Up, pack, and out the door. First general direction is towards Badlands NP. Along the way there are occasionally signs saying the road is under construction and it’s a gravel road. Apparently ‘gravel’ is a regional thing. This?
This is not gravel. This is dirt. They have lots of conversations and warning in guides out here that driving on a wet gravel road is about the same as driving on ice. It’s not.
It’s mud. Driving in mud isn’t like driving on ice. On ice your car slides. In mud, your car slides, then gets swallowed into the abyss.
But the Acura came through with flying colors. The flying color was mostly brown and black muck, but we both made it.
There were however some moments of mild panic. I’d like the ’snow tires required’ roads back please.
Stopped for a second breakfast near the visitors center and had this view while I ate:
I had made a reservation yesterday at the Minuteman Missile National, um, I think Monument. I need to check that at some point. It was actually pretty cool, and scary. A bit unnerving when you look down into the silo and you’re looking at a (disarmed) ICBM that used to hold the equivalent fire power to 60% of all of the munitions (all sides) in WWII. Really? How many times do we need to be able to blow the earth up.
But as you walk through the command building you’re reminded of our amazing government and responsible spending. What’s odd about this toaster?
First stop of the morning is intended to be a visit to Mt. Rushmore. I drive past the main entrance to see if there’s any free parking (it’s $10) and get to the viewpoint where you can see the profile of Washington. Correction, it’s where you’re supposed to be able to see the profile of Washington. I can’t even tell which way the mountain is, everything is shrouded in the fog that turns you inside out. This is a bust (haha). Onward.
Stop at the statue of Crazy Horse and they want some ridiculous amount of money to see it. They don’t tell you this until you’re at the ticket booth, at which point you can see it. It’s at least a bit clearer then Rushmore but I decide to bail. Strike two for the day. At this point I pull out the map and I see Jewel Cave National Monument. Cave sounds interesting. Cave sounds indoors (it’s raining). Indoors sounds dry (ish). Let’s give this a shot.
I get there with about 1 minute before the next tour (awesome) and have successfully left everything I’m not allowed to take on the tour in my car (awesome part 2). We proceed down the tallest elevator in South Dakota at about 230 feet. Apparently there are no 23 story buildings in South Dakota. On the tour we see box work, popcorn, and a couple other things that I can’t really remember the names for. Oh, and Cave Bacon… how could I forget Cave Bacon.
Next stop is Wind Cave. More box work, popcorn, really incredible… um… rocks… (I need to brush up on my geology).
Drive through Custard State Park on the way back towards Rushmore (it’s on the way back to Rapid City). See prarie dogs, deer, and turkeys. This is the road I’m driving on:
I get to Rushmore and it’s clear…er. I also find out that they’re open until 10. So it turns out I could have stopped last night, oh well.
Is it just me or does it look like Washington is crying, Lincoln has a planet of the apes thing going, and Jefferson needs a tissue?
Said my goodbyes and hit the road towards South Dakota. Took I-76 out of Denver and certainly had a moment of ‘wait… this could just take me home if I go straight’. Tempting…
I had called Mom (it’s mothers day) before I left Andy and Mere’s and got the answering machine. Knowing my parents tendency for actually checking (or not checking as the case may be) the answering machine for messages I figured it would be safer to count that towards next year and to keep calling sporadically throughout the day. I forgot that driving through NE Colorado and west Nebraska that execution of this idea would be a bit difficult.
Eventually got a hold of mom and ended up parked alongside a highway (eh.. let’s call it a ‘road’) beside a herd of cows, smelling very much as cows do, and not much else. Some of you may think this inappropriate but it seemed fitting, it reminded me of mom (the farm theme… not smelling like cows!). I think during the the half hour we talked two cars passed me… and this is a numbered highway. I really hope my car starts.
I realized at about this point that having made a reservation in Rapid City, SD, dragging my feet this morning, etc. that the vast majority of the day would be spent driving. I had planned to stop at Rushmore on the way up but realized they most likely would be closed. So I grabbed the map (yes, a real map) to see what was on the way that might be interesting. I look at the map, see lot’s of open space, and revised the question to ‘is there anything there’. Scott’s Bluff National Monument… never heard of it, but it sounds like something that’s a heck of a lot better then a rest stop to stretch my legs.
Turns out to be a landmark that was used on the Oregon Trail (amongst others) and a narrow pass, so the ‘trail’ became one path. For the majority of it the wagons were always spread out to avoid major dust clouds. This may explain why we couldn’t find it the other times we crossed over it’s path. So this continued the trend of things I missed (failure in Wyoming) turning up later. So I got a chance to walk along the actual Oregon Trail. It was JUST like the Apple IIGS game. Ok, maybe it wasn’t.
I’m still waiting for the whales to show up.
Get into Rapid City for the night and end up having to set a timer on my phone for when to wake up. My phone keeps bouncing back and forth between towers, one of which is set for a different time zone.
Today is a much needed day of relaxation. Actually slept in a little (these days this means until 9) and then didn’t really do much for most of the morning. Chilled on the patio with Andy and Mere and their two dogs. Went for a bike ride in the afternoon (yay! the first time I’ve been on a bike in 3 months!) to Jack-n-Grill for lunch. It took me a few days to remember why I had heard the name before. Driving through Nebraska (I think) I looked to see what places might be on the places to eat list that I stole from Travel Channel… and there was Jack-n-Grill. Ah short term memory.
Went to their friends that evening for a cookout and a few games of ‘bags’ as they’ve renamed it…. cornhole to the rest of us. Went back to their place and watched Betty White on SNL. Best thing about it? It was on at 10! Yeah, I was tired and wanted to go back to bed… so what?
I apparently didn’t take any pictures today either… oops.
Wake up and drive to the Denver Airport to drop off Sweeney for her flight. In the 2.5 weeks she’s been here we’ve eaten at a chain exactly once. I count that as a victory.
Decide to make a quick stop to refill water bottles, etc and see I have a voice message. Citibank is calling to let me know that my card number was one of many that was stolen when a vendor’s database was hacked. They’re closing the account and sending me a new card. I must say, I’m very happy I finally got around to getting a second credit card before I left. Now to try to remember everything that has autopay setup from the old card…
Spent the day at the Four Mile House, at lunch at the Bull & Bush Brewery, walking around LODO (lower downtown), stopping at the Wynkoop Brewing, and the Common Grounds Coffee House. Met up with Andy and Meredith for dinner and a drink that night.
Started today by stopping at Radio Shack and we seem to have resurrected the Garmin (yay, don’t have to buy a new one). It seemed a little odd to be doing electronics repair in a National Park. Fits the ‘conservation’ goal, right?
Drove back into Teton NP to spend the morning. Mother nature was not on our side. Between snow and fog we couldn’t see anything other then wildlife (yeah sounds disappointing right? still cool, but no Tetons). The roads were continuing to get worse the longer we waited so we fairly shortly decided to work our way out of the park. Got to see buffalo and antilope but still no moose. Seems to be a family curse.
It was kinda weird to be surrounded by what seems to generally be ‘desert’ vegetation, but covered in snow.
Stopped at the National Elk Wildlife Refuge, walked around Jackson for awhile which is a really cool town. Then decided to head towards Colorado since Sweeney’s flight is out tomorrow in the morning.
On the way out of Jackson we saw that Teton Pass was now under chain law, glad we made that drive yesterday.
Stopped at Rock Springs for lunch and stumbled on a microbrewery, Bitter Creek Brewery. Drove over the Continental Divide (twice, there’s a basin-ish thing in one part) for probably the last time. Made it into Fort Collins for the night and am currently exhausted.
I think small towns that have been bypassed by interstates need to find a way to let people know when their downtown area still exists. Rock Springs was pretty cool but you had to work to find it, if you just ‘followed the road’ you would have thought your only choices were McDonald’s or Burger King.
Snowed pretty much through 2/3rds of Wyoming and saw enough snow fences and random barriers that can close the highway to make you a little nervous.
So we don’t really know what we’re headed into for Teton which is where we’ll end up for the night (in Jackson, WY). Some things say it’s open, some say you can’t see much. It all seems to be dependent on the weather. So we decide since we’re about 1.5 hours from Craters of the Moon that we should visit that first. Turns out to be a good call.
Go hiking through Indian Caves, so even after bailing on Ape Cave at Mt. St. Helens we get to hike in a lava tube!
Drive over Teton Pass to get to Jackson. No signs saying anything about chains or snow tires. However, that was the worst driving I’ve experienced so far on this trip. Two hands on the wheel the whole time but we get to Jackson in one piece.
Decide to see how far we can get in Teton. It’s snowing, we see a few elk and buffalo. That’s pretty much it. When we get back in the car at the visitors center we realize that the Garmin seems to have decided to commit suicide.
We check in and go have dinner at Snake River Brewery.
Here’s how our day begins. I turn left out of the hotel. I look in the rear view mirror. I make a u turn. Sween looks at me like I’m crazy (this is a recurring theme). We see this.
We just saw our first wild buffalo. Walking down the ‘main’ street in town. I don’t care what happens the rest of the day. I’m happy. I’m also of the opinion that I would much rather have cows in the road then buffalo. These things are freaking huge.
Get to the park and have an interesting time determining what roads being ‘open’ mean. According to the park, snow tires are required to drive south. But when you talk to the rangers they don’t say ‘yes’ when I say ‘then I should drive around right’? So we decide to give it a shot. Snow tires required vs. 2wd acura with tires 1/32nd of wear away from not passing inspection. No problem. Seriously, it wasn’t a problem at all.
Stopped at the terraces near Madison (I think) and walked a bit, saw our first geotherm features. Drove awhile and saw more buffalo. Then, after driving about 15 miles we find our first ‘bear jam’. Even in the off season, there were about 10 to 15 cars stopped along, off, and in the road. ‘A bear? Bears are sweet. Besides you ever see a bear with 40 foot feet?’ If I walked around the corner and met this guy, I think I may be of the opinion that he had 40 foot feet.
Walked around the Norris Geyser Basin. Saw Steamboat Geyser going off, but only a minor eruption. It’s years between major eruptions. So the colors, holy hell the colors. It’s incredible. Greens, blues, oranges, reds…
Saw Old Faithful, stopped at few other places on the way back from Faithful since going south wasn’t an option. Closed is closed.
On the way out saw more buffalo and even became one of the heard for awhile. Apparently animals like to use our ‘trails’ as much as their own.
Drove to Idaho Falls, ID for the night and had dinner at Brownstone Brewery.
Up and off to Butte, MT. Pierre, I’m about to eat my words.
I admit, geology is cool. There, I said it. I’m not happy about it. But I said it.
Stopped at the Berkeley Pit, Museum of Minerals, and Mining Museum. First comment is about the minerals. Florescent minerals are freaky. Cool freaky, not the make you feel kinda weird freaky. This is under a black light.
Off to the Museum of Mining. Again, like Glacier, we were basically the only ones there. It adds a certain dimension when you’re wandering around the grounds, the only ones there, and you hear signs creaking, and doors to dump carts creaking in the breeze.
Stopped at the M&M Cafe which is supposedly the best bar in the world and is open 24 hours a day. It’s closed. Boo. Ate at the Metals something or other across the street. Didn’t realize you could eat in the old bank vault until we were on the way out.
Drove to Bozeman and walked around for awhile. It’s certainly place #3 (I think) that I’ve visited on this trip where I could see myself living.
Had dinner at Neptune’s Brewery in Livingstone, MT. Our beers kept filling themselves.
Drove through snow and snowesque substances to Gardiner, MT for the night which is about a mile from the entrance to Yellowstone. Middle of nowhere. And then the power goes out in the middle of the night.
Up early and off to spend the day in Glacier. Yes, it’s still under snow, and no, the Going to the Sun Road is not fully open. However, Sween and I aren’t sure we’ll be able to get back in our lifetimes and we both agree with those crazy liberal scientists that say the glaciers will be gone in our lifetime. So we didn’t see any glaciers (they’re still under snow) even if we could see the tops of the mountains (they were shielded by the falling snow – note the recurring theme). Still, it’s an amazing place. Ever park I’ve gone into off season I realize how cool they are anytime you go. We couldn’t see everything, but we had a chance to go on hikes and sit by lakes with no one around. Nothing, just us. You, nature, and a whole lotta screwed if your car doesn’t start. I’ll give up part of the parks for that.
So we started the day in Missoula, MT and ended the day in Helena, MT. Spent a number of hours in Glacier, did a few short hikes, stopped at Goat Lick Rock and saw the rock the goats lick but sans goats. They’re off with the whales and salmon. Such is nature.
Played leap frog with a couple from North Carolina that I think we first met and last said hey to over 150 miles apart. They were headed to Banff. I think I’ll give them a few months head start before I consider going up that way.
Saw antelope on the way back south. We weren’t sure what they were but Sween was pretty damned adamant that the US doesn’t have antelope. My defense was the song ‘oh give me a home, where the buffalo roam, where the deer and antelope graze’. We couldn’t decide if I got the lyrics right.