Sunday, September 18
I collected our coffee from the KOA office and we went back into town. Dad popped into a mineral shop, looking for a few of his favorite specimen types. I enjoyed the fossils and mineral maps, as well as a display of a collection of nearly every Remington rifle and shotgun manufactured until the 1970s mounted high on both walls. A sign read, “Remington questions answered after $100 mineral purchase.” Another shop offered a great antique collection and a room full of historic arms worthy of a roadside museum. I bought Dad a little present for his birthday coming up on Tuesday.
We drove off toward Cody, Wyoming. After a short way across some hills, the landscape again underwent a dramatic change, switching to a desert theme. We stopped at what looked like an old mining town. We weren’t wrong, but we had also come across some sad history. A sign by the highway told us the story of the Smith Mine Disaster. In 1943 an underground explosion killed dozens of miners. Three escaped and a rescue effort with assistance from all over the region was mustered, but no one else was recovered alive. Those who had survived the explosion were poisoned by the methane gas that had caused it.
Miners are among divers, astronauts, and submariners in that it’s some technical system that keeps them alive. When that fails, one wonders about the experience of looking upon the certainty of death from within a mask or capsule as opposed to on a bed in an old body. We’re told two of the miners left us with words that might give us some response, writing;
“Walter & Johnny. Good-bye. Wives and daughters. We died an easy death. Love from us both. Be good.”
The mine’s little surrounding town is since abandoned and falling apart. It’s a tragic shipwreck poking up from among hills in a grassland.
Thursday, September 15
I dutifully drove back to the lodge and fetched our morning coffee. We had previously determined that our main vague waypoint, Yellowstone National Park, was not readily reachable from the spur into Idaho we had taken. So we returned to Montana and resumed our course south along Interstate 93.
We stopped for a walk in Darby, Montana, a town that has maintained an Old
West theme on its main street to such extent that even their police station is decorated with an western facade, complete with cow skull mounted over the main entry, and is called the Marshal’s Office. I wandered into a sporting goods store, but found it mediocre. We lunched at another diner. Before leaving, I wandered into a store offering handmade Stetson-style headgear with no real intent to buy and couldn’t coax the owner into conversation. Oh well, that’s perfectly fair for a tire kicker.
We reentered Idaho from a more favorable position and somewhere along the highway the landscape changed again. The plains became flatter and more arid, the mountains drew closer and more violent in shape. The color palette emphasized yellow and orange reds. We stopped for a short walk up a pass serving as the start to a long distance trail. Maybe if my companion had younger bones…