Monthly Archives: October 2017

Badlands & Minuteman Missile Nat’l Site; Oct. 4, 2017

Since we were traveling along Interstate 90 through South Dakota, on our way back to North Carolina, we decided to make a stop at the Badlands National Park. Neither of us had ever been there. We were anxious to get home, so we allotted only a few hours for the visit.

We parked the RV at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. The Museum is just north of the Badlands, at Exit 131. Between 1963 and the early 1990s there were 15 launch control facilities in South Dakota. They commanded and controlled 150 launch facilities holding Minuteman Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. This museum preserves two of these facilities in their historic site.

After our tour we unhooked the Jeep and drove down the road to the Badlands. The land surrounding the Badlands is primarily flat. As you approach the park you are awed by the massively large and colorful geologic deposits which make up the Badlands. It is certainly a unique site.

We enjoyed our drive through the park. If we ever visit again I would love to spend a couple nights. Capturing a full moon, or the Milky Way, over the geologic deposits would be fantastic.

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On our way back to the Minuteman Missile, to pick up the RV, we stopped by Wall, SD. We saw a lot of signs about the Wall Drug Store and figured we should check it out. It is quite the tourist spot. We buzzed in and out of the gift shops in record time and got back on the road quickly. There wasn’t much for us in Wall.

After picking up the RV we worked our way to Mitchell, SD where we spent the night in a Cabella’s parking lot. It was our first time overnighting at a Cabella’s. It was great. This particular store has one large lot dedicated to RVs and Trucks. The parking spaces are long and wide. They even have a dump station and water. Additionally, there are a few restaurants within walking distance. In the future, we will be looking for a Cabela’s, over Walmart, for on-the-road overnight parking.

The following day we drove 645 miles to O’Fallon, IL. We spent the night at a Walmart. Like a horse to its barn, we were ready to get home so we got an early start the next day too and drove 670 miles to our home base; Mountain Falls Luxury Motorcoach Resort in Lake Toxaway, NC. We made it there right as the sun was setting.

We had been gone for only a month and had visited with friends in St. Louis, enjoyed Aspen, Ouray, Silverton, Durango, and Telluride in Colorado. We spent a great week with friends in Moab, UT. We visited Yellowstone, the Tetons, the area around Cody WY and the Badlands. Whew, that’s a lot of adventure in one month! We loved it all!!

Until next time……

 

 

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South Dakota – Spearfish and Mt Rushmore area: Oct. 1 – 4, 2017

If you ever travel to South Dakota to see Mt. Rushmore you might want to allocate some time to drive along the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway. It is a 22-mile route, along Alt-14, which begins at Exit 10 off of Interstate 90 in Spearfish. The scenery is breathtaking. You are surrounded by thousand-foot-high limestone palisades. Spearfish Creek flows along the road and there are numerous canyon waterfalls to see.

Weather during our drive was less than optimal. It was rainy and cold. While it wasn’t nice being out in the elements, it did lead to some good pictures. Generally, nature pictures in the middle of the day do not turn out well. A cloud ridden day can be helpful for color saturation, which was nice to have since the leaves were showing off their Fall colors.

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Along the route we stumbled upon the Spearfish Canyon Lodge and Latchstring Restaurant. Although we weren’t very hungry, we decided to stop in for a bite to eat. Mostly, we stopped in for some warmth. We were cold to the bone and it was raining pretty hard at the time. We were glad we stopped, as lunch was very good.

Following lunch we headed over to Lead, SD. Lead was founded back in 1876, after the discovery of gold in the surrounding mountains. It is the site of the Homestake Mine; the largest, deepest (8,240 feet) and most productive gold mine in the Western Hemisphere before closing in early 2002. In the early 1900’s Lead was the second largest town in South Dakota. The town is fairly quite today. While in Lead we took a tour of the Black Hills Mining Museum. It was an informative and interesting tour, which we enjoyed.

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Our next stop was Deadwood. This is a quaint old Western town with cobbled streets. We were surprised to find that every gift shop, hotel and restaurant in this small town had some type of casino gaming equipment. If you like to gamble, you shouldn’t miss this place. It is gambling mecca with an old Western spin to it.

After thoroughly enjoying our day trip we returned back to our RV, located at the Spearfish Walmart. Because it was late in the afternoon we decided to spend a second night there.

The following day we were ready to head down to Mt. Rushmore. However, after we turned on the Tire Pressure Monitoring System we found that one of the front Jeep Cherokee tires had low pressure. A nail was embedded in it. Fortunately, there was a GoodYear Tire store just down the road. We ended up replacing both front tires.

We made it down to Keystone (Mt. Rushmore area) by mid-day. Many of the campgrounds were closed for the season. Fortunately, we found a Travelodge Hotel that also had a few RV spots for rent. We parked the RV, unhooked the Jeep, and headed off to see the area.

Our first stop was at the Crazy Horse Memorial. This monument is one of the world’s largest sculptural undertakings. Once completed, it will depict the Oglala Lakota warrior, Crazy Horse, riding a horse and pointing into the distance. The head of Crazy Horse will be 87 feet high; by comparison, the heads of the four U.S. Presidents at Mount Rushmore are each 60 feet high. The monument has been in progress since 1948 and is far from completion.

Next, we took a drive through Custer State Park. The park encompasses 71,000 acres of spectacular terrain and is noted as having an abundance of wildlife. However, we did not see any wildlife, aside from deer. We did enjoy driving amongst the tall granite spires and squeezing through the small tunnels.

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We ended our short road trip at Mt Rushmore, just before sunset. I’ve seen so many pictures of the monument growing up that seeing it in real life was a little anti-climatic. Regardless, I’m glad we had the opportunity to visit. It is such a unique tribute to these four presidents.

For dinner, we decided to try out the only restaurant in Keystone that was still open at this late time of the season. It was a cute old Western style restaurant, called Ruby House.

The next morning we packed up and headed off for the Badlands. More on that later…..

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Cody, WY: Sep. 29 – Oct. 1

We loved our short visit to Cody, WY. There is so much to see in and around this Western town, named after its founder, “Buffalo Bill” Cody.

We stayed at the Ponderosa RV Park. It is a small family owned campground right on the edge of town, and within walking distance to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, which houses five separate museums, including the Buffalo Bill Museum, the Cody Firearms Museum, the Draper Natural History Museum, the Plains Indian Museum and the Whitney Western Art Museum.

If you are ever in Cody, the Center is a ‘must-see’. Charlie and I are not big gun people, but we spent hours perusing the Cody Firearms Museum. It is fascinating. The museum houses the most comprehensive collection of American firearms in the world. They have over 7,000 guns in their collection.

The Buffalo Bill Museum is full of interesting historical information about Buffalo Bill’s life. It is said that in his heyday he was the most recognized and celebrated person in the world – the first truly international “superstar.”

The Whitney Western Art Museum has all different types of Western art work, while the Plains Indian Museum does a great job of telling a story from the Indian’s perspective with full scale mock-ups of Indian villages and day to day objects. We enjoyed our visit to all 5 museums. It took a full day to get through them, and we felt we went through them fairly quickly.

We spent one afternoon at The Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. It is just about an hour Northeast of Cody. This area is known for its diverse landscape and for the wild Mustangs that are allowed to roam freely. Bighorn is about an hour’s drive Northeast of Cody.

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We were lucky enough to spot a few of the Mustangs hanging out in their environment.

On our way back to Cody, from Bighorn, we stopped by the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center. Heart Mountain was a ‘relocation’ center, opened in August 1942. More than 14,000 Japanese and American Japanese were imprisoned at this site during its three-year existence. The new center, which opened in 2011, uses photographs, artifacts, oral histories and interactive exhibits to give people a feel for what it was like for those that were confined there during WWII. Charlie and I both found it very informative, and heart wrenching to see how these American citizens were treated. It was also scary to see how quickly and easily it was for neighbors to turn on neighbors simply because of somebody’s heritage and/or race.

We stopped for lunch at the WY Old Brewing Company in Powell. It looked like a relatively new brewery. The food was good, but it took forever to get our meal served. Hopefully they resolve that problem, as we liked the food and environment.

For dinner we ate at Proud Cut Saloon ‘n Steak House in Cody. The food and service was excellent. The restaurant was packed with locals. In speaking with our bartender we discovered that we timed our visit to Cody perfectly, as we were there for the last weekend of business for most of the restaurants and shops in town, before they all shut down for the winter.

After a great couple of days in Cody we packed up and moved on towards Spearfish, SD. In order to get there you have to cross a mountain range. Snow was in the forecast so we opted for the most Southern route over the range. This route, along WY-16, took us through the small towns of Ten sleep and Meadowlark Lake. It is a very scenic area, one that I would love to return to in the future.

If you ever drive along this route, be sure to keep an eye out for deer. We had near collisions with them at least half a dozen times. We had even more near misses when we got to South Dakota. It was pretty nerve racking.

Until our next blog, about Mt. Rushmore and Spearfish Canyon……..

 

 

 

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West Yellowstone, MT and Tetons: Sep. 25 – 29, 2017

We had an adventurous drive from Moab to West Yellowstone, in particular, through the Price Canyon Recreation Area in Utah. It was the first time that we had driven the coach through snow showers. The showers only lasted 30 minutes, but it seemed like a long time, as the snow was coming down pretty heavy at times.

We spent the night in the Walmart parking lot in Idaho Falls, SD. It had been a long day and we didn’t want to drive the last part of the trip in the dark.

The following morning we completed our drive to the Grizzly RV Park in West Yellowstone, MT. The park was at about 30% capacity. Even so, we were required to wait until the official check-in time. The staff was very friendly and suggested that we leave the RV out front and stroll into town until check-in time. Grizzly is only a couple of blocks from downtown so we took a walk and explored a few of the local tourist shops and the Yellowstone National Park visitor center.

After checking in we parked in our spot, unhooked the Jeep, and headed into the park. It was my first visit to Yellowstone. Charlie had been there once before, but only for a day trip on a tour bus. Therefore, we were excited to explore the park together.

The week prior to our arrival the area in and around Yellowstone had been hit with a big snowstorm. Many of the roads in Yellowstone were closed during the storm. They had just reopened. During our stay the weather was great. Temps got up in the 50s and 60s and the sun was out, for the most part.

We spent 3 full days in Yellowstone and saw a majority of the park. The only part we missed was Beartooth Highway, in the Northeast region. The park was not very crowded. Even so, we often found ourselves sitting in long lines of cars, waiting for Bison to cross the road or for people to simply stop and observe the wildlife in the fields. I couldn’t imagine visiting the park at the height of the tourist season.

We had originally planned on spending 5 nights in West Yellowstone and then 4 nights in the Tetons. However, as the week progressed the weather predictions for the following week became a little concerning. Freezing rain and snow were headed our way so we decided to shorten our visit in Yellowstone and to take only a day trip to the Tetons. We were disappointed that we did not have time to get out and do some hiking, especially in the beautiful Teton mountain range. However, this gives us a good reason to return.

Since we were no longer staying in the Tetons we decided to head over to Cody, WY. We drove the RV through the park, from West Yellowstone to Cody. I thoroughly enjoyed this part of the trip, sitting high in the RV and having a fantastic view of the landscape and animals. I especially loved it as we travelled through the mountain range on the east side of the park. The views were spectacular. I was very surprised by how much of the park has been subjected to forest fires. New trees are starting to grow, but the number of trees burnt by various fires is staggering.

The Grizzly RV Park is very nice and we highly recommend it. The location to town and the west Yellowstone Park entrance is great. Speaking of town, we had dinner one evening at Bullwinkles Saloon & Eatery. I went out on a limb and ordered their Elk Ravioli. It was fantastic!

I hope you enjoy the pictures:

Grand Prismatic Spring:

Gibbon Falls:

Monument Geyser Basin area:

Continental Divide:

Bison

East Entrance area and Sylvan Lake

Elk

Fountain Paint Pot area

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

Hayden Valley

Lamar Valley

Mammoth Hot Springs

Northern tip of West Thumb – fire stricken area

Old Faithful

Tower Junction Area

Upper Geyser Basin

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West Thumb Geyser Basin

Tetons

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Moab, UT: Sep. 17 – 24, 2017

I’m a little behind on my blog. We kept very busy on our month long trip to Aspen and Ouray CO, Moab UT, Yellowstone, Tetons, Cody WY, Mt. Rushmore and Badlands. I hope you enjoy this blog on Moab. I hope to publish the remaining trip blogs within the next few days.

We left Ouray, CO and headed to Moab, UT on September 17th, where we met up with friends from our RV homebase; Mountain Falls Luxury Motorcoach Resort in Lake Toxaway, NC. It was our first time meeting up with another couple for an RV vacation. We could not have had a better time. We thoroughly enjoyed exploring Moab with Van and Jane.

The weather was very nice during our stay. Temps got up to the 70s and 80s in the afternoon, and cooled down to the 30s at night. The week prior to our visit, temps were up near 105 degrees! We would not have enjoyed that.

We stayed at the Portal RV Resort, renting an owner lot. All owner lots are very large with cement slabs and patios. Our patio included a pergola with a nice outdoor dining set. The resort is set off the main road about a ¼ mile so you don’t hear much traffic. We loved the resort.

For our first evening in Moab we tried out Jeffrey’s Steakhouse. I think it is the most upscale restaurant in town, although it is casual enough for jeans. The restaurant is in a restored historic sandstone building. We sat at a table on the patio and enjoyed the cool evening. It was a great setting for catching up with our friends, while enjoying excellent filets and wine.

During the week we toured Dead Horse Point State Park, Canyonlands National Park and Arches. Unfortunately, Arches National Park is closed from 7pm to 7am Sunday night through Friday morning for the entire year due to road construction. This left us only Friday and Saturday nights for sunset and Milky Way shots, and as luck would have it, the weather was not cooperative.

Dead Horse Point State Park reminded me of Gooseneck’s Sate Park, also in Utah. From the viewing point, 2,000 feet above a gooseneck in the Colorado River, vertical cliffs and canyons surround you. It is very scenic.

One afternoon we drove along Potash road from Moab to Canyonlands. It is a scenic byway, which ends at the gooseneck, seen from the Dead Horse Point State Park viewing point. We stopped at the river, broke out the wine and sandwiches and enjoyed sunset.

This is a good overview of the Potash Road landscape, where it meets up with Shafer Trail, from an overlook in the state park.

 

Pictures taken along Potash Road

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We really wanted to get some good Milky Way shots while in Moab. We were there during the ‘new moon’ phase, so star gazing was expected to be optimal. One evening, we found a nice BLM (Bureau of Land Management) spot off of Rt 128 near Castle Valley for shooting the Milk Way, and for having a cook-out. We grilled burgers off the back of the pickup while waiting for the skies to darken. It was a lot of fun.

 

The Fisher Towers were nearby where we photographed the Milky Way:

On another day we visited Canyonlands. While there, we took a short hike to see the Mesa Arch. The views through the arch are spectacular.

We then took sunset pictures at the Green River Overlook in Canyonlands. Following sunset we found a picnic spot in the park and grilled up some dinner. We cooked and ate under our headlamps, as it was pitch black outside. After dinner we headed back over to the Green River Overlook where we found the winds to be exceptionally strong and it was so dark you could barely see your hand in front of your face. The winds made shooting the Milky Way difficult and the darkness made it impossible to get any definition of the landscape, so I decided to simply play around with lightpainting.

We returned to Canyonlands for sunrise. It was still very windy, but sunrise turned out to be pretty good. We would have liked for a little more light on the clouds, but photographers are rarely fully happy with their shooting environment

The only time we really had for touring Arches National Park, considering the weather and road closures, was during the day. This made for lack luster photo opportunities. Regardless, we enjoyed seeing the park and now have a good reason to return to Moab.

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For our last day in Moab we rented ATVs and took a tour to a point called Hell’s Landing. The weather was perfect for the ride. The winds had finally died down and the temperature had cooled to the 70s. For those who like Mountain Biking, this is the place to be. There are miles and miles of land to explore.

After a fun-filled week of sightseeing, cook-outs in unique settings, star-gazing, and off-roading, we spent our last evening at the RV park and played a game of Euchre. I was thrilled to learn that Jane and Van knew how to play. Not many people do, unless you are from Michigan.

We had a great week in Moab and look forward to returning at a future time.

Our next destination is Yellowstone, while Van and Jane travel towards Zion.

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