and address. I'm tempted to search out Cory of Casper, and ask him why he would part with this brilliant bit of madness on plastic.
After a couple more false leads I head up town to the shop I'd visited on a previous visit. There are a few bits of crap music gear, and a load of cds; surrounded by the usual pawnshop flotsam. I don't spend much time on the guns, out of date computers or tools, but head straight to the cds. It's amazing how much crap people have bought, and then gone through the trouble to sell it. Tony Sacco has recently mentioned that he doesn't have Pink Floyd's Point Me At The Sky. Here you go Tony, the rarities disc from the Floyd Box Set. It looks a little battered, but I'll take the chance. I also pick up the Jimmy Rodgers' All Stars disc. It's got Plant, Page, Clapton, and the Stones on it, which is worth the $4 it'll cost.
I have a look at a Leon Patillo cd to see if it's one my brother worked on. Yes, he has an engineering credit. Leon sang with Santana on their Carnival album, but has since turned to Christian pop/soul. It's autographed, but that's still no reason to buy it. I do own one of his albums, but only because he's holding a Roland SH-101 synth that I now own. My brother had fished it out of the garbage bin and figured I could put it to use. You can hear this instrument on most everything we've done since 1986.
It's nearly noon, and we'd agreed to try and connect so I'd know the plans for the rest of the day. There are no messages at the hotel when I arrive, so I pull out the phone book once again, make a list of antique stores, and find somewhere to eat lunch. The phone rings just as I'm headed to the door. It's Karen, and she's done. I pick her up and we head for the Mexican restaurant I'd picked out, on our way our of town.
We're headed to Shoshoni for a famous milkshake. Our plans for lunch at Hell's Half Acre are quashed when we learn the concessionaire has gone bust. Shoshoni is another dying Wyoming town, with little else of interest. We've taken this route as it passes through the Wind River Canyon. This is a spectacular drive though a deep canyon full of geological formations. I spend the whole time craning my neck trying to take it all in.
At the other end is Thermopolis. As the name suggests, there is the world's largest single hot spring here. Unfortunately it's a sleazy rundown state park, and I have little interest beyond have a drive through to take a look. Our goal for the night is Greybull, about seventy miles north. We pass the turnoff for the Medicine Lodge Archeological Site just out side of Greybull. We've reserved the following morning for a return trip to explore this inviting park. Greybull is another ranching town, but it's also on the eastern route to Yellowstone. They enjoy a good tourist trade, and it seems to be a friendly stop. We have a fab dinner and drinks at Lisa's despite the waitress greeting us as "ladies". She seems a little rattled the rest of the evening, but I try not to make her feel any worse.
The next morning we head to the Medicine Lodge Site with great anticipation. Once we get off the highway, it just a narrow road through the ranches and oil fields. We spot a Bald Eagle, always an awe inspiring sight. As we get closer to our destination the terrain turns to spectacular red cliffs. The archeological site is on the property of an old ranch. As it's well into fall, there are no other people around, just an old dog at the ranger's residence. The pictographs that we come to see are up along one of the red cliffs. When they excavated the site in the 70's they found that it's been inhabited since the end of the last Ice Age. Amazing is about the only word to describe what we see. We spend an hour just staring and taking photos. There's a short nature walk, which we take. The beauty and the absolute quiet is the perfect antidote to the previous day. We decide that this is somewhere we'll visit again, maybe with our bicycles so we can explore farther back into the elk preserve. Our drive back to the highway is slowed by a herd of cattle being moved down the road to another pasture.
Back in Greybull Karen steers us to the airport museum. The local aerial fire-fighting company has assemble a large fleet of vintage airplanes and restored several of them for use. Out beyond the flight line, is the bone yard. There are dozens of derelict airplanes from the 50's and 60's. We take a walk through, peering into windows when we can. Karen is happy I can finally see this collection. I point out several Navy P-2 Neptunes. My uncle had flown these at the atomic bomb tests in the Christmas Islands. Flying through radiation clouds proved to be an unhealthy activity for Uncle Pedro. It might have been the bit of a plutonium powered rocket he hid in his zippo lighter that did him in.
Ah, the day is still young and we have more to see. Our plans for a visit to the Buffalo Bill Cody Museum are scrapped when we learn that the Plains Indian exhibition is closed for renovation. We decide to make a run for the Bighorn Canyon and the Wild Horse Range. It's a few miles out side of Lovell. This area is also prime dinosaur area, but we don't have time to go bone hunting. As we enter the Recreation Area, I ask Karen if we might see some wild horses. No sooner said, than we spot three horse from one of the herds. Again the park is deserted, so we can stop on the side of the road and watch at our leisure. Further up the road we stop and look down into the canyon and see the Bighorn River. It's a good thousand feet straight down. Breathtaking.
At this point we are still undecided if we want to get back on the road to Billings or stop short in Bridger. It's a long winding drive through farm country between Lovell and Bridger. Much to my surprise the road is crowded with traffic and deer ready to launch themselves at unsuspecting drivers. When we reach Bridger we stop to make a decision. In the end we both decide we are not up to the small town scrutiny we are subject to if we stop here for the night. While it's not to much further to Billings the drive is a harrowing experience. I'm dodging insane drivers the whole way in the dark.
Billings is the biggest city in Montana. It's a big oil town and the center of commerce and political power. We'd made arrangements to meet up with Deniz Tek for dinner on Saturday. Friday night in Billings can be a wild affair, so we pick a motel with a fancy Italian restaurant. The Gold Wings Motorcycle club is also here for their convention. Unlike the Hell's Angels, the Gold Wingers are a mild bunch of aging bikers, none of whom seem to be drinking. No bar fights here.
Saturday morning starts with the delayed visit to Mamacita's for chorizo and egg breakfast. This unlikely looking cafe is always a high point of any visit to Billings. If you didn't know where it was it would be nearly impossible to find, hidden in the warehouse district just under the rim rocks.
From the Heights of Billings we begin our march across town, stopping at every thrift store and pawn shop. Ten years ago it used to be that every visit turned up a nifty $100 guitar or some other related bit of gear. These days, the pawn shops have all been bought up by a national chain, and the deals have all but disappeared. The last bargains are in the cd bins where you can buy five discs for $20. By the end of the day we've bought nearly 40 discs. My two big finds are the Muddy Waters and Donovan box sets. At this price we both can take a few chances, as well as buying favorites that we might not want to pay full price for. Last year a chain store had gone bust, and all their remaining stock has now turned up in the pawns. That has meant that a lot of obscure titles can be bought new for $4.
Once we tire of shopping we stop in at the Historical Center to see what they offer. There is an exhibition on early homesteaders in eastern Montana. It's a quick stop for culture. On the other side of down town is the Yellowstone Art Museum. They've expanded it since our last visit . We are a couple of days early for the glass art show but there three other exhibits to see. The photo essay of the 1991 Sundance in the Pryor Mountains is the highlight. Photography of the actual dance is forbidden, but there are pictures of the preparation and parts of the ceremony. This was the 50th anniversary of the first Sundance performed since it had been banned by the BIA.
We met Deniz Tek a few years ago when his band had played a rare gig in Bozeman. Deniz is well known for his work with the Australian band Radio Birdman. In 1978 they recorded their second album at Rockfield, before the band broke up. I regret not going to see them that summer, as they were playing in London while I was there. They played the Hope and Anchor twice that year, as well as touring with the Flamin' Groovies. In the last two years we've gotten to know Deniz and his wife Angie well, stopping in to visit them when ever we are in Billings. Angie's in Seattle, but Deniz and his son Max meet up with us for a pizza before we head home.
Deniz has been to Detroit for a gig a few weeks earlier with the Rendevouz Band. He's had the task of filling in for the late Fred "Sonic" Smith, the former lead guitar player of the MC5. Despite some reservations, the gig has gone well. In a very careless move, something Deniz is not known for, he managed to leave his guitar and pay envelope behind at the gig. He said it all turned out okay, with his possessions returned to him in due time. We still had a two hour drive back to Bozeman, and with that in mind we were forced to say goodbye to the Tek's, turn the car west, and head for home.
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