Montana Part II: Cooney State Park

Because of the size of the Monaco we like to stay on larger highways or an Interstate when we are traveling. We also prefer campgrounds with full hook-ups, because life is so much more convenient when we don’t have to worry about the amount of water we use and stuff like that. The western side of Montana was on our agenda after Wyoming (last fall we spent two weeks in Miles City, on the eastern side of the state).  Billings is just north of Cody… so as Mike was searching for places to stay in the Treasure State, I figured he would make a reservation for us somewhere with easy access to I-90. Billings is also the largest city in Montana, so it was likely they had some RV Parks near there that would suit our needs.

Boy, was I in for a surprise when he told me about his campground selection for the next leg of our trip. He had picked a state park off the beaten path with no water or sewer connections – only electricity (in some spots). Cooney State Park was about an hour southwest of Billings and 30 minutes north of Red Lodge. To add to my shock, they did not have a spot available for the full week we wanted to stay. Our reservation coincided with the Memorial Day weekend, and the park was going to be full. The plan was for us to check in to spot #7 on the day we arrived. However, it was only available for two days. On our third day we would move to spot #16. This spot had no hook-ups at all, and was also booked for part of our time. After three days in #16, we would have to move again – back to #7 for our last two days.

As Mike was explaining the logistics to me, I was wondering if maybe he had hit his head on something and wasn’t thinking clearly. I wanted to feel his forehead to see if he had a fever and might be slightly delirious. Instead, I just nodded and smiled. He is the one that does the research to find our campgrounds and make our reservations after all, so all I could do was smile and try to be supportive. The bottom line is that this trip is an adventure, and it is important to “go with the flow”. No one wants a travel partner who bitches and moans all the time.

On travel day, I was mentally prepared to “rough it” during our time at the state park. The campground was on a lake and the scenery was likely to be beautiful, so I figured I could easily go one week without regular showers. I noted to myself that I wouldn’t have to spend too much time on chores either, since laundry was going to be out of the question. I also bought extra paper plates at the grocery store so we wouldn’t have to do too many dishes. I was ready… or so I thought.

From Cody we drove north on State Highway 120, cut west on highway 308, and then went north through Red Lodge on 212. When we turned off of 212 toward the park, the road was ONE-lane and gravel. I checked the map on my phone, and saw we were still about 8 miles away from the campground. We kept driving slowly away from civilization and into a vast expanse of lush green hills covered in sweet grass. I calmly asked him if we were going to get to a paved road again soon. He said he didn’t know. At this point I wanted to ask him who he really was and what he had done with my husband. Instead I just muttered things like “OMG!  What if we come to a section of the road that is washed out? What if we come to a bridge that is too small to hold us? If we get stuck out here we won’t be able to turn around. What will we do then”? He just ignored me and kept driving – slowly.

We did finally make it to the park and it was gorgeous. It was Wednesday before the holiday weekend so only a few campers were set up. We quickly determined that there were three spots that had electricity and were not part of the reservation system. They were first-come-first-served. If they were open we could park there and not have to move. As we were consulting the map at the entrance and trying to determine the location of these three magical sites, another camper came in behind us and drove to the north side of the campground. We decided there was no time to lollygag, we had to find those three spots and see if any of them were open before any other campers came in and passed by us. We disconnected the Honda, left the Monaco at the entrance, and jumped in the car to drive through the park as quickly as possible. We found the three spots. One already had a camper set up. The guy that had just passed us had taken the second one, and there was one left!

I waited there while Mike walked back and drove the Monaco over to get us parked and plugged in. We tried to call the park office to make sure we could cancel the existing reservations in #s 7 and 16, but our remote location meant we had no cell service. Mike walked over to the camp host and talked to a very nice lady named Cynthia. He explained that we had reservations, but we preferred to cancel those and just stay where we had landed. Everything to that point had been done online, but we didn’t have an internet connection either. Without Cynthia’s help we were at a stand still. Lucky for us she was very accommodating. She made all the necessary changes to the reservation system and we were finally legitimate. Once again, we were feeling that luck was on our side during The Martin’s American Adventure.

It turned out to be a great week at Cooney. Since we were in the middle of NOWHERE, there was no noise. No traffic, no trains, no sirens, nothing. Just peaceful quiet and that big Montana sky. Mike fished quite a bit. The weather was warm, so I spent many hours napping in the sun. We went into Red Lodge a couple of times to find an internet connection and eat at some local restaurants. At the end of the week, we found another paved road leading back to Highway 212, so our stay even ended on a positive note!

We try to avoid traveling in bad weather when possible. It was raining on the day we drove from Cody to Cooney State Park, but we drove through to the other side of the weather pattern and it eventually cleared up. Luckily, it was dry when we hooked up at our new spot.

We try to avoid traveling in bad weather when possible. It was raining on the day we drove from Cody to Cooney State Park, but we drove through to the other side of the weather pattern and it eventually cleared up. Luckily, it was dry when we hooked up at our new spot.

Mike made the reservations at Cooney Reservoir State Park, and had mentioned to me that we would not have a water or sewer connection at the campground. He did not, however, mention the REMOTE location of the lake. When we turned off the paved highway and onto a gravel road, I was leery. After seven or so miles, I was a nervous wreck. We have never moved that far away from civilization in the Monaco before!

Mike made the reservations at Cooney State Park, and had mentioned to me that we would not have a water or sewer connection at the campground. He did not, however, mention the REMOTE location of the lake. When we turned off the paved highway and onto a gravel road, I was leery. After seven or so miles, I was a nervous wreck. We have never moved that far away from civilization in the Monaco before!

Being in the middle of nowhere does have its advantages... big sky, green hills, quiet.

Being in the middle of nowhere does have its advantages… big sky, green hills, quiet.

We called this the half and half tree. It couldn't decide if it wanted to live or die.

We called this the half and half tree. It couldn’t decide if it wanted to live or die.

Our spacious spot at the state park.

Our spacious spot at the state park.

Sunrise.

Sunrise.

Red Lodge is the cutest little town. There are about 2,500 citizens in town and about 4,000 if you include the ranchers out in the county. The summer season brings tourists and fly fishermen who are heading into the Beartooth Mountains down the road. The Main Street was full of historic buildings that housed shops, galleries, restaurants and other local service businesses.

Red Lodge is the cutest little town. There are about 2,500 citizens in town and about 4,000, if you include the ranchers out in the county. The summer season brings tourists and fly fishermen who are heading into the Beartooth Mountains down the road. The Main Street was full of historic buildings that housed shops, galleries, restaurants and other local service businesses.

The historic Depot Building is now an artist coop. The quality of the art available was quite impressive. I bought a small print from a Native American artist that lives in the area. Its called "Burnin' Love".

The historic Depot Building is now an artist coop. The quality of the art available was quite impressive. I bought a small print from a Native American artist that lives in the area. Its called “Burnin’ Love”.

I loved this carved statue outside the local Carnegie Library.

I loved this carved statue outside the local Carnegie Library.

The interior of the Red Lodge Café was so "Montana"!

The interior of the Red Lodge Café was so “Montana”!

Part of the Cooney Reservoir.

Part of the Cooney Reservoir.

Custer National Forest in the distance.

Custer National Forest in the distance.

Almost a double rainbow after the storm.

Almost a double rainbow after the storm.

Our campground in the distance.

Our campground in the distance.

A view from our daily walk.

A view from our daily walk.

We were there over Memorial Day weekend, and it was packed!

We were there over Memorial Day weekend, and it ended up being packed!

Absaroka Mountain Range

Absaroka Mountain Range

A flock of wild turkey.

A flock of wild turkey.

We stopped to chat with these deer on our way home from dinner one evening.

We stopped to chat with these deer on our way home from dinner one evening.

Our last sunset at Cooney State Park.

Our last sunset at Cooney State Park.

When we left Cooney Reservoir to drive to Big Timber, we took a paved road - but the lanes were still narrow with no shoulder.

When we left Cooney Reservoir to drive to Big Timber, we took a paved road – but the lanes were still narrow with no shoulder.

 

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