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Wal-Mart, Dinosaurs, Pregnant Bats, and Steak

July 28, 2011

What a nice, relaxing, fun day we had Wednesday!

The day started at the Wal-Mart in Bozeman, Montana. This in itself was an experience. Comparing my local Wal-Mart in New York to the Wal-Mart here (or to the Wal-Marts anywhere else outside New York, really) is like comparing a pigeon to a bald eagle. We bought fresh produce, found items on the shelves they were supposed to be on, and got an oil change and had our car’s fuel lines cleaned while we shopped. I know Wal-Mart is an evil, power-wielding, workers’-rights-snuffing, mom-and-pop-killing megalocorporation and everything, but we got an an oil change and had our car’s fuel lines cleaned while we shopped. It’s hard to hate a place that lets me multitask like this.

[Side note: How crazy is it that I needed an oil change? I got an oil change three weeks ago. Since then I’ve driven more than 3,500 miles. We’re going to need to squeeze in another oil change in another couple of weeks–probably somewhere around Kansas or Missouri.]

Anyway, restocked and re-oiled we headed to Bozeman’s main attraction, the Museum of the Rockies. It’s kind of like New York’s Museum of Natural History, but much smaller, much more kid-oriented, and Ben Stiller has made many fewer movies about it. There was a fun frog exhibit that Sam loved and a planetarium star show that I loved, but Montana is a hotbed of dinosaur fossil discoveries and the museum is known for its dinosaur stuff.  Before you even get in the building you meet Big Mike:

Inside there were lots of full skeletons and other great fossils, including T-Rexes, a whole family of triceratopses, and a nine-foot long rib bone that simultaneously made me hungry and put me in the mood to watch The Flinstones. We even got to see a couple of archaeologists cleaning some bones.

[Side note #2: There’s just something about dinosaurs that fascinates young boys. When I was a little kid I was a total dinosaur freak. Sam’s not quite as obsessed as I used to be but I’ve never met a boy under the age of 10 who didn’t think dinosaurs are cool. Maybe it’s because they’re the closest things to real monsters we’ve got. Maybe it’s because nobody knows how or why they disappeared. Maybe it’s because there are a bunch of different kinds with weird names and characteristics, just like all the action/adventure toys/cartoons little boys are into but sanctioned by our teachers (well, by teachers in most states, anyway).]

I should mention at this point that we were joined at the museum by our Montana/Wyoming/Idaho tour guide, Lindsey, and her two young sons. I worked with Lindsey for two years and I’ve known her for about four but this was the first time we met in person, which gave the afternoon a sort of odd mix of newness and familiarity that I don’t think I’d ever experienced before but very much enjoyed.

Continuing our incremental traversing of the hunormous state of Montana, our next stop (without Lindsey, et al.) was Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park about 40 minutes to the west. After seeing the extremely impressive Jewel Cave just a few days ago I would have been willing to skip the park’s namesake cavern but Sam decided he still had some more caving in him. This cave was nowhere near as large or as colorful as Jewel Cave but had far more stuff growing from the ceiling, floor, and walls, which impressed Sam immensely. This cave tour was also much more strenuous, starting with a 3/4-mile hike up a slope that rose 300 feet just to get to the cave entrance. Once inside, there was a colony of pregnant bats to quietly sneak past and a bunch of low ceilings and stalactites to duck under, making for quite an adventure. At one point the tunnel was so small that we all had to slide about six feet on our butts, which Sam and I both thought was pretty fun and made the cave tour more of an adventure. We both also noticed that the slab of rock we slid on was shaped like a curved W. Basically, decades of people’s sliding had literally carved a butt-shaped groove into what had once presumably been flat limestone. I thought this was pretty amusing. Sam though this was HILARIOUS, and talked about it for the next two hours, including to the cute 17-year-old girl he chatted up on the way out of the cave.

[Side note #3: The Hamster has been surprisingly outgoing throughout this entire trip. He’s warmed up to and briefly befriended kids almost everywhere we’ve been. In Cleveland he even played Marco Polo in the hotel pool with a whole group of kids of various ages. He wasn’t an unfriendly kid before but he never would have just started talking to some random kid, let alone a teenage girl. He might just be getting older and better at socializing but I think his new extroversion has more to do with the fact that he’s been spending all his time with me and is somewhat starved for other kids to play with. I’ve actually found myself being much more chatty with strangers than I usually am, too. When I checked out of our motel Wednesday morning I spent 10 minutes talking with the front desk guy about what the Mets will do with Carlos Beltran. I think despite the fun we’re having with each other maybe Sam and I are both unconsciously reaching out for peers wherever we can find them.]

After the cave tour we found a nice picnic spot in the park where we could grill dinner. The weather was beautiful, the scenery was beautiful, and I busted out the special treat I had been keeping on ice for the past week: a big, fat, juicy steak.

Not bad for a portable, tabletop grill. And while the steak was cooking we each got to catch up with Mom over the phone.

[Side note #4: We’re almost done with the 9 consecutive days without access to kosher restaurants or groceries, and I’m ready to pat myself on the back for getting us through it in relative style. I was a bit worried that we would have to survive the last few days on ramen and peanut butter but we’ve actually eaten pretty well every day and have enough food to continue doing so until we arrive in Seattle Friday afternoon.]

This was neither the busiest nor the most exciting day we’ve had so far, but it was definitely one of the most pleasant.

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