Our book on tape for the day was “Witches,” a good Roald Dahl selection which kept us entertained from Butte to Bozeman to Billings. After 450 miles on I-90, we’d traversed 13 counties, all bigger than the state of Rhode Island with or without the water (http://blogs.wsj.com/numbersguy/how-big-is-rhode-island-anyway-214) and switched to I-94 at Billings for the last little 250-mile stretch to North Dakota. (Fun fact: you can fit 95 Rhode Islands in Montana.) As you probably already know but I only just now discovered on Wikipedia, I-94 is the only purely east–west interstate to form a direct connection into a foreign country, namely Canada. Facinating. Here, the Rocky Mountain high receded in my rear-view mirror like a John Denver song as the landscape changed from the majestic peaks the state was named for (Montana is Spanish for, you guessed it, mountains!) to simpler sandstone buttes which appear to be the inspiration for those layered candles we used to make as Girl Scouts at the beach. As depicted by these photos which are not from Wikipedia. Although they could be.
But before we move on, the reeeallly interesting thing about PP is that the monument bears the only remaining physical evidence of the entire Corps of Discovery Expedition, appearing today on the sands of time exactly as it did 200 years ago, as far as we can tell. For it was right here on July 25, 1806 that Captain Clark, perhaps not realizing that some day this would be illegal, saw fit to carve his name on the face of the butte. By then, he was on the second half of his two-year stroll across the country so perhaps was feeling a bit nostalgic and wanted to leave his mark as a momento, fearing he’d never return. It was, indeed, the trip of a lifetime before I-94 and cars and all.
Now, mind you, the Native Americans had already given this big butte the perfectly fine name of "the place where the mountain lion lies," which I actually prefer. I like to imagine the possibilities of how the story might have ended if, say, a mountain lion had jumped on Clark as he was busy defacing our national monument, perhaps even breaking his carving tool. I know kids who’ve been kicked out of school for doing the same thing, after all. (Yet another reminder not to try this at home.) But, as usual, the Native Americans were too cool to correct Clark’s ambition. Or perhaps they were all preoccupied with party planning for Custer’s welcome hoopla which was coming right up just south on I-90 in another 70 years or so, a mere blip on their calendar.
Had we been driving at the end of July on or around the 25th, we might have enjoyed “Clark Days” with the PP Historical Association. Then we could have “reenacted” Clark’s canoe voyage by floating down the Yellowstone, arriving in the afternoon at the Pillar-formerly-known-as-the-place-where-the-mountain-lion-lies to stroll along the boardwalk where we could view the defacing signature and then enjoy a traditional buffalo barbeque complete with entertainment. Most of which didn’t actually happen after Clark sharpened his stick in 1806. But it was only July 3. We were too early and all this was lost on us anyway as we sped on.