Once again, Karen did the hard work of recording our activities on this vacation
9/21 – Monday
– Packed and ready to leave by 12:00. Listened to a Chet and Bernie novel, The Sound and the Furry on the way.
– Arrived Sioux Falls @ about 5:30 pm
– Downtown to look at sculpture displays on Phillips Street
– Dinner at a restaurant called Minerva’s. Interesting Art Nouveau-ish decoration. Delicious food. K – Frenched Chicken with Risotto, B – Tournedos of beef with pepper sauce and crab sauce.
9/22 – Tuesday
– We went to see the falls at Falls Park. Very impressive park setting with lots of walkways and viewing sites for taking pictures.
– After taking some photos of the sculptures, we left for Rapid City by about 10:30
– Stopped in Mitchell to look at Corn Palace. Meh … Didn’t even get out of the car.
– Interesting folded hills and then the beginnings of the Badlands. We could well imagine thousands of bison grazing across these grasslands. Very big sky. Mostly overcast with a few spits of rain.
– Next stop was Wall Drug. We got out to stretch and browsed a bit. Butch bought a mug. Again, not too impressed.
– After a day of driving in wide open spaces we got lots of indications we were approaching the Black Hills. I assume the name might be because of the black rock formations in the hills. I love them.
– Arrived at Backwoods Cabins at about 4:30. It is a very pretty two bedroom cabin with a small kitchen and living room combined. It is paneled with blond knotty pine and looks new inside. Outside is a patio with a fire ring and a grill with a small table and chairs. We are in dark country with no phone or internet service.
– Drove to Hill City to check out where the 1880’s Train Station was so we could find it easily tomorrow.
– Found a restaurant, Bumpin’ Buffalo. We both chose buffalo burgers and tried an appetizer called corn nuggets which was like tiny fried corn fritters.
– We got back to the cabin about 6:30, hauled in our stuff, and got settled in.
– Finished listening to our book and went to bed early. A long day of driving is tiring!
9/23 – Wednesday
– Set an alarm for 6:00 in order to get to the train on time. Had grilled ham and cheese sandwiches for breakfast. No frying pan, cooked in Dutch oven.
– 1880’s train took off from Hill City at 10:00 and went to Keystone then turned back for a return trip to Hill City. The trip was 2 hrs. and went through a beautiful stretch of the Black Hills. We rode in the Edward Gillette car which was one of two that were over 100 years old. Enjoyed the trip a lot. There were lots of photo opportunities and new information about the history and geology of the Black Hills.
– The Black Hills are actually named for the Ponderosa Pine that cover the hills. Each needle has a black streak on one side which make all the trees collectively look black…nothing to do with all the black rocks.
– You can tell the difference between birch trees and aspen trees that look almost identical. Birch starts with “B” and grow in a bunch. Aspen starts with “A” and grow alone.
– We saw lots of train chasers/photographers who followed the train and showed up at every crossing. The train crosses the road our cabin is on something like 20 times and in fact, goes right by where we stayed.
– Next we went to The Black Hills Institute which is a tiny museum with the best collection of original dinosaur and other fossils we had ever seen. Of course some were casts but they had more originals on display than the Field Museum…maybe.
– The scientists a the Institute were the ones who originally dug out “Sue” which is now in Chicago. They was robbed!!
– They also had a terrific mineral collection, both local and rocks from around the world.
– We then traveled to the Crazy Horse monument that is still under construction. Just the face and the long platform of the arm are carved so far. The carving has largely been done by one family…father started it and the the work has been continued by his wife and many of his 10 children.
– On to Mount Rushmore. I didn’t expect to like it but it is awesome in its own way. As we came up behind the monument on the road in, the natural rock formations were very beautiful. We saw a scenic overlook by the side of the road and pulled off. We turned to look when we got out of the car and there was the profile of George Washington framed by the trees. We had no idea we would see it there and it was a great surprise.
– While we were taking photos a couple in an old red truck pulled in. The guy came up to Butch and told him that they had come all the way from Texas and had spent all their money on gas. They were short $.50 of the $11.00 parking fee and asked Butch if he would give him the change, which Butch did. It was weird but if it was a scam, not a very lucrative one. Later, when we left, we saw a similar truck pulled off the road with two police cars. We couldn’t tell if they were the same people.
– On our way back to the cabin we decided to change our plan and drive into Custer State park. We got on Iron Mountain Road which was newly paved and very scenic. It had three one-lane tunnels and many sharp turns and switch backs. We climbed very high. We looked at the map and realized it might get dark before we could get back so we decided to turn around. Fortunately we found another route to Keystone that was shorter and less twisty.
– Keystone is small, very touristy, and looks like the Wisconsin Dells without the water parks. Not really appealing.
– Got home and cooked steak (there was a brief and unfortunate fire in the broiler) and baked potatoes for dinner.
– There is no frying pan in our well-appointed cabin so we asked for another. Evan, the owner, said that he had just replaced a missing frying pan last month but brought us another anyway.
9/24 – Thursday
– Got up in a leisurely time frame and left to see which route would be the best to get to the round-up. We decided that going through the park would be more congested and slower. We decided highway routes are the way to go.
– We went to see the art show that was part of weekend events. Mostly they had Native American and western arts and crafts with a few other things thrown in for variety. I bought a necklace.
– As we traveled through the park, we saw several pronghorn and wild donkeys.
Most of the buffalo had already been herded toward the round-up end of the park and we didn’t see any along the roads. Just as we were coming to the first viewing area, we saw a number of cars along the road and some cowboys herding about 20-30 buffalo toward the corral. We arrived just as they were running down into a ravine and out of sight. Most of the cowboys are volunteers selected by lottery and we wondered if they were practicing…but they seemed to know what they were doing so who knows.
– We turned down the road to the pens and were able to take some pictures of the bison that were there. There were mostly females and young ones but we also saw two big bulls.
– We left the park and headed to Rapid City. Stopped at a Best Buy so Butch could buy a gizmo for loading pictures from his camera to his tablet. Then we drove to Main Street Square to have lunch and look at some public art. I was able to delete almost 800 junk emails while we had access to free wifi at the restaurant
– We drove back to the cabin and spent the rest of the evening packing up to leave on Friday then reading and taking it easy.
9/25 – Friday
– Round-up Day! We got all loaded up and on the road by about 5:30 in the morning. Our drive was uneventful and we apparently avoided all the crowds because of the route we took. We were all set up with our folding chairs by about 6:30. It was cool but not cold and we settled in to wait.
– We chose a spot in the south viewing area on a hill overlooking the place where the herd would turn. People arrived in a steady stream in their own cars and by the bus load. They expected a crowd of 15,000 people. There was practically no one there when we arrived but it got busier as the day went on.
– We were there before dawn and it was fun to see the sunrise.
– Across the large meadow where the buffalo would be herded toward the corals was the north viewing area. People had to drive all the way through the park to arrive there. There seemed to be twice as many viewers there.
– Most of the time was a waiting game with a couple of false alarms when everyone stood up to look. When they finally came running by us it was a bit of a surprise. It was very exciting but not thundering like I expected. The great majority of the herd ran past us and down into the meadow near the gates but suddenly a few big cows or bulls turned away and started running back the way they came. The Cowboys had to do some fancy riding to herd them back and in some cases avoid getting run down. This great show went on right in front of us for a half hour with the cowboys cracking whips yelling and doing fancy riding.
– Finally they got a big cow and her calf running in the right direction and all the others followed. A big cheer went up from the whole crowd when they started running through the gates.
– We fixed ourselves a sandwich in the car while the crowds and the traffic thinned out then got on the road toward Deadwood.
– We visited Tatanka which is a site developed by Kevin Costner that tells the story of the buffalo in Native American culture. It has a nice museum and a dramatic life sized sculpture of native hunters driving a herd of buffalo over a cliff.
– We drove into Deadwood, looked around briefly, then took off for Lead where we were staying overnight at the Town Hall Inn. Each of the bedrooms is made from a room from the original Town Hall. We stayed in the library. The only drawback were the 29 steps up to our room with no elevator – otherwise very charming.
– We were both exhausted by our long day and after an early dinner, we lounged around reading and enjoying wifi connection.
9/26 – Saturday
– We checked out of our hotel and visited the Homestake Mine Pit which was right across the street from our hotel in Lead. It is the most enormous hole in the ground I have ever seen. It is over 1000 feet deep. It is worth looking up on Google Earth.
– We drove through Spearfish Canyon on the way to Sheridan. It is a scenic drive with stunning views and beautiful mountain streams next to the road. We stopped for a delicious breakfast at The Latchstring Restaurant. I had poached eggs, bacon and potatoes and Butch had their special Jonny Appleseed pancake breakfast with apples inside.
The cashier told us about a waterfall which was just down a trail from the end of their parking lot. Butch gave up when we were half way along the trail. I went all the way down a treacherous trail, 19 metal steps and through the woods. The falls were beautiful but I did not count on the length of the hike. When I got back to the parking lot Butch was almost ready to send in a rescue team.
– The drive on to Devil’s tower was also beautiful. Our host at the Town Hall Inn recommended a scenic route that was well worth it. The road was good and we loved the change from Black Hills terrain to mountain foothills.
– We arrived in Sheridan in late afternoon. We found a laundromat and then had enough clean clothes for the rest of our trip.
9/27 – Sunday
– The plan for today was getting to Yellowstone. We took it easy getting away but Butch had an attack of gout which was very painful in his left foot and his right pinkie finger…yes, that’s right, his pinkie.
– As we left Sheridan, we began to climb into the mountains. I have never seen such wide open expanses of land. Our country is truly awesomely beautiful. As we climbed, the road twisted and turned with many switchbacks. After a while, Butch was in too much pain to drive. We stopped to dig out some medicine and switch drivers. There were stunning rock canyons that towered above us. At one point, we drove along the edge of a deep canyon with red and gold layers of rock. I had to keep my attention firmly on the road but even then saw wonderful sights.
– We arrived at the eastern gate of Yellowstone by about 12:30. We were headed across the park to Old Faithful Inn. We had reserved a spot on a Yellow Bus Tour for Monday and the pick-up point was at the Inn. We wanted to find out the details so we’d be able to get there easily in the morning. Along the way we saw two solitary bison.
– We decided to go to our hotel in Western Yellowstone so Butch could take his medicine and nurse his gout. On the way we saw many elk and a whole herd of bison.
– While chatting with our hotel desk clerk, we found out that there is no Sprint service in all of Montana. No wonder we have been in dark country all this time!
– Went out for dinner and home to rest. Early call for tomorrow.
9/28 – Monday
– Butch’s gout was much improved but he still had some twinges by morning. Boo!
– Left our hotel by 6:15 an on the road to Old Faithful in for our Yellow Bus Tour.
– Yellowstone in a Day. We wanted to take the tour to avoid driving and looking at sights at the same time and also to figure out how to plan our next two days. On our way to the park, we ran into thick fog but still managed to see bison and a small group of elk, including a big male.
– The tour took 10 hours. Highlights included:
– The many kinds of thermal features at Lower Geyser Basin
– Butch walked his little legs off on the trail.
– Gibbon Falls, very nice and not too far to walk
– Mammoth Hot Springs
– We want to come back and explore Mammoth some more.
– Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, a stunningly beautiful spot. We did both the upper and the lower falls.
– Lake Village on the shores of Yellowstone Lake
– There was also a lot of just plain gorgeous scenery and many chances to see bison at close range.
– We want to go back to Mammoth Hot Springs and to the Lamar Valley tomorrow. We haven’t seen a bear (a wish of mine) nor have we seen Old Faithful go off which is a must!
– On our way out of the park, we had to deal with road paving and bridge construction that resulted in long delays. We had to drive at least half of the way to Gardiner, our next stop, in the dark on scary winding roads. Then we couldn’t we find our hotel right away. I know one thing, we are NOT setting an alarm for tomorrow!
9/29 – Tuesday
– Today we went to Mammoth Hot Springs and then on to the Lamar Valley.
– We took our time this morning because we have had to set an early alarm for the past couple of days. We were tired after a lot of walking yesterday and after all, we ARE on vacation.
– First stop was a photo op for the Roosevelt Arch which is probably 4 stories tall and very massive.
– We took a loop road above the hot spring formations we saw yesterday. There was a colored hot spring with blues, greens and bright yellow at the first stop. We also saw two or three pot shaped formations that were steaming and leaving white deposits that were building up a cylindrical steam vent. The road curved around into a very secluded forest area that was very pretty and quite different than the rest of the Mammoth site.
– From Mammoth, we drove toward Lamar Valley which is renowned for the abundance of wildlife.
We took a narrow, one-way gravel road turn-off called Blacktail Plateau Drive. The road was in poor shape but we could take it slow. It curved around six miles through back country that made us feel like the only people in the world. Later we saw several other cars but pulled over so that we were at the end of the line and could drive as slowly as we wanted. We saw tiny red squirrels that were only the size of chipmunks.
– Just about a mile after we joined the main road again we followed another turn-off to a petrified tree. It was very strange. It looked like a large standing tree trunk about 3-4 feet in diameter and probably 15-18 feet tall. I would love to know how it was formed.
– The Lamar Valley is a vast valley with views that go on for miles. We saw many bison right away on both sides of the road grazing in groups of about 50. At a pull over site near the top of a hill, we got out and saw an enormous herd of more than a thousand bison spread out across the valley in front of us. We feel so lucky to have the opportunity to see such a magnificent sight.
– The Lamar River and Soda Butte Creek flow down the center and are very beautiful on their own.
– We travelled on to Cooke City just outside the Northeastern gate. We stopped for dessert in a little cafe. Many of the businesses there were closing for the winter and boarding up their buildings. This road is kept open all year round because it connects Gardiner and Cooke city. It was hard to believe winter is near since the day was a balmy 70 degrees and sunny. Yesterday’s guide says it often snows by the end of September and last year about this time they had a storm that dropped over 3 feet of snow.
– On the way back, a ranger told us there was a carcass reported a day or two before at Slough Creek. Carcasses draw in wolves and Grizzlies. Before we reached that spot we pulled into a viewing area and talked to some folks who had seen young wolves within the last hour. We stayed there for a time searching with our binoculars but no luck. A fellow at the Slough Creek site said the carcass was gone but he had seen wolves that morning, but again no luck.
– We headed back to Gardiner and on our way spotted two elk in Mammoth. When we arrived back in town two young elk were ambling down the main road, stopping every now and then to eat fallen leaves.
– It was a wonderful day but disappointed not to have seen wolves or bears yet.
9/30 – Wednesday
– When we got up this morning I walked out on our deck and found an elk cow grazing on the grass below. She didn’t seem too bothered by me so I took a couple of pictures. As we were packing up to leave, we saw her calf near our car. We were quiet but both continued eating while we loaded up.
– Today was our last day in Yellowstone. We headed out for our drive down to Old Faithful Inn. We pulled over several times to take pictures and look for wildlife but didn’t visit any new sights.
– We arrived at the Inn at about noon and the next eruption of Old Faithful was an hour away. We spent the time eating lunch in the restaurant in the Inn. It was very beautiful inside and furnished with rustic tables and chairs.
– We decided to watch the geyser from the outside balcony on the second floor. There were about a dozen people there before us, sitting on the rows of log benches built for the purpose. The estimated eruption time was 12:55 and there were several small spurts and lots of steam before the big eruption at about 1:05. Water and clouds of steam shot taller than a fir tree into the air. It was wonderful and so amazing that the eruptions are so predictable – about 90 minute intervals.
– When it was finished we made our way to the car and got on our way to the south gate and Grand Teton National Park.
– Lake Jackson is enormous and is shadowed by the Grand Teton Mountains which are very tall and rugged looking. There are many aspen and birch trees near the lake which are all bright gold in the afternoon sun. In spite of seeing so many beautiful vistas over the past days, we were again taken with these new landscapes in this magnificent country.
– We arrived at Heart 6 Ranch at about 4:00 and checked in. Our room was very charming and our front door opened on a view of the Tetons towering above a huge plain with the Buffalo Fork of the Snake River meandering toward us. It is tough work but someone had to do it!
10/1 – Thursday
– Continental breakfast in the lodge this morning after sleeping in. We have had to get up early several days in a row and we’re tired. Vacations are hard work! To make matters worse I woke up to find that my right knee was very painful and would not properly hold my weight. I ended up limping along holding onto Butch’s arm or staying in the car at some stops. It was annoying and alarming but by stretching the muscles in the back of my leg, I was eventually able to get some relief. I hope it is all better tomorrow.
– We spent the day exploring Grand Teton. We traveled back up to the north of the park and visited some of the same places we saw on our way down from Yellowstone. Since it was much earlier in the day, we hoped the light would be better for pictures. Jackson Lake is near the entrance to the park and there is a turnout that really shows off the Teton Mountains and the lake to great effect. The sharp craggy peaks of these mountains are more beautiful than any other mountains I have ever seen. It is hard to explain what makes them so special.
– We traveled south from there toward Lake Jenny, stopping at almost every turnout to take pictures. Jenny is a very small lake compared to Jackson, but is nestled right into the feet of the mountains and reflects their peaks in the surface of the water.
– We also stopped at the park’s lodges, Jackson Lake Lodge, Jenny Lake Lodge and Signal Mountain Lodge. All are nice but it is hard to top Old Faithful Inn.
– On our way back north from the southern gate we tried three small adventures. The first was Deadman’s Bar Road heading down to Snake River access. There was a sign at the turning warning of a 19% downhill grade. Butch took one look at that and decided he did not want that kind of a driving challenge. The second was a trip to Two Ocean Lake which was back quite a ways from the main road but the road was closed about half way along. The third jaunt was finally a success, the road to Cattlemen’s Bridge Site. We wound down a gravel road toward the Snake River through grassy meadows and small woodsy areas. The aspen and birch trees in Grand Teton have all turned bright yellow and orange which looks gorgeous against the dark green pines. The day had started with heavy clouds and sprinkles but had soon turned sunny and warm. The sky was bright blue with big bright white dramatic clouds hanging over the mountains. The road led down to a river access point and we saw trout fishermen and a few others enjoying an area off the beaten path.
– We had a nice lunch late in the afternoon at Dornan’s. We found an Italian Restaurant there and shared two appetizers, an antipasto plate with meats, cheeses, olives and vegetables and Baked Brie with spicy Huckleberry Jam.
– When we got back to the ranch, we checked out our email in the Lodge then read in our room until bedtime.
10/2 – Friday
– There was a loud thunderstorm in the night with light rain. We woke up to sprinkles and overcast skies. My leg was better but still not in great condition.
– We left for Jackson at about 10:30 or so. Jackson is touristy but good looking in a way. The main square has four huge arches, one at each corner, made of elk horns. I read somewhere that local boy scouts collect them to rebuild the arches from time to time. Good photo opportunity for all the tourists.
– Butch found a rock star parking space right on the square and we browsed through two high-end western art galleries with wonderful bronze sculptures and enormous paintings. We also looked through a couple of souvenir shops.
– We left the square and went to the Museum of Western Art…very nice.
– It had been sprinkling on and off most of the day but started raining in earnest. We wanted to find a place to eat a late lunch but every place we found was closed until 5:30 or 6:00. After several disappointments we decided to go back to the ranch to eat pizza with a couple of beers.
– We returned to our room and read and relaxed until morning.
10/3 – Saturday
– We got up early for breakfast in order to get on the road for the first leg of our trip back home. It was a wet and cloudy morning but beautiful in a new way with clouds reaching right down to the ground over the mountains and into the valley.
– As we traveled east over the continental divide the ground was covered with snow and there was much more snow above us on the mountain peaks though luckily we were still driving in rain and the road was not affected.
– We stopped for the night in Valentine, Nebraska, arriving there at about 7:00 pm. We had dinner in the motel bar & grill and turned in early. It had been a twelve hour day of traveling.
10/4 – Sunday
– Another early morning and another long day of driving. We had another dreary and rainy morning as we got on the road. Somehow we made a mistake in following our road and had to make a small 10 mile adjustment to get back on course. We were listening to a Harry Bosch novel, The Black Box, and may have lost our concentration on the route.
– We crossed the border into Iowa at about 12:30 and looked for a place to have lunch. We found a Mexican restaurant that was OK. The weather improved a bit and we drove in partial sun/clouds for the rest of the way.
– We arrived on Bever Circle at about 6:00 pm. What a wonderful vacation but it is always good to be home.