Badlands National Park
View from Mt. Coolidge - note that you can see the prairie, you don't have to get up very high to see the flat.
Badlands National Park
View from Mt. Coolidge - note that you can see the prairie, you don't have to get up very high to see the flat.
We had a very quiet night in the rest area! Much quieter than any Wal-Mart! We were on the road early this morning, heading for Lookout Pass on the Montana/Idaho border. Lookout Pass is a ski resort and in the summer they run the Route of the Hiawatha which is a rail trail bike path.
I discovered the Route of the Hiawatha on Facebook, through the Rail Trail Conservancy's "Picture of the day" posts. I saw that it was exactly on route and decided I had to plan to ride it! Our plans got a little jumbled when we decided to drive part of the Beartooth Highway yesterday and the bike ride almost got scrapped, but we figured out how to make it work.
Riding the trail has a few crazy logistics. You have to go to the ski resort at Lookout Pass (I90 exit 0) to buy your trail pass and shuttle pass if you want to use their shuttle. Then you drive back east on I90 to exit 5 where you park and start the bike ride. You can buy a shuttle pass to bring you back up, or have another person pick you up. The catch is the pick up place is down several forest service roads and not easily accessible. If you take the shuttle back you have to ride through the Taft Tunnel twice - once on the way down and once on the way back up. So, it's a bit confusing just to figure out how to do the ride.
The ride itself was fun! There are many tunnels on the route, which is what makes it different! The first tunnel is almost 2 miles long! The tunnels are former train tunnels so they are very dark! We had to ride with our headlamps and even then you could only see a little in front of where you were riding! Luckily the trail in the tunnels was smoother than the trail outside the tunnel so that was easier!
Two miles is a long way to ride in the dark! At first I didn't like it much, then I realized my headlamp wasn't on and I put my bike in a higher gear so it was easier to control and it was better. Since the inside of the tunnel never sees sunlight it was very cold and damp in there - this was a sharp contrast to the blistering heat outside. By the end the tunnels were my favorite part!
The trail itself was very rough - basically a dirt road with lots of loose rocks, some rather big. By mountain biking standards it was nothing, but it was a bit rougher than I liked. It was also dusty and very very hot! There was little shade and not a cloud in the sky! There were however, great views! The trail went up into a draw so you went down one side, then it turned and you went down the other side! In addition to the tunnels there were several long trestles.
We finally made it to the bottom and were lucky enough to get right on the next bus! They loaded our bikes in the back of an old school bus and we all piled in! 50 or so hot sweaty adults piled into a non-air conditioned school bus. Ugh. But it was better than riding back up!
When we got back to the top we had to ride back through the Taft Tunnel - that big long, almost 2 mile, dark, cold, damp tunnel! The cold was a welcome change! And it seemed much easier riding it back that it was riding it the first time!
It was almost 3 when we got back to the RVs (and Mom) which we'd left at Lookout Pass. At least we think it was 3...the Montana/Idaho line is where you cross from Mountain to Pacific time so you never knew what time it was. We opted to drive to Post Falls, Idaho, which is right on the border with Washington to stay at the Cabela's there.
It appears that we may be the only RVers staying here tonight. The store closed at 6 and it's been quiet. There are some folks in an RV waiting for a fireworks show - maybe I'll be able to see it from my bed! The sun has gone down and it's beginning to cool off some! I hope I don't have to run my generator all night so I can have AC!
Today we took an unplanned detour to see the Beartooth Highway! The Beartooth is a high mountain pass road that goes from Red Lodge, MT into Yellowstone NP. It is very narrow and twisty and and has spectacular views! Mom and Dad drove it when they went to Yellowstone & I'd never been on it, but I was planning to take the RV when I go to Yellowstone/Tetons. We discovered that Red Lodge was only 40 miles from the Wal-Mart we were staying at and decided to take the morning to check out the Beartooth, we would have to drive a bit later this evening, but we could still make it work and get to our reservation in Oregon by Sunday night.
Mom and Dad were ready to go a whole hour before our planned departure time so I quickly threw a few things into a bag and we were off. The area around the Wal-Mart was "crack-butt" ugly as my Dad said. Flat and dusty and had a large smelly refinery right next door, so it was crazy to think that this amazing mountain pass was just 50 miles away! Red Lodge is a cute little town, but we didn't explore much, we went through quickly on the way up and on the way back they were having their 4th of July Parade so we were trying to get out fast so we could get on the road.
I kinda wish I'd taken a picture of the refinery just for contrast!
We weren't sure if we were going to stop at the Wal-Mart in Butte or push on to Missoula so we set out planning to decide along the way. When we got to Bozeman we decided to push on to Missoula. The landscape was slowly beginning to change! There were more and more mountains and they were getting bigger! The engine in Dad's RV overheated a few times, he even had to pull over to let it cool!
Around mile 220 we began going uphill. There was a pull out to put chains on which means one thing...a big mountain is coming! We climbed for 8 miles! Up, up, up! And it was steep! I had to kill the cruise control and back off on my speed! Then at the top...it was the Western Continential Divide, elevation: 6393! Last week I'd crossed the Eastern Divide at an elevation of 2610! Going down was easier, it wasn't as steep!
I'd planned to meet up with Mom and Dad at the rest stop at mile marker 168. When we got there however, the exit was closed! So we had to push on to the rest stop at mile marker 143. We were going to have dinner and keep moving toward Missoula and the Wal-Mart (that is right next to the Missoula International Airport) , however, we were 40 miles from Missoula and overnight parking is allowed in the rest area and the rest area seemed very quiet. So we decided to stay! We are parked along the edge, there is a river a few feet away (but there's a lot of undergrowth and a fence) and the Montana Highway Patrol has already come through and cracked down on folks not following the rules! So it should be a good place to sleep! Here's hoping!
It was time to move on from The Black Hills and continue the drive west to Oregon, but not without a stop at the final Black Hills area National Park, Devil's Tower! I went solo on this side trip since Mom and Dad had been there before and didn't want to go back.
I thought Devil's Tower was very cool! You could see it from miles away, it's the tallest thing around! It just rises up out of the ground and looks totally different from anything else around. It is also considered a sacred spot by most of the Native Tribes in this area, however the National Park Service seems to be preserving it as a sacred spot, as well as for the public. It was nice to see a sign urging visitors to be respectful of the Tower's sacredness and not to disturb the prayer bundles that had been placed in trees and such!
There's not a lot to do at Devil's Tower. You can walk around the base of it, which means you get to see it from all angles - it looks different on different sides! There are several other trails, but I didn't have time. There is also a prairie dog habitat right by the road, with pull offs to observe them. On the way out I pulled over and ate lunch with the prairie dogs! They were very entertaining! One almost came into the van, but when I moved he ran away!
After I tore myself away from the prairie dogs it was time to keep moving. I'd looked at google maps to check the route and noticed it was 30 miles shorter to take WY 112 to US 212 rather than go back to 90 so off I went! WY 112 was scenic at first, but as I got more and more into the heart of ranch country it got less and less interesting and more and more remote. I realized at one point I hadn't seen another car in a long time. Nor had I seen a sign indicating what road I was on. My cell phone had no signal! It was kind of unnerving being out there in the middle of nowhere miles from anything! What if something happened? How would I problem solve it? Going this route was probably not the smartest move, next time I'll stay on the interstate where I least usually have good cell phone signal!
I was relived when I saw US212 on the horizon! When I reached the intersection I thought, "I need to get fuel next time I see it, who knows when the next chance will be." I had a little more than a half a tank. Then I saw a mileage sign. The next town was 75 miles away! Billings, the next big town, was over 200 miles away! I knew I didn't have quite enough fuel to get to Billings, so I was hoping there'd be something along the way!
As I approached Broadus the fuel gauge had dropped below half, I was really hoping they had diesel. I didn't care what the price was, I was buying it! Luckily there was a Conoco! And they had Ultra low sulphur highway diesel rather than the biodiesel stuff I keep running into that I'm not supposed to use! After I filled the fuel tank I did start enjoying the drive more! I was still out in the middle of nowhere and didn't have cell signal, but there were more cars and "run out of fuel" wasn't going to be a problem I'd have!
After over 200 miles of nothing, I arrived in Billings and soon after that in Laurel where we are staying at the Wal-Mart. After dinner went shopping and restocked food for the next few days. We also hatched a plan to drive part of the Beartooth Highway tomorrow rather than push on to Idaho!
Today was busy, both with sightseeing and chores!
Wind Cave National Park
After our failed attempt to visit Jewel Cave yesterday, Dad and I decided we'd go out to Wind Cave as early as possible this morning, we were aiming yo be there for the first tour of the day. We didn't quite make the first tour, but we were the first ones signed up for the 2nd!
Wind Cave is a huge cave network under the Black Hills. It might be connected with Jewel Cave, they aren't sure yet. Wind Cave was a very sacred spot for the Native Americans, they never explored it but the cave held a lot of meaning for them. The National Park service seems to do an ok job recognizing this and the guide talked about it in the tour, but it's that same conflict - here's this sacred place and we came in and explored it and discovered things about it and potentially destroyed some of the sacredness for the Native Americans. This seems a bit different to me because the exploration of the cave has lead to increased knowledge for everyone, whereas Mt. Rushmore was simply carving the faces of the great white leaders in the rock.
The tour was very interesting! I don't remember all the stuff the Ranger told us, but the cave itself was very natural - there were handrails and the walkway was paved, but it was narrow and low and dark! It was a contrast to Luray Caverns which is a different type of cave, but has been designed as a tourist attraction rather than to preserve a natural resource and educate.
After the cave we came back to the campground for lunch and to get the laundry. My fridge was still on! We took the laundry into Hill City and while the clothes were washing we all broke out our devices and sucked up as much data on our cell phones as we could! I can now make my phone a hotspot and use my data for my iPad, this meant I could post blogs!
Sunday Gulch Hike, Custer State Park
After the laundry was done it was 3:00 and we were debating what to do next. Yesterday when we were at Sylvan Lake we saw the Sunday Gulch Trailhead - it was a 2.8 mile loop that went through a few boulder fields and claimed to be "unique". Dad and I were interested in hiking it so decided that we could sweep it in between laundry and dinner. We left Mom in Hill City at the library with her iPad so she could work on her blog.
We weren't really prepared to go hiking - I had on jean capris (cotton is not good if you get wet & I hate walking around in wet clothes!), we both had water bottles we'd picked up at the gas station. No rain gear. We were just going out for a quick walk. As we were walking along the lake to get to the trailhead I pointed out to Dad that every time we try and go out for a quick hike something doesn't go as planned (see the blog post in July 2012 when we hiked around Kidney Pond in Baxter State Park!). We chuckled and kept hiking.
The first part of the hike lead us through a boulder field with huge granite spires, a lot like the Needles Highway we drove yesterday. Then the scenery changed and it was more the scrub pine, then it changed again and was a typical pine forest. We crossed the stream several times and it was just a nice walk in the woods. We were moving pretty fast so we could get back for dinner.
Soon we came to a spot where we had to cross the creek on a downed tree. It was very narrow, but luckily there was another tree to hold on to. Soon after that the trail went up and over a rock and it was unclear where trail even went! We had to scuttle on our butts to get down the sheer rock face. Then there were a series of big steps where they'd installed railings to help. We met some folks right after we got past that part. We told them about the rock scrambling, they told us that further up there was lots of rock scrambling, and you had to get your feet wet! What?!??
Well, they weren't lying! Soon we got to the beginning of the rock scramble, and the creek ran right across the trail, or did the trail run right across the creek? The rocks were huge and slippery, but luckily the park had installed railings on both sides to hold on to. In most places I had to use both railings and a lot of upper body strength to get up! I was so glad we were going up rather than down! We climbed up the rocks, mostly avoiding getting our feet wet, until we came to a spot where the water was gushing down the rock steps and it was completely unavoidable. I just rolled my pants up and waded right in! The water was surprisingly warm and it was fun to be slogging through the water while climbing up the rocks! All too soon we were back at the top! The end of the hike was a bit more than we'd bargained for, but it was fun! Had we known about the rock scrambling and wet shoe factor we probably wouldn't have tried that hike today! So it was good that we didn't know.
After the hike we went back to Hill City to get Mom and dinner. We went to a cowboy place - Desperado Cowboy I think - they had buffalo burgers. Even though I don't eat meat in a regular basis, I did enjoy a Buffalo Burger this evening? It was good stuff!
The George S. Michelson Rail Trail runs the length of the Black Hills and is easily accessible. It runs right by our campground, although it's on the other side of he road. We drove into Hill City to pick up the trail and rode to Custer. Mom dropped us off and met us in Custer.
We thought the trail was rolling hills, but it turned out the section we rode was 9 miles up and 6 miles down! The up part, from Hill City to Crazy Horse the trail went right along side the highway and the scenery wasn't all the exciting. It reminded me a bit of Colorado, simply because so many bike paths there follow the roads. After Crazy Horse it was all downhill into Custer and the bike path was away from the road in a more secluded and scenic area. This worked perfectly because going down it was easier to enjoy the scenery!
When we arrived in Custer Mom was waiting for us! We tried to eat lunch at Buffalo Burgers and Buns, we'd gotten a review of it on the trail from some guys who were biking across the country, but it was too crowded and there was a long wait, we ended up at The Purple Pie Company and we had a great lunch!
After lunch it was on to Jewel Cave National Monument. We'd never heard of Jewel Cave before seeing it on the map. When we got there however, the next tour was a two hour wait, so we walked around the visitor center and got our passports stamped.
We'd gotten a tip from someone in the Custer Visitor Center that the walk around Sylvan Lake was only a mile and very nice. We headed up the Needles Highway from Custer to get to Sylvan Lake. It was a great drive! The rocks were pointy and if you looked carefully they looked like things, kind of like looking at clouds! It also reminded me of Colorado and a hike that Dad and I did in the Lumpy Range.
Sylvan Lake was a small lake with rock formations all around it! It was also a busy place with lots of people walking, kayaking, swimming, and enjoying the sunny afternoon! We started walking around thinking it was just a flat, wide, sandy path. Even Mom was coming because this was in theory short and flat. Well, not so much. At the far end of the lake the trail went up and then down over the rocks! It was pushing Mom's comfort level, but she did it! Even made it through the narrow rock tunnel at the end, then it was back to a flat, sandy trail!
After the lake we headed back to Custer to try the Buffalo Burgers and Buns again, they'd only re-opened at 5 and it was 5:45, yet there was a 45 min wait. We will find buffalo burgers elsewhere. We got dinner at The Sage Creek Cafe, it was yummy! Then we headed back to the campground to run generators and check on my fridge (which is continuing to boycott running on propane, however we may have cracked the code on how to light it, it just needs lots of attention!).
After days of driving across the flat featureless corn fields and prairie the Black Hills were a welcome sight! Almost as soon as we were back on I90 in Wall I could see the mountains in the distance! As I drove they got closer and closer and finally I was off the interstate and driving right into the heart of the mountains! The familiar landscape with hills and curves and trees and rocks was refreshing like ice water on hot summers day! The Black Hills are sacred to the Native Americans and instantly I understood why. Driving up to our campground was sweet relief from the days of nothingness!
After we got settled at the Oreville Campground (National Forest Service), my dad made a at least temporarily successful attempt at making my fridge work on propane and we'd had lunch we set out to explore.
Our first stop was Crazy Horse Memorial. Crazy Horse was a Great Chief who was killed by a white soldier unprovoked, during a time of what they thought was peace. The memorial is still unfinished - they have been working on it since the 1940's and only have a fraction of it completed. It's going to be huge when it's finished. The statue is the Native American's answer to Mt. Rushmore, and since this statue is so much bigger and grander, it kind of seems like the Native Americans are sticking their tongue out at the white man! I enjoyed visiting here and learning about the Native Americans and seeing the work being done on the statue!
Next we were heading to Mt. Rushmore, but we took the scenic route through Custer State Park. The park has it all, tall mountain peaks, streams, buffalo, prairie dogs, open spaces! We stopped at two overlooks to take in the view. You don't have to get up too high to see beyond the mountains to the flat plains. We were at the top of Mt. Coolidge and there was a big thunderstorm nearby, the thunder was reverberating off the mountains and the lighting was dramatic! As we drove the rest of the wildlife loop the storm lingered, but it never rained, so it just added to the atmosphere! We saw a few prairie dogs, a huge herd of buffalo and some deer! The park looks a lot like Yosemite with all the granite and evergreens and also Yellowstone with with wide open spaces and buffalo!
It was a longer drive around Custer State Park than we anticipated, but soon we were on Iron Mountain Road headed for Mt. Rushmore. Iron Mountain road is very narrow and twisty with several low rock tunnels. Through some of the tunnels you get your first views of the sculpture, however the sun was in the worst possible place and the faces were all washed out.
Mt. Rushmore itself reminds me of the National Mall in DC. And, everything that is there would be more appropriate in Washington rather that out here. The viewing area of the sculpture is a grand marble walkway lined with flags from every state, when you finally get up to it there is a huge amphitheater where they put on a nightly light show. Everything there is designed to accommodate huge crowds, there are multi level parking structures, large restrooms with flush toilets, warnings about firearms, - a stark contrast to Custer State Park with its limited development and outhouse facilities. The whole place screams "look at us white people we are the best and we know it." I didn't like it one bit.
I know there are two sides to every story and I'm trying to figure out what the justification was for building Mt. Rushmore in the first place. I know that Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson and Roosevelt were great leaders and they did great stuff for our country, and they deserve to memorialized in a grand fashion, but why this? Why here? This land was scared to the Native People, it's holy and revered, and we came in and not only took it from them, but defaced it, scarred it, and then millions of people flock here every year to look at the great statue. It just seems all kinds of wrong. Because of its location, Mt. Rushmore seems to me to be of a symbol of a lack of respect and understanding for other cultures. It highlights for me, not the greatness of the Presidents, but one of our biggest mistakes. I'm not sure what we can do about it, how to apologize or beging to make it better.
After Mt. Rushmore it was time for dinner. We drove into nearby Keystone and discovered a great little Indian and Nepali resteraunt! The samosas and curries were awesome! Then we headed back to the campground, our plans to stop for groceries scrapped because it got too late!