Our Cross-country trip Days 5-12: Yellowstone to Minneapolis (July 1-8, 2010)

Friday, July 9, 2010

A serious lack of connectivity combined with too much time having a vacation have led to no blogging for a whole week! Here goes:

Day 5: Yellowstone

Reluctantly left the Tetons, accidentally leaving behind the bag of decaf/herbal teas in the B&B, which became a huge problem later in the day. Wandered our way up, enjoying the scenery and taking some fabulous photos with the morning sunshine on the Tetons. Entered yellowstone, found a HUGE swarm of mosquitos at our first stop and entered the world of James and Mosquitos (which is not a great combination). I grew up dealing with said annoying insects and am much more calm about them. He goes slightly batty (i.e. frantically batting at them….) and curses a lot. Went to West Thumb geyser basin and on to Old Faithful via Isa Lake. Today’s lesson: there is a big difference between the Old Faithful Lodge and the OF Inn. The Inn is 100 years old, with a huge 6-story lobby built of logs and has amazing ice cream. The Lodge is new, with nothing very impressive and the ice cream is Soft Serve. After figuring out our error, we went over to the Inn, enjoyed the eruption of the geyser, tried to take pictures of the Inn and had amazing ice cream. Bunny Tracks is a vanilla base with gobs of chocolate and chocolate bunnies filled with peanut butter. It was so good that we went back stood in line again and got seconds. (Best ice cream of trip so far.)

We took a great walk at OF and saw lots more geysers and other features, then headed for our campsite. We got there to stand in line to register for EVER and then go to find that we were in Grand Central Station of campgrounds. This is where things got dicey. The mosquitos came out and attacked James (who wasn’t as quick on the draw with the bug spray as I am). James was already grumpy about being “cheek to jowl” with the rest of humanity in the campsite. Then, I offered to make him a nice cup of herbal tea and,….. ARGH! He was not, should we say, a happy camper.

Day 6: Yellowstone

We definitely enjoyed our day at Yellostone, including a shower and laundry. The Canyon is really beautiful and we saw it from multiple angles. The fun thing about these areas is that much of it is familiar to me from visiting it when I worked in tourism and lots of it is new to me, since James and I have the time to walk and enjoy things that bus tours don’t go to. We walked along the north rim of the canyon and went down a fairly long trail to an overlook perched in the canyon. Very cool.

We saw the world’s most photogenic buffalo and unfortunately missed the photo. We are still lamenting this one. The buffalo was standing just right, behind a little pond, near a pull-out, chomping on grass. It wasn’t even a “butt shot” of the bison! Oh well, c’est la vie.

Night 2 at the Grand Central Station of campgrounds was a little better and life moved on.

Day 7: Western Montana

We headed out the West entrance of Yellowstone into the “Big Sky Country” of Western Montana. This area is SO lovely! It is hard to explain how the wide bowl valleys and the puffy little white clouds make the sky look enormous. It’s an awesome area. We drove along Quake Lake, saw another beaver dam and headed up to Whitehall, Montana, where James’s mother’s second cousin lives. Lavita and her husband Merle were very ospitable and she and James sat down and shared family photos (OLD family photos) and information while I did some data entry on the computer. Gwen got a run in their backyard and Merle just seemed to enjoy watching the two cousins connect. We had a marvelous meal at a little “Mom and Pop” diner along the river near Three Forks. The cream of tamato soup was way better than expected and the ribs were YUMMY! The mosquitos were alarming- literally swarming us when we headed for the car and doing their best to get in with us. There was also a HUGE white dog (probably a Great Pyrenees) outside the door who really wanted to play with Gwen, who was probably about a third its size.

Speaking of size, Gwen is losing weight! She has a waist again. We’ve cut bac on her food and she’s been getting a lot of exercise. Would that it were that easy to lose weight for us!

Day 8: Bozeman, MT to the Bighorns National Forest

LONG driving day with BEAUTIFUL scenery. We started down from Bozeman and went through the northern part of Yellowstone. Mammoth was a little disappointing, but the drive around the top loop to the East entrance was really pretty. We enjoyed the rocks and canyons. Coming out of the park there is a beautiful canyon of the Shoshone River before Cody. We also really enjoyed that. We had a moment of panic as we realized, crossing the Bighorn Basin, that we didn’t know exactly where our campsite was located. It wasn’t in the AAA campbook and I had only printed out the first page of the reservation. We had a name and no details. Luckily we had enough cell service to reach Rob Rudd, who googled the name for us and got us directions. Thanks, Rob! It turned out to be VERY remote and lovely, if ptns (Pit toilets, no showers). The way up to the campground was astonishing. I remembered that the drive was beautiful from my days in tourism, but didn’t remember really what it was like. There are TWO (count them: 2!) canyons going up into the Bighorn Mountains and the colors and shapes are impressive. The Shell Creek Waterfall was also pretty darn cool.

It was a long day (again) and we barely got the dishes done in daylight (again). james and I tend to run late, which can be a drag when camping. It didn’t help that it was the 4th of July and everybody and their brother was also in Yellowstone. Traffic sucked.

Day 9: Bighorn Mountains to Custer, SD

So did I mention that we tend to run late? I don’t know how we do it… We got up at a reasonable hour, headed out of the Bighorns (saw another beaver dam), drove to Gillette for a shower and somehow lost hours there. We took a shower at the Flying J, had an unexpectedly good lunch at Maria’s Tacos (full of also unexpected Mexicans … in Gillette, Wyoming!), grabbed a coffee at Starbucks and went over to the Smith’s Grocery. When we left, it was 3:00! How did that happen? I hate that! So by the time we got to Devil’s Tower and then drove to Custer, it was QUITE late. The problem was that we took the walk around the base of Devil’s Tower, and, of course, stopped to photograph the adorable prairie dogs. (BTW the Badlands NP wants you to know that “Prairie Dogs Have PLAGUE!) We followed another scenic byway out of D’s T and down into the Black Hills. Got to our campground in the DARK. *sigh* This was perhaps the most dilapidated campground yet. A former KOA. What do you have to do to lose your KOA status? It was okay, really, but the lantern sure came in handy that night! I guess when you wait until the last minute to make reservations in the Black Hills, you get the dregs. It was okay- the showers were hot- and no one bothered us because it was REALLY quiet. Oh, except for the donkey. They make a very strange noise before they start braying. Can’t describe it, but it sounds like something dying.

Day 10: The Black Hills

Well, it was grey and cloudy and rained a little and the Black Hills are FULL of tourists, so it was not our favorite day. There is a definite feeling of over-sell here. Too many people, too many hoaky tourist traps, chuckwagon dinners and Flintstones theme parks. We went to the Crazy Horse Monument, which was cool, but sort of gave you the feeling they have no plans to ever finish it. We had a great lunch involving buffalo stew, though. We went on to the Needles Highway, which involves a LOT of slow driving for so-so scenery. The Needles themselves are cool, but a lot of it is just forest. We got behind the slowest driver yet. This guy was so slow that James actually honked at him when he went past a pull-out at 5 miles an hour. Continued on to Mount Rushmore- cooler than you expect it to be- and had more ice cream. My strawberry cheesecake flavor was the best. Drove on up to Deadwood, which was also disappointing- smoky casinos and no food to speak of. Luckily, upon returning to Hill City, we foung the Bumpin’ Buffalo Cafe and had a lovely dinner.

Day 11: Custer to Vermillion, SD

We were up and out by 8:00 (could be a record) and thought we would be okay for crossing pretty much the entire state of South Dakota in one day, but didn’t realize we’d have to contend with construction and a time zone change. *sigh* You know, there’s a quote they repeat out here: “There are 2 seasons in South Dakota (or Wyoming or Montana)- Winter and Construction.” So we took FOREVER to go through the little roads to the Badlands National Park. It was well worth it. I had never made it there and it is really neat. There are hoodoos, pinnacles and castle-like rock formations. It is a lot like what you might find in the painted desert or southern Utah, but it is mostly white, with a little pink and is really stunning. It was worth doing, but when we didn’t even leave Wall SD (home of Wall Drugs) until afterr 12:00, we got a little nervous about meeting my relatives in Vermillion before sunset. We high-tailed it across much of the state on Interstate 90 and then cut down on little roads through lots of small towns. That was really enjoyable- driving throgh miles of farmland and little towns as we wended our way south and east really gave us a sense of South Dakota. James is slightly traumatized after accidentally killing the state bird. A pheasant stopped right in front of our fast-moving car and ended up making a hole in the plastic grill. Don’t tell anyone.

Luckily, we made it to Maurice and Lois Erickson’s place well before dark and met up with them and Joe and Susie. Maurice (90) is my grandmother’s cousin and so his son, Joe, is my mother’s second cousin. They were kind enough to take us out to where my grandmother and her 6 sisters grew up in the early 1900’s and then down the street to the farm that my great-great-grandparents built when they came here from Sweden in the late 1800’s. It was a really moving experience. I grew up hearing my grandmother’s stories about the 7 sisters growing up on a farm in South Dakota and knew that I could see where the farm had been. The house is gone, but the family knows where it was. I didn’t realize that her grandparents’ home was still there and that I could see the house where my great- grandmother grew up and the tree that she probably climbed. It gave me chills. We also chatted with Maurice and Joe, a branch of the family that I had never met. They were on their way to a family reunion of their branch of the family, which we considered going to but decided didn’t quite fit in iwth our plans. A quick dinner and a check-in at the Comfort Inn worked out, although I missed using the hot tub before it closed for the night.

Day 12: Vermillion, SD to Minneapolis, MN

We were a little vague on our plans today and a late start meant that we had a short day. Only 6 hours of driving! We went back to the farm site this morning, thanks to James’s GPS that kept track of where we’d been last night. It was fun to go back and see it in daylight and wander a little bit. We crossed into Iowa and went through my favorite town so far- Spink, South Dakota. Don’t you just love that name? Doesn’t it just make you want to say it over and over and giggle? “Spink.” “Spink.” “Spink.” Tee-hee.

Iowa and southern Minnesota were uneventful. We enjoyed all the GREEn and BLUE. The fields are so green and the sky was so blue…. We passed so much farmland…. Somehow when I thought of the prairies, I had this mental picture of them being grasslands. I guess I forgot about all that agriculture… mostly corn….

The interesting thing we noticed was the clumps of trees with houses in them. You have miles and miles of crops punctuated with small groves of trees. In those clumps of trees are the houses and often the barns and sheds and so forth. It makes you really want to peek voyeuristically into the clumps of trees just to see what’s there.

We took a “civilization break” at the Barnes and Noble in Mankato, MN and called my second cousin, Dana, who said we were welcome to come here for the night. We drove up along the Minnesota River (quite lovely) and actually found our way here. We’re doing laundry and catching up with family tonight. Tomorrow on to their cabin in Wisconsin.

Most mysterious sign: “Frost heaves next 22 miles” in Yellowstone NP

Fishermen’s sense of humor: “The Reel Decoy Cafe and Grill” – Ennis, MT

Best road name: Gumbo Lily Road – on Rt. 79 south of Rapid City, SD

Lack of originality award- 2 lakes in southeastern South Dakota- Lake Platte and Platte Lake

Favorite state motto: “Nebraska: The good life- Home of Arbor Day”

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