During the first week of August, my family and I were visiting my wife’s family in rural Antler, North Dakota. It’s become an August tradition for us to go back for a couple weeks in August to help with the harvest. My father-in-law raises wheat, canola, peas, and sunflowers. The first three of those crops are normally ready for harvest by early- to mid-August.
I was not able to take more than about a week of vacation this year, so my wife decided to stay behind in North Dakota with the kids for a while after I had to return to Denver to work. So this past Tuesday morning I gathered my stuff in the car, said an extended good-bye to Adena, Liberty, and Kaden, and set out for the 14-hour solo trip to Castle Rock.
Our usual route home takes us south through Minot, across the Garrison Dam, then west on I-94 to US-85, which we follow through South Dakota. From there it’s I-90 west into Wyoming and then we pick up US-85 again in Newcastle and proceed south to Lusk. From there it’s a quick trip over to I-25 which brings us on home. This really is the optimal route (time- and distance-wise) and it has conveniently-spaced gas stops. But, for me, it is just not that exciting.
Making the trip on my own gave me the opportunity to take (what I find to be) a more interesting route. I go west on US-2 to Williston after taking some back roads through Mohall. From there it’s over to Sidney, Montana and MT-16 down to I-94 at Glendive. 75 miles of open range and exits for “Ranch Access” later brings me to Miles City and MT/WY-59, which is probably one of my favorite roads to drive on. It’s nearly 300 miles on down to Douglas, Wyoming, and then the I-25 home stretch the rest of the way.
People often look at me funny when I tell them how much I enjoy driving through eastern Montana and central Wyoming. But I have my reasons. Here’s why:
I’ve always had an innate interest in trains. I don’t know why, other than they’re huge, powerful machines that summon the childish imagination of most technically-inclined boys. One of my life wish list activities is to be a [train] engineer for a day to experience them up close. The railroads that carry the coal from the mines parallel highway 59 between Douglas and Gillette, and I can usually count on seeing at least a half-dozen trains on that stretch of road.
Gillette isn’t called the energy capital of the nation for nothing. A massive amount of coal and natural gas are produced from the mines in the Gillette area, and highway 59 is the main access corridor to those mines. You can see the tops of the silos and drag line shovels on the horizon all along the road.
Closer to Gillette, there are several large coal-fired power plants that take advantage of the nearby mines. These “mine-mouth” plants produce electricity that is transmitted around the country. There is a new plant going up just north of Gillette, the scale of which is quite amazing.
I mean the “manifest destiny” and “Lewis and Clark expedition” romance, not the “Sleepless in Seattle” romance.
Growing up in the midwest among the endless farm fields, the wide open ranches of Montana and Wyoming are an exciting change of pace. There is something about being “out west” in the middle of nowhere that fulfills that “Wild at Heart” male desire for adventure.
Most of that area is undeveloped enough to give you a small glimpse of what folks like Lewis and Clark must have seen when Americans first pushed beyond the great plains.
In any case, it was a very enjoyable trip home. I’ll be going back to Rapid City to pick up the family in a couple weeks, which won’t take me on highway 59, but still should be a nice trip through Wyoming.