Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Bad Lands?

South Dakota isn't a destination that's ever been in my bucket list.  When I realized Mount Rushmore was there, I thought, "Someday.".  Well, someday arrived as I was so close in nearby Wyoming.  No time like the present!

Before we get to that, I should first mention my last few days and nights in Wyoming.  Lillie and I arrived at Grand Tetons National Park at a decent hour but I was exhausted for some reason.  So setting up camp was my primary concern. By 9:30PM, I was sound asleep in one of the  nicer campgrounds in the national park.  I was awakened around 11:20PM by voices.  I laid there listening and heard about 5 people yelling back and forth, "Did you hear that?"..."Yes!  I heard someone scream for help then a baby crying!".  Oh crap!  Suddenly I had a pressing need to use the restroom but I
knew they were concerned about the scream because we were deep into grizzly country.  As I heard them all walking further away yelling, "Are you the one who screamed?  Whoever screamed, are you alright?", I had no choice but to emerge from my tent to walk what seemed like a mile to the restroom.  My headlamp barely seemed to penetrate the darkness and I continually checked behind and beside me for a possible grizzly on the hunt.  Obviously, I made it to the toilet and back to my tent in one piece and slept soundly the rest of the night.  I assume there were no grizzly attacks as I heard nothing else about the incident.

The Grand Tetons were majestic, of course!  I wished that I was able to hike what appeared to be some amazing trails but it was much too hot to leave Lillie waiting in the Jeep.  It didn't take long to see all I was able to see (without hiking) throughout the park and we soon found ourselves in Jacksonhole, WY.  We had a nice lunch at the Merry Piglets Mexican Grill and moved on.

Set up in a yard next to Jackie's place
As we drove on country roads heading west, we had no destination in mind for the night but I did have high hopes of a shower!  As I drive, I tend to multitask and Facebooking is my multitasking preference.  As I read through my notifications, I found that I had received an offer from a recently added friend of a friend to stay with her in Virginia City, MT.  What a cute, quirky little western town (completely touristic but cute!).  My new friend, Jackie, is a like minded traveler and is heading to China for a visit next month so we had plenty to talk about.  I got my shower, drank too much, and was able to post a blog (the next morning as too much drink proved to be an issue!).

The following day, a nice drive from Virginia City brought me to Boysen State Park.  After setting up, I took off my hiking boots, donned my flip flops and took Lillie for a walk.  Checking out the list of wildlife that I might need to look out for, I was thrilled to see that I wouldn't need my bear spray!!  After a while, the need for fuel for my campfire had me wandering around picking up small twigs. Suddenly, I found myself leaping through the air with a screech as I saw my foot about to land on a prairie rattlesnake!!  The snake was curled up for a good nap, apparently, and simply watched me as I took pictures of it and just looked at it in awe!  Cardio done for the day!!  Whew!  I kept Lillie well away from it and ended up enjoying the rest of my night with a Chicago couple drinking wine and watching the super moon rise above the mountain.  I left Wyoming early the next morning but not before checking the snake's prior location.  He was thankfully gone.

The last thing I randomly did in Wyoming was to veer off to see Devil's Tower.  There was a trail around the tower that turned out to be much longer than I'd anticipated.  While Lillie waited in the Jeep under a tree, I raced around Devil's Tower taking pictures.  It's quite a site to see, as I'm sure I was! LOL 

Deadwood, SD
I fell in love with the Black Hills of South Dakota! Soaked in old west history, laden with monumental monuments, and small towns with anything but small minded people. The Black Hills sucked me into their forested mountains and gentle wildlife and had me counting my blessings!  I drove into Deadwood, SD unprepared for the wild west that this town exudes.  Apparently, Wild Bill Hickok was shot in the back while playing poker there.  That explains the many gambling locations in this tiny town!  I passed through and up the mountain at a slow pace as deer crossed the highway at random.  At the top of that mountain, I found a fabulous campsite!  Hidden Valley Campground had the cleanest, nicest showers and restrooms I've seen to date!  The prices were excellent and included (at request) electricity and wifi!!  I initially paid only for 2 nights but ended up extending my stay for a week.  I was entertained daily by a doe and her 2 young ones eating their way across the unused tent sites.

Deadwood was an excellent jumping off point in any direction for South Dakota vistas, history, adventure, and monuments!  I completely recommend the Black Hills area for family vacations!  I can't even begin to complete the list of family activities and destinations available here!!  It varied from zip-lining, drive through safari, cavern exploration, hiking, off roading, horseback riding, water sports, wine and brew tasting, trout fishing, off-road adventure, theme parks, and other distinct activities. Highway 385 and 16 lead me wherever I needed to go.

Mount Rushmore was an incredible sight to see.  Getting closer and closer to our presidential giants carved out of a mountain was an experience that I can't properly relate.  Thinking of the men who worked on this project, hanging by cables and working with primitive tools (by today's standards), is beyond comprehension.  After witnessing this amazing feat of human determination, driving just 17 more miles down the road takes you to another.  In an effort to show that the American Indians had great men too, the mountain sculpting of the Crazy Horse Memorial began.  Once finished, it will be the world's largest mountain carving!  The finished product will be amazing but in which lifetime it will be finished is anyone's guess.

I was thrilled to see that bison roam freely in the Black Hills of South Dakota as well as the Badlands, which was my next stop.  By the way, don't miss driving Iron Mountain Road (Hwy 16A) not only for the scenery but also for the wildlife (bison, big horn sheep, and antelope).  Be sure to head there from Custer State Park for a surprise view.  There was plenty of wildlife to be found in the Badlands, as well.  Including the very amusing prairie dogs.  In Badlands National Park, you can just imagine seeing American Indians hunting.  The landscape seems unforgiving but it truly is not.  A must see for anyone going to South Dakota. 
Prairie Dog
 Obviously, there was plenty to see and do in eastern South Dakota!  I'll finish this blog on the off roading and hike I did up to the top of Custer Peak.  I just wanted a good hike but found a fire lookout tower at the peak.  The drive and hike were all uphill and I chickened out on driving the final mile or so.  I got my cardio that day for sure!  As I had just descended from the tower, I ran into a man who, as it turned out, was the tower guard.  His name was John and he invited me up to the very top of the tower (ie. his office) and I was
If you look closely, you'll see Jeep
John, the tower guard
able to see the tremendous views that were his for 12 hours or more a day.  He invited me to stay and visit (it really must be a very lonely job) but Lillie was nervously waiting for me in the Jeep.  I thanked him and hurried down the mountain.

An old mining entrance

A rest stop view in Wyoming
Jackie and I in Virginia City
Big Horn Sheep

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Rollin' On!

I've seen a lot of dust in my rear view mirror but none like July 23rd, the day that I closed the sale of my condo.  Dallas in my rear view and Eagle Nest, NM on the horizon....Lillie and I were once again on the road! 

Driving to Cooke City, MT thru Wyoming
Eagle Nest, New Mexico is over 8,300 feet elevation and is a beautiful mountain community.  We stayed in the mountain lodge of a lovely couple who are long time friends of a friend of mine.  I volunteered at the annual  arts festival, hot tubbed at neighbors, and other than a couple of days adjusting to the altitude had a wonderful four days there.  The road and Montana were calling my name so Lillie and I rolled through NM, CO, WY, and arrived in Cooke City, MT where we pitched our tent for a week.  The views along our route (back road highways, of course) were gorgeous as were the vistas in the
mountains of Montana.  The locals in Cooke City were exceptionally nice and remembered my name. 

I solo hiked (completely not recommended) in Gallatin National Forest.  I carried bear spray and a bear bell and sang all of the wrong words to songs I couldn't remember as loud as my breath would allow.  Mosquitoes were horrible but, luckily, no bears appeared.  Great cardio, no doubt!!

I recommend that everyone in that area drive Beartooth Highway!  It takes you on twisting turning roads with pink tinted snow (yes, even in August!), lakes, and mountain vistas to die for!  You obviously have to
drive slowly so, depending on if you stop a lot for photographs (as I did), it can take 2 to 3 hours to cross.  It is very much worth your time!

A friend of mine was there as well so I was able to leave Lillie in  his camper while I went hiking and exploring.  After 2 or 3 days, I ventured in Yellowstone National Park. Wow!  Incredible landscapes, wildlife, geysers, and lakes!  I can see why it became the world's first national park! My favorite part of this place were the bison!!  They roam the place knowing they are home and in charge!  The females were in heat so
technically, THEY were in charge!  Other than bufflalo, I saw elk, black bear, and antelope.  Old Faithful was indeed faithful after an hour's wait and the little boy sitting next to me inhanced the experience with all of his delighted comments!  I roamed Yellowstone for 2 days and also drove through from the northeast entrance on my way up the state.  Lillie and I rolled our way north, camping in Flathead National Forest, at Emery Bay Campgrounds before driving on into Glacier National Park.

Glacier National Park has breathtaking vistas but the only wildlife I saw were some mountain goats.  The mountain roads were narrow switchbacks and the traffic moved much too slowly.  Going-To-The-Sun Road was definitely breathtaking and, once you got near Sun Point, you had plenty of time to catch your breath due to road construction delays.  With the massive amount of tourists, I enjoyed this park less than Yellowstone.  At least there you had options for your route through the park!  At Glacier, everyone has only one road in and out!  Leaving Glacier on the east side, I had to drive a few miles north then west to re-enter it to see the Many Glacier.  The roads were horrible!  The lake was an incredible turquoise and the wind was high.  Honestly, not worth the gas.  So back through the east entrance (St. Mary) and all of the way through the park again we went.  I had wanted to hike Highline Trail which is a ledge on the side of a mountain on the Continental Divide but at 10AM I couldn't find parking and it was getting a bit too warm for Lillie to be left in the Jeep.  Planning to get up the next morning at 5AM to make the hike, I finally slept so well that I couldn't be bothered to get up.

The jewels of Glacier National Park to me were the vistas (obviously) and McDonald Lake.  Lillie and I
headed towards Fish Creek Campground and turned into the picnic area before reaching it.  The multicolored rocky beach and clear blue lake were magical!

As for the two campgrounds we stayed in so far, the campground hosts were very friendly and accommodating.  Both campgrounds lacked showers but I knew that going in.  The first campground had a beautiful doe that I saw a few times, including face to face at a distance of about 5 feet.  The second campground was situated on a beautiful body of water, Hungry Horse Reservoir.  I met a very nice couple from Edmonton, Canada who I shared great conversation and appetizers with as well as contact information.  Both campgrounds were situated in grizzly country.

I've been informed that grizzly scat (poop) was found a quarter of a mile from my campsite.  Looks like it's time to move on!  Next, Lillie and I will make our way to Wyoming to the Grand Tetons then to South Dakota to Mount Rushmore.  Rollin' on!

Lower or upper (can't recall which) Falls in Yellowstone

Hot pools in Yellowstone

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
I surprised a couple of deer on a back road
Old Faithful