April 13-15, 2001
Unexpected Camping at Alexander
by Velda Back, first published in Freewheelin, 2001
This was my 10th Teddy Tour and once again the weather made it unique. I think Donna had the best piece of wisdom. 1There is no bad weather, just bad clothing.1
My introduction to camping began on that first Teddy with one day of beautiful sunny warm skies and one day of icy sleet and cold rain. Buttershots and three days later, I was finally warm again.
I now travel prepared: polar fleece and gortex, t-shirts and shorts, 2 sleeping bags and wool socks. Never listen to the forecast; it’s probably wrong.
After a late start from Regina, I arrived in Williston around midnight. The weather was great, a few degrees above freezing and Wal-Mart was still open. (Yes, it’s still open 24 hours.) Onwards to the North Unit, with grand intentions of a cozy campsite there.
A couple of miles south of Williston, I heard the forecast; 40% chance of flurries on Friday the 13th. A few miles later and the flurries began. No wind, just a lot of snowflakes, big snowflakes, huge snow flakes. I can’t see the lines on this highway. Snow flakes. Where are the ditches?
I crept into Alexander, with the realization that camping in the town park was a much better choice than parking in a ditch. By 7 a.m., the plows were out; the sun was trying to shine, and the town of Alexander was covered with 9 inches of the white stuff. Alexander is a great little town. The gas station, and more importantly, its washrooms, opens at 7 a.m. The coffee shop opens early as well; the food is great and the conversation over on ‘coffee row table’ was entertaining.
Brian, Donna, Marion and Ron were enjoying a leisurely breakfast amid a mere dusting of snow. Okay, it must have been an inch or two. The ranger had made his morning rounds and closed the park road due to the icy conditions.
We packed up and headed out of the snow zone to the South Unit. Our unusually early arrival provided ample time to set up camp and prepare dinner in the presence of blue skies. And then Donna made hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps. I think we may have a new tradition.
Saturday, while everyone at home was watching the snowfall, we had a great ride. With temperatures hovering around 10? and Ron as our protective vehicular escort, we headed off onto the loop past feral horses, grazing buffalo on a distant hillside, and mule deer, motionless and almost invisible, mesmerized by our presence.
Straight up to Buck Hill for lunch, and straight down again. Ride those brakes. Around the corners, through the gullies, and why is Ron stopped there? Eight buffalo are around the next corner grazing. The buffalo graze a mere 20 feet away, acknowledging our presence as we stand behind the car. One calf grazes also, his curious mind intent on the grass and not us. We’re pleased. And then the first cyclist comes down the hill. The buffalo are startled. Seven more cyclists, members of the Dickinson cycling club follow and the buffalo scatter, down the asphalt, up the hillside. How majestic, fast, powerful!
More deer, I like the deer at close range the buffalo on a distant ridge. The clouds start to gather; the temperature is dropping; it’s time to return to camp.
The Iron Horse Saloon, the stories it could tell. Forgoing the drive to Dickinson, we headed to the local watering hole for its culinary delights. A unique ambiance pervades the Iron Horse, an eclectic mix of real cowboys, old vinyl chairs, hard liquor, a blackjack table and the family dining menu. Good menu, everything from pizza and wings to steak, including prairie oysters. Honest! It’s on the menu.
Sunday morning, a cold wind is howling. The Easter bunny found us, and the neighbors with the 2 dogs. Funny thing, those neighbors remember us from 2 years ago. Light the stove, start the fire. There’s more coffee than any 5 people need. That coffee connoisseur of ours makes mighty fine coffee. Cinnamon buns freshly roasted over an open fire, eggs, bacon, bagels – brunch.
Pack up and head home. Big Montana sky, beautiful scenery, great day for a drive.