Sometimes when we’re in the car for an excessively long time, we listen to books on tape. Because we have given up on actually trying to read books. Listening to them seems the only way to actually get all the way through. Especially when you’re trapped in the car for four days.
A few days before we left, I remembered that ‘we’ had money in ‘our’ itunes account, so I thought I’d be hip and savvy and buy an audiobook. I settled on Donald Miller’s ‘A Million Miles in a Thousand Years’. Why, I’m not entirely sure. Maybe because it was the only title I could remember from my ‘to-read’ list.
I have to confess I don’t recall much from chapters 1 to 25. Maybe because it was boring. Or maybe because I couldn’t focus on some guy talking while my kids were screaming. Or maybe my head was stuck too far inside the snack bag to hear the words. So, basically I can’t vouch for anything that happens in the majority of the book. But around chapter 25 (or was it 28) I started paying attention.
[I think] the book examines stories – the different parts of stories – and what makes a story good. Or at least interesting. The author extrapolates the principles of a good story to his (and by extension, our) life story, arguing that we should make a more concerted effort to live life in such a way as to make it meaningful and interesting.
[And the book review of the year award goes to Nicola Johnson for her stunningly complex and haunting review of Donald Miller’s latest book.]
Regardless, my better half happened to absorb this particular challenge right as we were trudging along the expanse that is Highway 200 in the vast state of Montana. On day two of our journey he decided that he didn’t want to be the guy who just drove along the highway of life as fast as possible to get where he needed to go. He wanted to make a better story for himself. Or his children. Or me.
Or the blog.
So he basically pointed to a green dot on the map, off the highway, labeled ‘Hell Creek State Park’ and decided we should stop there. He hadn’t read any glowing review or been told by anyone else that we really should check it out. No, he just saw a green dot on a map and decided it had to mean the most spectacular piece of natural beauty surrounded said dot.
If you’ve looked at a map of northern Montana, you’ll know there aren’t a lot of big towns. Most roads appear on the map as very thin lines. With occasional small black dots and miniscule printing beside said dots. Indicating some sort of settlement. With names like Roundup. Moccasin. Winnett. And Jordan.
We drove past (through?) Moccasin. Aside from the dilapidated buildings, there was a white water tank perched on the ground. Spray-painted with sage advice: Meth: It’s a Dead End!
All this to suggest that middle Montana might not be the place for outstanding natural beauty.
We arrived at the turn-off for the state park that would change our lives forever. I should say we missed the turn-off and had to turn around and go back. The absence of any dramatic signage should have been the first clue that this was no hidden ‘gem’.
The second clue was that the park was not called ‘Heil’ Creek as I’d originally thought. It was Hell Creek.Nothing good or beautiful is ever named ‘hell’.
The 26 mile-long gravel road leading to the park was the third clue.
Collectively, these clues should have foreshadowed that a visit to Hell Creek State Park would not be the memory the professor intended to make for himself or his family. But why take one’s cues from clues, when one can add three hours to an already-ridiculously-long journey and find out for oneself?
If your idea of a good time is to put your boat in some water and kick back under the blazing sun while surrounded by what amounts to a trailer park, Hell Creek may be just the place for you. If you’re more of a take-in-scenic-surroundings-type, then Hell Creek is very aptly named and not a place you need to visit.