Day 17: June 24, 2014
National Monuments

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If there is anyone in Billings, Montana, who cares what I think about their town, they should thank the folks at Master Lube for elevating my opinion several notches. I had not really seen or experienced much of the town so had not actually formed an opinion but my luck had not been great. Between them, my go-to chains have three motels in Billings, two Motel 6s and one Super 8, and all were full. I ended up at an adequate but overpriced EconoLodge. My dinner had been at a local brewpub where the beer was good but the food and service were a little lacking. Not horrible, just lacking. I needed an oil change and was a little fearful. My only previous attempt at getting the Subaru's oil changed away from home had not gone well. Things were quite different this time.

I was greeted promptly and cheerfully. Of course, they all do that. But the fellow who greeted me knew all about the crush washer and volunteered that they replace it "every time". Though it was a few dollars more than the house brand, they even stocked Mobil 1. The service was efficient and complete. While the oil was changed and the fluids and tires checked, someone washed every window in the car.

I hadn't even expected to be on this road so had nothing on the agenda. I expected it to be essentially a relocation day and it largely was. But I was drawn to a couple of not quite roadside attractions by signs along the expressway.

It seems like I've almost always been aware of and rather uncomfortable about what happened here. I've even consciously wondered if I would want to stop at the Little Bighorn Battlefield Memorial if the opportunity arose. Part of me has that flip "Custer had it coming" attitude but I'm very aware that I almost certainly would not have thought that if I were a US citizen reading newspaper accounts, in June of 1876, about the destruction of a major chunk of my army. The granite marker over the mass grave at the top of Last Stand Hill was put there in 1881. The marble markers showing where the bodies of soldiers were found were erected in 1890. The last three pictures are of the Indian Memorial that was dedicated on June 25, 2003. My visit, which I'm very glad of, was on the eve of the 138th anniversary of the battle when a re-dedication of the Indian Memorial was to take place.

Yes, it is an expressway. Yes, it does look good.

Another expressway side sign told me I was within striking range of Devil's Tower. Even though this was our country's first Nation Monument, it was not on my must-see list. I'm happy, however, that I took this "while you're in the neighborhood" opportunity. Although the tower appears to be composed of distinct columns, it was not extruded like string cheese. The columns formed as magma cooled and cracked and surrounding material was eroded away. Look closely at the fourth photo to see two large birds soaring near the tower.

Prairie dogs live on both side of the road that leads to Devil's Tower. Those on the side away from the tower seem almost domesticated. Those on the side nearer the tower not nearly so trusting as their neighbors. There is a prairie dog in the second photo. It's at the very bottom in line with the tower's left edge.

On the way back towards the expressway, I finally got a photo of a Wall Drug sign. I started seeing them in Montana (this is Wyoming) and had already passed a half dozen or so but had not been very quick with the camera.

I don't ordinarily post this many pictures of a construction site but I guess it was kind of a slow news day and this was no ordinary construction site. First there was a "Pavement Ends" sign. Then there was the end of pavement shown in the first picture followed by several miles of (temporarily) unpaved US-16 leading into Custer, South Dakota. There may be some who feel differently but I appreciate the road being kept open despite what had to be tough working conditions.

Earlier in the day, after I had a decent ETA, I called ahead and reserved a room. As I checked in, I asked about places to eat and was told that the number one restaurant in Custer and the best hamburger in the Black Hills was just four blocks away. That sounded good and I figured I would walk until he told me their hours were 5:00 to 8:00. It was about a quarter after seven and I had to move the car anyway so I drove. That was barely good enough. Not long after entering the busy restaurant, I learned that it would be a long wait for a seat. Too long, actually. My odds of being seated before closing were not good but I could place a to go order. As I pondered going somewhere else or getting "the best hamburger in the Black Hills" to go, I was subjected to a random act of kindness.

A fellow approached, verified that I was alone, and invited me to share their table. He and his wife and daughter were in a booth with extra room. I accepted and soon learned that they were from the Denver area and spending a few off days in the area. They had also heard good things about the Black Hills Burger & Bun Company and were also there for the first time. The conversation, some of which concerned the excellent 'burgers, was easy and fun. Big thanks th D, B, & E for sharing their space. My hamburger, "The Iowan", was indeed excellent. The BHB&B Co. doesn't try to impress you with size but with flavor. Nicely done.

I had picked the Chief Motel from online reviews and was not disappointed. In fact it excelled in several areas. I rank it number one for this trip in the quality of both wi-fi and toilet paper and it's near the top in towels, too. It's a good thing I called ahead. Long before I got back to my room and went for ice, the place was full.

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