pages fly away 25

From the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, I started back on the on the 212 west, but then headed south on the 314 before running into the road construction that had tied me up on the way in.  That proved to be a lucky move.  It was a small road with almost no traffic.  The sky overhead was immense, with great formations of pure white clouds, like military units parading across the plains.  I felt as free as a bird, flying through the mountains. 

At one point I looked down and saw I was going a hundred miles an hour.  Zooming up over a crest, my head and heart would rise up, like they’d been pumped full of helium.  On the descent, my stomach would plunge, down into a bottomless pit of wonder.

Passing the Tongue River Reservoir, the road became the 338, and I soon met up again with the 90 heading east.  Just beyond Sheridan, I pulled over at Fort Phil Kearny, established in 1866 to provide protection for settlers and miners on The Bozeman Trail, and also the site of the Fetterman Massacre, being the greatest defeat of the US Army by Indian forces, prior to the Battle of Little Bighorn. 

No one else was there.  I walked into the log gate and inspected the marker commemorating the seventy-six officers and three officers who were lured into an ambush and cut down.  Heading back to the car I noticed a herd of pronghorn in a dry valley.  It was a scene right out of a movie.

It was about three hours to Devil’s Tower.  The idea was to make it there and camp if there was anything available.  Right before I reached the Thunder Basin National Grassland, I got on the 14 heading north and passed the Keyhole Reservoir.  From about ten miles away, I caught my first sight of the tower.  It is one of the most recognizable geographical landmarks on the face of the planet, a great monolith, resembling a tree stump, rising nearly nine hundred feet from its base. 

Scientists believe Devil’s Tower may have been solidified lava that remained after a volcano crumbled away.  The Sioux believed that some sisters climbed it to escape from giant bears.  They prayed to the Great Spirit who caused the rock to rise.  The slashes down the side of it are from the claws of the bears.  The sisters went on to become the Pleiades.

In the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind the aliens use Devil’s Tower as their base, the summit being a good place to land a spaceship.  In reality, the alien invaders are tourists, the surrounding campgrounds being a good place to land an RV.  It was late afternoon and hot when I arrived.  The park was full.  They were not letting any more cars in.  There weren’t even spots open in the KOA campground. 

I walked around and checked out the Campstool Café and Devil’s Tower Trading Post.  It was all about the Wild West.  There were wanted posters for the Sundance Kid, the Cassidy Gang, Frank and Jessie James, and Wild Bill Hickock.  In the trading post was an Indian mannequin in full regalia.  The bathrooms were designated for cowboys and cowgirls.  A stuffed mountain lion crouched above a photo of a Harley Davidson.

Leaving Devil’s Tower, I was in a daze.  I’d gotten a bag of beef jerky and it suddenly dawned on me that I was devouring strips of flesh, like a cannibal.  It seemed like the night where I’d finally need to spring for a hotel.  I passed through Sundance, however, and had just reached the Black Hills when I saw a sign for a campground.

Following it, I went from dry, yellow grassland, to a forest of evergreens.  It didn’t seem conceivable that they would have any spots available, but they did, one, right by the entrance.  There was a big cow patty, right where I needed to set up the tent.  I took a stone and dragged it off to the side, then used the stone and a few others to weigh down the tent. 

The surrounding pines gave way to the still-blue sky.  They made a circle above my head, just wide enough for the dreams to get in.  An hour later I could hear them riding on the heels of the setting sun.

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