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Published: November 26th 2021
JOHNNY'S JOURNEYS: SOUTH DAKOTA and WYOMING 2021
September 1, 2021 (Wednesday)
Hurricane Ida slammed the Gulf Coast a few days ago. Winds approached 150 mph when it hit
Louisiana on Sunday. Our Monday flight on American Airlines was canceled. So, two days late, we
are flying out of Mobile around 4:10 p.m.
I made a taxi appointment yesterday with Z-Trip for 2:00. A no-show at 2:05, so I called. Another
no-show at 2:22, so I called. Again, a no-show at 2:42. The reply was “I'm sorry for the inconvenience,
but we don't have any available drivers this afternoon”. WHAT????????? So, I canceled the appointment
and drove our car to the airport. It will cost $120 to park there for 14+ days.
Our flight to Dallas-Ft. Worth was on time. I was surprised that we were not offered snacks or even
water. Oh well. In Dallas, we had a delicious BBQ brisket sandwich. And there was a college football
game to watch: UAB vs. Jacksonville State played in Montgomery, AL. I told Janet that I had played
football at that stadium when I was a kid.
Our 7:50 flight to Rapid City was right on time. We arrived in South Dakota at 9:10. Both of the
suitcases also arrived! That is always a wonderful sight to see. It has been 44 years since I was here.
Picking up the Kia Optima was easy with Alamo Car Rental. We have a Texas license plate. We are
soon at the Grand Gateway Hotel. After settling in, I drove ¼ mile to the local Walmart. We planned on
purchasing an ice chest and a 32-pack of bottled water. Our wake-up call is set for 6:45. Tomorrow will
be a very full day. We're in bed at 11:30.
September 2, 2021 (Thursday)
I woke up about 6:30. That was good, for we did not receive the scheduled 6:45 wake-up call. We had
a quick breakfast from McDonald's and we're starting our big sight-seeing day. We're gone by 9 a.m. As
we leave Rapid City, we're heading towards Keystone. There are beautiful views of the city as we pass
through hills and gently sloping countryside. Riding south on Hwy. 16, we pass by Bear Country U.S.A.
That is in the plans for this afternoon. As we drive towards Mount Rushmore, Janet has a huge surprise
awaiting. We've got 10:00 reservations for our very first helicopter ride!!
I pull off onto a side road and of course, my wife thinks I am lost. I follow the signs to Black Hills
Aerial Adventures and the Rushmore heliport. Five different routes are available. We take the Discovery
flight at $49 per person. I'm thrilled to be sitting up front and seeing Mount Rushmore in the distance.
When it was over, we got a few pictures of us standing by the helicopter. This was FUN!!!
Next up is a trip to the Crazy Horse Memorial. Walking through a huge gift shop, they announce an
upcoming Native American hoop dance. Of course we have to see this. Starr Chief Eagle is a Lakota
woman and talks to our audience of several hundred people. Its about culture, customs, traditions,
history, etc. Starr has been involved in hoop dancing for 27 years. Her father had a huge influence on
her to learn this ancient type of Indian dancing. Also, many years ago, he had won 1st
place in a national
competition. By the time her ten minute dance was completed, she was dancing with 22 hoops.
There's an orientation film to view. A proud Polish orphan and sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski, started
this massive project in 1948. He was asked to build this memorial so that the White man would know that
the Red man had great heroes also. Originally, his wife and ten children assisted him. After he died, there
are five children and four grandchildren now working here. By refusing governmental financial help, this
project won't be completed for several decades.
We drive back to Keystone and this looks like a wonderful place for tourists. The Dahl's Chainsaw
Art location boasts of the world's largest wooden Bigfoot sculpture. There are bears and eagles and a
large selection of wildlife to admire (and purchase). We pulled into a shopping strip and ate lunch at
Red's Chicken House and BBQ. Each of us had a buffalo burger. Had to buy some postcards, fudge, a
few magnets and (Janet's favorite) Holy Terror coffee.
Near Rapid City, we pull into Bear Country U.S.A. It's a drive-through wildlife park. Instructions are
to keep your windows rolled up. This site is the “home of the largest collection of privately owned black
bear in the world”. Rocky Mountain Elk are the first animals we encountered. The males had a 5-point rack
of antlers. In the next section, we saw our first Reindeer. There was plenty of grass for them to graze
on. In the Arctic Wolf section, we saw two of them. And both were asleep. Up next are Bighorn Sheep. I
was impressed with some of their horns. Then we're on to see the Timber wolves. Three were well fed and
enjoying their naps. We only saw one mountain lion. He seemed quite content. Now for the fun.. the black
bear section. Including cubs which we'll see later, there are over 100 black bears at this park / zoo. They
certainly enjoyed the carrots! The fur color ranged from black to cinnamon to blonde. One ambled right
past my window. A different walked past Janet. We were as close as TWO feet from these gentle giants!
A couple of wolves had joined the bears. One bear had snarled at one wolf. They teamed up and both the
wolves “chased off” an adult male bear. We saw several magpie birds as we drove by the bison.
Now it's time to park and stroll around the Wildlife Walkway. This is where we saw the small animals.
There are over 25 species of animals here. We saw a badger, a huge raccoon, a beaver, a porcupine, a
Marten, Canadian lynx, several playful bear cubs. Two climbed a tree and posed for the tourists. It was so
cute. Then we saw a coyote, a red fox, an Arctic fox, and a river otter with a huge smile. We were so
close to so much wildlife. FUN!!
As we approached town, Janet wanted to check out Black Hills gold jewelry. We / she browsed in
there for a little while, before another adventure. I wanted us to visit the Chapel in the Hills. Check out
. This is an exact replica of an old stave church “stavkirke” in Norway... 850
years old. It was built in 1969 as the home for the Lutheran Vespers radio ministry. The visitor center and
gift shop is a grass-roofed store house, flying a Norwegian flag. We took time to visit an authentic log
cabin museum. It looked to be about 150 years old. Two 6-foot tall wooden trolls, Ole and Lena, greeted
us at the entrance. There is also a parsonage and caretaker's cabin on the grounds.
There was a wedding going on outside the wooden church. This seems to happen quite frequently. As
we entered the old church, there was a sense of peace. It is a place for contemplation, meditation and
prayer. A new addition to these grounds is a Prayer Walk and Benediction Trail. This leisurely path winds
its way into the hillside behind the chapel. There are seven statues along this trail. Next to each one is a
small plaque with a short message. “Come to me and rest.” - Jesus. “Lord teach me to pray.” “Trust God
with child-like faith.” “Pray for children and families.” “Trust God to provide what we need.” “Pray for
world peace.” And lastly “Amen, God hears our prayers.” This is a wonderful place for reflection, prayer
and meditation. As we exit through a neighborhood, we pass two deer. They are just nibbling on grass as
we drive by. An older man is walking his papillon and I slow down to alert him of the deer.
We returned to the downtown area of Rapid City and passed a few more Presidential statues. With a
little effort, we found Memorial Park. This is the location for two concrete slabs from the Berlin Wall
which was built in 1961. The Iron Curtain / Berlin Wall came down in November 1989. Janet and I had
been in Germany two years earlier, on our honeymoon. We took great interest of television news reports
as we watched CNN for several evenings. And in 1983, Janet had taken a tour of West Germany. At that
time, she visited the Brandenburg Gate, the Berlin Wall and Check-point Charlie. In this part of South
Dakota, the people love their freedom and patriotism.
Okay, we see a pretty orange sunset as we drive back down to Mount Rushmore. The Evening
Lighting Ceremony starts at 8 p.m. There are a couple of songs played, before we sing the National
Anthem. A park ranger speaks for a few minutes before a 20 minute video. There is a brief historical
summary on each of the four presidents. Then a thunder of applause when the lights are turned on.
All military veterans were then invited to come down to the stage for special recognition for serving
our country. Old Glory was taken down. Six veterans expertly folded the American flag and that con-
cluded the show.
We drove back to the Grand Gateway Hotel in Rapid City. We walked next door to the Perkins Rest-
aurant It is suppertime at 9:50. No problem for the sign says open 24 hours / day. As we entered, we
were told that they were just closing. I guess we were lucky to buy two monster muffins: one pineapple
upside down and one sour-dough. Yummy! Hey... this is supper. I'll address a few postcards as I have
caught up on my travel diary. We're in bed at 11:45. What a glorious first full day!
September 3, 2021 (Friday)
I woke up at 6:30. Both of our mornings here we did not receive our requested wake-up call. It seemed
rather unusual. Had a chicken sandwich for breakfast. I bought ice for the ice-chest and loaded 4 bottles
of water. It has been raining off and on this morning.
After checking out, we drove to Main Street and parked. We walked 3 blocks, stopping to take photos
of our U.S. Presidents on each corner. It felt so patriotic. We stopped in at Roam'n Around and bought an
early Christmas gift. Crossing the street, we took pictures of 12 Presidents. One last item this morning
was to drive through Art Alley. Taking up two blocks, everything there in the alleyway has been painted.
There are walls, doors, utility boxes and all the dumpsters. It looked like graffiti heaven.
I-90 West takes us to Sturgis, SD. And there is Bear Butte in the distance. The annual Sturgis Motor-
cycle Rally ended about 3 weeks ago. But we have seen tons of motorcycles these past few days. There
were an estimated 525,000 folks that showed up this year.
Going to Deadwood felt like stepping back in time. The city of 1300 really tries to preserve the era
of 1880s and 1890s. That is a far cry from the 25,000 that lived there in the late 1870s. It's time for us to
explore the Mount Roosevelt Friendship Tower. The first sheriff of Deadwood was Seth Bullock. A young
Teddy Roosevelt met Mr. Bullock on the Dakota Plains in 1892. Their 35-year friendship would last the
rest of their lives. They bonded over their shared interest in preserving wild places in the Western
Frontier. They enjoyed camping and hunting together. When President Roosevelt died in 1919, Mr.
Bullock had a 31 foot tall Friendship Tower built. I had a pleasant hike to the site. There's some
magnificent views, up to 50 miles away, from the top of this tower. The drive back into town was on a
very primitive road. Kinda scary.
We slowly drive through historic Deadwood, founded in 1876. Then we're on our way to Lead, about
three miles away. There's a few things to explore. I planned on seeing the Homestake Mine. When it
closed 19 years ago, it was the largest and deepest gold mine in North America. During its lifetime, the
mine produced more than 40 million troy ounces of gold. I find someone's lost camera memory chip. I'll
try my best to try to track down its owner.
After leaving Lead, I found Terry's Peak, a few miles away. On my 1977 trip out here, my college
roommate, Joe, and I came here. It was my first time to go snow skiing. Good memories! We then saw
a sign for the Barefoot Resort. Pulling in, there was a short hike to a scenic overview. And a lovely view it
I was trying to figure out what these mountains of rocks were, which were hundreds of feet high. Well,
we are now driving through an active mine site: the Wharf Mine. A few huge trucks, loaded with dirt and
rocks, passed us. I think I'll get out of here now and return to Lead.
The 100+ year old houses were charming... especially on such steep streets. A green colored building
caught our eye. On their signs were: “Shiny Things Inside” and “Unique Gifts, Jewelry and Art”. Let's go
inside. The Aspire Boutique is housed in a 140 year old former church. It seemed like the products were
geared for hippies. Janet found a lovely ring and we were able to purchase a few items for Christmas.
It is time for lunch as we reach Deadwood again. It was quite difficult to find a parking space close to
a restaurant. And I didn't want to pay $10 to park... then have to walk 8-10 blocks to a restaurant. Okay,
we find a casino with a restaurant, which specializes in steaks at 2:00. “Sorry”... we open for dinner at 4.
On the far side of Lead, we stop at Uncle Lewies Burgers and Brews. There are plenty of hungry folks
here today, out on the wooden deck, especially bikers. Janet wanted a hamburger, while I went for the
beer battered cod fish. There is an Autumn chill in the air. And across the road, the leaves are turning
colors. I remarked that this is what retirement should look like!
Our next stop was the Mount Moriah Cemetery. A tour bus stopped and picked us up, saving us a lot
of uphill climbing. The first stop was for the graves of Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane (Martha Jane
Burke) and Potato Creek Johnny (John Perrett). Johnny had found the largest gold nugget in the area!
The tour bus driver gave us a very informative overview of the cemetery and lots of history.
As we left and drove west on I-90, our daughter called us. She had received a birthday gift from us.
We will stay the night in Belle Fourche. After checking into the Econo Lodge, we drive a little ways to the
Geographic Center of the Nation granite slab. This is so much easier for the tourists to see. For the real
site is about 20 miles from here.
The temperature is so much cooler than Janet expected. We drove back to Spearfish and shopped at
Walmart. She bought three new sweat-shirts. We also picked up snacks and breakfast fixings.
We're back at 9 p.m. I went down to the indoor pool for 30 minutes. And I had the place to myself.
The pool area was cutely painted with a seahorse and a smiling dolphin. Yes, it was a warm water pool
and quite relaxing.
For supper I had Nutella sandwiches. Then I went to the laundry room down the hall. I washed three
new sweat-shirts and some blue jeans. I had plenty of time to work on post-cards and catch up on the
travel diary. In bed about midnight.
September 4, 2021 (Saturday)
A wake-up call is set for 6:50. Yes, we heard it. It is 50 degrees and a sun-shiny morning outside. A
continental breakfast brought me a little surprise. A woman who was leaving needed a little assistance at
the door. She held a small dog carrier and was pulling a suitcase. As I returned to my table, two young
children commented about the woman's clear backpack. There was a small cat inside it! And then I'm
loading the car. An older gentleman was loading his car, next to mine. He wanted to show me his new
wooden walking cane. The handle was shaped like a gun. He was proud.
About 13 miles north of town, we take Old Hwy. 85. It is rather slow going with this gravel road. I
get excited to see a deer cross the road. Then we see 6 more deer. Our stop this morning is at the actual
geographic center of the U.S.A. Kansas held that distinction until 1959, until AK and HI joined the union.
We finally see a hand painted sign “True Center of the Nation”. A wooden cross protrudes from the top of
a 3 foot high pile of rocks. In the field is an American flag. There is a well worn path to reach it. A 2 foot
x 2 foot concrete slab holds Old Glory. 1959 was written into the cement. Also embedded in the slab is a
Geodetic Survey marker. It had a date of 1962.
When I visited here in 1977, there was too much snow on the ground to see anything. So glad to view
it all today. Okay, we'll continue 10+ miles on this seldom traveled gravel road. Up ahead, a mother and
ump a barbed wire fence. And I got a photo of the mother deer jumping it!
Janet is quite excited to see hundreds of sheep in a pasture. There's four more deer ahead of us. On this
20+ mile stretch of Old Hwy. 85, we see maybe seven sprawling ranches.
We stop in Buffalo for gasoline and snacks. This is just north of the road that leads to Bison. And in a
little while, we reach the North Dakota state line. This is state # 39 for me. We have to get a few pictures
of the ND and SD state signs. I learned that North Dakota is the least visited state in the USA. We pass
oil fields where active drilling occurs. We drive by swirling buttes and cornfields. There's a National
Grassland Access sign and thousands of lovely yellow sunflowers.
Our destination today is the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. At a scenic overview we look out upon
a painted desert. The North Dakota badlands are beautiful in their own right. We chat with a Viet Nam
veteran who is camping with two dogs.
As we arrive in Medora (population of 129) we drive down Pacific Avenue. This wild west cowboy
town is the most popular tourist destination in the state. There's a strip mall with lots of fun stores. I loved
the wooden sidewalk. Most all the restaurants were closed for the season. We wound up at Bread + Butter
Cafe... for their Signature Sips and Sandwiches. The turkey & Cuban panini was wonderful. On the menu
for Signature Sodas, I chose The Old West. It's a combo of root beer, raspberry and cream. YUM!!
A few blocks over we reach the Old Town Hall Theater. A few week ago, I made reservations for the
Teddy Roosevelt Show. There's a life sized statue of the former President out front. This one actor / one
hour show is very interactive. It is a living history experience with Joe Wiegand being the T.R. repriser.
There were several stories that “Teddy” told, including Teddy's bear. Old west murals adorn the walls.
A short while later, we are entering to National Park. I use my N.P. Senior Pass that I bought four years
ago. Our first stop was at a field where we viewed hundreds of prairie dogs! I stopped along a two-lane
road to photograph a buffalo. A park ranger told me to keep going. And then we found another colony of
prairie dogs. It was so cute when they wiggled their little tails. On this day, we celebrate National Wildlife
Day. I then got a final score for a football game: Auburn - 60 and Akron -10.
A sign caught my eye as we pulled into a parking lot: Dakota Nights... Astronomy Festival. I had not
seen a telescope barrel that large before. Then I'm on my way to a short hike to the Little Missouri River.
Small mountains came down to the river bank. Geese flew overhead as I saw a rabbit. Was able to get
quite close to the little cottontail for a few pix.
We pulled off at several scenic overlooks. There was a herd of 14 wild horses, just ambling by as they
found plenty of grass. Horses were brought to North America by Spaniards in the 1500s. These are some
of their descendants. It was amazing to watch these mustangs in their wild habitat. Then we see a few
bison. Leaving the park, we pass by the Chateau de Mores. But it had already closed for the day.
In about 30 minutes we pass into Montana. And in 15 minutes we arrive in Wibaux, MT. It's a small
town of 625 people. At the Rodeway Inn, we're met by the owners and their two friendly dogs. We stay
in and have snacks for supper this evening. Nutella sandwiches and an Elk meat-stick. And I got to watch
some college football. I went looking for stars a little before midnight. And I also saw a shooting star. It
was 3:30 when I woke up again. My oh my... I got to view the Milky Way Galaxy for the first time in my
life! So excited!
September 5, 2021 (Sunday)
We're up at 7 for breakfast. There are English muffins and orange juice. I buy a bag of ice as we leave
town. Driving south on Hwy. 7 there's a lot of wide open spaces. On the way to Ekalala, we are rather
mesmerized by strange looking rock formations. Then we see an entrance sign for Medicine Rocks State
Park. With all my research for this trip, I had no idea about this. The soft sandstone formations look like
Swiss cheese. This was a place of “big medicine” where Indian hunting parties gathered. A young Teddy
Roosevelt described this as a fantastically beautiful place.
It was a 70 mile drive, through more wide open territory, until we reached Alzada. It has a total of 29
people and there is only one restaurant. The Stoneville Saloon is “Conveniently Located in the Middle of
Nowhere”. It boasts of Cheap Drinks and Lousy Food. 25 motorcycles pulled in behind us as I tried to
convince Janet to go inside. She said her chili was the best she had ever eaten. Sawdust covered the
wooden floors and both restrooms are “decorated” with hundreds of magazine pages of attractive women
and men. This place is an oasis for motorcycle riders and hungry tourists. The chicken fried chicken was a
hit with me. And I had my first order of Rocky Mountain oysters. In early August, with 500,000+ motor
cyclist at the Sturgis Rally, this saloon hosts a Topless Tuesday competition.
A few miles later, we're at the Montana / Wyoming state line. And we need a few pictures of the state
welcome signs for one of my albums. I recalled that I was at this exact spot 44 years ago. There was a
wooden fence / gate that said: “The Gate is Open... Welcome to Montana”. A new and larger metal sign
has replaced it.
Our main destination today was Devils Tower. This was our country's first National Monument. It was
designated as such in 1906. There's a 3 mile drive up to the parking lot and visitor center. And there was a
colony of prairie dogs along the way. I love to see them shake their tails. Yes, there's a 1.3 mile Tower
Trail that loops around the 867 foot high tower. This tower has been sacred to several tribes of Northern
Plains Indians for thousands of years. Several Native tribes have stories about the origin of the name
Devils Tower such as Bears Tipi or Bears Lodge. Geologically speaking, it was formed by a combination
of tectonic uplift and karst erosion. It is made of phonolite porphyry, an igneous rock, meaning the
solidification and cooling of magma or lava. It could be up to 50 million years old. So impressive. I've
been wanting to come here since this tower was featured in the movie “Close Encounters of the Third
Kind.” 5000 – 6000 mountain climbers visit Devils Tower each year. And I saw six this afternoon.
Arriving in Gillette, we check into the Howard Johnson hotel. I went outside to see the sunset. There
are too many buildings in my way, so I have to cross the road. I was in a tall, grassy area, near a water
drainage ditch. I was certainly cautious and scoured the grass for snakes. And I almost stepped on a.....
$10.00 bill. It's good to be observant. Even took a few gorgeous sunset photos.
Then it was suppertime, we walked to a restaurant adjacent to our hotel: the Lariat Cafe. We had chili
omelettes, hash browns and pancakes. Breakfast for supper was delicious. Our New Mexico born waitress
had lived in Mobile, AL until one month ago. In bed tonight at 10:30.
September 6, 2021 (Monday)
A 6:15 wake-up call starts our Labor Day. The unusual breakfast today includes a leftover omelette,
chocolate-chocolate muffin, nutri-grain bar and a pastry. By 8:15 we are on our way to Buffalo. A city of
4600, I was impressed with statues, murals and sculptures. One mural with several horses touts itself as
“more than a one horse town”! It might be most famous for the Occidental Hotel, built in 1880. And we
enjoyed reading the story surrounding the Crazy Woman legend.
A couple of interesting roads we passed were Dead Horse Creek Road and Crazy Woman Road. Our
next stop is Sheridan. The Sheridan Inn, established in 1893, is a Registered National Historic Landmark.
Buffalo Bill Cody was a part owner when it opened. He even auditioned new members for his touring
company “the Wild West” show from the front porch. And the front porch wraps around three sides!
We drive north again and enter Montana. Our destination is the Little Bighorn Battlefield National
Monument site. The 7th
Regiment of the U.S. Cavalry fought warriors of the Lakota Sioux, Arapaho
and Northern Cheyenne tribes. The battle was fought along ridges, steep bluffs and ravines of the Little
Bighorn River on June 25-26, 1876. This marked the most decisive Native American victory and the
worst U.S. Army defeat in the long Plains Indian War. 263 U.S. Soldiers, including Lt. Col. George Custer
died fighting several thousand Native Americans. There is a sloping hill with hundreds of white marble
markers... standing like silent sentinels. One sign reads “On fame's eternal camping-ground... Their silent
tents are spread... And glory guards with solemn round... The bivouac of the dead”.
We take about a 5 mile drive to where some of the battles and attacks occurred. There are marble
markers along the route where the U.S. Army soldiers actually “Fell” in battle. Some have names of the
fallen while others read U.S. Soldier - 7th
Cavalry. And there are 20+ interpretive signs. This is a place
for quiet reflection. The visitor center / museum is very informative.
I then hiked a few trails. The first took me to the location of Custer's Last Stand. Five years after the
battle, the remains of the officers were dug up and reburied elsewhere. George Custer was then reburied
in West Point, NY. Custer is purported to have said “there are not enough Indians in the world to defeat
the Seventh Cavalry”. Historians tell us that Custer finished last in his class at West Point. He was
impulsive and too aggressive to attack the Indians, who had far superior numbers.
We're hungry as we leave this solemn battlefield site. And across the entrance road we go to the Custer
Battlefield Trading Post and Cafe. There were tipis in the grass for the tourists to enjoy. The sign out front
boasted “Best Indian Taco In The West”. That was Janet's selection. A large piece of Indian fry-bread
covered the plate. The meat and toppings were placed upon it. When the cheese, peppers, meat, sour
cream and salsa were gone, only the fry-bread was left. Hey, this was now dessert, when she was brought
a bottle of honey. I went with a brisket sandwich and potato salad.
Our drive now takes us back into Wyoming. And we go through some tall mountain passages... the
Bighorn National Forest. This area is known as the High Country. There are several steep grades. With my
research for this trip, I recently learned of a Medicine Wheel. It is on our way to Lovell. I was surprised to
see a Geology sign: Bighorn FM (Formation). These mountains appeared in the Ordovician Period, which
was 430 – 500 million years ago.
After leaving the parking lot, the 1.5 mile hike was mostly uphill. The top is at an elevation of 9640
feet. It is along the northwestern ridge of Medicine Mountain. This is sacred and holy land for many
Indian tribes. There is a central stone cairn measuring 12 feet in diameter. 28 rock lines stretch out like
spokes on a wheel. It probably represents the 28 days in a lunar calendar. The circular pattern of the
stones measures about 82 feet in diameter. This site may be as old as 700 years... or it could be a whole
lot older. No one is certain. Visitors are encouraged to remain silent, as a show of reverence. There is a
variety of items left here... along the fence, as a prayer offering. I had originally planned on bringing one
of my dream-catchers. However, only Native Americans can leave a prayer offering. Hiking another 1.5
miles to the parking lot, a native Wyominger said there was another medicine wheel 2 miles southwest of
this location. And another was 2 degrees away from here. I had not read that.
25 miles to the west is Lovell. Our Western Motel is on Main Street. It is owned by an Asian family.
I love the name of their restaurant: the CAUC – ASIAN. With lots of driving today, we snack for supper
and head to bed early.
September 7, 2021 (Tuesday)
We awake at 7:15. I go across the street and fill up the gas tank. I ask a customer about the closest
McDonald's. She said that maybe one day they would have one... but not now. So I picked up muffins and
pastries for breakfast. And we're checked out by 9 a.m.
There is a “Freedom is not Free... Lest we Forget” sign in a small park. Nearby is a patriotic mural of
military warfare. Outside of town the American flag is painted on the side of a storage house. After going
through Crowley, we're on the way to Cody. I wanted to stop in at the Trout Ranch. I had tried to secure a
reservation for last night at this spot. There are 8 tipis... on the banks of the Shoshone River. The videos I
watched made this place so inviting. Maybe we can stay here on a future visit.
Now in Cody, known for its spirit of the wild, wild west. Bill Cody was one of the co-founders of this
city... with a current population of 10,000. We pass the Irma Hotel, which Buffalo Bill named after his
youngest daughter. Built in 1902, there have been two additions to this National Historic Registered place.
Leaving the city, we pass by the location of the Cody Stampede. Cody is the Rodeo Capital of the World.
There are rugged mountains to our west before reaching the East Entrance of Yellowstone National
Park. This is one of five entrances to the park. It has been 19 years since we were here on a family
vacation. Got to take photos at the welcome sign. Then we stop at Sylvan Lake. The water is so very clear.
Looking around, it seems like there are millions of dead trees; burned in the 1988 wildfires. I'm pleased
that new ones have sprouted and are thriving. We're now driving by Yellowstone Lake. This is the
largest high elevation lake in North America. It is about 20 miles long and 14 miles wide. There are
geysers, fumaroles and hot springs found both inside and alongside the lake. This volcanic caldera is also
a supervolcano. There has been debate for decades saying that Yellowstone “is due” for a super eruption.
Well, it has been 631,000 years since the last one. We then stop at the LaHarry Rapids, where several men
Our next little stop is to see the Dragons Mouth and Mud Volcano. And there's the Black Dragons
Caldron. Gases and steam continually rise from a deep cavern within the earth. The smell of sulfur is
everywhere, as we stroll along a boardwalk. Interpretive signs along the way are informative. The water
that bubbled up was rather mesmerizing.
We stop at an overview, looking down upon the Yellowstone River. What a place to soak in the views.
There's a few dozen geese, ducks and swans. Next up is a quick stop at the Virginia Cascades. It is a
gentle waterfall, tumbling 60 feet on the Gibbon River.
Ahead is the Norris Geyser Basin. There are at least 13 geysers in this area. Plus, add in pools, lakes,
hot springs, vents, mudpots and creeks. And it makes the hike full of surprising sights, sounds and smells.
I wanted to see the shimmering pool called Emerald Spring. It's a 27 foot deep, green colored, pool of
water. So pretty. The variety of colors in these pools and geysers are due to heat-loving microorganisms.
Common colors are yellow (sulfur deposits) , dark brown, rust, red, emerald green and dark blackish
green. The must see sight here is Steamboat Geyser. It is the largest active geyser in the world. Its last
major eruption was 1991, when it reached 380 feet! The current minor eruptions usually reach 40 feet.
Boardwalks and paved paths bring you delightfully close to these attractions.
As we leave the basin we see several buffalo grazing at the edge of our road. At a Visitor Center, I'm
sad to see that the theater is closed for repairs. We had wanted to see a special video about Yellowstone.
Well, let's go to the Canyon Fountain and Grill. 6 items on the small menu had already sold out. Janet got
a hot dog, while I got a huge chili dog.
We see more pretty scenery as we exit the park for West Yellowstone, Montana. We have reservations
for two nights at the Traveler's Lodge. I'm able to get more gorgeous sunset pictures. Surprise: there is
only one channel available on our t.v. Okay, I have an unusual supper this evening. There's an antelope
meatstick, pringles, a chocolate muffin, a banana and 3 slices of Nutella bread. I get caught up on my
diary and work on some more postcards. In bed at 10:20.
September 8, 2021 (Wednesday)
I'm up at 7:30 and it is 35 degrees outside. We eat fruit and pastries for breakfast. After entering the
park, I try to take my first photo. Well, the camera battery is still charging... in our hotel room. Okay, now
that the battery is back in the camera... let's go to Idaho. Ten miles to the west, we reach the Idaho state
line. There 400+ stickers on one of the two signs. The big sign has about 80 stickers. The sticker at the
very top read: TRUMP – Make America Great Again.
Back inside Yellowstone N.P. and our first stop is on Riverside Road. The Madison River gently flows
by. A boardwalk leads us along the Two Ribbon Trail. Once again, this water is very clear. A few men are
fly-fishing. At the edge of the river was a rock-stack... 12 stones high.
On down the road we stop by the prettiest meadow. The Madison Elk Herd does not migrate
seasonally. From an elk's perspective, this valley offers abundant food and all that is needed for year-
Beryl Spring offered brilliant blue-green waters. I stopped at Artists Paintpots to check their sign. It
seemed like a long hike to reach the hydrothermal boardwalk area. Not today. Up ahead is Sheepeater
Cliff. The cliff is formed by basalt lava. It reminded me of Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland. These
hexagonal columns were named by Shoshone Indians. Remember when it was 35 degrees this morning.
Now it's up to 85 degrees.
We have now reached the Mammoth Hot Springs area. Water, heated deep underground, rises to the
surface. As it rises, the water percolates through buried limestone, dissolving calcium carbonate. Above
ground, the hot spring water deposits the calcium carbonate, building chalky white travertine terraces.
Like intricate fountains, water trickles over the edges from one to another to another. It blends them
together like a frozen waterfall.
I walked up plenty more steps until reaching New Blue Spring. This is part of the Main Terrace Group.
Rather than being a single pool, the spring is made up of several different vents which means the pool
shifts its position occasionally. The spring started getting quieter 16 years ago. But the dormancy seems
to be ending. I then passed Jupiter Spring on the way back to the parking lot. This is just spectacular.
We drive past Liberty Cap as we head east. Wow, must be 100+ buffalo as we stop for some to cross
ahead of us. Our next destination is the Petrified Tree. This redwood tree was alive 50 million years ago.
Volcanoes erupted triggering massive landslides of ash, water and sand. Abundant silica turned this tree
into stone. There's excitement in the small parking area as a large buffalo meanders in from a beautiful
As we drive back towards Mammoth Springs, we stop at Phantom Lake. The name for this lake (or
pond) is derived from the fact that during the spring season the lake is typically filled water. It is
sometimes dry by the end of summer. It's dry today, covered only by a sea of golden colored grass. We
then pass the 100+ herd of buffalo. Almost all are laying down for the night.
We return to Mammoth Spring and are pleased to see two female elk. We hear the bugling call of a
male elk. This distinctive sound can carry a few miles. The elk rut has begun. This male has a huge 5-
point antler rack. Park rangers have alerted dozens of us tourists to the danger. “Get in you car” or even
someone elses car, if he comes too close. He is looking for a harem of females... but they are showing no
interest. I stop again for a few more pictures of Liberty Cap. And I have to scoot up to the Mammoth
terraces one last time.
We drive into the sunset, then out of the park. Back in West Yellowstone, we choose the Three Bears
Restaurant for dinner. Janet orders a 12 oz. Angus ribeye. She has wanted a “western” steak since we got
here. Hey, I need a 10 oz. Buffalo steak with mashed potatoes and gravy.
At 9:30 we return to the park. We visit Riverside Road again and park under the stars... millions of them! Off
the main road with virtually no light, the Milky Way is vivid tonight!! What a thrill and could
not end our day any better. In bed by 11:00.
September 9, 2021 (Thursday)
My alarm is set for 6:00 and it is 35 degrees again. With a full tank of gas, we find the West
Yellowstone Montana Outpost Restaurant for breakfast. Instead of pancake syrup, they served a caramel
tasting syrup called Montana Drizzle. I liked it!!
After checking out of the hotel, two miles later we reenter Yellowstone. There are lots of vehicles
pulled off the road , next to a meadow with a creek. I guestimated 75 buffalo there. Up ahead was an
active geyser area. There are about 25 steam vents coming from the ground. And we see tens of thousands
of dead trees... from the 1988 wildfires.
We pulled into a busy parking lot and were able to see the last few minutes of the Old Faithful geyser...
putting on a show. I was not too disappointed as I've seen the full eruption 12 times, from two previous
trips here. Now its time to go inside the Old Faithful Inn. It was built in 1904 and is one of just a few
remaining log hotels in the country. My favorite feature in there is the 4-sided stone fireplace, weighing
500 tons. Standing 85 feet in height, it is still just as majestic. Going outside, the Beehive Geyser was
beginning to blow off steam. So pleased that we got to view that.
Heading south, out of the national park, we cross over the Continental Divide. The elevation was
8262 feet. We pass Lewis Lake. It is the third largest lake in Yellowstone. And we saw several canoes.
After some waterfalls we say good-bye to Yellowstone.
About ten minutes later we reach Grand Teton National Park. Yes, I got my obligatory photo by the
park sign. This is our first time at Grand Teton. Pulling over at a scenic overview, there's an informative
marker about “Geologic Crossroads”. Powerful geologic forces- including earthquakes, volcanoes and
glaciers- shaped this landscape. These mountain ranges formed in different ways, but ice-age glaciers
scoured all of them and left behind lakes, U-shaped canyons, cirques, jagged ridges and outwash plains.
Driving across the Snake River, we reached the Colter Bay Visitor Center. What a stunning sight as the
water level of Jackson Lake is way, way down... at least 30%! (MISSING)And the boat ramp closed about 4 weeks
ago. We looked at souvenirs and picked up a few pamphlets. When we went to the restaurant... it had
already closed. I think we'll just leave the park.
Fifteen miles east of the park entrance we arrive at Togwotee Mountain Lodge. We're staying in a cozy
log cabin for two nights. On a large pillow was the message: Dream Destination. The luggage and other
stuff is brought in and we rest until 5:00.
At the main building we reach the Grizzly Grill. Janet wanted an Italian Chicken Sandwich, while I
preferred a Pot Roast sandwich. Very tender... and good. Of course, the fireplace was in use. Afterwards,
I was able to wash one load of clothes at the laundry. I worked on post-cards and this travel diary while I
waited on the clothes. In bed early tonight... at 9:45.
September 10, 2021 (Friday)
We slept until 7:45 this morning. That was nice and its 53 degrees as we start our day. I bought some
donuts and a huge muffin for breakfast. Returning to Grand Teton N.P. we stop at Oxbow Bend Turnout.
I took some of the most amazing reflections photos.
Our next stop was at the Potholes turnout. 15,000 years ago, huge blocks of ice were calved off of
retreating glaciers. When they melted they left behind 20 foot deep depressions. A few dozen trees have
been growing in one of these “forest islands”.
Next up was the Mount Moran Turnout. More wonderful scenery, plus we were able to see a few
glaciers. Geologists describe the Tetons as “young, restless and still rising”. They may have been formed
nine million years ago. On the other hand, the Rocky Mountains are about 55 million years old.
As we continue driving south, there are way too many cars attempting to enter the Jenny Lake parking
lot. We will come back to this later one. We continue south, until we're out of the park and entering
Jackson. A crane had hoisted a giant American flag across the road. I drive past a corner that has an arch
of elk antlers. Cool!
Our next quick stop was at a Visitor Center for some pamphlets. I noticed No Parking signs from
3:00 – 6:00. There was a photo of a young soldier. Over a USMC emblem was a black ribbon with the
words “In Loving Memory of Rylee McCollum”.
South of town I find the Moose-Wilson Road. After a couple paved miles of Autumn looking leaves,
we drove two miles of gravel road. I pulled into the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve. It seemed to be just
a parking lot for hikers.
A few more miles and we saw traffic caution posters. “Sensitive Wildlife Area: No walking or standing
along roadway. View wildlife from your car as you drive by”. Well, well, well. There were three park
ranger cars ahead, making sure that tourists did not stop. Slowing down, I could hear rustling in the trees
and bushes. There were three bears in that thick area. Actually got 2 pictures of one black bear in a tree.
Then, a little ways further down the road, another park ranger let us stop for 5 seconds, but no longer. I
did not see that bear.
I turned around in a large turnout area and retraced my route. I turned around again and this time, I was
able to see that 2nd
bear in a tree. Janet squealed with delight. Back at the parking lot, I strolled to the edge
and saw a moose at the edge of a pond. Then, we saw people running towards an adjacent meadow. Yes, a
large adult brown bear was slowly ambling by. I got an excellent photo before he crossed the road. Took
3-4 more photos before he was out of sight. What a thrill to see these bears today in their natural habitat!
We return to Jackson and decide its lunchtime. There was an adorable blue raft, loaded with eight bears
wearing life jackets. It was an advertisement for river raft adventures. Passing by an apartment complex,
there was a University of Alabama banner out front. We saw a Bubba's BBQ, before stopping at BIN 22.
For an appetizer, we wanted 3 cheeses. A variety? One from cow milk, one from goat milk and one from
sheep milk. Janet and I shared a meatball Spanish tapa. And we had to reminisce about eating tapas in
Spain 9 years ago.
We drove north, out of town and passed the airport. The body of Rylee McCollum is being flown in
today. What an incredible outpouring of support for this fallen soldier. 400 – 500 motorcycles, thousands
of American flags, police officers, first responders, etc. I guesstimated 5000 people lining the streets and
roads. A motorcycle carried two flags: the U.S.A. Flag and a yellow one. It read “Patriot Guard Riders:
Standing For Those... Who Stood For Us”. We drove under a second giant American flag which was
hoisted by two cranes. And there were dozens of U.S.M.C. Flags. Wow... what a tribute.
5:00 and we reach Jenny Lake. This is one of the top 10 must see / do activities... a boat ride across
Jenny Lake. Then there is a one mile hike, passing Hidden Falls and up to Inspiration Point. The last
boat leaves at 4 p.m. Oh well, I hiked on down to the lake and took in some beautiful views.
The last item on our list today is a short visit to Mormon Row. Twenty seven homestead families
settled here in the 1890s. The community was named Grovont. There are only four family homesteads
remaining. There's houses and barns and meadows. This is where the Mormons had perfected
irrigation ditches from nearby waters of the Gros Ventre River. Hay and oats were the main two crops.
With the Tetons in the background, this was quite the scenic stop. It is said that the T. A. Moulton barn is
the most photographed barn in the world.
We left the park and drove through Moran. As we neared Togwotee Mountain Lodge, we were awed
by a glorious rainbow. Back at our cabin it's time to rest and refresh.
Now it's time for dinner and we return to the Grizzly Grill. We each order a Bauru sandwich (thinly
sliced Brazilian roast beef and cheese). Why not get a craft beer? We bought a Snake River Hefe, which is
a wheat beer. Janet went on to bed while I caught up on the diary. And I finished a few more postcards.
We have a gentle rain as I retire at 10:45.
September 11, 2021 (Saturday)
I got up about 6 a.m. And it did rain all night long. I get Janet a cup of coffee as I checked out at 8:00.
At the back parking lot area it will soon be snowmobile season. Their website lists being “Chest deep in
Wyoming's back country”. This part of the Cowboy State receives over 500 inches of light, powdery
snowfall annually. It sure looks like 150+ snowmobiles back there. There's plenty of pretty Fall foliage as
we drive eastward. Crossing the Continental Divide, we're at 9584 feet. I take a quick stop for a
monument photo. It is in memory of the hardy woods and river men who made and delivered cross ties
for the building and maintenance of the railway system.
We pass another Scenic Byway sign before arriving in Dubois. In a field, close to the highway are
dozens of pronghorn antelope. In town we see a 35 foot tall fiberglass fishing pole that had snagged a
trout. There had been a fish & tackle store there years ago. Just down the road was the Antelope Gallery.
A 10 foot tall antelope statue stands at the front door. It's made entirely of discarded antlers. Ten years ago
Ripley's Believe It or Not had a post about this. The owner has 40 years experience using antlers to create
unique items: lamps, tables, furniture, chandeliers, wine racks, fruit bowls, etc. So unusual!
At 10:00 we're ready to tour the National Bighorn Sheep Center. The doorknobs were metal bighorns.
Opened in 1993, there are dozens of (taxidermist processed) sheep from around the world. The focus
seems to be on four varieties. There are Rocky Mountain Bighorn, Desert Bighorn, Stone Sheep and Dall
Sheep. The center has hands-on exhibits and plenty of information. Their site is www.bighorn.org
. In the
souvenir area, there is a whiteboard that has updates on bighorn sightings.
Leaving town, we passed a few “fun” sights. There was a jackalope; which is a mythical cross between
a jack rabbit and an antelope. Next to that was a huge (but not real) buffalo skull at the entrance to a
store. Then there is a bigger than life statue of a 20 foot tall moose. Right by it was a drive-thru bakery
for banana nut cake and coffee. As we left, we got directions to the Whiskey Basin Wildlife Habitat
We are going to visit the “winter range” of the local bighorns. We pass four small lakes and several
campers. These people really want to be away from it all. There are an estimated 900 bighorn sheep in
this area. It is home to North America's largest wintering herd of bighorns. I liked the road sign: Be Bear
Aware. At the end of the trail, we had a little picnic. There was unusual geologic strata in the mountains.
And we see a few glaciers, high upon the mountaintops. We are at the Fitzpatrick Wilderness Trailhead.
A sign there reads “Welcome to the Wilderness”. This wilderness provides you with an opportunity to
experience a natural environment, to have solitude and to use your outdoor skills. A quiet and lovely
setting... but no bighorn sheep roaming around here today.
Entering the Wind River Reservation, I pull of Hwy. 287 into the small town of Fort Washakie. My
wife thought I was lost again. This was another surprise I had planned. We're going to visit Sacajawea
Cemetery. Yes, the young Shoshone Indian guide for the Lewis and Clark Expedition from 1804-1806.
There is a well worn path to her grave site. I thought of the influence this brave young woman had on
the development of the westward expansion of our country. Two of her sons are buried next to her: Bazil
and Baptiste Charbonneau.
The next town we came to was Lander. We decide to go and see the Fremont County Pioneer Museum.
There are wagons, carriages, even a hearse, Indian moccasins, arrowheads, kitchen equipment and plenty
of clothing. Quite interesting.
We now drive south along the “Historic Mines Trail”. Nearing Atlantic City, I had to stop for 10 slow
cows. There are three “ghost towns” we're going to see this afternoon. In fact, there are 76 ghost towns in
the entire state of Wyoming. A faded out wooden sign reads: Atlantic City... Population: About 57. The
Historic Atlantic City Mercantile... Saloon, Steak House... Established 1893 looked to be the only place
here to eat. We each ordered a sandwich. This place was preserved / decorated with lots of fun old timey
stuff. There was a 1917 calendar, a chandelier made with a wooden wagon wheel, stuffed heads of deer
and antelopes, several dozen telephone insulators, old photographs, etc. Just a living time-capsule.
We drove past the Carissa Mine, where gold was first discovered in 1867. Next up was South Pass
City. Their cute sign read: Population: About 4 People; Roughly 3 Cats & Approximately 3 Dogs. There
were several old buildings in different manners of decay. One had a sign: Wyoming's First Masonic
Lodge. Some of the 40+ buildings were preserved quite well. There are several markers in front of these
buildings that were historic and very informative. I certainly enjoyed strolling this street with so many
preserved buildings. This old city was part of the Old Oregon Trail (1843 – 1868).
I took a little hike on the Continental Divide Trail... a designated National Scenic Trail. It wound its
way over Willow Creek. There are several cabin and buildings ruins around the Smith Homestead. And
there's several interpretive signs which add to the history of this place.
The third ghost town to see today was Miner's Delight (originally named Hamilton City). There's a
small cemetery along the path back to the deserted old town. I pass by a few beaver ponds. As I walk
through a gate, it's like entering the 19th
century. There are 15 structures that still remain. About 100 hardy
men and women once lived here. The Bureau of Land Management is carefully maintaining and
stabilizing these old buildings to keep them standing. This preserves the wonder, charm and mystery of an
old west ghost town. I saw a few old, rusty bed frames and stoves here in the ruins. And there's still a
stamp mill. Over the next 70 years, there were several mini-booms. The last resident left in the 1970s.
We drive past the beautiful Red Canyon and soon saw one pronghorn antelope. Then 3, then 2 more.
Now, there's two deer in the roadway as we drive toward Riverton. Tonight we'll stay at the Wind River
Hotel and Casino. After checking in around 8 p.m. we get to call “Grandma” and then our daughter. Since
this is September 11th
, we watch a documentary on the 20 year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack. In
bed a little after midnight.
September 12, 2021 (Sunday)
Our alarm clock is set for 6:50 and we go downstairs to the Red Willow Restaurant for breakfast. At
10:00 we have checked out and heading east to Castle Gardens Petroglyph Site. It's about a 45 mile drive.
We pass several oil drilling wells upon the way. There is a whole lot of rural and pasture area. Near an
Open Range sign, we saw six pronghorn antelopes. This is such a unique landscape. It is not unusual for
me to take a wrong road. On this incorrect route, I wind up at an oil company community.
Okay, I'm kind of surprised to see about 8 vehicles in the parking lot. We won't be the only folks that
want to see the famous “shield” petroglyphs. The natural erosion presents uncommon sandstone rock
formations. In one area it looked like there was a camel. The centuries old petroglyphs are awesome. A
petroglyph is a rock carving or engraving. The shield style depicts warriors with shields... or just a shield.
The state has put in fences for protection. So sad to see the work of too many graffiti vandals. This is such
a peaceful... even meditative place, due to the remoteness. It's another “middle of nowhere” location.
Driving through sparsely populated area, we intersect Hwy 287 at Sweetwater Station. The Sweetwater
Valley is the mid-section of the 2000 mile long Oregon Trail. Our next natural landmark is Split Rock.
This is in the Rattlesnake Range of mountains. At Muddy Gap was a sign that needed to be photographed.
It was the Auto Tour Route. Four National Historic Trails converged here: California Trail, Oregon Trail,
Pony Express and the Mormon Pioneer Trails. Twenty miles later we briefly stop at Martin's Cove. This is
as close as you can get to Devil's Gate. Virtually every emigrant, freighter and soldier who headed west
along this corridor passed through Rattlesnake Pass... at Devil's Gate.
Independence Rock is our next stop. This was one of the most important landmarks on the westward
journey. Thousands of travelers carved their names, dates and initials on this rock. Emigrants passed this
area on July 4, 1825. Looking like a great stone turtle, the highest point sits 136 feet above the
surrounding terrain. Between 1843 and 1869, almost half a million emigrants passed Independence Rock
on their way to a new life on the American frontier. Pioneers that were here by Independence Day could
avoid the first winter snows. This great granite rock was also called the “Register of the Desert”.
We pass a small herd of 8 pronghorn antelope before reaching Pathfinder National Wildlife Refuge. It
is a safe haven for birds, where a few dozen bird species migrate through. I was curious about the white
ring around Steamboat Lake. Looking like snow along the shoreline, it is actually glistening salts of
We see a huge blue lake as we approach Alcova Reservoir. Almost 2500 acres of water recreation,
hydroelectric generation, irrigation and water conservation are due to the Alcova Dam. And we saw a few
sailboats. Such a beautiful oasis.
Up next is a stop at the Bessemer Bend National Historic Site. This was the last fording site along the
North Platte River. Across the river are the distinctive Red Buttes. California, Oregon and Mormon Trail
travelers would no longer encounter the North Platte but would go westward toward the Sweetwater
River. What we enjoyed seeing at the parkside was a hunter, teaching his dog to retrieve. “Ducks” were
tossed out into the river... then his dog would fetch them and bring them back.
We stopped in Casper for gasoline and wanted to see the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center.
But it was closed. We have about 50 miles until we reach Douglas. We'll stay tonight at the Douglas Inn
and Conference Center. Their restaurant serves India food. And we order chicken korma.
The swimming pool is inside the hotel and it does have warm water. After about 5 minutes, a lady left
the pool. Afterwards, I had the whole place to myself. It was very relaxing. In bed before 10:00.
September 13, 2021 (Monday)
Up at 6:30 and ready for more adventures. Breakfast this morning was pancakes and southwestern
style scrambled eggs. I buy ice for the ice chest and we check out at 9:00. We take I-25 south from
Douglas and exit towards Guernsey. We're going to visit Oregon Trail Ruts State Historic Site. At this
site, where the trail was forced away from the river and crossed a ridge of soft sandstone, the track is
worn to a depth of 5 feet. It creates some of the most spectacular ruts remaining along the entire length
of the Oregon-California Trail. The geography of the area dictated that practically every wagon that went
west crossed the ridge in exactly the same place. Amazing!
We made a short stop at a site where a pony express station had been located. There's a 5-foot tall stone
monument with a plaque reading “Pony Express Station 1860 - 1861”. Next to it, by the river is a slender
metal marker. It reads XP Trail 1860 – 1861. I did not see any ruins of the former station.
A few miles away is Register Cliff. This was the first night camp west of Fort Laramie for westward
travelers. Like Independence Rock, names were carved into the rock. Quite historic. The earliest known
carving on the cliff reads “1829 This July 14”. Honestly, it was disappointing to see so much graffiti /
modern day rock carvings.
Nearing Fort Laramie, we stop at an Old Army Bridge over the Platte River. It was erected in 1875.
The bridge is open now to foot traffic only. Then we reach the Fort Laramie National Historic Site.
Originally established as a private fur trading post in 1834, this evolved into the largest and best known
military post on the Northern Plains before its abandonment in 1890. It is situated where two rivers meet
and where the plains reach the mountains. This “grand old post” has had extensive preservation and reno-
vation work on it. Following the first Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1851, the U.S. Army was largely used to
protect and supply emigrants along these three trails. Later, between April 1860 and October 1861, Fort
Laramie was a major post on the Pony Express route between St. Joseph, Missouri and Sacramento,
It is lunchtime as we stop in Torrington (population of 6500). At the 307 Sports Bar and Grill, Janet
had a delicious bowl of chili. I get the 16 oz. Roast beef dinner with potato salad. Wow, this is enough for
lunch and supper.
Ten minutes later we reach the Nebraska state line. Janet took a photo of me by the state sign. This is
now my 40th
state to see. We're on our way to Scotts Bluff. Not far past that we reach the Chimney Rock
National Historic Site. There had been a Pony Express station located here. Rising 470 feet above the
North Platte River Valley, Chimney Rock stands as the most celebrated of all natural formations along the
overland routes to California, Oregon and Salt Lake City. The tip of the formation is 325 feet above the
base. There is a “Great Western Trail” marker in front of the visitor center. Got a few souvenirs.
While we're here, let's travel towards the Scottsbluff National Monument. An essential landmark for
the western travelers, it stands 800 feet above the North Platte River. First recorded by fur traders in 1812,
the north bluff was later named after a fur trader, Hiram Scott. Another impressive landmark. We passed
by the site of another Pony Express station, called Ficklin Springs. We're now on a “Best in the West”
Nebraska Approved Byway.
Next up is a visit to Agate Fossil Beds National Monument. Yes, we passed plenty of cornfields, here
in Nebraska. The visitor center is closed. There are one mile and two mile hikes out to University Hill and
Carnegie Hill. The prized site to see here is a Daemonelix. These are giant sandstone spirals found in the
surrounding hills. The name means Devil's Corkscrew. These are the fossilized burrows of ancient dry
land beavers (paleocasters) that are about 22 million years old.
There's about 32 miles before reaching Harrison, then we're heading to Crawford. On the outskirts of
the town we drive through Fort Robinson. It was home to a World War II POW camp. There were 3,000
German prisoners, captured in north Africa, that were held here. Many buildings, dating back to 1874,
remain in use at the Fort Robinson State Park. The Officers Quarters, built in 1887, still look impressive.
This was quite an active fort. The war chief, Crazy Horse, surrendered here. During WW2, the fort was
the site of a K-9 corps training center for 14,000 dogs. Also, there were 12,000 horses and 10,000 pack
We now enter the Oglala National Grasslands. North of here we drive about 14 miles on a gravel road
until reaching Toadstool Geologic Park. Four campers and a tent are all we see in the campground area.
Nearby is a sod house... with a grass roof, complete with cacti. Slabs of sandstone sit atop the faster
eroding clay, which lends to the “moonscape” formations. After eons, the stone is in the shape of
toadstools. Since the sun had already set, I took the one mile hike. It was the shortest of three hiking trails.
There are poles with painted tops to mark the pathway. But I was on the verge of getting lost. Viewing
these other-worldly formations was amazing! In the daylight, fossils of extinct animals are visible.
When we left, I took the shorter 12 mile gravel road to the highway. It was very dark out there... and
NO traffic. I was constantly looking for wildlife to dart across the road, in front of me. When we finally
reached the 2-lane paved road, we were only one mile south of South Dakota.
Two miles past the state line we reach Ardmore. It had a population of only 26 people in 2010. Now,
nobody lives here. It is a true ghost town. I drove through a few of the empty streets. This is our fourth
ghost town we've seen on this vacation.
It is 28 miles to Hot Springs... and there were no cars to pass me. It was rather desolate. We pull into
the Stay U.S.A. Hotel. I have a hot-tub and jacuzzi all to myself again. We have a few snacks for supper.
September 14, 2021 (Tuesday)
My alarm was set for 6:15 and I thought... let's go back and get into the jacuzzi. It's nice to watch the
sun rise on the Black Hills. Of course, I grabbed a cup of coffee for Janet. And there is breakfast for me.
I'm wearing my Mammoth Cave N.P. tee-shirt today. Why? Because we're going to hike a little in Wind
Caves National Park today.
We saw a few buffalo as we drove about 20 miles north to the national park. I have now been to 29
National Parks. There are 4 different cave tours to take at Wind Caves. The Garden of Eden tour stated at
10:00. All the other tours began at 11:30 or later. Well, that was an easy decision to make. I hurriedly
caught up with my group. I was the 30th
and last one to join this tour.
Tourists first started visiting the cave in 1891. They descended 150 steps; then went down two ropes...
approximately 80 more feet. Then they could all light their candles. 157 miles have been mapped. That is
estimated to be only about 10%!o(MISSING)f the cave system. Currently, this is the 6tth most extensive cave network
in the world. Not much water has seeped in through the millennia. So there are very few stalactites and
stalagmites. There are outstanding displays of boxwork. These unusual cave formations are composed of
thin calcite fins which resemble honeycombs. These are dissolved calcium carbonate that has crystallized
in cracks in the surrounding rocks. Our ranger has a flashlight and points out a strip of brachiopod fossils.
I saw my first cave popcorn. A type of speleothem, these are tightly clustered nodules. These occur in the
wetter areas of a cave, and must have air flow.
We loved it when the ranger warned us and then turned off the lights. There is no darker dark... than
inside of a cave. We learned that 200 men from the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) helped install
electric lines in the 1930s. They were here for 8 years. They also helped sink the 212 foot elevator shaft,
built the visitor center and built concrete stairs. They also planted trees and built trails. We're grateful for
that. Besides room, board and clothing, they received $30 each month.
Driving towards the exit, there is a small herd of 10 pronghorn antelope. And there are a few buffalo
before we exit the park. I stopped at an interpretive sign about the Vanishing Prairie. This American
prairie is a vast ocean of blue sky and a sea of endless grass greet each other at a distant horizon. We then
return to Hot Springs. I had planned on eating lunch at the Mornin' Sunshine Cafe. It is sorta famous for
having a blue buffalo upon its roof. Janet wants a ham and cheese sandwich, while I go for the turkey
melt and soup. And we get pastries for later. I loved a little sign of a buffalo. It read “Do Not Pet the
Across the street is a sight worth seeing... the Kidney Springs Gazebo. One century ago, Hot Springs
was in its heyday as a health spa retreat. There are 170 natural thermal springs in the Hot Springs Valley.
Across the Fall River is the gazebo, built in 1922. It has eight Doric columns and a sculpture atop it.
There is a spring fed waterfall close by. This little city has such an Old West charm.
We'll next visit Mammoth Site. (Check out www.mammothsite.org
) It is an active and ongoing dig.
First discovered in 1974, research shows this was originally a sinkhole. It could have been 65 feet deep.
Currently, there are the remains of 60 Columbian and woolly mammoths here. I learned that Columbian
mammoths grew to 13 feet in height and weighed up to 10 tons. The woolly mammoths were about 10
feet tall and weighed about 5 tons. I was fascinated by their molars. They had six sets of molars over the
course of their life. Those teeth had to grind upwards of 300 pounds of forage daily to eat. Before we flew
out here, I found a coupon for a mystery gift. Well, we were given an authentic sediment sample that had
been collected from around the bones. This site boasts the largest concentration of Columbian mammoths
in the world!
Janet suggested that we drive on to The Badlands National Park. It's about 60 miles east of Rapid City.
And I got my photo at the entrance sign. I visited here in 1977. We got very excited to see at least 20
bighorn sheep. Also viewed several buffalo and rabbits. There were two male sheep with the mature
bighorns. Amazing! And they looked so tame. There are about 15 scenic overlooks and we hit them all.
My favorite was seeing the yellow colored mounds. I think the geological highlight is the striped layers of
sedimentary rock. Being a shallow sea 75 million years ago, water shaped this unusual terrain. When you
think of the badlands, you think of vibrant red, white and tan stripes.
Exiting the park we saw another beautiful sunset. I had hoped to stop at one or two more ghost towns,
but it was too dark. At 8:00 we check into the Rapid City Days Inn. Two doors away was the Millstone
Family Restaurant. A first for me tonight was a cheeseburger-macaroni soup.
Back at the hotel, I head down to the hot tub. Well, it is out of order. And the pool is just too cool to be
comfortable. So, I pack for our return trip tomorrow. I'm in bed at midnight.
September 15, 2021 (Wednesday)
This is our 15th
and final day out west. We get up around 8:00. There's yogurt, muffins, apple sauce,
pastries, coffee and apple juice for breakfast. Packing the car and it is 60 degrees with plenty of sunshine.
Our last vacation destination is the world famous Wall Drug Store. In 1931, Ted and Dorothy Hustead
bought the only drug store in Wall. During the Great Depression, they had a tough time staying in
business. The town of 326 people was sorta in the middle of nowhere. Visitors were usually on their way
to Yellowstone National Park or Mount Rushmore. In July of 1936, Dorothy came up with a brilliant idea.
To get the motorists off the highway and into their store, they offer Free Ice Water. Dozens of homemade
signs, 12 inch x 36 inch, were put out along the roadside for maybe 50 miles. It worked. And it continues
to work as 2 million people visit each year. It is now a 76,000 square foot attraction and takes up an entire
city block. Yes, there is a drug store plus several restaurants, a chapel, a pharmacy museum, Indian and
old west paintings, a rock shop, stores for souvenirs, leather goods, tee-shirts, handcrafted Black Hills
gold jewelry, hats, boots, camping equipment, and panning for gold, gems & fossils kits. Outside in the
Backyard section, you can find a giant Jackalope, a paleontology store, a roaring T-Rex dinosaur, an
arcade and bunches of other family fun stuff. What a treat!!! We must have seen 10,000 sunflowers on
the way back.
Returning to Rapid City, we go to the Perkins Family Restaurant for lunch. It is adjacent to the hotel
where we stayed our first two nights. The special today was turkey and dressing. Yum!
I had to fill up the gas tank before reaching the car rental facility at 2:30. I recycled 8 more plastic
bottles, then donated our ice chest to the staff at Alamo Car Rental. And at 4:00 we're on our way to
DFW. Dallas was beautifully lit when we landed at 7:15 And soon we're in the air, coming back to
Mobile. We touch down at 10:45. At the baggage claim carousel, our two suitcases are the very last two
pieces of luggage to come out. There are NO taxis to greet the travelers. So, we are pleased to have our
car here. We arrive home around 11:30. Life is good!
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