The Warm Before the Cold

Wednesday, November 07, 2012 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Billings, MT to Bozeman, MT
Since the winter storm the Weather Channel has now dubbed Brutus is not due to arrive until tomorrow, we felt no urgency traveling from Billings to Bozeman today.  The largest city in Montana, Billings (pop. 105,636) is a major regional center for retail and wholesale trade and distribution.  Sitting in the middle of the nation's largest coal reserve and near major oil and gas fields, Billings is also an energy center, home to three oil refineries and a coal-fired regeneration plant.
But the first place we were seeking in Billings this morning was a spot from the past, from the former town of Coulson perched on the Yellowstone River.  Though Coulson predated Billings by five years, the railroads' decision to build their route through Billings was the death knell for the river town.  Our destination was about all that remains of Coulson today, Boothill Cemetery.
If you guessed that we visited this little spot to search for a letterbox, you're exactly right and we did locate the box across the street off a nearby trail, but not before we paid our respects to the 35 former Coulsonites laid to rest on this hill.  According to a sign on site, the cemetery (like numerous others in the West) was named Boothill because so many of its occupants went to their deaths with their boots on.  The inscriptions on the river rock obelisk were quite memorable:
spaceThis monument marks a historic spot
spaceWhere thirty-five lie buried.
spaceThey played the drama called life 
spaceFor fortune and fame,
spaceLost their lives, lost their game.
Driving to Boothill, we saw an intriguing sign indicating we were near Pictograph Cave State Park.  Though we hadn't heard of the park, we thought it might offer a possible home for our Montana letterbox, so we followed the signs and stumbled upon an unexpected gem.
According to archaeological findings, this area was home to generations of prehistoric hunters.  Since the site came under study in 1936, more than 30,000 artifacts have been discovered in the three caves that sheltered these early humans—from stone tools and weapons to personal items of adornment such as bracelets and necklaces.  In addition, scientists have identified in excess of 100 pictographs, the oldest of which is over 2,000 years old.
Pictograph Cave State Park
The earliest visitors decorated the walls of the caves with black and white drawings.  Images in red were left by later visitors and are thought to be about 200 years old.  We learned at the park that both pictographs and petroglyphs are types of rock art, but they are created differently.  Whereas pictographs are painted, petroglyphs are carved or scratched into the surface of the rock.
An interpretive trail leads to the three caves and offers a wealth of information about both the history of the site and the flora and fauna of the region.  We liked the park so much that we decided to leave one of our "Love This Spot" spontaneous letterboxes there so we can lead other letterboxers to visit as well.

Today's weather has been so warm, it's difficult to believe a significant winter storm will arrive tomorrow.  After we found another letterbox in a local cemetery and had lunch at a Billings restaurant, we finally hit I-90 toward Bozeman around 3 p.m.  Just before 5:00, rain began to fall as we passed near Livingston, 25 miles from our destination in Bozeman. 

Since we've booked a suite hotel with a kitchenette, we stopped at the local Walmart Supercenter and stocked up on groceries for the next several days.  OK, Brutus, we're waiting for you in Bozeman.


  • Miles driven:  178
  • Letterboxes:  F 3, P 1
  • Weather:  35° to 72°, sunny to rainy
  • States:  1 (MT)
  • Pictographs we could make out:  7
  • Rattlesnake warning signs at PCSP:  5
  • Lewis & Clark Trail signs:  6
  • Dire warnings about upcoming winter storm:  36

Letter boxing still life near Boothill

Ghost Cave at the state park

Monument with poetic inscriptions at Boothill Cemetry