GOTH 2018 Part IV: Where the Buffalo Roam

After spending the night in the back of my rental car at a Montana rest area, I awoke to this…

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Sometimes it’s worth getting up early.

I sauntered over to the rest area Men’s room and gave myself a quick shower of baby wipes and Mitchum deodorant. I have some incentive to minimize the offensiveness of my aroma as later tonight I’ll be visiting a friend in Missoula. My hope is that whatever feelings of disgust my disheveled appearance is bound to incite will be smoothed over by the 12-pack of Spotted Cow beer I’ve brought for her as a gift, an ale which is only available in our home state of Wisconsin.

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At Legion Lake at Custer State Park, SD

As I’ve hinted at in previous posts this edition of Ghost on the Highway is poorly planned and almost entirely improvised. I know for a fact that I’ll be heading to Missoula tonight, spending July 11-15 in Rosburg, WA, and heading vaguely toward Fort Collins, CO two or three days later, but really that’s about all I have in the way of concrete plans. Thus I am highly open to suggestions about where I should go and what I should see. Throughout the GOTH experience you ghostlings have fed me some wonderful suggestions which I have adopted and proved quite memorable and fruitful.

So yes, LEAVE COMMENTS if you know of a hidden gem to be found in the vaguely Northwest-ish area I’m traversing. I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to visit all of them but I love the idea of Ghost on the Highway as an interactive experience informed by the collective wisdom of the masses.

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From a hike at Custer. What kind of flower is this? Someone help me out!

As it happens, I probably would not have gone to Custer State park in South Dakota had it not been for the fervent insistence of two friends whose opinions I trust. One was Avery, who has traveled just about everywhere with her two adorable beagles and operates her own blog which is considerably better than my own. The other was my old pal and creative collaborator Peter, who is also remarkably well-traveled and wrote a fascinating blog many years ago about a road trip to Banff, Canada; a blog which unfortunately seems to be lost in the digital garbage dump.

[A QUICK BUT IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE: Peter and I are in the midst of a crowdfunding campaign for a short film project of ours called “Sergey’s Fortune.” I’m going to mention the project at several points throughout GOTH 2018 because it’s super cool and we desperately need to finish the campaign to raise funds for post-production and submission to festivals. Check out THIS LINK to visit our crowdfunding site, watch a preview of the film and find out how you can support a project that’s very important to both of us].

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The foreboding entrance to the Sunday Gulch trailhead at Custer.

Custer State Park is notable for its gorgeous lakes, extensive trails and scenic drives, and perhaps most significantly the abundance of wildlife including elk, mountain goats, deer, and prairie dogs. And of course, the park’s most iconic beast of all, which I encountered within minutes of rolling past the main entrance:

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I’d never seen a bison before. What an absolute genius of an animal; so grand, so majestic. Yes, the reverence of the buffalo is a cliche that goes back centuries but one can certainly see why. Something about the appearance of these creatures makes them seem intuitively wise. I feel that they’re somehow aware of the regard in which we humans hold them; I encountered buffalo or congregations of buffalo 3 or 4 times throughout my brief stay at Custer and each time they were situated along the side of the road, moving in profile just slowly enough so that dipshits like me could hit the brakes and snap a few photos from outstretched phones.

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Alas, it wasn’t just the buffalo that commanded the gawkery of sapien tourists. My cruise along the 18-mile Wildlife Loops scenic drive was briefly interrupted by a gang of wild donkeys:

But one of the more understated pleasures of my self-guided safari was a stop at the Prairie Dog field. Here, across a splendorous expanse of grassland are dozens of dirt holes populated by these adorable chirping rodents:

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I apologize for the especially poor quality of this shot. It’s difficult to get close to these creatures without them retreating into their holes, so I had to maximize the capacity of the Zoom Lens on of Samsung Galaxy S8.

After spending a good 7 or 8 hours at Custer; mostly engaged in hiking and scenic drives, it was time to move on.

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From the Sunday Gulch trail.

I regretted having to leave such a serene treasure of wilderness but the pace of GOTH 2018 is even more imposing than last time. I had to be in Missoula by the following night, which would have been roughly 11 or 12 hours from Custer. One thing I’ve learned from experience is that one should take one’s time driving through the state of Montana. This is in part because it’s such a beautiful drive; the majesty of the mountains, canyons, and valleys simply defies description and must be observed in daylight (especially morning light, if at all possible). But it’s also a difficult drive, filled with sharp inclines and declines and with long gaps between worthwhile stopping points. So my intention was to drive as far into the state as I could — Billings, at least — and take my time cruising through the best parts of the state.

My GPS took me through a series of obscure backcountry highways across Northwest South Dakota, Northeast Wyoming, and Southeast Montana. They were among the most desolate roads I’ve encountered throughout GOTH. Occasionally I’d come across an amusingly dingy casino or biker bar, including one especially rough establishment that advertised, “Cheap Drinks, Lousy Food,” populated by the sort of people who probably think Trump is too liberal.

By and large, however, most of the scenery looked like this:

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Although by the end of the drive I was especially tired, rarely did I feel outright bored. This is mostly due to a key adjustment I’ve made to my driving strategy for GOTH 2018: I’ve switched from listening mostly to music to listening almost exclusively to audiobooks and podcasts. Don’t get me wrong; I love music. I am, after all, the son of two musicians. But for some reason I’ve found that being engaged intellectually helps pass the time better than simply jamming out.

Thus far I’ve listened to a few podcasts by The Very Bad Wizards, Sam Harris, and Joe Rogan, and I’m about halfway through the audiobook A Nation Without Borders by Stephen Hahn (a history volume which, interestingly enough, deals largely with the expansion of the American state over the very Western territory I’m currently inhabiting).

Can you think of anything else my ears ought to be consuming? WRITE IT IN THE COMMENTS BELOW!

That’s all for now, ghostlings. See you on the West Coast!

7 thoughts on “GOTH 2018 Part IV: Where the Buffalo Roam

  1. Please, PLEASE tell me you stopped at the “Cheap drinks, lousy food” joint! I would love to go personally, but I feel that a white man (albeit one nearly incapacitated by wanderlust, and I say that with much love, tongue firmly in cheek) might fare better in such a place.

    I’m jealous of the bison-sighting but even more jealous that you got to see prairie dogs in the wild! Actually, what I’m most jealous of is that your friend gets to enjoy smuggled only-in-Wisconsin libations. I’m dying for some New Glarus Serendipity right now.

    Also, you have a moral obligation to document any and all cryptid sightings on your journey, just sayin’.

    Like

    1. In many ways I really wished I had stopped at that hole-in-the-wall and gotten a beer or at least a picture, but I was just too anxious to get as far as I could. Besides, the place had this otherworldly grunginess to it, as though it were openly hostile to anyone who’s not an affiliated member of a biker gang.

      Still, I probably should have gone. You’re absolutely right, J., it was a dereliction of duty.

      Like

  2. Love the selfie at Legion Lake! Glad you enjoyed Custer Park, it’s indeed a national treasure. You really feel a sense of the wild west when you’re there.

    Like

  3. Meghan Soukup

    Podcasts to try: This American Life, Serial, S-Town, Risk (I fast forward through the announcer’s talking, though), Heavyweight, StartUp, Jim Jefferies Show podcast, The Habitat, The Poker Life podcast (if you’re into the online poker world), Beautiful Stories From Anonymous People
    with Chris Gethard, The Moth, and listening to YouTube videos of Seth Meyers’ A Closer Look or Trevor Noah Daily Show clips (you miss the visual jokes, but I find that doesn’t detract from it too much).

    Like

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    Like

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