Yellowstone Wrapup

Friday started with a drive from Billings over Beartooth Pass into Yellowstone National Park. Beartooth Pass reaches an elevation of over 10,000 feet at it’s summit and was a very narrow windy road to the top. Once we reached the top, we saw alpine lakes and jagged mountain peaks.  The descent down into the park led us to Lamar Valley, where we saw herds of bison, many out on the main road.  We continued on to the main section of Yellowstone. We had reserved a frontier cabin at Yellowstone Lake Hotel. Dinner was light fare at the country store followed by some sunset animal sightings of bison, elk, and deer.

Day two in Yellowstone was geyser-centric, starting with Old Faithful. As we waited for Old Faithful to erupt, we saw Castle Geyser erupt to almost 200 feet, a feat that occurs about once every 13 hours.  We had some family not with us tune in to the Old Faithful Web Cam to see us and watch the geyser erupt. After seeing Old Faithful go off surprisingly early for the scheduled time, we made the three mile loop to Morning Glory Pool and saw other geyser, including Grotto Geyser and Giant Geyser on the way. Lunch was a hearty meal from the Old Faithful Lodge cafeteria.

After lunch, we popped in to some of the other geyser trails, including Grand Prismatic Pool, Excelsior Geyser, and Fountain Paint Pot. We finished the afternoon with a steep hike to the brink of the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River. After a light dinner, it was back on the search for sunset nightlife. Though we found some good locations for moose, but did not end up spotting any. We tried to best to pack up, with only one day at Grand Teton National Park remaining.

Devil’s Tower and Little Bighorn

Sorry for the delay in updates. Thursday was a long drive day with two national monument stops. The first was right when we got into Wyoming, Devil’s Tower National Monument. At almost 1000 feet, it soars over the plains around it.  We did a short loop around and had lunch while watching climbers attempt to summit.
We then drove across northeast Wyoming, into Montana, our fifth state of the trip. We stopped off at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument (Custer’s Last Stand). Luckily, there was a ranger about to give a talk. It was dramatic and theatrical, and extremely educational! He gave a 45 minute speech about the history of the conflict and about the battle. We strolled around the monument and then headed to Billings for the night. We are in Yellowstone now, but with little wifi signal, I’ll update more tomorrow.

Badlands

Today was one of the easier days of our trip, with under 70 miles to the national park and a hotel stay at the same place as the night before.  We drove to the far side of Badlands National Park and made our way on the park loop. We stopped at the first trailhead and hiked for about an hour throughout all of the mounds and valleys of that area of the Badlands. The rock was surprisingly strong despite its delicate appearance.  After our tour of the different overlooks throughout the park, we turned onto the Sage Creek Rim Road. We drove down the gravel road five miles with a final destination of “Robert’s Prairie Dog Town”. However, when we arrived at the prairie dog town, it was overrun with a herd of bison numbering over 800! The largest herd in the park, we saw the noble animal in it’s original habitat.

After leaving the park, we followed signs to a Cold War missile silo run by the National Park Service. It was a Minuteman II missile silo surrounded by a small fence barely noticeable from the road. It was one of 150 nuclear missile silos in the area that was active from the 1960s through 1991. The site is normally a self-guided tour, but there happened to be a ranger present who gave us an overview of the history. It was extremely educational.

Finally, we made our way to Wall Drug. It was exactly as I remembered it, many small touristy shops with the same cheap souvenirs throughout. It was humorous and we left with over a pound of fudge.

Dinner tonight was at the Firehouse Brewery in Rapid City followed by some indulgence into the Wall Drug fudge. Tomorrow is a drive to Battle of Little Bighorn (Custer’s Last Stand). We are also looking at a small detour to Devil’s Tower National Monument in Wyoming. The camera battery is dead, so more pictures to come after we charge the battery.

Into South Dakota

Today’s drive of 350 miles was quite tiresome. There is only so much of eastern Wyoming worth seeing. But once we arrived to South Dakota, our real tour started. We decided to make the first stop at Wind Cave National Park. A smaller National Park, most of the attractions are underground. The cave system is the 4th largest in the world. We arrived fairly late and opted for the 4:30pm tour, which lasted 1 hour.  It was a very nice introduction to the cave systems and allowed views of the different intricate cave features, such as boxwork, popcorn, and frost.

We considered driving through Custer State Park to see the bison herds, but we saw a few on our way out of Wind Cave, so we continued on to Mt. Rushmore. We arrived around 6:30pm, with the sun beginning to set. We did the 1/2 mile loop and arrived back at the ampitheater in time for the 8:00pm lighting ceremony. It was a very nice ceremony with many veterans and active service people being honored.  We arrived late into Rapid City, but should be well on our way to Badlands National Park tomorrow.  Might stop off in Wall Drug too, just to show the others all of it’s touristy quirks.

Rocky Mountains Out My Window

We are sitting in our hotel in Estes Park looking out the window at the Rocky Mountain National Park. Yesterday’s weather was cold and misty most of the day, which probably kept many of the animal hidden. But we did get to see a moose and two calves on the west side of the park.  We then drove the Trail Ridge Road over the continental divide and up to 12,000 feet above sea level.  The alpine was harsh tundra and very little growth. It is covered by snow 8 months out of the year and the temperature is usually below zero. Yesterday, the temps were in the 40s with heavy winds at the top.  The drive down didn’t yield itself to many animals, but it had many vistas of the different mountains in the park, some over 14,000 feet.

We decided to drive back into the park near sunset to see if more animals would make their way out. It ended up being a great decision. Herds of elk and deer came down into the valley and were visible right from the road.  Many of the deer and elk had their full antlers, some up to 12 points.

We got up for any early start to make a quick loop back into the park in hopes to see some bighorn sheep or many even some black bear.  From there, we have the longest drive of the trip, over to South Dakota. Originally, today just consisted of a stop at Mt. Rushmore and then a stay in Rapid City. However, we found out that there is a national park called Wind Cave just south of Mt. Rushmore which is a giant system of caves. So we will stop off their first. If it impresses (which I think it will), I will have to add it to the Yellowstone loop on our trips page.  More pictures to come in the days ahead.

Day 2 Complete

Our flight to Salt Lake City was delayed by some outside bands of Hurricane Bill, but luckily we still got in. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see very much of the city, just a glimpse of the Great Salt Lake before heading out of town this morning.

Today was one of the longer drives of the 10 day loop, coming in around 350 miles.  After many miles of barren Utah desert and a few pop-up storms, we arrived at the Dinosaur National Monument.  Our only stop was at the fossil quarry on the Utah side of the park. But it was well worth it!  On top of many actual fossils at the visitor center, we took the 3/4 mile hike to the Morris Formation where we could see actual fossils still in the rock.  A few of the larger pieces, such as a femur, spine, and vertebrae were marked by white arrows on the rock. But many smaller pieces also protruded from the rock wall. There were also some petroglyphs on the walk back to the visitor center.

We missed the hourly shuttle further into the park, so we decided to finish the drive into Steamboat Springs. Even though we didn’t get to enjoy the slopes, it’s still a very neat town. Weather here is perfect, highs in the upper 60′s and lows in the 40′s. Dinner was a local micro-brewery called Mahogany Ridge.  Tomorrow is a shorter drive, less than 130 miles to Estes Park. But we plan on spending most of the day on the Trail Ridge road over the top of the Rockies and other parts of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Looking forward to sub-alpine lakes and cool air tomorrow.

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