Back-tracking on I-90 eastbound across Montana toward Decker, MT. We stopped over-night in Billings to get groceries and run a few errands. The high temps are back up into the upper 90’s which makes paved big cities seem overly hot. We swung by the Walmart in Billing’s Heights and the living-in-your-car population seemed high. There were also a half dozen campers in the parking lot, one with it’s slide out, so I opted for a parking spot on a side-street near a vacant-lot-becoming-luxury-condos construction area.
When I lived in Denver I saw a lot of homeless RV and car dwellers living on the streets, but I though it was a local issue because of legal weed and a great economy with attendant sky-high rents. On this trip I’ve seen a lot of people living in RV’s in every town I pass through. Missoula had them, the forest east of Butte has tons of permanent residents, (and from the posted rules that say you have to move 5 miles every two weeks dated in 2012 they’ve had that issue for awhile now).
Billings has an RV and car dwelling homeless population and from stories I gathered from fellow travelers San Jose, CA has a huge issue with stupid-high rents putting employed people out on the street. What I hear from Montana locals is that work is hard to scrape together and pay is low. The State has budget constraints too. Frankly this situation is making me sad and more than a little worried (so I’m changing the subject).
I’ve come to the Tongue River State Park to try volunteering as a way of keeping busy and engaging with my fellow humans. This Park needs some help with the sorts of things I’m good at: mowing, painting, fixing. The park is near the WY border in eastern MT. Nearby are a few coal mines (so close in fact that the blasting can be felt in the park!), cattle ranches, and it’s only 30 miles to Sheridan WY. The low rolling hills are dotted with scrubby-looking trees which is a far cry from the steep heavily wooded mountains that blocked the solar panel near Lolo Pass. Here the panel gets direct sun all day. The only thing in the way is smoke from the fires burning in OR.
When I arrived Jim said to me, “Don’t leave the awning out, the wind will crush it.” Good advice anywhere in the west, but super accurate prediction of the wind which arrived that evening. It looked like we might get a thunderstorm, but when we saw the black dust-cloud at the base of the storm it was time to reel-in the awning and duck for cover. After the dust-bowl blew out we got enough rain to drop the temperature about 20*F. Love the 70’s man! (Found out later that black dust is the wind sweeping the open-pit coal mine and carrying it to the lake).
Next night the wind kicked it up a notch and I thought we were going to roll over the wheel-chocks and head off downwind. The wind knocked the power out in the area for 11-hours. Might be a MT address but we got WY wind!
My first day of volunteering I went up to the Rosebud Battlefield section of the Park and helped clear some branches away and haul them to the burn-pile. My part consisted of dragging the downed branches to where a tractor could get to them. They call the job “Branch Manager”
Next big project was dragging some trees off the beach then cleaning up some big logs and hauling them away. We got to use the tractor for that and ya’ll know how I love tractors! On the weekend I spent a fair amount of time emptying trash cans and hauling it to the dumpster. In Colo Parks they just have big dumpsters in every loop so the campers haul it to the place where the big trash truck can get it. Not so at Tongue River SP. Reminds me of my old job at DIA.