July 2004 News Letter

“The Monthly Diamondhead”
July 2004
Editor-Reporter-Chief Cook-Web Slave-
Ron Leonard
E- mail: webmaster@25thaviation.org
Web Page http://25thaviation.org/

Alaska Trip Journal
June 21 through July 17th..or so.

Background: How this trip came to be.

In 2000, after the web page was started my wife offered to kick me out of the house, all stemming from my in ability to go to work, at any kind of real job. She stated no sir, I'm not going to support you, seems after 38 years I should have earned at least one year grace period, but nope, that was never going to fly.

She offered to pay half, and I was shocked. After 38 years, raising six kids and putting them through school etc., it all boiled down to money. I thought I had earned a little breathing room to get my head screwed back on straight, but not according to her,, no sir that was not going to happen.

 I had applied for my VA benefits and Social Security, (which she just knew I wouldn't get) . It all came as a shock to her

As I told her, if it is half you want, it is half you get but assured her she would not like the outcome, which I was greeted with a laugh.

Moving forward afew months, I won my case with the VA to her dismay; I was now retired and only saddled with half the bills, so I could act retired. You know, travel, fishing, a little writing, work on the web page when I felt like it.

Unfortunately by her choosing the 50% mode she had to stay at work to cover her half. A deal was a deal in my eyes.

Moving forward to 2003:

I had planned to fly to Alaska last year to visit Chuck Moore and Maurice Bailey as their guest, but because of an Operation and other health reasons I couldn't make it but would make serious plans for this year.

All winter it kept running through my mind, and my remembrances of so many years in Montana and its mountains etched against the skyline, clean air, and the trout so plentiful, the smell of pine in the air. Everything good in my younger life had happened there. I just had to do this one more time.

By February I had began collecting travel guides, books on the whole area Canada to Alaska, and mapped out a trip. To-do what I wanted would not work with a plane ticket. There was entirely too much to see and do, and life was getting way to short anyway, so I decided to drive the Alcan Highway, and also visit places in Montana I hadn't seen in years and those 100 lakes in 100 miles in southern British Columbia I screwed up in 1978 by taking a wrong turn in the middle of nowhere.(thats a story by itself) I'll find them this time.

After figuring out the itinerary, it became obvious. This was going to take a while. If I only spent a day here, and a few days there, two weeks to get there two weeks to get back. In reality it was going to take months. I knew I was not going to motel it for a sustained period of time, so I started collecting camping gear. A tent that popped up in my truck, a portable shower, a generator, satellite TV, fold up kitchen, screen tent, assorted lanterns heaters and stoves, a fold up boat, fishing gear, and even spent a bit of time at the range re zeroing my old 30/06.

My wife reading all the literature, seeing all the gear arriving, and looking at my marked up maps finally asked.

How long you going to be gone anyway?

I nonchalantly replied, I dunno, and explained to her it would take like two weeks to get there, and two weeks to get back if I hurried. Alaska is as big as North Dakota to Arkansas north to south, and from Calif to Jacksonville Florida east to west and there is a lot to see when you throw in The Ykon and British Columbia also. If I left in June..uuuuum, I might get back in say Oct.

She went ballistic.

 Just exactly what am I supposed to-do while you are off galley batting all over the northern part of the planet?

I could think of little to say except. Hey this was your idea, you wanted a 50-50 deal and you got it. I warned you might not like the outcome, so looks like you are going to have to stay here and work to pay your half.

She pouted for the next month, but as a consolation prize I still had my office and the couch.

I really didn't want to make the trip alone. It would be like 12,000 miles, and much of it in some remote places, so I put a request out to all of you for a travel mate, but got no takers.

All you would have had to-do is navigate and be company, wouldn't have cost one penny for the trip of a life time unless you would have wanted to go home early, then the trip back would have been on you. I got no takers.

As June arrived, my wife informed me I didn't have to drive to Anchorage; she had arranged to be transferred there as she is a manager for Wal-Mart. Inside I just chuckled, but on the outside I showed surprise. Here was a lady that wanted to kick me out in the street, and now is ready to move to Alaska.

What brought all that on I asked?

She replied, I had always wanted to go back there after visiting our daughter in the military up there.

I replied, cool, how long you have to stay?

She replied two years.

As you know I said I was going to be gone all summer, I said nothing about winter<G> I can't ski any more and my knees hate cold, so I will just have to come back down here in the winter and watch the grandkids win another state football championship, visit a little, and a couple months in Costa Rica and see you in the spring (her mouth dropped open).

But I want to drive to Alaska, so you ship the stuff, and I'll leave the Ranger with Jeff in Celina, Tx so I will have something to drive when I come back down. You fly on and I will catch up when I get there.

Departure Day: Day 1 starting mileage 320182 (Gas Price 1.79)-295 miles traveled today

Day 1 broke out hot as hell. I still had a few things to take care of, so I wasn't able to get going until 1:30 P.M. 103 degrees and 100% humidity. To say the least it was brutal to drive in. Me and the old truck and no AC, I knew I wouldn't need it in a few days, so I had put no priority on getting it fixed.

The plan for the day was an easy one, just cruise up the Indian Nation Turnpike, hang a left on I40 and meet up will Ralph (Nolan) Little in Oklahoma City. The truck was loaded to the gills. I had a snap down Toneau cover on the back, and it was so full I had to jam the tailgate shut, on top of that was my fold up Porta-Bote.

I had no more than got started and it clouded right up and one of our Texas sized thunderstorms set it. It rained those big drops you measure in feet per hour, but it felt good as it cooled off the scorching heat. As I got to the 2nd toll booth, the guy behind me honked his horn and pointed, there to my disbelief was my tailgate down. Perched on the tailgate was my briefcase, which contained all my camera equipment, and several thousand dollars in cash. I pulled it into the cab and did a quick inventory. All was there but it was wet. I have no idea how long the tailgate had been down, but it is about 80 miles from the first toll booth. One large bump would have ended the trip right there.

Like on most trips when I haven't taken them in a while, I got sleepy so I pulled off at McAlester to stop by and say adios to my mother-in-law, grab a quick nap, and let the thunderstorm end. We had a good visit, and at 4:30 I headed on out towards Oklahoma City. It was 6:30 or so when I arrived, and stopped at a pay phone to give Nolan a call. I tried his house; I tried his cell phone to no avail so I drove on to Stillwater for the night arriving about 8:30 in a rain storm. I stayed at the Best Western Motel, kudos to them. They have a great little bar there, with good food. I conked out about midnight.

Day 2: mileage 320477 (Gas 1.66) (only 200 miles today)
I was awakened by the maid at noon, I had no idea I had been that exhausted. I don't think it was the drive, in as much as it was the many days and months of working on the page 80 hours a week or so with no break really. This is what the trip was about. To get away from a computer, the phone, writing letters and answering questions.  Fish was to take the top priority for a while. I almost felt guilty about it.

I topped off the gas tank (21.09) and headed north on a little two lane road 177N. If I was to enjoy myself, I didn't need to go up the free way across Kansas. It all looks like one wheat farm; at least 177N was sleepy and meandered around through several old communities as it meanders north.

I stopped for lunch in a little one horse farming town, Brahm Ks that had seen better days. They were into harvest season, so tractors were scattered around in the fields everywhere. The center of attraction was The City Café on Main Street. It was about the only business still open for business and had a home-style lunch menu and was doing a brisk business. If you get a chance, drop on in it is worth the effort. The food was fabulous and lots of it.

After lunch I headed on North on 177N which merged into I-35N (The Kansas Turnpike), to Salina, Ks, where I stopped at Wal-Mart to-do the grocery shopping I forgot to do when I left home, nothing special, just the ordinary survival food, canned goodies, lunch meat, bread, soda pop, beer,  etc. ($37). The temperature was even starting to cool off now into the upper 80's, such a pleasant relief after the blistering heat of Texas and Oklahoma.

It was about 5 P.M. when I turned west onto I70 headed toward Colorado, but after getting such a late start, and a lack of camping places along the way and fishing fever catching hold I stopped short at Dorrance, Ks about 100 miles west of Salina. Wilson Lake is located there within Watoosh State Park. It is a big park, well kept with showers and all. The good part is it is free on Tuesday I was to find out. It was nearly deserted; out of the 200 spaces available only 10 or 15 were in use. I thought it highly strange since it was only 5 miles from I70.

Since I had no idea where to get a fishing license, my better judgment prevailed and I passed on wetting a line. As dusk approached, I had to get a light jacket out to keep the chill off, but it made for great sleeping. After dark, the stars were so bright, and the sky so clear it was almost as though you could reach up and just pluck them from the sky. It had been a long time since I had seen that.

Dusk at Watoosh State Park

Setting Up Camp

Day 3: mileage 320856 (Gas 1.99) ( 379 miles today)

Today was to be a long day, I had decided that Kansas all looked the same just miles and miles of nothing but wheat farms so after stopping off for gas in Goodland Ks, I decided to just step on it and put Kansas and Eastern Colorado behind me as quickly as possible.

I took a break in Limon Colorado for lunch and got a haircut and a couple of beers. I was kind of split between going to Colorado Springs and visit Pikes Peak and up and miss all the Denver work traffic I was surely to encounter, or to continue on down I-70 to Denver.

Fate made my choice; I missed the Colorado Springs turnoff and didn't notice it for about 30 miles, so I just decided on to Denver.

As I feared I hit Denver at 4:30. The traffic was terrible and the city had grown so much since I was there in the 80's I got lost immediately. After plenty of aggravation and finally getting straightened away I pulled up at Longmont and took a room at the Travel Lodge, got a bite to eat, and called Bobby Forsythe in Ft Collins. We would meet up the next morning at the Waffle House in Ft Collins and scope out a fishing trip to Chambers Lake in the mountains with his father-in-law who is in his 80's and still going strong.

Day 4 mileage 321103 (Gas 1.95) (100 miles+-)

Day four dawned sunny and bright, and at 6:30 A.M. I rolled on north on I-25 to Ft. Collins 50 miles away. I was to meet Bobby at the Waffle House at 8 A.M., so I wanted to be there a bit early. I had little trouble finding it, and ordered some sausage and eggs. Just at 8 A.M. Bobby came strolling in. I hadn't seen him in 38 years, so we drank some coffee and shot the breeze about old times for about an hour.
Bobby Forsythe at Waffle House Ft Collins Colorado
We made plans for me to accompany him and father-in-law Ray on a fishing trip up to Chambers Lake in the Rocky Mountains some 80 miles away give or take. We would meet up in the camp ground at 12:30.

I had to make a few stops on the way, as my plug in Igloo ice chest had croaked the night before, and was only three days old. Wal-Mart was kind enough to replace it with a bigger better one for free since they didn't have that style at that store.

By 10:30 I was on the way up hwy 14 in route to Chambers Lake, the drive up the Cache La Poudre River gorge was beautiful. The road follows the river, as it twists and turns up into the mountains. The road gouged from sheer rock cliffs, the river crystal clear with it's numerous rapids several people in colorful rubber rafts and kayaks passed by frequently on their journey down river.

I tried to take pictures, but both cameras batteries had crapped out. It looked as though I was going to be camera less for a couple of days.

I stopped at Rustic Colorado to get a fishing license and was hung up for an hour as the computer system to Fish and Game was down, so it slowed me up. They didn't have the batteries I needed so I was out of luck. They did at least have worms and beer, the essentials of any fishing successful trip.

I finally got to the parking lot at 1:50, and found Bobby and Ray, Bobby's 84 year old Father-In-Law waiting. The campground was full, so we opted for a spot in the National Forrest on the far side of the lake. It was unimproved and had no facilities, but it had no cost either and was within walking distance of the lake, sort of …1/4 mile straight down.

It was early, much to early to go fishing so we set up camp, Bobby and Ray in their Camper, and me in my tent. I had bought a few things over the winter, and a 10X13 screen tent was one of the items which proved timely as the mosquitoes were bad.
Bobby and Camper Above Chambers Lake Colorado

Ray Bundled up In Screen Tent

I had failed to put it together before I left home, and I knew better, but the weather had rained for months it seemed and I didn't get a chance to shake out all the equipment. This Screen tent took all three of us about an hour to assemble. It had about 40 pieces that were all numbered, but looked almost the same, you really needed to be an erector set engineer to assemble it.

 Before I set it back up I am going to color code all the joints with electric tape.

We had no more got it set up than it started to rain. Alas, the screen tent is not waterproof at the roof, but Bobby had a 12X15 tarp that did the job perfectly. At least we would stay dry.

I had also bought a fold up Coleman Kitchen, now that thing works good. It even has a sink in it, with a couple of pantry shelves. We set that up in the screen tent and as we were finishing that up a couple of yearling Moose wandered by camp. Bobby got a couple of pictures as my camera was still on the fritz.

(awaiting pictures)

After a hearty dinner of Hamburger Surprise, hamburger stuffed with onions, potatoes and I don't know what all prepared by Bobby. It was really excellent. I have the recipe wrote in here somewhere, we drove to the north end of the lake to try our hand at the trout. Bobby caught a couple of 12” brookies and I got skunked, well at least it was a start on lunch tomorrow. Ray had stayed at the camper, as he wasn't feeling real great.

By 10 P.M. it was lights out and cold, but at least it wasn't raining.

If you choose to go up there make sure you bring plenty of bug spray with deet in it. I think Avon Skin So Soft and Deep Woods Off is a food group for those guys.

Day 5 mileage 321103 (0 miles+-)

Day 5 dawned a bright and sunny day at 6 A.M. You could hear the chirping of the birds and smell the pine scent of the forest. The air was still crisp and cool from the night, and the ground was still damp from the previous day's rain, but it was still a great day.

After a breakfast of sausage and eggs, chased down with a pot of coffee we headed for the lake down a trail I had found the previous evening. It ran parallel with the lake and gently dropped down the mountain as we went along. It was a lot longer than the direct straight down route, but still with the thin air of the altitude I could hardly breathe without much exertion. The trail was hardly a mile long, but after a while each step brought pain. It had been to many years since I had tromped the mountains. After numerous pauses for the legs and lungs we arrived at the lake. It's surface like a mirror reflecting the mountains above it.

The shoreline was rock strewn, and a little tough to walk on with wobbly legs so I stopped at the first fishy looking place on the lake, a little point that jutted out into the lake a few yards. Bobby and Ray eased on a little further across the little cove from where I was.

I tossed an assortment of spinners and spoons with zero results, so switched to marshmallows and worms. It wasn't long until a rainbow hit. It danced along the surface a couple of times, but shortly I got it ashore. He wasn't big, 12”'s or so, but big and fat.

Across the way Bobby and Ray wee getting some bites, but as yet hadn't landed one. I managed to catch a couple more in the next few hours and Bobby and Ray had one each.

My leg, where I had the by pass operation the year before was killing me, and I was having trouble breathing so at 10:45 I headed back up the trail to the camp site. Bobby would pick the fish up on the way out.

Somewhere I had missed a turn in the trail, and was headed straight up the mountain, but I was hardly fit enough to continue that so I back tracked a couple of hundred yards to pick up the correct trail. My legs were like jello and my lungs were on fire, but I eased along back up the hill, again with numerous breaks to get my air back and regain circulation in my legs.

At noon it was nap time, after a beer and a sandwich I laid down and died for two hours. When I awoke at 2 P.M. it was pure pain. I hurt in places I didn't even know I had places. My hair even hurt.

At 3 P.M. we were off to lost lake, across the road and a half mile up the hill. After about 100 yards, I knew this was a bad idea. It wasn't a steep road, but my legs were gone from that morning. I struggled on and finally got there.

After two hours and no bites I gave it up and started to head back to camp, but across the way a four point buck appeared, still in velvet, so I watched him until he wandered off into the forest. Bobby and Ray took off and walked to the north end of Chambers Lake where we were the night before, but I just couldn't make it that far so I returned to camp to work on this Journal.

A couple of hours later Bobby and Ray returned, empty handed. They were gassed, as they had mistaken just how far the end of the lake was. It was actually a couple miles and up and down some steep places.

Dinner was great, fried trout, potatoes, a veggie and beer. We sat around and talked for some time, then it was off to bed. I think I was asleep in two seconds.

 Day 6 mileage 321606 (188 Miles)

We got up this morning around 8 A. M. Had some coffee, packed up everything and said our goodbyes. It had been a great time, and was really good to see Bobby again after all these years.

So now, it was north up hwy 14 to the Wyoming line and the unknown that lay beyond..(continues)

Still undecided on where I was going Red Lodge via Yellowstone Park and the Tetons, or directly to Billings via I-25, I just headed north. I would make the choice in route on the fly when I got to the crossroads at Muddy Gap Wyoming, the departure point east on Wy 220 to I-25 via Casper, or west on Wy 287 to Riverton and the National Parks.

The day had been a beautiful day until just before lunch time when the wind started blowing from the north as it can in Wyoming this time of year, pedal to the metal and only going 55 miles an hour. Then the rain started. It seemed to come in sheets, when driven by the wind like that. I stopped in Saratoga to get a bite and out wait this rain storm. It is just a stop on the trail, a café/gas station, campground and post office. It hadn't changed any in the thirty some years since I had visited.

After lunch, the rain had settled to a drizzle so I continued on north to Interstate 80 and turned west to Rawlins. It was time to fix the cameras, or at least check them out or buy another one. I found a Wal-Mart there with a friendly lady that worked in the Camera section and it was discovered that all my batteries were dead, so I bought new ones and more 35 MM film just in case the digital one failed again.

As I turned north on Wy 287, I was tired and knew I had to make a decision on which way to go pretty soon as Muddy Gap was only about an hour away.

Rosalie the Wal-Mart Lady test object.

My decision was made for me by fate. By day dreaming and not paying attention, I had completely drove past the intersection of 287 and 220 and was 25 miles from Casper, so I just continued on to Casper and I-25 N. I guess I would go direct to Billings.

The highway had parralled the North Fork of the Powder River for 80 miles or so. This is one of the premier trout streams in all of North America, If you're ever in the area do pull up and try it. You won't be sorry. I was tempted, but was more interested in a motel and a shower than spending another night on the river bank in the mud. Next time I will stop and wet a line.

At 8 P.M. I got to Kay Cee  Wyoming. It had changed allot. Once a stage station, and ranching hub in the 1800's, it had been struck by a flood in the 80's and destroyed most of the old historical town. The one good camp ground had been washed away with it, so I decided to get a motel and take a badly needed shower, since it had been about four days since leaving Longmont Colorado. I stayed in the shower until I had used all the hot water, and still felt like I had one inch of crud on me, but it was definitely an improvement.

For Dinner I walked down the street to the Invasion Bar and grill. I think it is the only restaurant in town and it closes at 10 P.M. I have to hand it to them, they have great food and cold beer. If you are ever in the area give it a try.

While there I met Mario  Iron Eagle, an Indian tour guide from Crow Agency Montana. He was a Nam Vet, and I had rode horses for his uncle as a kid. He was escorting a group of Germans around North Dakota, Wyoming and Montana to historical Indian sites. They had been to the Black Hills, Crow Agency, and were on their way to a Sioux Pow Wow. It was from Ed I learned that the next day was the annual recreation of the Battle of the Little Big Horn in Crow Agency just 100 miles north. They do it 2 days in a row every year. Ed and his entourage had been there today, and gave me a run down on the goings on, location and time.

The tourists bribed the bar tender and we sat around and discussed world events and music, until the wee hours. It seems Jens one of the tourists, is a Ted Nugent fan so I gave him an Album, “Ted Nugent's Greatest”. He was like a kid with a new toy. A little American hospitality can go a long ways still.

We finally left and walked back to the motel about three A.M., where I promptly died in about 5 minutes.

Day 7 mileage 321867 (261 miles) Gas in Buffalo Wyoming 1.92

I awoke at 9:30, packed up the truck again and was off to Crow Agency Montana. It would be a short drive, only 100 miles. I stopped in Buffalo Wyoming for gas, and to get a bite of breakfast at a local Waffle House, and by 10:30 I was underway.

Crow Agency is a reservation for the Crow Nation. It is also the location of the Little Big Horn River, the site where General George Armstrong Custer met his demise and the hands of the Crow Indians.

As a teenager and young man I spent many days at Crow Agency riding race horses in the spring, so I had many friends still there. It would be good to track them down and see how time has treated them. With the Reenactment going on this day it would be easy to find them, as they would all be there, either at the reenactment or the horse races that would follow.

I arrived at the Pow Wow grounds at noon, and it was a couple hours before the show was to begin, so I prowled around and found Richard Realbird, a long time friend and horse trainer, he is also in charge of the reenactment every year. We talked for some time and he directed me to where Gary and Mark were (his sons Mark and Gary were close friends years ago) both were jockeys in their youth, and now train the family horses. Melvin Spotted Bear was also there, we call him Spotty he too was a jockey and friend from my past. We all sat around and reminisced for an hour or so, and got caught up on what our lives were doing now. They had to leave and go to the barn to start preparing the horses for the evenings races,. I would catch up to them later, as the races didn't start until 6 P.M.

At 2 P.M. the Reenactment started. Richard Realbird gave an oral history of the battle and narrated the events as they unfolded so many years ago. Local tribe members portrayed the Indians, and reenactment persons portrayed the pony soldiers. All of this occurring on the actual site along the Little Big Horn River.

If you are in Crow Agency the third week in June, do stop by. It is a marvelous time, with ethnic food, crafts , and clothing to go along with the reenactment and festivities of the horse races and rodeo that follows.

I met Ed and Millie Wood while there. Ed was a fireman from California that was a friend of Little Bear Ed Beneda. Ed and Millie have moved to Stephenville Montana where they are building a log home. I promised to give their new address to Ed Beneda, and I have done that now<G>

I am not going to go into to much of the history side of the battle of the Little Big Horn, but this website will give you that blow by blow feeling of the reenactment I watched.

 Below are some  pictures from that day.

More to come
I have to scan them
From 35 mm

The reenactment was more than entertaining; it was a step back into another time

At 6 P.M. the horse racing started, there would be six races from the starting gate, an Indian relay race, and rodeo events would happen between races. It provided a great climax to an already great day.

(More Pictures to come have to scan them yet)

At 9 P.M. I bid farewell to my old friends and headed to Billings, 55 miles away. I would make camp at the Yellowstone Fairgrounds, just as I had many years in the past. It is a good place to stop over, complete with showers, water and electricity and the price is right, free! That is if you know it, as it isn't advertised. It is a convenience to the horsemen who train there. After a shower I was off to bed, it had been a really long day.

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