From Cheyenne to Yellowstone
So the month of May went flying by . . . did it for you as well? It seems the older I get, the faster time goes. I cannot believe we are heading into June already!!
Well, much has happened since we last updated our website. When we last left you, we were in Colorado Springs visiting our youngest and his family. Our newest grandchild, Tytus Landry, was an absolute hoot to hang out with!
From there, we headed north to Cheyenne, Wyoming and a four-day stay at Curt Gowdy State Park (yes, that Curt Gowdy). What a beautiful state park! It's a reservoir that is surrounded by beautiful mountains. We have a lovely campsite right near the water. In the evenings, we had great campfires (thanks to wood provided by our new friends Curt and Chris who lived just over the mountain). We also did some stargazing, played Mexican Train, and just generally enjoyed nature. During the day, we would make visits to Cheyenne and Laramie - - two completely different kinds of cities. Cheyenne is the state capitol and is "all business" with a cute little twist of having large, brightly painted cowboy boots on just about every corner. These boots represented something about the city and were fun to find and read about. One of the cool things about this city is that it is the home of the Cheyenne Frontier Days which take place every year at the end of July. At that time, about 1,000,000 people descend on this community of 200,000 to celebrate all things cowboy. We learned a lot about the wagon trains that came through Cheyenne and how important the city was to the expansion of the railroad through the western part of the United States. While visiting a railroad museum, we got to see a model railroad that took up the entire second floor of the museum. The railroad is modeled after Cheyenne of about 100 years ago and is spectacular. It took the artist 35 years to complete.
Laramie, on the other hand, reminded me of Ann Arbor, Michigan. It is a college town (home to the University of Wyoming) and had the coolest, laid-back atmosphere. Lots of cool little shops and an absolutely fabulous vegetarian restaurant. While visiting Laramie we stopped at the Geological Museum of the University and learned about The Bearded Lady Project. Check out the website: http://thebeardedladyproject.com/ to learn more about it. In a nutshell, female paleontologists were out in the field doing their research while donning beards and mustaches, in order to bring attention to the fact that their contributions to science were being diminished just because they are women. (Imagine that!!!) In addition to dinosaur discoveries, we discovered a cool old prison (the Wyoming Territorial Prison) which operated from 1872 to 1903. Two things about this prison that made it an interesting stop: 1) This is where Butch Cassidy lived for 18 months when he was incarcerated for buying a stolen horse; and 2) this prison housed both men and women. Interesting!
From the Cheyenne area, we traveled north to the Black Hills of South Dakota - - and just fell in love with it. I cannot even begin to describe what a pleasant surprise this was for us. The scenery was enchanting and the wildlife was everywhere. We especially liked the Deadwood/Lead area and would very much consider buying a property in that area to spend our summers. We stayed in the Black Hills for 10 days and didn't even make a dent in the thing that there are to do. If you are looking for a vacation spot for your family, consider the Black Hills of South Dakota. There are things for everyone to do - - museums, historical towns, hiking, fishing, boating, national monuments, etc. and I would highly recommend getting a National Parks pass to save yourself tons of money! Here are the things that we did while in the area:
1) Devil's Tower National Monument - this was a beautiful one-hour drive west into Wyoming from Sturgis, South Dakota where we camped. You will remember this landmark from the movie "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" in the late 70's or early 80's. Let me just say that this is an impressive structure. We hiked around the base of the monument and watched three sets of two climbers each make their way to the top (no thank you!). At the base of the structure and all around the roads that lead up to it are prarie dog towns. It was fun watching them scamper around.
2) Badlands National Park - this was about 90 miles to the east of Sturgis. There are no words to describe the starkness of the landscape in this park so please check out the pictures. We did see buffalo and some big horn sheep and many more prairie dog towns.
3) Jewel Cave National Monument - If you like to explore caves, the Black Hills area has two outstanding sites for you to see: Jewel Cave and Wind Cave. We chose Jewel cave because I am claustrophobic and Wind Cave has much more narrow tunnels than Jewel Cave. Either way, it's fun to explore deep underground and both of these locations will give you an excellent tour.
4) In an effort to check out some of our military strength, we visited two sites which were very interesting. The first was the Minuteman Missile Historic Site. Here we saw a missile and learned more about the cold war and our efforts to get the upper hand in the nuclear arms race. It was surprising to know that there were some 100+ Minuteman Missiles just in South Dakota alone. You can tour a launch control room while there as well. Secondly, we stopped at the South Dakota Air and Space Museum which is located at Ellsworth Air Force Base. There are some incredibly impressive planes housed there, the coolest of which were the B-1B Lancer, the B-29 Superfortress, and the B-52 Stratofortress.
5) We visited "Chapel in the Hills" which is a very interesting, Norwegian-designed, fully-operating chapel. On the grounds along with the chapel was a log cabin that was owned by a Norwegian prospector and a gift shop which was housed in a "stabbur" (a grass-roofed, two-story building that is a common architectural style in Norway). Apparently, there were a huge number of people of Scandinavian descent (mostly Norwegian) that came to this area while the Black Hills were in their heyday. You can still see some of that cultural influence in and around the Rapid City area.
6) For those of you who are animal lovers, a trip to Bear Country U.S.A. is a must-do. This is a drive-through park that houses specimens of the wildlife that abounds in the area. We saw black and grizzly bears, elk, mule deer, big horn sheep, reindeer, wolves, pronghorn and mountain goats. Very fun! Right next door to this attraction is a shop called "A Taste of Scandinavia" where Steve and I found some delightful ginger cookies! (Can't go too long without a treat, you know!) Also, the Custer State Park wildlife loop is a must-do! You take a 16-mile drive through a beautiful valley and will see buffalo, elk, pronghorn, wild donkeys and horses, and the occasional prarie dog town. If you are into windy roads, take 16A north into Mt. Rushmore. You will go through 3 tunnels on the way there which frame the monument nicely.
7) Deadwood and Lead - if you are in the Black Hills area, a visit to Deadwood and Lead are absolute musts. There is a ton of history in both towns - - gold related of course - - Deadwood being the more colorful of the two stories. If you ever watched the HBO series "Deadwood", the first season of that show will explain exactly what Deadwood was all about. Historical characters such as Wild Bill Hickock, Calamity Jane, and George Hearst were prominent names in that town. Lead (pronounced "leed") was also important for gold mining but took a more business-like approach than its neighbor Deadwood. There is an old gold mine that you can tour in this town that is now being used for experiments on neutrinos and dark matter. I cannot explain any of that as my brain is not big enough to comprehend it, so here's an article that will help explain it all: http://www.hcn.org/blogs/goat/Mining-for-dark-matter-in-Lead-South-Dakota.
8) No visit to this area would be complete without seeing both the Crazy Horse Memorial and Mount Rushmore National Monument. One is a monument to the American Indian and the other honors 4 great American presidents. Both are awesome to see and I highly recommend taking the time to visit them. I cannot do justice to either, so please do some Google searches to learn more. It was interesting to note that the artist behind the Crazy Horse monument worked for the artist that did Mount Rushmore. While Mount Rushmore is complete, Crazy Horse is far from finished and won’t be in my lifetime. It’s still very interesting to see. One cool thing to mention - - we visited Mount Rushmore in the evening while it was raining and the water completely changes the faces. You don't get quite the same amount of detail during the day as you do at night, and especially when the faces are wet from the rain. Another surprise about Mount Rushmore was the trail you can take to see the backside of the monument... who knew??
As I said at the beginning of the South Dakota description, we didn't even scratch the surface of things to do in this area and can't wait to come back again. Alas, we had to venture north to North Dakota to do an RV roof job in the thriving metropolis of Scranton, North Dakota. That job took longer than anticipated, so we were not able to sight-see as much as we would have liked. We did get to venture up to Medora and tour through the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. This park is considered the "badlands" of North Dakota but, unlike the starkness we found in the South Dakota version, these hills were alive with life and color. Teddy Roosevelt had a ranch in these hills for many years and loved coming to this area, and I can see why.
Finally, we closed out the month of May with a trip into Idaho and a visit to Yellowstone National Park. What a wonderful three days we spent here. Our first day, we ventured over to Old Faithful and were blessed to see it erupt 10 minutes after we arrived (it goes off every 90 minutes or so). Our second day was spent wildlife viewing and again, blessed. We saw buffalo, elk, moose, coyote, sand hill cranes, black bears, grizzly bears, fox, pronghorn and even spotted a nest of ravens. Our last day in the park was focused on the landscape so we took in the "paint pots", geysers, waterfalls, Artist's Point in the Canyon region, marveled at the beauty of the mountains reflecting on Yellowstone Lake, and were intrigued with the oddity of Mammoth Hot Springs. So much has changed since we were here last (about 15 years ago). The town of West Yellowstone has become so congested with tourist traps that it lost all of its charm. The crowds were also an issue for us - - we drive a big one-ton dually so parking at some of the most important attractions was not to be had. I guess that's what we get for going on a holiday weekend. Notwithstanding, if you have never been to Yellowstone, it is something everyone should see. The majestic beauty of this park cannot be described in words. One must absorb it with their eyes and their heart!
The last thing we did before we left that part of Idaho was to take the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway. What a beautiful drive! We saw the Upper and Lower Falls, which were beautiful but the most spectacular was the view of the Grand Tetons. Where we were in Idaho was not super close to that part of Wyoming, yet we could see the mountains like they were just a few miles away. I guess that speaks to the size and grandeur of that mountain range. Really quite something to see that off in the distance.
The month of May was a great time for us. We are now in the Boise, Idaho area for a week of catching up on “business” and relaxing a bit. We haven’t had good internet service since we left Colorado so we are trying to get some things done. From here we will be headed to Oregon for a few weeks. Looking forward to what I have been told is the most beautiful state in the lower 48.
Take care and may God bless you all!
Lauren and Steve