Just as the Battle of Little Bighorn was a low point in U.S. history, the national monument established here is definitely not the jewel of the national park system.
I didn’t like it.
Does it impose a dilemma for me to be that candid about one of our destinations? I don’t think so. Blogs are for sharing opinions as well as facts.
My disappointment with the monument began with its web site, which is one of the least useful of any national park site – poorly designed, glacially slow, hard to navigate, lacking a decent map, and written full of misspellings and grammatical errors. See for yourself at www.nps.gov/libi.
Just to refresh your memory, Little Bighorn, (also known as “Custer’s last stand), was fought in south-central Montana June 25-26, 1876, between the 7th U.S. Cavalry under Lt. Col. George A. Custer and a combined force of Lakota-Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors.
With a footprint of just 765 acres, the monument seems overcrowded despite a moderate visitation of 296,000. There’s a national cemetery, a cramped visitor center, a 4.5-mile tour road, and a couple of very short trails – that’s it. Displays were minimal, although the warrior-themed sculpture was well-done. Parking is generally inadequate, both at the visitor center and along the tour road.
When I was there on a dreary mid-September afternoon, the itty bitty visitor center was so jammed it was a challenge to use the restroom, view displays and exhibits (which actually are worth seeing), or browse the shop. Staff on duty was overwhelmed. One ranger was giving a talk in the pocket-sized auditorium, but the seats and standing room were full. The vibe reminded one of the boarding area of a busy airport.
To me. However, the biggest failing was overall curation. Visitors have to work too hard to get more than a superficial understanding of not just what happened here June 25-26, 1876, but why. And what was the significance of this battle on history? One of the best features is the cell phone tour you can use while driving the tour road.
Rather than try to summarize the complexities of the battle, I offer you this link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Little_Bighorn. For the short version, watch the video at www.youtube.com/watch?v=i0mGyK9uwoE
Not helping were the skunky weather and the elephantine motorhome with a farting exhaust that hogged the tour road at a walking speed.
So what was there to like? Given the monument’s remote location, woefully outdated infrastructure and $20 entry fee, not much. Even though Little Bighorn is convenient for road trippers on Interstate 90, I didn’t find it worth the time or the money.
Going there anyway despite my thumbs-down review? Allow an hour – no more than two.
Here are logistical details. Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument is on US 212, just off Interstate 90 in south central Montana. Use Exit 510. It’s a day use park. Hours vary with the season. Go to https://www.nps.gov/libi/planyourvisit/hours.htm for details. The entrance fee is $20 ($15 for motorcycles).
The nearest cities offering full services are Billings, Montana, and Sheridan, Wyoming – both just over an hour away. There are no visitor services in the monument, although you’ll find a handful of visitor-oriented businesses just outside the gate.
Thanks for staying with me. Next week gets better, as we visit one of the country’s top-rated national historic parks — Harpers Ferry NHP near Washington, D.C. Here’s a preview: