Leg 3: Road to Billings and then onto Glacier

Highlights:

  • Combined Mileage of 739 miles
  • Combined 12 ½ hours of driving
  • Three states
  • Devils Tower
  • A stay in Billings
  • Arrival in Glacier

I’m awake Friday at 5:30 am. Sunrise is early during the summer months as you head north, but today I’m up because our neighbor in the giant RV next to us is hammering away on his water connection (as we are prepping Teapot for travel Murray notes there is something wrong with our water pressure, too). I’m annoyed and manage to drop in-and-out of sleep until about 6:45 AM. Then I start to clean out the tent because today we need to strike camp AND I need to be online at 8 AM so we can get our pass for Going to the Sun Road. Murr gets up at 7 AM, we do a little more packing and at 7:55 AM I’m online and she’s got the phone number pulled up. She calls, I continually reload the page. I look for Sunday tickets — our first full day in Glacier — and there are 180 available. I click and — they’re gone! I refresh, and look at the dates again. We get to Glacier on Saturday late afternoon on the 29th, and the road closes at 6 PM. But, tickets are good for 7 days, and it says there are still 89 available that day. I click and — Success! We are Going to the Sun!

At 9 AM we are on the road, and the drive to Billings is kind of uneventful. It’s our halfway point to Glacier and we have a hotel reservation there. Both Murr and I fantasize of a shower (well, me a shower, she wants a bath), so we are trying to get there in good time. We are cruising along, making Tiktok videos to pass the time, when I see a sign that says “Devils Tower,” and an arrow pointing to the left.

First to our right!
Then to our left!
A Close Encounter of our Own Kind!

“Devils Tower is nearby, I think,” I say as I start to pull out my phone.

“How far?” Murray asks. Reception is bad. I get the spinning wheel.

Murray continues. “Wasn’t it in Close Encounter?”

“Better yet,” I say, my phone finally loading a page, “It’s an official National Monument.” Murray gives me a sly, sideway smile. We are both thinking the same thing: Another stamp in our NPS Passports!

“Right here, here!” I point as Murr brakes Teapot hard and we almost miss the turn. Then it’s a scenic twisty, curvy ride through forest for forty minutes. Like a game of hide-and-seek, we see the top of Devils Tower, sometimes off to our right, sometimes ahead to the left. Once we are about three miles away, though, it just fills the sky. Our plan is a quick stop to get pictures and stamps – but we’ve gotten tons from the road that are actually better than being up close. As we pull into the Ranger station, it is packed – so I circle the parking lot with Teapot and Murray jumps out, stamps our passports and I’m downshifting Teapot through the curves back to the main road.

Devils Tower is the first US National Monument, is a butte formed by rock and magma being slowly pushed up from the Earth, and is highly sacred in the indigenous Plains culture of the US. And well worth the extra two-hours added to our trip.

We get into Billings at 6 PM and by 7:30 PM Murr and I are at the Texas Roadhouse, a restaurant behind our hotel. It is packed (Friday night in Billings) and so we squeeze into the bar between two guys: Justin and Chad. Murr chats with Justin, an ex-Army Reservist that now travels around the country installing GPS systems. Chad is clad in leather Harley gear and a bandana, speaks with the high-pitched voice of a boy tenor, and is also on his own Epic Tour going solo on his motorcycle (I imagine a Hog). Both think it is great Murr and I are on this adventure (I know they think we are a married couple) and we get into a debate about politics with Justin (you can guess how the lines are drawn) but its fun. We head back to our hotel and crash hard.

Sunset in Billings

We opt to take MT Route 2 for the first half of our drive to Glacier instead of Route 90 (both Goggle Maps and Waze say we will save 40 minutes) and I’m glad we did. Murr sleeps and I drive so we don’t have photos — but imagine the scenery of the Aiden Quinn/Brad Pitt movie “A River Runs Through It” filling your windshield for almost 4 hours.

We pull into the St Mary KOA and our campsite is literally right up against the mountains. We set up camp and Murr snaps a pitcher saying, “Our View Does Not Suck.”

And she is right!

A Highway Runs through It
Almost to our KOA site
The Next Four Days Will not Suck