This is a middle-of-nowhere place.
Yesteryear’s Warrior Trail. A stop on Today’s Biker Trail and a Big Truck Shortcut. Alzada, with its B & J Convenience Store, is an oasis in the Badlands of the eastern end of Montana.
The Badlands got its name in 1865, soldiers found it to be the Bad Lands:
“In its march, it had traversed nearly or quite 1,200 miles through a country almost entirely unknown to white men, in part nothing better than a desert and barren waste, away from the banks of the occasional streams that course through it toward the Missouri. Eighty-two days was this column struggling and fighting its way to this point, making its own roads through valleys and over mountains, encountering furious storms deadly in effect; finding and severely punishing a wary, savage foe, the greater part of the time suffering the torments of starvation.”
The first time we drove this route, one of our first great drives, we were heading east, we left I-90 just past Billings, Montana turning onto US 212 at Little Bighorn’s Battlefield Interchange near Crow Agency – Custer Country – home to Northern Cheyenne.
Late August two years ago, McGyver at the wheel, a rising full moon shone down on golden grass as far as the eye could see, black cows dotted the hillside, the sky a twilight blue, not bright blue and not cobalt, that dreamy in between color that tells us night is coming. He stopped on the road side, between the Battlefield and Lame Deer in Montana to drink in the sight, waking me up in the sleeper.
“You have to get up and look,” he said. “The moon, the blue, look at the fields.”
It was a truly spectacular sight. The only sound, a soft wind singing, enough to gently rock the sleeper. It’s a desolate road. We were alone – for about five minutes when another big truck stopped! “Why now?” McGyver asks me.
This is a late spring, summer and early fall road, definitely not winter. We did drive it in late March, a week after a snowstorm dumped a foot of snow in South Dakota. We drove through Montana under bright blue skies, the prairie dogs coaxed above ground by the warm sunshine were lounging on their piles of dirt and pointing their noses to the sky sniffing Spring. We crossed the storm line about 15 miles west of Alzada. One minute a bare and dry road, the next four- to-five inches of rutted snow. It had not been ploughed. We bumped along at 30 miles and hour trying not to slide into the ditch.
On one trip we passed a horse drawn covered wagon, the driver standing at the front guiding his horse, his wagon equipped with 50 gallon barrels of water strapped to the back where he was going, we couldn’t imagine.
Bikers travel this road in the summer to Sturgis, South Dakota, stopping at Broadus, Montana, a summer-only town with its pink, wooden buildings. We drove through on Labor Day and it was already shut tight.
Alazada is a couple of miles from the Wyoming border and 35 miles from Belle Fourche, South Dakota where drivers meet I-90 again.
We learned the shortcut at Schneider. It saves miles. Schneider is all about saving miles, so it can pay drivers less. We are all about saving miles so we can use less fuel. The shortcut saved us 40 miles on the paid 2,493 miles, putting an extra $50 in our pockets.
McGyver passed B & J’s Convenience store in the middle of the night on that first trip. “We have to stop there next time,” he said. “It looked pretty cool.”
Alzada seems to have two streets, the main highway and one side street to the Post Office. B & J’s, with its big truck parking, offers fuel, a convenience store, souvenirs and hot food, fresh coffee and cappuccinos, breakfast sandwiches and hamburgers. Customers get a choice between wheat and white for their buns and rolls.
This visit, lunchtime on our clock, we stopped in for a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich for McGyver and a hamburger with lettuce, tomato and onion for me, both on wheat buns. Bonus, I found winter work gloves, elk skin lined with Thinsulate. It’s hard to find good work gloves to fit a woman’s small hand.
The wind roared across South Dakota and still refused to subside – my shoulders aches from holding the truck straight for almost four hours – it had been raining hard in South Dakota, but the sun was working hard to poke its way through the dense clouds over Montana.
Four more hours, through Broadus, Ashland, Lame Deer before we switched at Billings leaving McGyver on his own to drive the remaining 455 Montana miles and enjoy the sunset.
The colors are changing, the sun, the sky. Fall is here, the leaves are changing and falling, the temperature is dropping, 50 degrees. Winter is coming. We may not see this road again until Spring.