Thursday, May 31, 2012
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
We woke up early Tuesday morning to finish our Yellowstone visit. We checked out of the hotel and headed for the geysers. Our first stop was the Norris Geyser Basin. Here we walked a ½ mile loop through active, steaming geysers. It felt as though we were on another planet. Some of the geysers were so loud that they compared to an airplane takeoff. The liquid that had accumulated around the geysers was green, black, and gooey. Needless to say, I had never seen anything like it.
The next stop, Midway Geyser Basin, is home to the famous Grand Prismatic Spring. We were hoping to see the colorful, rainbow-like water that is often seen in photographs. Unfortunately, there was so much steam that it was not clearly visible. It was still a good walk!
Finally, we stopped at the ever-popular Old Faithful. We patiently waited twenty minutes for the geyser to erupt. There was a kid nearby shouting, “She’s gonna blow! She’s gonna blow!” He provided some good pre-show entertainment, however, it didn’t compare to the actual eruption, which was pretty spectacular.
We spent the next two hours slowly winding our way out of Yellowstone and though Grand Teton National Park. I was excited when we finally found the interstate. We made our way to Wyoming’s Guernsey State Park where we had camping reservations for the night. We were pretty impressed with our beachside accommodations and spent some time relaxing on the sand. However, we were in for a surprise later in the night.
Once we were comfortably in our sleeping bags, strong winds started blowing through. Suddenly, our tent collapsed on top of us. It was chaotic to say the least. Zoe ran to the car barefoot while I tried to salvage our things. A few minutes later after the wind had passed, we went to set our tent back up. Unfortunately, the wind had snapped one of our poles in half, so we deposited the tent into a nearby dumpster. Zoe wasn’t keen on my suggestion to ‘sleep under the stars,’ so we headed for the nearest motel. Although it wasn’t ideal, we made it through the night.
We started early again today exploring the Oregon Trail. There’s a site where you can see ruts made from wagon wheels. It was quite unbelievable. Next, we stopped at Chimney Rock. It looked just as it sounds.
Finally, we dropped by Carhenge. It was probably the weirdest thing we’ve seen on our trip.
The rest of the day was spent driving towards home. Luckily, we have discovered podcasts, which have helped the drives go by quickly. Our favorites include For Crying Out Loud with Lynette Carolla and Stephanie Wilder Taylor and Allison is Your New Best Friend with Allison Rosen. Check them out!
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Events of 5/27 and 5/28
After our disappointment at Glacier, we decided to drown our sorrows in huckleberry treats. Unbeknownst to me, huckleberries are all the rage in Western Montana. We stopped at a store advertising Huck Pie. We grabbed a slice of pie, huckleberry soda, and mistakenly huckleberry water. I thought it was all quite tasty but Zoe thought otherwise. We couldn’t shake the huckleberry taste for the rest of the day.
After filling our bellies, Zoe requested we go on a hunt for antlers. After a few stops, she finally met a crazy man that gave her a good deal. She’s excited to hang them on her wall upon our return.
Heading out of the Glacier area, we had our sights set on Missoula where we had a tipi booked for the night. While in Missoula, we visited the local history museum, which had a great collection of WWII posters.
We also took a self-guided tour around the University Of Montana campus, but unfortunately everything was closed due to the Memorial Day holiday. Despite this, and the wet weather, Zoe was still a big fan. Maybe if she chooses Montana, we’ll get to see a glacier someday.
Next we headed to Beavertail Hill State Park, the site of our tipi. We were impressed with the tipi, but decided to set up our tent inside for extra protection.
After arranging our room, we decided it was the perfect time for a campfire. Unfortunately, the ground was wet and we weren’t able to find dry twigs. After quite some time trying to use paper and logs, a friendly neighbor came to our rescue. He used his axe to chop the logs and had a fire going within minutes. So much for our fire building skills! Overall, I found the tipi quite warm and cozy, but Zoe didn’t feel the same way. She ended up sleeping in the car due to the cold weather.
The next morning we packed up camp and headed for Yellowstone. On the way we stopped by Chico Hot Springs, a resort famous for its 98-degree pool filled with natural water from a near-by hot spring. We just stayed for a quick dip before heading on our way.
Upon arrival at Yellowstone, we talked to a park ranger who suggested activities for a one-day visit. The first thing on our list was a hunt for wildlife. We saw fields of bison, an elk, big horn sheep, antelopes, little rodents, and even a grizzly bear! The grizzly caused quite the traffic jam with travelers in each direction trying to stop for a glimpse. Luckily, we were able to get a few pictures before the rangers came to disperse the crowd (they're on Zoe's camera, so you'll have to wait until we get home.)
Later in the day, we explored the mammoth hot springs. The formations look like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. I left Zoe behind and climbed all the way to the top, rewarded with magnificent views. That night we stayed in the Mammoth Hotel which dates all the way back to 1937. We later found out it’s haunted. Luckily we didn’t run into any ghosts!
Sunday, May 27, 2012
Events of 5/25 & 5/26
Friday morning we woke up and headed back to Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. We were looking forward to visiting a ghost town, historic ranches, and of course the canyon. Unfortunately, this isn’t exactly what we got. Stopping by the Visitor’s Center we were informed that the Ghost Town was demolished in the 60s, and that the ranches are only accessible by bear-ridden footpaths. So we settled for a view of the canyon. I guess I was expecting something like the Grand Canyon, but that’s not what it was at all. Rather it was a narrow passageway with a river flowing through, but it was so windy at the top that it was difficult to get a good look. The most exciting part of the park was spotting a herd of wild mustangs. We watched them frolic in the field for a few minutes before they galloped away in front of our car. It was quite exciting!
At this point we decided to leave Bighorn early and start heading towards Glacier. We decided that Great Falls, Montana would be a good middle point. Along the way we stopped at Pictograph State Park. Here we viewed cave paintings from prehistoric hunters. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many left to see.
Later, in Great Falls, we visited GQ’s #1 Bar Worth Flying For. The Sip n’ Dip Lounge is famous for the live mermaids swimming behind the bar. Unfortunately, the mermaids are on vacation until May 29th. Bummer! Overall, it was a relaxing, slow-paced day.
The next morning we woke up well rested and ready for the next leg of the trip. We decided to stop at First People’s Buffalo Jump State Park along the way. This was much more interesting than we anticipated. We learned about how Native Americans used to trick herds of buffalo into running off of cliffs. They would then use these buffalos for meat, clothing, and other materials. Zoe and I both really enjoyed this stop.
Our other stop on the way to Glacier was a 50’s themed diner called Shake n’ Burger. This satisfied our cravings for big, juicy hamburgers. The drive to Glacier was very scenic. We passed through mountains and drove by lakes.
After settling into our hotel (there was a winter storm warning in effect, so we decided it best not to camp) we headed for the park around 5:30. The sun was shining for the first time on our trip, so we were excited to do some exploring. We drove down the famous Going to the Sun Road stopping to view waterfalls and look for wildlife. We spotted a moose! We were a little disappointed that the road is still being cleared for the season, so we weren’t able to drive its entirety. As darkness approached, we headed back to the hotel and called it a night.
Saturday, May 26, 2012
Events of 5/24
On Thursday we woke to the sound of rain pounding down on the tent. It was also very, very cold. I was awake half the night shivering in my extra-long sleeping bag. I used the extra length to scoot my entire body into the bag, head and all. I found that breathing in the sleeping bag provided a little extra warm air. Luckily, I didn’t suffocate myself. While I lay there freezing my butt off, Zoe managed to sleep through the night with no problem. Lucky girl!
Overall, it was not a very pleasant morning. As we mapped out our plan of attack for packing up in the rain, we realized we had left our shoes outside of the tent. They were soaking wet. As a result, I had to walk barefoot to the car and get our extra shoes (thank goodness we packed two pairs!) and rain jackets. I eventually made it back to the tent with our dry gear and we packed up the sleeping bags. We took our sleeping bags to the car and stayed there for a while to warm up. Once we had stored up some heat, we ran to pack up the tent. Throughout this process our hands got very cold and we both ended up with small cuts all over our fingers. Painful. We did not waste any time folding the tent. Instead, we just shoved it into the trunk. Hopefully, there are no holes the next time we use it. At this point it was about 6:45am and we had to stick around until 8am to checkout. We spent this time in the bathroom charging our electronics.
Leaving the campsite we were able to take the scenic route to Mount Rushmore that we had missed the night before. The roads were windy, and we got to drive through some tunnels. It was kind of fun. Unfortunately, it was very cloudy, so we didn’t see many picturesque views of the sculpture. We stopped by Mount Rushmore, took a few more pictures, and we were on our way. On the way down the mountain we stopped at Patty’s Place for breakfast. Zoe got a cinnamon roll the size of her head.
We also stopped at Bear County USA. Zoe had requested the night before to stop, but I thought it looked too dumb. However, passing by again, I decided it would be best to keep Zoe in a good mood, and decided to stop. It was just as touristy as I expected. Each section of the drive-through park featured a different animal. There were reindeer, artic foxes, and mountain goats. But the most exciting was the bears. As we drove, the bears came right up to our car. One almost climbed onto the hood. I admit it was pretty cool.
Next, we drove about two hours to Devil’s Tower. It’s basically just a giant rock formation sticking out of the Earth. It is also the setting for Steven Spielberg’s movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I wanted to go for a short hike around the base of the formation, but Zoe refused claiming she wouldn’t be able to breath in the cold weather (don’t ask me what she’s going to do in Glacier and Yellowstone.) Instead, we stopped in a nearby parking lot to take a few pictures and eat a peanut-butter sandwich.
The next part of our day was a long one. We had about 5 hours left of our drive with no interesting stops planned. It was also raining, and I was quite tired due to the lack of sleep from the night before. We ended up parking at a gas station for about 20 minutes, so I could take a quick nap. After my short rest and a can of Red Bull, I felt much better. And it’s a good thing too because the next part of the drive was not an easy one.
About two hours outside of Bighorn we approached a large mountain range. Before we knew it, we were climbing up its side. This drive was not for the faint of heart. There were quite a few places where one little mistake would have caused us to drive off a cliff. My heart was pounding. At the peak of the mountain, we happened upon a sign with information about the ‘Medicine Wheel.’ Apparently, the Medicine Wheel is atop of a mountain that is only drivable in the dry summer months (there was still lots of snow while we were there), so we weren’t able to see the actual structure. Zoe remembered seeing this site in the always useful 1,000 Things to See Before You Die book, which provided some more information. It’s a ceremonial rock structure built by ancient Native Americans. I was a little disappointed that we weren’t able to see it for ourselves. Oh well. We continued our trip down the mountain, and were impressed by the beautiful views. We also happened upon some wild moose. (Don’t worry Nana we didn’t approach them.) It was exciting to see true wild animals. Although the drive was scary at times, it was definitely worth it.
We eventually made it to the campsite at Bighorn Canyon. The site sat upon a lake with beautiful red rocks behind. It was quite breathtaking. We stopped to talk to the host who said that we were more than welcome to camp, but that we needed to make sure to stake in our tent and use warm sleeping bags because a storm was coming. This was all Zoe needed to hear to change her mind, but I insisted that this was an adventure, and we were going to try it. However, the wind was so strong that it prevented us from setting up our tent. We didn’t have enough hands to stake it in the ground and hold it in place. At this point, it also started raining. I gave in, shoved the tent back in the trunk, and headed for the nearest town. Along the way we spotted a lovely rainbow, which lifted my spirits.
That night we ended up staying at the Western Inn in Lovell, Wyoming. It was your typical run-down motel. We brought in our sleeping bags to use rather than the dirty bedding provided. We also brought in our Bear Spray to use against any human predators that might approach. The accommodations weren’t great, but at least it was warm.
Friday, May 25, 2012
Written by Zoe, events of May 23
Day two started off rather boring, as we had to finish our trek through Northern Missouri. This ride was very unmemorable- I even fell asleep! When I awoke, Lydia told me there had been many signs for Wall Drug Store. She had me look it up in the book 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, which we borrowed from her friend John. To our surprise, this is a very big tourist attraction, so we decided to stop by later in the day.
After five hours of driving we made it to Fall of the Big Sioux in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Although you could smell the local slaughterhouse, we enjoyed this stop. The falls were surrounded by vibrant red rocks, which reminded Lydia of Elephant Rocks State Park. There was a cool viewing tower, which allowed us a cool view of the “city-scape.”
Next we headed for the Corn Palace. On the way we found the World’s Largest Bull Head at Porter Sculpture Park. We pulled off hoping to get a better view, but were disappointed that the park was still closed for the season, so we continued on our way.
A few hours later, Lydia was excited to finally arrive at the Corn Palace. Unfortunately, she was disappointed by what we found, guess she should’ve listened to me. The outside of the building resembled your average auditorium, except that it was decorated with a few murals made of corn. Inside was basically a gym filled with souvenirs. Lydia was expecting the whole place to be built of corn, so the concrete structure was a let down. Leaving the Corn Palace, we treated ourselves to some homemade ice cream (really good) and took a stroll around the town. Everything in the town related back to corn, for example, the local insurance company was call “CorInsurance.” We also found at the bottom of each stoplight a husk of corn.
Two hours later, we stopped at Badlands National Park. This was semi-unplanned but well worth our time. We took a 31-mile loop around the park, stopping at many scenic overlooks to climb the rock formations and look for wildlife. Lydia read a few signs about the settlers who traveled west through these formations in a horse and buggy. Needless to say, we felt fortunate to have roads and a car. One of our favorite areas in the park was a spot filled with hundreds of prairie dogs. We pulled over to watch the little animals scamper across the ground. They made really cute little squeaking noises. Apparently, the Prairie Dogs (along with other rodents in the Badlands) are battling the plague. After reading this sign, I no longer had the desire to pet one of these furry little creatures.
Exiting the Badlands, the signs for Wall Drug popped back up. We were happy to see that we were only a few miles away. We eventually found the store nestled in a small little South Dakotan town. The store was humongous! They had everything from souvenirs, to a diner, and even a large T-Rex in the backyard. The story of its start is quite interesting. Back in the 30s a young pharmacist and his wife decided to open a pharmacy. They decided on Wall, South Dakota because of its small population and Catholic Church. The young couple struggled for the first five years, until the wife came up with a brilliant idea. She decided that the store should offer free ice waters to those travelling down I90. The husband started putting road signs up on the freeway and customers started rolling in. The couple got so into advertising, that they even had signs sent to Europe during WWII.
We made it to our final stop of the day, Mount Rushmore, around 8:30, just in time for the nightly lighting show. Little did we know what we were getting ourselves into. We expected some red, white, and blue lights to shine over the mountain with the Star Spangled Banner playing in the background. Instead we got a 15 minute presentation by a Park Ranger who quizzed the audience on the states and capitals, a 25 minute movie about the presidents portrayed in the sculpture, followed by a presentation of all of the military personnel sitting in the audience. Finally they flipped the switch and the monument was illuminated. It probably wouldn’t have been so bad, expect that it was cold and we had been travelling for the past 15 hours.
After the show we made our way to the campground we had reserved for the night. We had to take some scary winding roads through the darkness (it reminded me of a horror movie), but we eventually made it. We pitched our tent, changed into our pajamas, and settled in for a cold, wet night of sleep.