My Two Favorite Dorks

My Two Favorite Dorks

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Trip, Part II - Great Plains Adventures

Crossing the Mackinac Bridge from lower into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan
Leaving our awesome cabin and 5-toed cat in Manistee, we had a very long day of driving ahead of us. And an awful lot that we wanted to see along the way!

We traveled north through Petosky and Traverse City (souvenir stop for local fudge - Traverse City Cherry was the specialty, a delicious mix of cherry and dark chocolate fudge - cherry salsa and a Petosky stone necklace!) and crossed the Mackinac Bridge into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We stopped for a picturesque picnic lunch on the other side of the bridge.

Our drive through the U.P. was nice. The highways are relatively small and not very crowded. We took a road that followed a lot of Lake Michigan's shore, so we got to see a variety of interesting and beautiful shoreline. There were tons of signs for "pasties" which intrigued us but we never stopped for one, having just eaten lunch.

Eventually we made it around the lake to Wisconsin, at which point we cut inland on some very confusing letter-named country roads that made no logical sense, and made our way down to Interstate 90 - the road we would basically take the rest of the way to Montana. We spent the night in a small town right on the Mississippi River (our hotel was actually on the river) called La Crosse, WI.

Crossing the Mississippi and onto the Great Plains 


The next morning we crossed the Mississippi and spent many hours driving through Minnesota and then most of South Dakota. It was pretty early on that day when we started looking ahead to which town we wanted to stay in that night, finding places surprisingly booked up and/or more expensive than we expected. We also started to see a lot of motorcycles traveling west on the highway...

We finally realized that we were heading right into the madness that is Sturgis Bike Week - an annual Harley Davidson festival of over 500,000 bikers from all over the country. (Literally, for the rest of our trip, all the way back to North Carolina, we saw signs telling drivers to be extra alert of motorcycle traffic.) We were hitting the Badlands of South Dakota during the ONE week of the year that hotels fill up and are probably double their normal rate!

In any case, we found a place in Hot Springs, about 1.5 hours away from the Badlands - and the bikers added a certain something to our trip that wouldn't have otherwise been. We got to the Badlands in the late afternoon - we wanted to do a quick drive-through that day in the time that we had. It turned out to be a really pretty time with the sun bringing out the oranges and the shadows created from the angle of the sun. We drove a loop through the park that took us about an hour or so and then headed to Rapid City (about an hour) to find some dinner before driving on to our hotel (another hour) in Hot Springs.

Our first look at the badass Badlands:

Todd scampering on the rocks

My First of Three Favorite Days

Me at Wind Cave National Park, bison in the background
Of course it's hard to pick which days were the best on our trip, but the following day is one that really sticks out for me. We went to Crazy Horse and Mount Rushmore before heading back to the Badlands. Our day started out with about an hour of driving through a smaller national park called Wind Cave. We ended up making a couple of stops there and it was so serene with rolling green hills and hardly any other people. I loved it - and I would love to go back.

We first stopped to observe a large herd of bison (spot pictured above). We noticed that they were making some weird sounds at each other...very guttural and serious. We thought some of the males might be gearing up for a fight, but no such luck. They were definitely sorting things out with respect to the females, though. (We later learned that their mating season starts soon so that's probably what was going on.)

A bit later, we came across some big horn sheep grazing their way up to the edge of the road. We sat and watched them - I had never seen so many big horn sheep that close up, there were six or seven - eating grass and making their way wherever they were going. Later we saw an even bigger herd - more than 25 in all - of females and there were some very cute fuzzy awkward looking baby big horn sheep amongst them!

Big horn sheep
This large herd of big horn was quite a sight!

Crazy Horse

Our first scheduled stop of the day was the Crazy Horse Memorial and museum. I remember distinctly, this is when I first started wearing my oxygen. The elevation there was a surprising 6,000 feet! (The rest of the Black Hills area we'd been in was closer to 3,000-4,000; Raleigh, by comparison, is about 400 feet above sea level.) I knew elevation was going to be an issue at some point, and this was it!

Memorial in progress

Model of memorial

Really colorful collection of beads at the museum

The monument itself is not finished; it has been in the process of being sculpted since 1948! The museum was pretty cool, and the model of what the finished sculpture is supposed to look like is really neat.


Our next stop was Mount Rushmore, a mere 20-30 minute drive away. Traffic going into Mount Rushmore was briefly a little crazy...remember, bike week, motorcycles everywhere! (Same at Crazy Horse.) We parked in a garage type structure and followed a walkway up some steps...then there is this long stone sidewalk that goes past a restaurant and gift shop on either side and then starts through this "hall of flags" sort of thing (all 50 states) and spits you out at this big open area where everyone stands to take and pose for pictures of Mount Rushmore behind them.

My picture, turned black and white by Instagram
The place itself was alright...  I'm not sure if it was because of the bikers or not, but they had a kiosk set up selling beer and wine - somehow it was better to walk around with a beer. I don't know...  I'm not a very patriotic person. The reason we decided to go at all was because we had recently watched Hitchcock's North by Northwest, which has an amazing climactic scene with Cary Grant being chased around the faces of the monument. How disappointed was I that there was not a single reference to this movie on anything in the gift shop!

However, we did forgo our picnic lunch that day for lunch in the cafeteria there - the same one in which another scene from the movie was shot. So that was pretty cool.

The famous Rushmore restaurant from North by Northwest

Back to the Badlands

We finally made it back to the Badlands in the afternoon. There were a couple of things we wanted to see and a couple of short hikes we wanted to go on. Even at the "lower" elevation of the Badlands, I was still more short of breath than usual, so we took it easy, but we were still able to do almost everything that we had wanted to do.

At the top of one of our short hikes

That evening we ended up back in Rapid City for dinner. We stumbled upon this great bar! We were just going to stop for a drink because all they had for food was pizza, but the pizza looked amazing, so we ended up quite happy with our good beer and pizza dinner. A great ending to a wonderful day.

If You Thought Yesterday Was Busy...

If you haven't noticed, there were a lot of things we wanted to see in the Black Hills - there was a lot more than we thought there would be - so we ended up staying very busy, and also seeing a lot of incredibly cool stuff.

We had a 10-hour drive ahead of us to Dillon, MT - our final destination. Dillon is in way southwest Montana, close to the Idaho boarder, which meant we had to get out of South Dakota, cut through park of Wyoming, and drive basically the entire length of Montana in one day. A sane person would have gotten the drive over as quickly as possible, but as you can see, we are a little insane when it comes to traveling...and there were a couple more things that we really wanted to see!


The exit to Deadwood, SD
I really wanted to see the town of Deadwood. We had been watching the Deadwood TV series in anticipation of our trip west. However, when the time came, Todd was reluctant to sit through more motorcycle traffic (Deadwood is very close to the Sturgis madness) so we decided to see how it looked as we went...we ended up getting pretty close to town without too much trouble, so we went for it.

The main street of Deadwood
Our short time there can be summarized as: a visit to a souvenier shop; a beer in the Golden Nugget Saloon; Todd losing $20 on two spins of roulette at the Gem Saloon (from the Deadwood TV show!!); and me posing for a picture on a copper Wild Bill Hickcock's lap. But in reality, the town is much more memorable for the number of motorcycles - which completely lined the main street on both sides - and bikers walking around enjoying themselves.

Devil's Tower

We got on the road out of SD and into Wyoming before the next stop we wanted to make - Devil's Tower National Monument. Not only is Devil's tower very cool looking and featured in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, it is also home to a very un-camera shy population of very cute prairie dogs! We saw a lot of prairie dogs in the Black Hills, but I was able to get the best pictures of these ones.

Prairie dog cuteness

Me standing in front of Devil's Tower - we made it!

There is a person climbing there!!

The rest of the day was very long and not very eventful. We made it to Bozeman, MT in time for a late dinner and made it to Dillon, exhausted, a little after midnight.

To be continued...

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