Presidents on the Mountain

September 23, 2020

After packing up camp, it was only a 15 minute drive to the town of Keystone. We stopped and bought a few t-shirts for the grandkids and then drove another 5 minutes to Mount Rushmore. We arrived pretty early in the day, so it was not too crowded. We have decided that in addition to a pandemic, 2020 is the year of National Park construction. Much of the main plaza at Mount Rushmore was closed due to construction, but they did leave enough room to take a few pictures of the mountain. 

We walked the Trail of Presidents pathway around the area and took some pictures. We also noticed a few missionaries at a booth talking to people in the free speech zone. It was strange to see that. They were both assigned to locations outside of the country, but were temporarily in the Rapid City Mission.

After Mount Rushmore we drove to highway 16 and found a campsite at Oreville campground. It is a forest service campground, that with our National Parks pass, only cost $10/night. We plan to be out after dark, so we need to find a campsite early. 

Most of the rest of the day was driving the scenic byways of Custer State Park. We came into the park from the north on the Needles Highway. They thought this would be an impossible highway to build, but with enough dynamite, they were able to blast their way through the mountains. The drive is very pretty with granite spires and green and gold leaves on the trees. The road is very winding and narrow and passes through three tiny tunnels. On one tunnel we only cleared the height by 6 inches, and our mirrors just barely cleared the sides of the Eye of the Needle tunnel. I was surprised we didn’t scrape the mirrors.

Once over the top of the mountain we stopped and walked around Sylvan Lake. It is a very pretty lake with a wall of rock that creates a dam. They built a small concrete dam to fill an open spot in the wall to complete the dam.

From the lake we continued the drive around the park. The next section is called the Wildlife Loop. This section was in the low rolling hills and grasslands of the park. We saw antelope, a huge herd of buffalo and a small pack of burros. We stopped to pet the burros, as they were quite use to people feeding them. I think they hang around the roads waiting for people to stop and feed them treats.

The final section of the park is the Iron Mountain Road. Another winding, twisting and narrow road over the mountain. Once you get to the top there are views of Mount Rushmore. There are also three tunnels on this road and the last two tunnels frame the presidents on Mount Rushmore as you look through the tunnels. It was difficult to get a good picture, but it was cool to see. Another feature of this highway were the “pig tail” sections of the road, where there is a tight spiral turn that takes you under the bridge that you just crossed.

Our final stop for the day was the Crazy Horse Memorial. This mountain carving has been in process since 1948. I would guess it is only 20-30% complete. However, they have an impressive area with museums and other displays that talk about the artist and his work and the Native Americans. The original artist stated it may take 100 years to complete the work, but that didn’t matter because they are already fulfilling the original mission of the project by sharing the story of the Indians. He has passed away, but his children are continuing with the work.

The final show of the night was a laser light show on the side of the mountain. We watched from the van in the parking lot. It was pretty impressive and fun to watch (but difficult to take pictures). It lasted around 30 minutes and we didn’t leave the site until around 8:30 pm. It was dark drive to our campsite, so we were glad we had reserved it earlier in the day.

The Badlands are the Good Lands

September 22, 2020

The night at Cabela’s was okay. All of our neighbors were quiet, but we could occasionally hear semi trucks on the freeway. We left Rapid City around 8:30 am and drove east for about 100 miles. Our first stop was in Wall, SD to visit the world famous Wall Drugstore. This drugstore opened in 1931 and has been expanding ever since. The store takes up a city block and carries almost anything you want. It is famous for their roadside signs that dot all the surrounding roads for 100’s of miles. I think we first saw the signs in eastern Wyoming.

It was an interesting place to see, but mostly a tourist stop with a lot of different shops. They do have a working pharmacy and there is also a chapel, bookstore and fudge shop. In the “backyard” they have a lot of things for the kids to play on. We stayed in Wall for about an hour before continuing east down I-90.

The next stop was at Alpha-9, a decommissioned Minuteman Missile site. This was very interesting to see the missile silo with a training missile still in it. They had a cell phone audio tour that walked you through the history of the strategic missile program of the US. There is also a visitor center and control center to tour about 10 miles away, but they were both closed due to Covid.

After the missile site, we headed south into the Badlands National Park. We stopped at the visitor’s center and had our lunch before driving the scenic drive through the park. The terrain was very rugged and it was interesting to look at, but we were there in the heat of the day, so it was not very comfortable. There was also still smoke in the air, so the vistas across the landscape were not that great.

After a few hours in Badlands, we headed back towards Rapid City. Tomorrow we are visiting Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park and the Crazy Horse Monument, so we wanted to find a camping spot closer to these locations. We found a great spot in the forest not far from Mount Rushmore, about 2 miles on a trail just off Rockerville Road. It was in the trees and near a babbling brook. We didn’t see any another vehicles for the rest of the night.

Deadwood Shootout

September 21, 2020

We woke up to a nice sunny morning with beautiful blue skies. It was sure nice after a week of smoke filled skies. After breakfast we drove down the mountain to the town of Deadwood.

We spent the day walking around town, reading the historic stories and stopping in the shops and businesses. We walked back to the van to eat lunch and then hurried back for a re-enactment of the shooting of Wild Bill Hickok in the No. 10 Saloon. It was very interesting as they act it out, according to real history. 

After that re-enactment we made our way down the street to watch the shoot-out in front of the Centennial Hotel. It was all fun to watch and hear about the history of this infamous old west town.

We left Deadwood around 2:30 pm and drove to Stugis, SD. I had high expectations of seeing the site of the big motorcycle rally that ended just a couple of weeks before. However, it was a little depressing as most of the stores and shops along Main Street were either closed for the season or boarded up. We talked to one shop owner and she told us all the building fill up for about a month around the rally, then they are closed for the other 11 months of the year. We walked up and down Main Street once and then we were back in the van to continue our trip to Rapid City.

We gassed up the van in Rapid City and then drove to the south end of the city to the Fort Hayes movie set from the movie Dancing with Wolves. They had the old courthouse/office used in the movie and several other old buildings with a rope maker, tinsmith, blacksmith and panning for gold. The grounds were kind of junky and most of the displays were kind of disorganized.

We had tickets to the Chuckwagon Dinner and Country Music show. The dinner was pretty disappointing (especially compared to the meal at the Cody Cattle Company). Very little food and it was not very good. Also the process for serving and cleaning up was not very pleasing. The whole meal was not a good customer experience. However, the musicians were great and they put on a show that was fun to watch.

Since it was late and dark by the time we left Fort Hayes, we decided to drive 15 minutes and camp in the parking lot of Cabelas. This is the first time we have ever camped in a place like this, and is not our first choice. However, the parking area was on the back side of the building, away from the highway, so it was not too noisy. There were about 30 other campers spread out across the parking lot, but every one was quiet and most campers were dark by the time we parked and lifted our top for the night.

The Devil’s Tower

Sept 19, 2020

We drove out of the Bighorn mountains into the town of Buffalo. From there we drove onto I-90 and headed east. As we left the Bighorn mountains, the terrain became more rolling hills and grassland. We even passed a cowboy cattle drive on our way out of the mountains. 

We stopped in Gillette, Wyoming for gas and some groceries from Walmart. In Gillette we saw blue skies for the first time on our trip. There was still some smoke in the air, but if you looked straight up you could see the blue sky. From Gillette it was about 60 miles to Devils Tower National Monument. 

Devils Tower is a large rock monolith rising from the surrounding countryside. It was the nation’s first national monument that was founded in 1906. The original name was Bear Lodge, named by the Kiowa people. Their legend is the tower was formed when eight children were playing when one boy turned into a bear. He chased the other children up a stump of a great tree. As the other children were on the stump, it began to grow, leaving the bear on the ground. The bear’s claws created the vertical lines in the tower, as he struggled to climb the tree. 

We arrived at the tower around noon. Being later in the day it was a little crowded, but not too bad. We hiked the 1.3 mile trail around the tower and took some pictures. There were several groups of climbers either coming down the tower or working their way up. It was fun to spot them on the tower. After out hike we ate lunch in the van.

We stopped at the trading post at the park entrance before driving back towards Sundance, Wyoming. Just a mile from Sundance, we drove up the mountains into the Black Hills NF and found a nice camping spot on the top of a hill. It was a nice flat spot that was in the trees. We set up the shower tent and we both took showers. After dinner we read and talked. It was not too cold of a night, but it did rain a bit and the wind blew. Maybe that will clear out the rests of the smoke.

Sept 20, 2020

It was nice to wake up and see blue skies and no smoke. We left camp about 9:30 am so we could ride down the mountain to Sundance, Wyoming to attend church. They have a small branch and counting us there were 32 people in attendance. All the people were really nice and glad to have visitors. Sundance is also the town where Harry Longabaugh got the name the Sundance Kid, after spending 18 months in the town’s jail.

From Sundance we drove east into South Dakota and stopped in the town of Spearfish. This is a very pretty town of 10,000 people on the north end of the Black Hills. We had met a couple in Thermopolis that were from Spearfish and they had recommended going to the fish hatchery on the edge of town. The DC Booth Fish Hatchery was founded in 1896 and is listed as a National Historic Site. It is still a working hatchery and the grounds are free to visit and explore. We walked through the grounds and saw a lot of fish.

We left Spearfish and drove south on highway 14 through Spearfish Canyon. The road winds through the canyon following Spearfish creek. The trees in the canyon were changing to their autumn colors and it was real pretty. We stopped at a trailhead to make sandwiches for lunch before continuing through the canyon. We also stopped at Bridal Veil Falls and Spearfish Falls for a few pictures.

We exited the Spearfish canyon near Deadwood, SD. We plan on spending time in Deadwood tomorrow, so we drove through town and up the mountain just west of town. We found a spot for the night, on the top of a bluff, about 3 miles from town. It gave us a nice view of the Black Hills.

The World’s Largest Hot Spring

Thermopolis, Wyoming

Sept 18, 2020

From our campsite it was about an hour drive down highway 120 to Thermopolis.

The bank in Meeteetse that was almost robbed by the Wild Gang.

Thermopolis promotes itself as having the World’s Largest Mineral Hot Spring. I’m not sure how they measure that. The ride was through the flat desert and rolling hills. Eva was commenting that she didn’t realize that Wyoming was such a pretty state, even beyond Yellowstone/Teton area. Most of our exposure to Wyoming is along I-80 from Evanston to Rawlings. Just desert and wind. The north half of the state has been very nice to travel in.

We arrived in Thermopolis around 10 am and stopped at the State Bath House. They have a couple of hot mineral pools to soak in for free. They only give you 1/2 hour to soak in the 104 degree water. That was plenty of time for us and it felt pretty good. It was also nice to take a real shower and get cleaned up.

After showering we walked around the park, through the terraces and across the Swinging Bridge that crosses the Bighorn River. We also took a drive through the Bison Pasture, but the bison must have been on a different schedule as we didn’t see a single animal.

From Thermopolis we drove for two hours into the Bighorn National Forest to find our camping spot. The road rose to over 9500’ as we crossed the top of the mountains. Fortunately, the road went down the other side and we found a camping spot at about 8000’. Not as cold as the top of the mountain, but we expect it to be cold tonight. The drive through the mountains was beautiful with lots of mountain peaks and forests. Our camping spot was on Circle Park Creek, just before Buffalo, Wyoming. You can see from the picture that the smoke is still filling the skies and blocking the sun.

Buffalo Bill Country

Cody, Wyoming

September 16, 2020

The next morning we left the Grand Teton area and continued into Yellowstone. It seemed like there was even more smoke in the air. It was difficult to see anything in the distance. We stopped at a few scenic overviews, but there was not much to see with all the smoke. The pictures did not look good either due to the smoky air.

Our path took us out the east entrance of Yellowstone. It was our first time in that area. The road takes you through the mountains and peaks. It would have been really pretty if we could have seen anything. The road led us out of the mountains to the valleys near Cody, Wyoming. We decided to camp at Buffalo Bill Reservoir State Park. We planned to be in Cody until later in the evening and there weren’t many free campsites in the area. This way we had our campsite reserved for the night.

After arranging the campsite, we drove five miles into town. The road from the reservoir went by the dam and down Shoshone canyon through 3 tunnels. The canyon is very narrow and it is a nice view and drive. 

In Cody we went to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. This complex has 5 different museums (Plain Indians, Firearms, Western Art, Natural Science and Buffalo Bill Cody) in one location. The admission is $19.25, but is good for two days. We spent a couple of hours in the museum until it closed and just made our way through the the Plain Indians Museum.

We had reservations for a western dinner and show at the Cody Cattle Company. Due to Covid they really restricted the admission, but it was nice they were able to open and present the show. The dinner was all you can eat and we had smoked brisket and chicken, salad, beans, potatoes, applesauce and cornbread. It was all real good. The show was four musicians playing a variety of western music. We had a great time and enjoyed both the dinner and show.

It was getting dark by the time we got out and it took about 20 minutes to get back to camp. We filled up with water and then parked in our campsite for the night. It was nice to have a warm night, after being cold the past two nights.

In the morning we stopped at the Buffalo Bill Dam for the tour and visitor center. The dam was built in 1910 and was the highest dam in the world at that time. It was the first arch dam and was built without steel re-enforcement.

We spent the rest of the day in town. We went back to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West and toured the other four museums. It was educational and very interesting. We were very glad that we went and had two days to see it all. 

From the museums we went to By Western Hands. It is gallery for Western style furniture. There were some very expensive pieces, but were not really our style. I wanted to go and look for ideas, so I took a few pictures of the furniture. We also walked around the main street a bit to see the town.

From Cody we headed south on highway 120. Tomorrow we plan on visiting the world’s largest hot springs in Thermopolis, WY. For the night we found a spot at Lower Sunshine Reservoir, just west of Meeteetse, WY. It was a very quiet and private spot to camp.

Granite Creek Hot Springs

Sept 14, 2020

We got a late start leaving from home, but were out of the house around 10 am. The first day was all driving as we traveled on I-80 out of Utah and through Evanston, WY. A few miles past Evanston we turn north on the highway 189 and continued through Kemmerer, WY, the site of the first J.C. Penny’s. 

We continued further north to Granite Creek Canyon. The gravel road up the canyon is about 10 miles long, but we found a campsite 5 miles up the road on the banks of Granite Creek. It was a warm evening, so we hiked around the area before dinner. Eva made chicken fajitas for dinner. After eating, the sun set and it turned cold, so we played cards in the van and watched a movie.

The sky was clear and cold at night. It was 29 degrees that night and we were a little cold in the van. I will need to run the heater at night, if it stays this cold. 

The next morning the sun came up early, but since the skies were so smoky from the wildfires, it took a while for the sun to warm us up. We ate a late breakfast then continued up the canyon following the creek to the hot springs. The pool opened at 10 am and we were the second car in the parking lot. From the parking lot you had to walk up the road 1/4 mile to the hot springs pool.

The pool was built by the CCC in the 1930’s and is managed by the Forest Service. It was $8 to use the pool, but it was a nice concrete pool that had beautiful views of the mountains. We stayed in the pool until noon and then walked back to the van and changed clothes.

From the hot springs we went back down the canyon a half mile to the Granite Creek Waterfall. It was a pretty water fall with several other hot pools across the creek.

We continued down the canyon and stopped for lunch just before getting back on the highway. After eating we continued to Jackson, WY. There were several construction zones on the highway so it was a slow trip. At one construction stop we saw a herd of big horn sheep near the Hoback River. We stopped and walked back up the highway to get some pictures. They were across the river, so it was difficult to get a good picture.

Once we made it to Jackson, we gassed up the van at Smiths. There was more construction in town and the roads were packed. We slowly made our way through town and then headed north toward Grand Teton National Park. We had planned to stop and do some hiking in the park, but the skies were so smoky we decided not to stop.

When we were in Grand Teton in July, there were 3 days of solid rain, so we didn’t get to see the Teton peaks or do any hikes. This trip it was the smoke that caused the problem, but we could faintly see the Teton peaks. We drove through the park and found a camping spot in the national forest just east of the park.

We had nice private spot in the woods and Eva made a good InstaPot meal for dinner. Like most nights, once the sun went down it turned cold so we played cards in the van.

Soda Springs and Lava Hot Springs

June 30, 2020

It was another rainy night and a muddy drive our of our campsite. We followed the Gros Ventre river back down into the valley into the national park. From there we headed south to Jackson, WY. Once in Jackson we parked near the town square. The rain continued off and on through out the day. It even started hailing while we were walking around the town. Jackson is like most other tourist towns, expensive and crowded. It reminds me of a combination of Moab and Park City. We walked around and looked in some of the shops, but didn’t buy anything. There were a lot of people around, but most were wearing masks. All the building required masks for anyone who entered.

After leaving Jackson we drove southwest along the river. It is a beautiful area in the forest with the Snake river running through the valley. At the Alpine junction we turned south and started looking for a campsite. We drove around the south end of Palisades reservoir to look for a campsite. Once we turned off the highway the road was normally dirt, but today was mud. It wasn’t too bad for the first 2 miles, but after that it was quite wet and muddy. We drove about 10 miles along the road, but all the good camping spots were full. It was mostly filled with trailers that had been dropped off, probably for the weekend. The lake level must have risen, because at one camp, a trailer was parked alongside the lake, but the lakeside tires were in the water and if it rose much higher, they may not be able to get the trailer out.

After driving down the road 10 miles, we decided to head back to the highway and look somewhere else. About 5 miles further south we found a spot on the banks of the Salt River. It was a nice flat gravel spot. We set up camp for the night and ate dinner. As we finished dinner the wind and rain kicked up and we had quite a storm for about an hour. It calmed down at about 9 pm and was nice night.

July 1, 2020

We had a wet rainy night, but the morning was clear blue skies. We took our time leaving camp, so the van top could dry up before lowering the top. We left camp at 10 am and drove south on the highway through Etna, Freedom and Thayne. We headed west through Freedom into Idaho and over the mountain to Soda Springs.

We stopped in Soda Springs to view the Soda Springs Geyser. This geyser was formed in the 1930s when the town attempted to find a source of warm water for the town swimming pool. At 315 feet deep they unleashed the extreme pressure of a carbon dioxide geyser. This geyser will shoot over 100 feet high and is now on a timer so it will erupt for 5 minutes, every hour on the hour. This is the world’s only captive geyser.

After watching the geyser and eating lunch we continued west to Lava Hot Springs. We parked at the town park and walked to the hot pools and spent a couple of hours soaking in the various hot pools. After showering we walked into town and along the river. Around 6 pm we drove out of town and found a camping spot on the Portneuf River for the night. Tomorrow we will drive home.

Trip Specs

10 nights camping

1300 miles

Grand Teton National Park

June 28, 2020

Today was Sunday so we took it easy. We woke up later than normal and took our time getting ready. It was a rainy night and rained off and on all day long. After breakfast we lowered the top and left the campground. We drove south on the highway out of Yellowstone. We did make a few stops for pictures, but it was raining again, so the stops were short.

We drove out of Yellowstone and into Grand Teton National Park. We stopped at Coulter Bay Visitors Center, hoping for cell phone access, but there wasn’t much of a signal. It rained all day long and the forecast was for rain/snow the next 3 days. We decided to find our campsite early so we headed east into Buffalo Valley. We found a camp spot above the Buffalo River. Around 3 pm it stopped raining and the sun came out for a few hours so we set up the shower tent and took showers. The rain returned in the evening and continued all night long. I think we will have to return to Grand Teton another time when the weather is better.

June 29, 2020

We took our time getting up in the morning, but finally broke camp and drove back into the park. We made our way to Jenny Lake. This is a beautiful area with the lake against the mountains. However, with the rain and clouds, we couldn’t see the mountains. We put on our rain jackets and walked around the area, but the rain never stopped and the clouded blocked the views. After lunch in the parking lot, we decide to go find a camp. Before leaving the park we stopped at Mormon Row. This was a farming settlement that the Mormons started in the 1890s. There were several houses and barns available to look out. When the skies are clear, there is a beautiful view of the Teton mountains across the flat plains. 

From the park we drove east to a canyon above Kelly, WY. We found a camping spot on the Gros Ventre river to spend the night. It was still early in the day, but kept raining all day and night, so we stayed in the van, napping and reading. Later in the evening we watched a movie.

Old Faithful

June 27, 2020

We left camp early, around 6 am, so we could avoid the crowds at Old Faithful. It was about a 40 minute drive from Bridge Bay campground to the Old Faithful area. It was a good choice to leave early. The next Old Faithful geyser prediction was about 20 minutes after we arrived. There were a lot of people there, but not as crowded as later in the day.

We had a great seat to watch the eruption, that was only a couple of minutes after the predicted time. Old Faithful is the most predictable large geyser, but is not the largest geyser. After taking pictures and videos we went back to the van and raised the top to prepare and eat breakfast. That is one of the benefits of the van, we have everything we need with us all the time.

We hung around the van for a while before going to the general store to look for bread and cereal, but prices were too high. At that point it was time for another Old Faithful eruption, so we walked over to the boardwalk that circles the geyser. This time the place was packed. People were lined up 10 deep in the main viewing area. We found a spot over on the side that was near the trail we wanted to hike on. For this eruption, Old Faithful wasn’t faithful. It was about 20 minutes late, but was still worth watching.

We then hiked through the Upper Geyser Basin. There are many geysers and boiling pools with the Firehole River running through the area. Our first stop was Grand Geyser. This is another large geyser that we liked better than Old Faithful. You are able to sit much closer to the action, there were not many people there, and the eruption lasts for 20-30 minutes. It was really fun to be close and watch this eruption.

We continued through the upper basin and saw other small eruptions and some beautiful pools. The Morning Glory Pool was very deep blue color with a red rim. It was very pretty.

After getting back to the van I tried to update the blog, but the cell reception was never good enough to even upload a single picture. At this point the main area around the lodge and building were packed. It reminded me of Disneyland with all the people and cars.

We soon left and drove north to the Black Sand Basin. This was another geyser basin with a few geysers and pools. We then headed to our new campsite at Grant’s Village campground, about 25 minutes from Old Faithful. We checked in and were setup at camp by 5:00 pm. We had a dinner of leftovers and then went for a 2 mile hike down by the lake. We ended the night playing games and reading.

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