-- Monday, Aug. 13, Green River valley, Wyoming:
Time to head back to Montana.
Today the Tour has left the Oregon Trail for awhile, and is headed north, through the Valley of the Green River, historical center of the fur trade. Hardly looks like beaver country, kind of the same bare, dry hills further south. But the roadside markers say this was the prime beaver country, and one must always believe roadside markers.
Interesting stops today. Name Hill, where trapper and trail blazer Jim Bridger carved his name into the rock in 1844. Still perfectly legible all these years. A monument to Father DeSmet, who held the first Catholic mass in these parts, on a hill overlooking the river valley, with the rough Wind River range in the background. One of the Green River Rendevous sites, where each year the fur trappers gathered to sell their goods, buy supplies, and generally raise hell for a few weeks. Kind of the historical precursor to the gathering at Sturgis. And at that stop, finally, a marker to Narcissa Whitman and Eliza Spalding, who stopped here to rest on their way further west. Eliza and her husband founded the Lapwai mission that we visited earlier this summer, on what's now the Nez Perce reservation, and Narcissa and hers went on to Walla Walla, where she eventually met her death at the hands of ungrateful savages, unclear on the concept of the great good these (reportedly) small-minded, feuding, petty Christian missionaries were trying to do them.
Further on, the stunning beauty of Grand Teton national park, and then Yellowstone, where I arrived just in time for Old Faithful to erupt. All my timing should be so good. George C. have been proud of me.
Amazing how many of the rivers of the West arise in this small area: The Green we recently left flows south, and eventually joins the Colorado in Utah. From the Park itself, the Snake flows south, then west, eventually to join the Columbia. The Gallatin and Madison head northwest out of Yellowstone, toward Three Forks and the Jefferson, where the three join to form the Missouri. The Yellowstone itself flows north from the park, waters southeastern Montana, and joins the Missouri in North Dakota. And the Bighorn heads east, eventually becoming one of the major tributaries of the Yellowstone.
Lotta water in them there hills. And many Harleys in Yellowstone Park.
West Yellowstone, tourist town extraordinairre. A brief but violent hailstorm in the Madison Valley, shortly before reaching Quake Lake, where a late 50's earthquake collapsed the canyon wall and dammed the river. One of my earliest memories, that earthquake. Or at least of my parents talking about it. They said it made the piano play by itself in the middle of the night. I slept right through it.
Ennis, and the finest trout fishing in Montana, but I haven't been there since but a wee pup. Through the narrow, rocky Jefferson River canyon on a winding road, past Lewis and Clark Caverns, just as twilight is descending. Once more into the breach dear friends over the twisting pass into Butte in the dark, and safe at last. Tomorrow will be a day for oil changes, car washes, and general fun stuff like paying bills. Well at least tomorrow morning.
-- Tuesday afternoon, Aug. 14, Virginia City, Montana:
"Off the odometer" again, my host and I are off for an evening in historic gold mining town Virginia City, and a performance by the world-renowned Virginia City Players. Back over the pass, up the beautiful Jefferson River valley, past Doncaster Ranch (birthplace of Spokane), past Robber's Roost, so named because the Virginia City/Bannack road agents made it a haunt, past the piles of washed gravel that still line Alder Gulch, over 100 years later, and on to Nevada City, where my host has proved her mettle as a travelling secretary by scoring for the night a most excellent ancient cabin behind the ancient Nevada City hotel, right next to the spot where notorious road agent George Ives was hanged. Next to Virginia City, where a brief rain shower sends us scurrying for the shelter of the 120 year old Bale of Hay saloon (I did not protest), then an evening of looking at some of the Virginia City historical spots (including the building where 5 of the road agents, including the notorious Boone Helm, were hanged one night), a visit to the excellent historical bookstore there on the main street where I scored up a book questioning the "official" histories of the Vigilantes, a 1st class dinner in a small restaurant, and then the show, in a theatre space that was originally a livery stable back in the gold mining days of the late 1800's. Tonight's offering is "The Bat", a hilarious melodrama, acted quite melodramatically, and there's another visit to the Bale of Hay next door during intermission before the troupe does its "follies".
All in all an excellent evening. The McChump Tour is not ALL about racing.
The next morning there are Harleys parked at the cabin next door.
"Been to Sturgis?", ask I, of one of the leather clad women. "Yes", says she. "Lotsa fun, and lotsa bikes."
I can only imagine how many Harleys I might have seen on this trip had I, at any time, actually been anywhere near Sturgis.
-- Friday ~1:00pm, August 17, Billings, Montana:
It is time to muster the troops for the trip out to Crow Fair for the horse racing. One young lady will not be going along this time; she says horse racing is cruel because they whip the horses. The paddock inspection youngster is game, however, and soon we're headed southeast to Crow Agency, and the little track in the shadow of the Little Big Horn Battlefield. Just around the corner from the Indian casino.
Though it's about an hour out to Crow Agency, and the racing starts at two, we are not worried about making first post. We learned that last year.
-- Friday ~2:15pm, August 17, Crow Agency, Montana:
As suspected, we haven't missed anything. The first race is far from ready to go. Parking is free. Admission $5.00. And the just-as-helpful-as-last-year program $2.00.
As this is Friday racing, there isn't anything so spectacular as the Crow Derby on the card. Nine races, including the Indian Relay, with from four to seven horses per race, if you don't count the Indian Relay, which would have featured nine horses as there were three teams. Two thoroughbred races, and six races for sprinters of various breeds. Four races, including the Multi-Colored Stakes and the Crow Breeder's Futurity Paint, went for purses of $1500 added. The other four went for $800 added.
Lacking any pp's, the paddock-inspection younster and I spent the day inspecting at the paddock, trying to pick our winners. We were actually pretty good at this. Horses that look good run good. Unfortunately for us, we were good at picking 2nd place horses.
In the first race the youngster selected Buggy Rebel, the 4, and this horse got out to a huge lead and looked like a sure winner at a nice price. But halfway down the stretch the jock started looking around, and the 7 horse caught up on the outside. It was then a duel to the wire, and of course the photo showed the 7 winning. We went inside to review the replay, as we definitely did not like that ride. The replay was a bit less suspicious than the live race. Excellent TV production had the finish photo hand held in front of the TV camera.
At this point the rodeo in the infield got into full swing, with all the requisite PA blabbing of rodeos. Total purse for it was $70,000. Someone set off a sky bomb down off the right end of the track, and all the rodeo horses freaked out and desperately tried to scramble out their chutes. One almost succeeded. It seems some cowboys had failed to show up. There were a lot of calls for cowboys to take their turn, but when they didn't show, an announcement that they were out, and then a calf or steer running lonely across the rodeo ring. Later on there was some pretty good barrel racing, and even the rodeo queen took a turn at it. Quite a cut above the girls of Tillamook, but I don't believe those were competing for actual cash money.
In the 2nd, I favored the #6, Furyoso, owned and trained by Jesse Plain Feather, while the youngster liked the #4, He's A Handsome Dude, owned by Brandon Spotted Horse and trained by Leon Pretty Weasel. We decided to bet them both to win, and then part wheel them in a quinella with the favorite, #3 RV First Wrangler, owned by Johnny Five and trained by Dale Crooked Arm. The 3 was also ridden by the only professional jock at the track that day, Justin Vanderwoude, fresh from the Oneida County Fair. He had the white jock pants. One other rider had pink jock pants. The rest were in jeans. The younster's $2 bet dropped the #4 from 50-1 to 12-1. The 3 won and the 4 got up for 2nd in a tight photo. The quinella paid a princely $3.60.
The third race had two scratches, reducing the field to four. Another horse, the #1 Plunger, probably would have been scratched at any other track. He was bucking and kicking and rearing even before he got to the paddock, and then he started acting up. Finally he was saddled, and as he was being led out of the paddock he reared again and fell over, right on top of the jock (whose name I didn't catch). It was a scary moment, but the horse got up, and so did the jock, very shakily. The jock went to the ambulance and got some wrapping around one elbow. The other horses went out onto the track while a new jock was sought for Plunger. As the 3 horse post parade was in progress, a saddle bronc and his rider in the rodeo ring bucked right up to the fence and right over the top and WHOMP! down onto the track, with the horse landing on the cowboy's leg. Both horse and cowboy got up. The horse continued bucking, right around the first turn of the track and onto the backstretch. Meanwhile a new rider had been found for Plunger and they were headed out to the track, just as the bucking horse decided to reverse course and take another turn past the stands. The announcer warned the jock and outrider, they quickly reversed course, and disaster was narrowly averted. The bucking horse was eventually rounded up.
Plunger came in dead last, but with the new jock still aboard. I'd actually picked the winner of this race, the #2, Candy Winner, and collected a monster $3.80 win price.
It was time for some refreshments, as it was a warm and dusty day. No beer at this track, of course, but big Cokes rang in at a reasonable $1.25, and there were hamburgers for sale at $2.50, and hotdogs for $1.25. Also some nachos and other stuff. This year there was actually a regular racing gift stand, and bright red Crow Fair Racing hats went for $15.
There was quite a long delay in the program after the 3rd, with extensive watering and grooming of the track. Time to look around the track and see what was new from last year. The water truck was new, for one thing. Not nearly so dusty as last year. Also the inside fence had either been repainted or rebuilt, as it was quite an attractive little rail and post fence. And maybe I didn't notice it last year, but this time there were some tall lodgepoles set up on the paddock fence, with colored banners at the top snapping gaily in the breeze. Meanwhile a couple of bulls got into a fight back in the infield bull pen, and a rodeo horse escaped and went for a romp in the infield. The jock who had been flipped on was observed strolling across the infield back toward the jock's room by the paddock, apparently none the worse for the incident. No shortage of entertainment.
Finally race four rolled around, the Crow Breeder's Futurity Paint, and while it is my general rule not to bet paint horses because they never win, in this case it was okay, because all the horses were paint horses. I was reasonably sure a paint horse would take this one. And one did, paying the big price of the day, $21 to win and keying a $101.60 quinella. Tragically neither the youngster nor I was in on this nice payout.
Race 5 was another betting disaster, though the youngster did get the place horse.
Race 6 was the first thoroughbred event on the card, 5-1/2f for fillies and mares, and I had not yet made my UPF bet for the day. I figured a race with 3 horses in it (after a scratch) was one from which I might pick a winner. I went with the #2, Wooly Mac, strictly because it was owned and trained by Cleo Medicine Horse, Jr., who is a regular trainer on the Montana circuit. Wooly Mac won under jock Clinton Nomee, and I had me a $3.80 winner. The quinella in this race, which I had not bet, rang in at $2.20.
Two more races to go, and then the Indian Relay, but we needed to depart. The late start, the big delay after the 3rd, and general delays throughout the day had all conspired to make a this a very long running card, and I had big plans to drive to Butte yet that evening. Big plans.
Yet another great day of fun at Crow Fair racing. Definite thumbs up.
But of course when we got back to Billings I was persuaded to spend the night there instead of going on. The company, the killer Nintendo motorcycle racing game, the thought of driving over that pass again in the dark, and the Rainier in the host's refrigerator all helped me make up my mind. I turned in at the reasonable hour of 2:30am so as to be set for a bright and early start the next day and a drive that was now going to be at least three hours longer than I'd originally planned.
Total miles traveled to get to this track: 725