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Today, I wanted to share some photos from a train trip to Montana that my sister Courtney and I took when we were younger. However, because this trip happened before social media and digital cameras were widely used, I couldn’t remember when the trip happened. In fact, I spent 2 hours today on the phone with my Mom and Courtney trying to figure out the year. My best guess was that the trip took place in 1999 or 2000. Mom and Courtney also had guesses that ranged from 1998 to 2003.

Then, Court and I spent a solid 30 minutes flipping through photo albums in two different states trying to place haircuts and my weight gain in a timeline. We debated the merits of our parents sending us alone on the trip at various ages from middle school through university. They are super supportive about solo-ish youth travel so we came up pretty empty. We then debated if they would have been more willing to send us before or after our youngest sister was born. 

Honestly, at this point, we were way too invested in our research for what is supposed to be a quick throwback photo-driven blog post. Obviously, I’m unemployed and had the time. Normally, they don’t, but they are dealing with -40 degree temps in this crazy polar vortex, so it gave them something to do, lol. Eventually, after searching an old hard drive, I found a folder labeled “2002 Train Trip to Montana” buried 4 folders deep. It was surprisingly anticlimactic. That puts the trip after my first year at university and her final year of middle school. 

Sisters Train Trip

Courtney and I caught the train in Wisconsin and took it west to visit our maternal aunt and her family in Billings. We didn’t have a sleeper car or anything, but we did have a great trip. We spent most of our time in the viewing car just hanging out and taking in the scenery. As the train route follows parts of the Lewis & Clark Expedition, they had a volunteer onboard to give talks and answer questions. I fondly remember Courtney (who had just finished learning about the expedition in school) knowing more than the volunteer! We laughed about it at the time, but now I kind of feel bad for them. 

After we arrived in Montana, my cousin picked us up at the train depot and drove us down to Billings. It was so much fun to get that special time alone with her as we usually only saw each other once a year. After our arrival in town, my aunt (knowing our family’s love for public lands) took us to see two local historical points of interest. The first was Pompeys Pillar National Monument and the second was Pictograph Caves State Park. 

Pompeys Pillar National Monument

The only remaining physical evidence of the 1806 Lewis & Clark Expedition can be found at Pompeys Pillar National Monument in Montana. High on the rock ledge, William Clark carved his name into the rock with the date of their arrival, July 25, 1806. He was traveling with a 12 person detachment that included Sacajawea and her infant son. Clark had nicknamed Sacajawea’s son Pompey and named the rock after him. 

The pillar is on the ancestral lands of the Apsaalooka people. They called it Iishiia Anaache or “Place Where the Mountain Lion Dwells”. It was a well-known landmark for the Plains Indians who used it as a strategic crossing point, a place to meet, trade goods, and exchange information. They etched petroglyphs and painted pictographs on the cliff walls. Before the Lewis & Clark Expedition, it was a significant landmark for Euro-American explorers, soldiers, fur trappers, and immigrants. 

Pictograph Caves State Park

Located just a few miles from Billings, Pictograph Caves State Park was the home to three caves. In 1937 the excavation of the caves started and was one of the first professional archeological studies in Montana. In total over 30,000 artifacts were identified, with over 20,000 of them being animal remains. Pictograph Cave, the largest cave, has paintings dating back as far as 2,100 years. While the caves are known for their pictographs made by indigenous peoples, it is not clear exactly which groups. However, since at least 1700 the caves are believed to be the ancestral lands of the Apsaalooke (Crow) people.

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