Trippin’: Roads, Rails, and Mountain Trails
Episode 26, July 1970
The following days found our rattling caravan of two vehicles sailing through miles and miles of country highways. To fight the tedium of the road, we entertained ourselves with juvenile antics and foolishness.
In Yellowstone, we stopped to look at steam vents and bubbling mud pots. Then we waited a long time to watch Old (not so) Faithful Geyser do its thing.
Russ received directions to a hot springs from some longhairs and we found the spot a few hundred feet from the road. Steam was seeping out of several places along the edge of the river. We stripped down and soaked with a dozen potheads in their birthday suits.
An hour after leaving Yellowstone, Russ tried his luck at fishing. But no fish found his hook in that Montana stream. We moved on and he picked up a New Zealand couple hitching east. We camped with the Kiwis, and the next morning we continued on a deserted two-lane stretch of Interstate 90.
Charlie was nestled between Rosie and myself when I noticed Russ overtaking us in the westbound lane. As he passed, there was an accumulation of American and Kiwi limbs waving at us through open windows and the air vent on the top of the Jeep. It was silly but it provided a break to the monotony of a mundane stretch of highway.
When they pulled in front, I said to Rosie, making a motion with my arm, “Let’s row past them.” She nodded, and I pushed on the gas pedal. We passed them while pulling our imaginary oars.
We were in the lead again, waiting for their next move, when I got a flash. I scooted as far forward and to the right as I could, nudging Charlie into a sitting position. “Quick, crawl behind me and sit over here.” Rosie crouched up on the seat, stepped over Charlie, slipped behind me, and slid down to my left. “Now, take the wheel.” She put both hands on the steering wheel while I maneuvered over the gearshift keeping one foot on the gas until she had her foot in place.
I settled into the shotgun position, took off my cowboy hat, and placed it on her head. I knew they missed the switch because the camper on the back of my truck blocked their view.
We finished just in time. In the side-view mirror, I saw Russ pulling into the other lane. He and the Kiwis were flapping their arms in simulated flight. As they passed, I’ll never forget the look on their astonished faces. Their laughing caused the flying routine to fall apart.
The Kiwis headed north at Billings, and we continued on to Sheridan where we stopped for gas. I strolled to where Russ was filling his Jeep. “Let's find a place to camp. Rosie is feeling crappy and needs to rest.”
“Hey, we just passed where Custer got his tail kicked." Russ glanced at the mountains. "Let’s look for a place up in those hills.”
We climbed a steep road into Bighorn National Forest which leveled off into lush, rolling knolls filled with wildflowers and a few dozen horses. In the middle of the herd, a buck and a doe grazed.
Our crew settled in a beautiful meadow scattered with forget-me-nots. I’d never seen so many of those blue flowers in the wild. We stayed for three nights, while Rosie rested. On the second day, Russ went down to Sheridan to earn money bucking hay. He came back sore and complaining. “I thought I would be dealing with normal hay bales but they were those huge, round suckers that weigh a ton!”
The next day was the Fourth of July, and we ran into three local fellows who invited us to view the fireworks with them. We sat together on a hillside overlooking the lights of Sheridan far below. Our new friends shared a joint with us, and while we waited, we watched a dry lightning storm hit one mountaintop after another—thankfully missing the peak we sat upon.
At last the Sheridan fireworks show began, but it was hardly what we’d imagined. The town was so far below that the firework explosions looked like tiny, colored spheres the size of a pepper seed. It was as spectacular as watching someone light a match fifty yards away. But it didn’t dampen our spirits. And I was glad that Rosie was feeling better.
We left the following day, stopping for gas in the dusty town of Moorcroft. It was hot, and Rosie, who was underage, gave us permission to grab a beer.
We took seats at the bar and found we were the only customers in the place. Despite a few recent photos tacked on one wall, it felt like we had drifted into the past. Behind the long wooden bar, the balding bartender with a bulbous nose and soiled apron, stood in front of an ornate mirror. He brought us our beers, took a stuffed rabbit with pronged antlers off a shelf, and placed it on the bar. “This here’s a jackalope. They’re pretty rare around here. You ever see one before?”
I was pretty sure the animal was a fake. “Can’t say as I ever have.”
“Yep, a fellow trapped this one over in the hills east of Gillette.”
I did a quick review of my knowledge of North American wildlife and said, “No way. I may have been born at night, but not last night.”
He laughed, brightened by my remark, and walked to the other end of the bar. He came back carrying a walking stick. “Take a look at this thing,” he said, handing it over the bar.
The cane must have been carved from wood and then covered in a thin rawhide wrapping. Russ handed it back to the bartender saying, “That’s pretty neat. Did you make it?”
“Nah.” Then, with a mischievous grin that showed the gaps in his teeth, he asked, “What do you think it’s made from?”
Russ and I looked at each other wondering where this was heading. “Rawhide,” I offered.
“Nope,” was his smug reply. “It’s made from a bull’s dick.”
Russ’s face spewed disgust as he stared at his hands. “Great!”
Proud of himself, the bartender flashed a smile, revealing more missing teeth.
After checking out some of the tourist sites in the Black Hills of South Dakota, including the stone-faced patriots at Mount Rushmore, we spent the night in a nearby campground.
Our next stop was at a Badlands scenic overlook. Russ came towards us carrying a large black plastic cube. He had a mischievous glint in his eye.
“I brought along this camera. I don’t have any film but we can always pretend, right?”
I nodded, playing along. “Sure, why not?”
Dozens of tourists were standing along an iron railing peering at a picturesque chasm. We found a vacant stretch of railing where the breeze whipped through our hair.
Russ raised his empty camera and with a loud “Click” took a shot of the scenery. Then he “Click” took another in a new direction. Then he told us to pose at the railing as he stepped back. “A little closer, Rich,” he said, his arm directing me to squeeze close to Rosie. “Click.” “Rosie, turn a little towards Rich. That’s good. Hold it.” “Click.” “Now you guys point at the scenery.” “Click.” A Japanese couple walked by, and Russ asked the man, “Could you take a picture of the three of us?”
“OK.” said the man, nodding vigorously.
“Just look through here, and press this button when you’re ready.”
So now the three of us were posing. “Click.” “Thank you so much.” Russ took the camera, shook the man’s hand, and then got this crazed look. He lifted the camera and aimed across the gorge, “Click,” and re-aimed, “Click,” and aimed again, swinging the camera in every direction, shooting away in rapid succession. “Click.” “Click.” “Click.” “Click.” “Click.” “Click.” “Click.” Wild-eyed, he ran to his Jeep, waving the camera in the air, then peeled out of the parking lot.
Rosie and I followed behind in a fit of riotous laughter. The bizarre performance repeated itself at two more scenic overlooks, and it never lost its perverted appeal.
We pushed on through South Dakota and Minnesota, arriving after dark at Rosie’s friend’s house, near Saint Paul.
To be continued ...
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Trippin': Roads, Rails & Mountain Trails
In book 2 of his Hippie Adventurer Series, Rich takes us on another wild ride during the 1960s as he and his faithful canine companion, Charlie, hitchhike, hop freights, work in an Alaskan gold mining camp, and manage a Sacramento Valley cattle ranch.
A Message from Rich
Trippin’ is my gift to all of you. For me, the ’60s were a heartfelt time of growth, exploration, freedom, and brotherhood. I hope to impart a truthful account of what it was like to live as a hippie in that wacky, magical era. Enjoy the journey!
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If you haven’t read the first book in the Hippie Adventurer Series, the award-winning Groovin’: Horses, Hopes, and Slippery Slopes, you can find it on Amazon and Audible.
1A. Escape from Heavy Caverns