Custer’s Last Stand Was Nearly Ours

Jimmy didn't/wouldn't/couldn't appreciate the views.
Jimmy didn’t/wouldn’t/couldn’t appreciate the views.

Back to the mountain and our journey to Garryowen. Jimmy’s eyes were bulging and arms straining as he leaned into the slope as though he was pulling the trailer up the mountain with a strap on his back. “My foot is on the floor. I don’t have any more gears!” he fumed as I slunk lower and lower in my seat. The route I’d chosen looked flat on the map. We crawled up to the snow-line and the temperature plummeted from a balmy 70°F to 40 degrees. With each twist of the road to the right, I could count the members of our procession in my door mirror. Before we could pull over we had accumulated eight cars, a motorhome, a pickup truck with trailer and five motorcycles – all following at a stately 10 miles per hour. How they must have enjoyed the opportunity to appreciate the scenery.

As we rose up out of the tree line we emerged into beautiful alpine meadows of wild flowers just as they were giving their short burst of summer color. Sweeping vistas for miles and miles to the horizon across the Bighorn Basin – once, millions of years ago, a sea bed – appeared and disappeared as we crawled up and up. “We’re at the top!” I cried again and again, hopefully, as each bend ahead appeared to be the last, until rounding it we could see yet another long loop of road – up.

Look out No. 2!
Look out No. 2!

As the air outside cooled, the engine temperature reached a record high. Thankfully, for me, the “Elevation, 9,430 feet” sign – matching the small print on the map I then saw – appeared before our car and my driver simultaneously combusted. We found a scenic turnout for a cooling lunch stop.

If I thought I was off the hook when engine and driver had chilled, I soon discovered that mountain passes don’t just go up to the top and then down the other side. Setting off once again, Jimmy commented “We seem to be doing an awful lot of steep up and not very much down,” oblivious to the fact that the descending miles flew past as he became a downhill racer hurtling ‘round bends.

No end in sight!
No end in sight!

The road was, thankfully, cambered but there was no guard rail on my side – a vertical drop to sure death – just dinky, little, single chevron signs > > > proclaiming the bleedin’ obvious as my speed demon careened down and around another hairpin bend.

On one steep descent, I got a swift glimpse of a brown information sign. “That sign just said that the granite here is 2.5 billion . . . no it can’t have been billion.”

“Yes, it said 2.5 billion years old.”

Oh, Lord, save me. He’s reading the tourist signs.

“Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!” Jimmy shouted, with a devilish gleam in his eye as he stood on the brakes and hauled us through a more than 180° loop of this rollercoaster ride. “There’s a lot of weight in the back when you’re going down hill,” he told me, grinning.

“Have you only just realized that?” I asked a little hysterically.

Then suddenly we were in the little town of Ranchester, traveling on a flat, straight road at a sedate 25 miles per hour. There were no cars in this western town, only pickup trucks and Harley motorcycles, and the finest building in town was the Cowboy State Bank.

Soon we were thunk-thunking along on an old, concrete stretch of interstate – from downhill adrenalin rush to flat tedium within a matter of minutes. After exiting the highway, we needed to drive three miles south on Frontage Road – only there were two Frontage Roads, one on each side of the highway. Naturally we took the wrong one to a dead-end.

Now that we’ve been to the site of Custer’s Last Stand I really don’t know what to make of the man. I’m tempted to say that he was a bigoted, blood-thirsty glory-seeker doing the bidding of unscrupulous politicians, but what do I know.

At the campsite we parked on a high bluff, overlooking the countryside. Jimmy’s driving must have repeatedly opened and slammed shut the cupboard doors in the trailer as it leapt behind us. Teabags and ginger cookies littered the floor on arrival at four o’clock – tea time. How appropriate – an invitation if ever I saw one. We had a good view of the interstate while we drank our tea and could hear the freight trains all night. We felt right at home.

Oh, and the journey was 190 miles zigzagging through the mountains, not the 140 mile easy route on a flattish road Jimmy had chosen. Oops.

9 thoughts on “Custer’s Last Stand Was Nearly Ours

  1. about Custer……….we had similar feelings when we stood in Gettysburg on the battlefield where Pickets charge took place. It was suicide, plain and simple. I still marvel at the bravery of those soldiers and the stupidity of Lee at that particular moment.


    1. It’s hard to imagine being in the soldier’s situation. Unless you are very lucky you desert or face certain death. My father was lucky at Normandy. He was ‘only’ badly wounded. We should run the world, Carol. We could ban all wars and make people sit down, talk and compromise.


  2. Been there, done that. We came down the mountain in Cloudcroft, New Mexico into Alamagordo. The signs warned us about steep grades ahead but we were too dumb to realize what they meant. I swear i held that rig up myself by holding onto the door handle and my foot was on the imaginary brake on the passenger side the whole way down. Had to stop in a scenic lookout parking lot to let the smoking brakes cool down, They smelled for days after. We are very uncomfortable about mountain travel now although we did travel through mountainous North Carolina and West Virginia on our trip home this past spring. Didn’t like it though.
    Ruth from At Home on the Road


    1. We’ve been to Alamagordo. We came from Roswell. We must have taken a different route. I don’t remember it being as ‘challenging’ as your route. We did the smoking brakes thing in Tennessee. When they get too hot they will fail. It’s a wonder any of us are still alive! I bought a truckers’ mountain guide in Camping World. It only helps if I remember to consult it. Take care on the mountain roads.


  3. Oh how I lived right along with you on this adventure (per my previous post)!! Our “adventure” was really only 35 miles up, but it was on a 1 1/2 lane wide gravel road, the whole way. I do believe your assessment of Custer is correct, or at least it’s the same as mine.


    1. Only 35 miles! That’s over 11 hours at 3 mph. As per Custer, I was quite shaken after we’d been to the battlefield. I had a whole different perspective about the Indians. Could you read the tiny writing on the engraved stone (photo on “The Wrong Way”)? You can’t disagree with Sitting Bull. I think we were told a bunch of lies when we were kids. Custer got his comeuppance.


  4. I’m still chuckling at the picture you paint. That’s a good point about traveling alone, no one to blame and no one offering disparaging comments!


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