Sunday, August 7, 2011

Vacation Day 3 (July 31) - Sturgis and Deadwood, SD; Devils Tower and the Big Horn Range

The Internet connection from West Yellowstone is extremely poor.  As a result, instead of being able to blog each day, I got very frustrated with the situation on Monday and haven’t blogged at all!  Oh well – but instead of trying to blog everything all at once I have decided I will still write an entry for each day and then just post them as individual blog entries.

On Sunday we took the drive of all drives!  When I got up that morning I used my Garmin GPS to estimate the time it would take us to get from Rapid City, SD to West Yellowstone, MT.  It came up with what I thought was an utterly absurd answer so I just ignored it.  Unfortunately, even though the GPS estimates that all non-Interstate roads have speed limits of 35 MPH, the time frame it estimated for us to get from Rapid City to West Yellowstone wasn’t too far off the mark.  It came to be not too far off the mark because we stopped at just about ever single point of interest we saw!

The first stop was in Sturgis, SD.  Though the motorcycle rally doesn’t start until August 8th there was still a lot of action in that tiny little town.  So we had to investigate it!  I can imagine the place is out of control during bike week and someday I plan to be there for it.  (Not that I ride a motorcycle – but just to see it and experience it.)

You could tell that they were getting ready for the big Bike Week which starts on August 8th.  The streets were already lined by barricades and orange cones.  Additionally the vendor stands were up and many vendors were already setting up there equipment.  Even if you aren’t a motorcycle rider, attending Bike Week must be an exciting event.  Of course you might look a little out of place showing up in your car, regardless of that I still want to come here during a Bike Week sometime to experience it!

From Sturgis we headed on to Deadwood, SD.  For those of you who have HBO, the television series Deadwood is based upon the life and times of that town.  It has a definite gun slinger, 1880’s type of past and that past is alive and well today!  We walked all the streets of the old down town and explored some of the more famous buildings before heading out of town and west on I-90.

(Famous Hotel in Deadwood)

 (Deadwood Street Scene)

Our next stop was Devil’s Tower.  We wound through some very remote territory to finally reach Devil’s Tower.  It rises from the valley floor in an unearthly presence.  It remind me of Mount Doom from the Lord of the Ring’s series in that it is so imposing over the rest of the landscape. 

The temperature at Devil’s Tower was pretty hot as we arrived in the early afternoon.  The temperature reading on the car’s thermometer was 96 degrees.  Conning Zack into getting out of the cool air conditioned car was somewhat like pulling teeth, but eventually he decided to join me for a walk to the base of the tower.  As you get closer to the tower, the geology of it becomes even more impressive.  The tower is made up of these columns of stone that were some how fused together.  Even now geologists are not exactly certain how this monolith was created. 

Unfortunately, after our walk to the base of the tower Zack decided to return to his car and since it was his birthday I let him go without demanding that he stay.  My goal was to walk the entire way around the tower along the Tower Loop trail.  As I moved around the tower I took pictures of it from every different angle.  The beauty of this trail is that as you move further from the trailhead, it becomes less and less populated.  Everyone seems to stay close to the parking lots and the popular viewpoints.  They really don’t know what they are missing as the best views of the tower are far away from the parking lots.  It is a shame most visitors to our National Parks don’t go far beyond the viewpoints and parking lots as they are missing some of the most beautiful terrain the parks have to offer.

Throughout the walk around the tower, the heat made the air seem to shimmer.  The forest grew quieter and quieter as the trailhead was left behind.  Sweat streamed down my back in great quantities but the walk through the heat was worth it.  The views of the tower were magnificent!

(One of the many different views of Devil Tower)

 (Another view of the tower)

(The tower through the forest)

 (Zack in front of Devil's Tower)

Returning to the car, Zack was ready for us to take off so we could finally get to the destination he most desired – Yellowstone.  We wound our way through the rough and broken landscape before we finally reached I-90 again.  Getting on I-90 the journey took us further and further west through the unbelievable scenery of Northern Wyoming.  Finally we exited the Interstate near Sheridan and began a climb through the Bighorn Mountains.  The route we followed was US Highway 14 and shortly after we left I-90 the road began to very steep and steady climb into the Big Horns.

We were both awestruck by the beauty we found in the Big Horns.  Stretches of deep and dark pine forest would alternate with wide open mountain meadows.  In many cases the road went through open range land for both cattle and sheep.  In several cases we had to stop and wait for a slow moving cow to cross the road. 
 (View from high in the Big Horn Range)
 (Me at a look out in the Big Horn Range)

 (A beautiful lake deep within the Big Horn Range)

Exiting the Big Horns via Highway 14 is down through a deep and winding gorge called Shell Canyon.  The canyon is named for one of the early pioneers who settled the area and began the implementation of a vast irrigation system.  About half down the canyon you come across a magnificent waterfall called Shell Falls.  Zack and I stopped there and explored the falls.  The falls were beautiful and we arrived as the color of the harsh mid-day sun was fading and giving way to sunset.  It could not have been a more idyllic site!

 (Shell Falls in Shell Canyon on the way out of the Big Horn Range)

While we were there a large extended family of Mennonites stopped and also explored the falls.  It was interesting to observe this large group of people dressed in clothing and mannerism reminiscent of the turn of the 20th Century.  Despite the look they were outfitted with the last cells and digital cameras – it was all very interesting.

After Shell Falls we were pretty much done with our stops for the day.  However we just had to pull over in Greybull, Wyoming when we observed a large collection of aircraft slowly rusting near the Greybull airport.  From the looks of things they are trying to start an aircraft museum there.  Reading on the Internet there is a mention of an airport of Aerial Fire Fighting at Greybull.  It was interesting to say the least.

The rest of the drive became somewhat of a slog.  We reached Cody, Wyoming and fueled up before entering Yellowstone.  Our hotel was in West Yellowstone, Montana which meant we had to drive the whole way across the park from East to West.  We entered the park at the east entrance, drove over Sylvan Pass, circled the northern portion of Yellowstone Lake and then joined the Grand Loop Road at Fishing Bridge.  From there we traveled the Grand Loop to Canyon Village and then onto Norris Junction before finally coming to Madison Junction and leaving the park via the West Entrance.  Unfortunately for most of the drive along this route it was very dark so we were unable to see a lot except for steam rising from some of the hydrothermal features.

We finally arrived in West Yellowstone around 11:30PM and go checked into our hotel.  It had been a very long day but it was filled with lots of adventure and excitement!  We learned a lot about our country that day as we saw scenery and beautiful sights we had never seen before.  The interesting things is, the more you see of the United States the more you realize there is so much to see!

Tomorrow with any luck I will post an update concerning at least 1 or 2 of our days in Yellowstone and all the adventure that we found there!

Thanks and peace to all! ~J.

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