Vacation Part IV: The Long (and Winding) Road to Yellowstone

The day we left Keystone, South Dakota, we knew it would be a long day. We had a full day of driving ahead of us with a few ideas for side trips (Devil’s Tower, most notably). But the sky was a spectacular blue and we were in good spirits so we headed off…

I should have been worried when this guy chased us out of town… Seriously, staged shoot-outs scare the crap out of me.

The Presidents glowed their stoic approval of our trip in the early morning sun…

We also spotted two wolves running through a field. They were eating…something…heard our car and took off. But I got a quick shot of them before they disappeared. I am a ninja with a camera, seriously.

And finally! Welcome to Wyoming…ah. I kinda loved Wyoming. It was just so expansive and the  sky really does go on forever there.

First side trip of day…Devil’s Tower. You know I grew up watching a lot of movies so this iconic set piece from Close Encounters of the Third Kind was pretty cool to see in person. From where this photo was taken we were still 30 minutes away from it.

We’re getting closer! It’s pretty odd. They think it was formed by a volcano or something? I dunno but it was pretty gigantic.

How gigantic you ask?

So big that the blue dot you see on the side of it? That’s a climber. There are actually several climbers on there if you click on it to view it larger you might see more.

For some reason, I really enjoyed driving across Wyoming. I think it was a combination of the ridiculously expansive sky, scattered with endless popcorn clouds and the green fields that go on forever in both directions. It just feels very much like the rest of the world doesn’t even exist.

But then, after quite a long while of driving, the world comes back! In the form of the Bighorn National Forest. Pretty spectacular sight.

After what felt like quite a long time driving (a couple of hours)? We got to Bighorn.

I love these old signs! And from here we pretty much drove straight UP the mountain! Did I mention I’m prone to car sickness and slightly afraid of driving near steep drop-offs? It was going to be a long day, is what I’m saying…

Near the top of Bighorn the sky was a dark blue and the mountain was covered with some pretty serious snow! Wow!

Dale was very excited that Betty made it up to close to 10,000 feet. I was excited I didn’t pass out on the way up or down.

Coming off the other side of the mountain was pretty spectacular. There is the Bighorn Basin. It goes on for miles in every direction and makes you feel like the insignificant little flea you are in the face of Mother Nature. I loved it.

Next thing I knew we were in Montana! We were headed to the Beartooth Highway and Beartooth Pass, considered one of the most scenic drives in America–and the most beautiful entrance to Yellowtone.

From wikipedia:

The Beartooth Highway is the section of U.S. Highway 212 between Red Lodge, Montana and Cooke City, Montana. It traces a series of steep zigzags and switchbacks, along the MontanaWyoming border to the 10,947 ft (3,337 m) high Beartooth Pass. The approximate elevation rise is from 5,200 ft (1,600 m) to 8,000 ft (2,400 m) in 12 mi (19 km) in the most daring landscapes. (My tummy was not amused).

Along the way we came across the Smith Mine Disaster site–where 74 men died. Interesting that they leave the mine there, slowly decaying, in memory of the men who died there in 1943.

We drove up a perilously winding and narrow road for what felt like the rest of my life. I was woozy to say the least.

When we got to the very top of the mountain there was a sign my mind would not process. I asked the ski bums hanging out what we need to do. They were going to stay until the road opened–they were just here to ski. We had to turn around and backtrack all the way back down the mountain and cut over, across Wyoming to Cody in order to go to a completely different entrance to the park. We’d already been in the car for about 12 hours. We were within two hours of our hotel–if the road had been open. So we had to turn around (I cried, I’m only a little ashamed to admit it). I took this photo at 7:10 p.m. We got to our hotel around 1:30 a.m.

Here’s a quick video of me on the way back down the mountain. I was feeling a little sorry for myself and pukey. It’s embarrassing. You can also hear Dale start to laugh openly at me. Hee!

We did stop and have the best fish and chips of our lives in Cody, Wyoming, and had an awesome bartender named Clay listen to our sob story. Once we got into Yellowstone–in the dead of night–two more roads were closed creating further delays.

At least a cute bear was waiting for us in our room…

Vacation Part III: Crazy Horse Indeed.

Once we got to South Dakota and got that whole Mt. Rushmore thing out of the way we had a few other things to see! In fact, we want to go back to this area because we missed so much! Our next big stop was the Crazy Horse Memorial. Crazy indeed!

I wish I could express to you how big this damn thing is! It’s just SO DAMN BIG. Allegedly, you could put all of Mt. Rushmore on Crazy Horse’s face. And they aren’t even close to finished. It’s pretty spectacular but you can’t really get that close to it unless you want to pay a second entrance fee to take a bus up to the base. Since we had a lot to see (and had already paid for parking and admission) we were iffy on it. I also felt that the whole thing was run but the wacky white dude’s family that was the original sculptor. And I was like: Um, where are the actual Native Americans in this scenario? They seemed to be there but not in charge.

To give you some idea of the size? That is a guy and some major equipment at the base of the front of the sculpture. It’s pretty nutty.

This is the life-size rendering of the sculpture representing what it will look like when complete. Pretty spectacular.

From Crazy Horse we headed back into town for lunch. Sadly, we didn’t have time to hang out at Bedrock City–the Flinstones-themed park–but we for sure drove up and checked it out. OMG I LOVE DINO SO MUCH. *ahem* I have scads of pictures of the gift shop that I’ll post on my stupid Roadside Curiosities blog someday! Anyway, I just thought it was pretty awesome.

Seriously, how cute is this? I know, right?

So we weren’t 100% sure how we wanted to spend the afternoon. Dale decided he wanted to go to Custer State Park because they have the largest roaming bison heard in the United States. And I must admit I figured the animals would all be out of view and the whole thing would be lame since we didn’t even pack a lunch or anything. I was totes wrong. We didn’t just spot a few bison–we had to get out of their way. It was amazing. They were molting so they they felt a little embarrassed at the state of their coats.

Custer State Park was quite lovely, despite the cloud coverage–and even that was pretty lovely.

We also got very lucky to get up close and personal with an antelope. He was quite friendly, grazing along the side of the roadway in the park. We saw lots of antelope but none was this cozy!

Even more exciting was the fact we  went so early in the season that all of the animals were busy having lots and lots of babies. And is there anything cuter than baby animals? Hell no! Here is a one of the most adorable baby animals in the world: A baby bison with mommy. This little guy was so cute. He would nuzzle his mommy and then he would do this adorable jumping/bucking thing in circles around her as she stood there, totally stoic. You know she was all beaming and proud on the inside though.

Dale took this awesome shot of a bison enjoying a little mid-day snack.

To give you some idea how close these giant animals were to us? I took a quick shot out the car window. This is what’s known as a “bison jam”–all the park visitors pull over to get a view of the animals. You always know to pull over when you see more than two cars pulled over–something (or someone) is there to see!

After an afternoon at Custer State Park we went to one of the top places to see: Rapid City Dino Park. I’ve wanted to go here for as long as I can remember and it was so worth it. This spectacular cement dino sits at the highest point in the city so you can see it from all around town. I love it so much OMG.

These guys were created in the 1930s as part of the Works Progress Administration, a program meant to put people to work. The city really embraced these guys and have kept them in incredible shape, painted and repaired regularly!

I mean, seriously. HOW GOOD IS THIS? I was so excited I fell and skinned my knee and was excited to have skinned my knee at this classic place.

God, I love South Dakota. I really do.

Vacation Part 2: Mount Rushmore

We spent two days in South Dakota! This winding road was designed by a general on riding on horseback–he purposely made it so curvy you can’t drive more than 15 to 20 miles per hour on it. And it features a few great views of Mt. Rushmore in the distance.

Here is one such example of Mt. Rushmore through the trees.

And this is the view of Mt. Rushmore from the entrance of the park. It’s quite lovely.

And here’s a close-up of the faces! That’s George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.

Once you leave the park, you can drive behind it and get a quick peak at George Washington from the ground.

We were lucky enough to spot a mountain goat sipping running water from a rock on the backside of Mt. Rushmore. Apparently, the molting mountain goats like to hang out back there.

He was quite close to the road–so close that slipped right into the middle of it. Startled by his own slip into the street he stopped and looked at all us tourists looking at him but then promptly went right back to drinking.

That’s our hotel! The Roosevelt Inn. The morning after visiting Rushmore we opted to take a flight in a helicopter (our first helicopter ride) and see Mt. Rushmore from the air!

I’m not the best with heights but I did well! And we got a great view of the entire park!

Bird’s eye view of Mt. Rushmore!

We also flew around the perimeter and saw the Black Hills.

Dale sat in front because he was less squeamish than me and had a great view for photos.

Self-portrait in a helicopter!

This is us in front of the helicopter. Our pilot was a 20-year-old girl. We trusted her with our lives!