Hardin, Montana to South Dakota–Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Monuments

Leaving Flathead Lake, Montana, we head east—we’re off to the last of our national monument visits.  We’re a bit sad, our adventure is winding down…. 

To Hardin, Montana—the home of Little Big Horn and Custer’s Last Stand.

Today we crossed the Continental Divide for the third and final time on THIS  trip..  Most of the almost 400 miles today was spent in glorious Montana—big snow-frosted mountains and huge billowing clouds—and yes, the ever-present showers. 

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The rivers east continue to overflow their banks.  This area has been deluged!  Just outside Billings—on the Yellowstone River, no less—the topography flattens and we are now in endless plains where we can see for miles.  We are now in the land of Dances with Wolves–we want to watch that movie again!

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We arrive with huge cumulous clouds—San Antonio version, if you’ve ever had an opportunity to visit that part of Texas.  Hardin, Montana is near the Little Big Horn.  Big beautiful clouds and brilliant emerald green landscapes along the way with a big thunderstorm after we hit our campground   For the first time this whole trip—a RAINBOW. 

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Not just a part of a rainbow but a full 180.  I kept waiting for a leprechaun to jump out.  After all the rain we’ve been through, we kept searching for a rainbow with no luck.  I’m so excited Mother Nature finally came thru!  And gave us a beautiful sunset, to boot!

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Tomorrow we’re off for another long day to Rapid City, SD with Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse near our camp site at Hill City, past the Big Horn Mountains.

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We were close enough to see Devil’s Tower in the distance (remember Close Encounters of the Third Kind?) We didn’t have time to stop so this is on my list of places to hit on a return trip.

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As we near the Black Hills–land of the pink Black Hills gold–even the roads were pink.

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We arrived at a camp/ranch with wide open spaces in Hill City.  And, just to be consistent, we had another evening thunder storm.  Locals said they are quite common this time of year. 

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Our drive wasn’t too long, so we considered going to the evening lighting at Mount Rushmore.  With the storm, we passed hoping for a better weather tomorrow. Instead we headed to the Crazy Horse Memorial first thing the next morning.  What an amazing place.  I wasn’t prepared for this.

 

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It’s a whole mountain! Twenty-two stories and it’s still only half blocked out.  (A few more decades of work to go)  The placement of his horse’s head is painted on the mountain to give some perspective.  The whole Mt Rushmore carving would fit on the small area behind his head! 

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You can get an idea of the size of the project when you see the tiny tractors on the side of the mountain…

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It’s all privately supported—no state or federal funding is accepted–with cooperation of the Lakota Sioux.  (Crazy Horse was born in Rapid City and defended his people during a period of broken treaties and the ravaging of his people and their way of life.  He led the Sioux at the battle of Little Big Horn.) 

The creator, Korezak Ziolkowski, was a prize-winning Boston sculptor who was approached by Chief Standing Bear to create this project so “the white man will know the red man has great heros, also.”  Ziolkowski and his family have worked the site since 1948.  Since his death in 1982, his wife and children have carried on the project.  This is one of those time warps when grandkids can go back to pictures of us standing in front of the rough cut mountain many years from now after it’s [hopefully] completed. 

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That evening we headed for Mount Rushmore.  

 Created in 14 years by sculptor Gutzon Borglum, it was finished in 1941.  Every night they offer a presentation on the creation of the monument followed by the lighting of the mountain.  We arrived in another storm but this time we were treated to a DOUBLE rainbow.  Quite a site. 

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We were able to view the monument in the gentle dusk then we had a great show as night fell.

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We toured more of the area the next day heading for Custer State Park.  This was another gem with beautiful wide open expanses, pronghorns and roaming bison herds on the roads. 

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Two adolescents decided to scuffle.

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We came across one of the oddest signs we’d seen as we left the park.

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From Rapid City we continue east, past the Badlands, the plains of Minnesota—flatter than Kansas—and on to Wisconsin. 

Join us for our next adventure—cheering for Danika Patrick at the Milwaukee Mile!

 

 

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June 3rd, to Missoula, Glacier Park, Bitterroot Valley and Flathead Lake

We’ve had a busy week, with no time to write, so I want to catch up on our vagabond adventures.

We hit Missoula in the late afternoon, June 3rd.  More great scenery along the way. 

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We were mulling over our trip so far…we’ve decided we definitely like being “on the road” and want to do more of it.  We have come to appreciate the areas we’ve visited more than we ever imagined.  This truly is a beautiful country.  And it turns out the part we’ve come to treasure is not just the places we intended to see.  It’s also the unexpected places we find along the way.  We love chatting with new people, enjoying the little towns and learning about areas we didn’t expect to visit–highways and by-ways.  And the things we find.  It may be cherry beer (in Missoula) or homemade huckleberry pie (at Glacier Park), finding things that never make the guide books.  Since our coach is a gas burner, we’ve had to change our plans several times.  It’s just too tough making it up, or standing on the breaks all the way down, the 8-10 % grades in many of areas we want to explore.  So we’ve been researching RVs and what we need in a diesel engine for the sort of traveling we’ve come to love.  That brings us to our stop in Missoula…where we decide to drop in just to check out some of the options at a huge RV dealer we’ve been looking at on line.  Wow!  We found an equipment switch so we’re taking a few extra days exploring Missoula and visiting Glacier National Park to allow for the modification.

Saturday in downtown Missoula was fun.  They have a bustling Farmer’s Market that’s really a million craft booths with a few food stalls and a smathering of produce.   Not to mention the greatest organic empanadas we ever tasted!  Plus the town—actually all this part of Montana—is filled with lilac bushes.  Not with just white and “lilac” blossoms, but also some that are deep, deep burgundy, some with flowers that are dark purple with white edges, some bushes that look like dwarf varieties…and they all smell heavenly!

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This was one of the first sunny days of summer in Missoula and the streets were alive.  It’s a college town so there are young, old, teachers and their kids, cowboys, established Montana gentry; quite a mix. A building art history wall shows the corner we visited.  

Storyboard

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The Clark Fork River–like most other rivers in the area–is over-flowing it’s banks.  It runs through the downtown, with a river walk at Caras Park.  Fishing is taken very seriously in these parts….

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As a bonus, we were treated to an exhibition by a kayaker running Brennan’s Wave, a man-made, whitewater play pool in the Clark Fork, created to honor a world-class kayaker who died in 2001.

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We visited the St Ignacious Mission, founded in 1854.

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And found the National Bison Range–all near Missoula.  This is still tribal land, so highway signs are written to respect the native American culture, as well..

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This antler stack at the park entrance gives you an idea how many deer and elk are around.  Driving at dust ia always an adventure.

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The bison once again were just outside our car.

Bison

On our way back to Missoula we drove under this animal bridge–they are concerned super highways don’t disrupt animal migration patterns. 

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Finally–Oreo Cows.  This may not be their real name, but it sure seems to fit these guys pretty well.

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The next morning we take off to Glacier. 

 We pass by Flathead Lake–this looks just like the pictures of Italy’s Lake Como.  More to come on that later!

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Glacier was one of our top destinations when we began planning our trip–and man! Did it ever live up to our expectations!  It’s right on the Canadian border—the first stop inside the gate is the Alberta [Canada] Welcoming Center.  I’m feeling right at home, now. 

It’s proper name is Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park World Heritage Site.  Canada made Waterton Lakes a park in 1895 and the US set aside the adjoining Glacier Park in 1910.  The two countries linked the two parks into an international peace park in the 30’s and in 1995 it was designated as a world heritage site.   Quite a place.  So much more than the gorgeous Lake McDonald reflection pictures we wanted to see. 

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Glacier has been called the “crown of the continent,” and contains a triple divided peak, the width of a hand, where a rain drop can start a path to the Columbia, Mississippi or Saskatchewan river systems and end up in the Pacific, the Gulf of Mexico or the Hudson Bay.  Unbelievable.  Even the pebbles in the glacial waters were beautiful.  The blue-green and red rock found everywhere is actually ancient stone that began as sediment 1.5 billion years ago.  These were under the water in Lake McDonald.

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We had to stop at the beautiful McDonald Lodge–trophy animals everywhere!

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Then we took some pictures of the falls on Upper McDonald Creek.  High water levels made this spectacular.

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Our second day at Glacier, we went west to Polebridge, on the eastern side of the park.

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 A previous fire made an erie landscape

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The tiny town of Polebridge was actually a unique country store.  A nod back to the 60’s.

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Our journey culminated in an hour drive on a bumpy dirt road to Bowman Lake—we almost turned back, but it was absolutely worth the trip.  The lake air was cold with a brisk wind—no flat waters for a reflection photo of the surrounding snow-capped mountains.  But it was beautiful.  We could have been standing beside a Norwegian fiord!

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And have I mentioned it never gets dark here?  Seriously, 10 PM we walk the dogs without a flashlight.  It’s like dusk at home.  We’ve been so tired I haven’t stayed up late enough to see more than a few errant stars; I feel like I’m in Alaska!  And it’s bright at 0600.  One other similarity—they have B52-sized mosquitoes.  Thirsty little devils!

Unfortunately, the Going to the Sun Road, traversing the park, still wasn’t completely opened—late snows and some construction.  But now we have a reason we must come back!

Back to Missoula, we have a chance to catch up with some friends from many, many moons ago—we’re talking high school and college! 

Friends

 They now live in the Bitterroot Valley, an area with more spectacular vistas, even on an overcast day.  We didn’t get to spend as much time together as we had hoped—another reason we plan to head back this way!  

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(In Darby, at the foot of the valley, I finally found a brown bear that wasn’t shy)

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At last, we’re ready to move on….we change plans and head for Flathead Lake to check out the RV before we head on our way.  This area is a real treasure!  This is the largest natural freshwater late in the lower 48, west of the Mississippi.  It’s ringed with snow-covered mountains–we loved it here.   In case you haven’t guessed, we’ve fallen in love with Montana—at least after the thaw.

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Flathead

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I loved the lupin and columbine….

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Next we’re off to  Hardin, Montana—the home of Little Big Horn and Custer’s Last Stand then on to Rapid City, SD to see Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse.

 

June 1-Fly fishing and more!

One of my top wishes for the trip was to try fly fishing.  Neither of us fish, so this would be an adventure–and in Yellowstone, of all places!  We hired a guide and went out to the Fire Hole River. Pat Bond was terrific- we highly recommend him if you’re in the area. He taught us how to cast,. then we waded thought the river for three hours.

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I caught the first good bite on my line and lost two other strikes.

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Jim also caught a fish, another rainbow–we released them to grow a bit bigger.  The rainbow trout are not native to this area and Pat said naturalists predict they soon will overwhelm the native cutthroat population.  This was a great experience–something we plan to do again.  A great way to enjoy the outdoors.  Now we can mend and strip–if we only had an idea how to tie a lure on the line, or even what lure to use.  This isn’t a sport.  I think it qualifies more as the art of fly fishing.  Really, really fun!

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And we couldn’t have found a prettier location!

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After our lesson, we went on to Fire Hole Falls.  Susan and John, remember stopping here in a snow storm?

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As we continued through the park we came across bison everywhere.  We saw them scratching against the pine trees, trying to shed their thick winter coats.  This big old bull ended up decorated early for the holidays as he waked beside the cars. 

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We ended our day at Norris Geyser Basin.

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We had more snow that evening.  A day of snow then a day of sun seems to be the norm here.  The folks at Yellowstone said this was one of the worst winters they can remember.

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With a bright morning, we headed off to Missoula, Montana, with more dark clouds on the horizon.

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This was to be a quick overnight stop–but Oh! How plans can change.

Check in tomorrow.

 

 

May 28th Off to Idaho and Yellowstone National Park

We left the Utah canyons after almost three weeks.  What an experience.  Each one was magnificent in its own way.  As we move on, I’m trying to decide which was my favorite and I’m not sure I can.  For true overwhelming magnificence, I think I would say Monument Valley tops the list.  I also would say that was my least favorite because of the harsh conditions.  Every day we came home with grit in our teeth and hair that felt like broom straw.  Dust really is a four-letter word, and red dust is the worst!  I have tremendous amount respect for the people that call that place home.

But I still remember first driving into Canyonlands and being amazed—our introduction to what lay ahead, and I loved Dead Horse and Kodachrome, and… and….   It’s been fantastic!  

I’d love to know, what was your favorite so far?

 

We left the Utah canyons with gray skies again—had more snow showers over the passes, on to Provo, 

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Then to Island Park, Idaho, a remote area on Henry’s Lake about 20 miles from West Yellowstone.  A neighbor at a RV camp told us about this place—quiet and off the beaten path.  They weren’t kidding!  It really was in the middle of nowhere.  Beautiful with a surprise! We arrived with 4 inches of snow on the grass and more falling.  Hello!  It’s almost June!!!

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The next morning it was sunny, almost 60 degrees, so we rode our bikes to Henry’s Lake, one of the primo trout fishing areas in the country.  The fields still had a frosting  of snow and we found a huge ice ledge on the edge of the lake—a remnant of the long winter.  I don’t think many people live in this area year round.  The winters must be brutal.

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Lake

This really is a place with non-stop weather changes.  Pellet-size hail again at night, but bright and warm the next day.  It sure kept us guessing.  The roads were never a problem, so we headed to West Yellowstone to check out the area where we had snowmobiled almost two years before.  We found some of the places we remembered covered with snow-packed roads–now it had a more routine flavor.  But it snowed and sleeted again.  Mother Nature can’t make up her mind.  We did stop to made arrangements for fly fishing lessons before heading into the park.

As I mentioned, we were here January 2010.  That was glorious and we wanted to visit some of the same areas inside the park this time, but we didn’t get far before stopping.  We immediately found new life springing up everywhere—like mothers and baby elk beside a lake.

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An osprey we had watched hunting

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Bison herds still down from the high meadows for the winter.  They were next to—and in– the road.

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From the car window…

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Herd

Bison cows stopped a few feet from us and seemed completely oblivious to visitors as they nursed their calves. 

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We moved on and drove the full loop around the geyser basin

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and made it to Old Faithful right at showtime!

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As we moved through the upper elevations the park still had a thick snow pack; it looked to be at least six feet in some places.  And Yellowstone Lake was almost tolally covered with ice.

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In the mountains we stopped with a jam of cars and caught a brief glimpse of a mamma grizzly who had two cubs hiding behind the rise–not a great shot, but this was not a time for an up close and personal encounter…

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As we were leaving the park we came across an elk with a tracking collar…giving us a few choice words

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And a young brown bear was playing hide and seek in the brush–he won!

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Tomorrow, we’ll be going back to Yellowstone to try our hand at fly fishing.  We had no idea how great the park would be this time of year!  

May 27th- Off to Bryce Canyon’s Main Park

May 27th and the start of the Memorial Day Weekend. 

 We had the RV Park almost to ourselves this whole time—now it’s filling fast, and with a great number of rental RVs.  Listening to the folks around, many are from Europe.  The camp owners said Germans, Dutch, and the Brits seem to be the predominant visitors from across the pond that take to traveling the southwest by RV.  Since it’s Memorial Weekend, we also have numerous Harleys, some trailing tents-on-wheels.  We have Rolling Thunder, too! 

As I mentioned before, we planned to go back to the main Bryce Canyon National Park as a ho-hum—we were in the area and couldn’t not go.  We weren’t expecting to be dazzled, since we had been there before and had seen so many other glorious natural wonders in this area. Well, it knocked our socks off!

First stop was Sunset Point and the Bryce Amphitheater.  WOW!  It really is amazing—these pictures just don’t do it justice.

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Vista

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We walked the same path to the top we walked with our friends years earlier and even came across a mountain short-horned lizard.

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Farview point lived up to its name—with the Black Mountains, Navajo Mountain, then all the way to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  (The Ranger told us so! It’s out there somewhere—maybe if someone shot off a rocket?)

Farview

I loved Aqua Point—the hoodoos looked like ships and ancient mariners…and another grand view.

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Aqua-hoodoo

“Nevermore!”      Ponderosa Point had a special attraction—Ravens came to visit.  These birds gave me a glimpse of their intelligence and agility before—one unzipped and EMPTIED my backpack (looking for food) on our snowmobiling trip in Yellowstone a few years ago.  This one loved a few bites of dog kibble, flew off and immediately brought back several of his buddies. No more snacks, but they still provided a great show,  What was he thinking?

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Rainbow Point, at the top of the canyon, is 9100 feet.  Took us a just a bit longer to hike through these trails. (Glad it’s just the altitude affecting us!)

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We loved seeing snow on Bristlecone Trail at 60 degrees.  Locals said this was the worst winter they’ve had in a long time.

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Then we headed back to Inspiration Point—past a great group pf aspen, just leafing out.

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A great day–an unexpected joy.

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Tomorrow we break and head for an overnight in Provo, Utah before heading to Island Park, Idaho, just outside West Yellowstone.  This will give us a chance to go back to another past haunt–our four days snowmobiling through the park.  Can’t wait to see what it looks like without snow!