Friday, June 24, 2011

Home From The Hills, Part 2

Up we got at daybreak, drove around the Badlands a bit, had our Indian Frybread with blueberry sauce, and then off we went to the Black Hills to see the Rushmore National Monument.  After that, we headed straight for Wyoming and Devil's Tower.

The boys hiked to the bottom of the tower, but did not attempt an ascent.  As you can see, the weather was gorgeous, the view was impressive, and a good time was being had by all.

For the rest of the day, our main goal was to reach our motel in Sheridan, in order to have a full day for sightseeing the next day.  Good thing we gave ourselves daylight for that, because Sheridan had a lot of construction going on the roads, and much of the street that our motel was on was completely closed off to traffic - it took a while to find our stopping place!

The next morning, we took off for the Bighorn Scenic Byway, which goes past Shell Falls and then over the spectacular Granite Pass.  On our way up it was snowing, which frosted the trees and landscape beautifully.  

At the top, the snow stopped, and we were able to get out and really take in the view.

Gradually the clouds cleared, and we enjoyed spectacular views of the Bighorn Mountains as we passed through them.  

So it was a very nice day as we got to the lovely town of Cody, Wyoming.  We easily found our motel, the Cody Cowboy Village, which was our favorite of the motels we stayed at on this vacation; the gal at the desk (we're pretty sure she never sleeps) was helpful and extremely friendly, the rooms were spacious and cozy and immaculate, and the boys loved the spa/hot tub!  Our motel turned out to be right next to the Cody Cattle Company, and that was right next to the place where they hold the Cody Nite Rodeo.  So we figured we were set - we'd have dinner and a show next door, and then head for the rodeo.

Well, we got the dinner and show.  But unfortunately while we were settling in at our motel, the rain started up in earnest.  It turned out that Wyoming has been getting the same generous precipitation this spring that the Badlands had been getting.  Unfortunately, along with the green grass, they've also been getting mud - and since the Cody Nite Rodeo is not in an enclosed space, slippery mud can be a serious issue for the horses.  So we found that for once, our plans had gone somewhat awry - the rodeo for that night was cancelled, for only the third time in the long memory of the fine people at the restaurant and motel.

We comforted ourselves with the fact that our next day's plans didn't require the rain to stop, and settled ourselves snugly into our comfy beds for a good night's rest - probably not a bad idea in any case, since by then I had developed a rotten cold.

The next morning we said our goodbyes to our room and our hostess, and headed over to the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, an impressive building holding several separate galleries, each devoted to their own collection.  All of us enjoyed the exhibit dedicated to the history of Buffalo Bill and his exploits, but we each had our own favorite gallery.  Handsome Son loved the firearms museum, which covered the history of American firearms from the Revolution through the World Wars.  I particularly enjoyed the display of western art, including some wonderful paintings and sculptures by such luminaries as Charles Russell and Frederick Remington.  

Finally we tore ourselves away, and headed towards the east gate of Yellowstone National Park, which had been closed the day before, but was now open.  We quickly discovered why there were so many closings of roads and of Yellowstone gates:

Still, we drove through Yellowstone without incident.  Well, without unpleasant incident.  We had incidents involving bears and wolves and other forms of (somewhat damp) wildlife, which was a thrill for all of us.

We also spent nearly two hours touring around the hot springs and geyser basin area of the park.  We arrived at Old Faithful just as it finished erupting, so we had 90 minutes or so to kill before the next eruption.  Luckily they have paved a path around the area, so that those of us confined to scooters and wheelchairs could gawk at all the points of interest, of which there were many.

I thought this looked like the face of a cranky old man squinting up into a cold sky...

We got back from our tour just in time to see Old Faithful erupt in a very satisfying way, and then off we went, heading towards our hotel in Jackson Hole.  But first we had to get something to eat, since it was dinner time and we hadn't eaten since our early brunch.  On our way through the Teton Mountain range, we stopped at Jackson Lake Lodge's Mural Room, where we ate an excellent (although not cheap) meal while gaping at the gorgeous scenery displayed through their panoramic picture windows (click the link to see the view from the windows - that isn't a painting, it's what you actually look at as you eat).

We spent a bit more time at the lodge, just looking out the windows and pottering about on the veranda, but eventually we had to head towards our lodgings.  Jackson is a tourist town, so I suppose there is some sort of logic to the street layout, but we were only starting to figure it out by the time we left.  Luckily, you can get a free map of the town at any of the many restaurants or hotels - we suggest you do so sooner rather than later, if you plan to visit.

As it was, we were pretty tired and slightly cranky by the time we found our hotel, so the boys were grateful for a stint in the hot tub, and then we all just fell into bed.  The next day we were up early and raring to go - and go we did, to Jenny Lake, a jewel gently set in the exquisite frame of the surrounding Teton Mountains.

The boys left me lounging in comfort at the charming Jenny Lake Lodge, where I had a delicious lunch and then curled up in front of the cozy fire in the lounge (have a visit with the concierge if you are lucky enough to stop there - she is from the Twin Cities, and represents the best of Minnesota Nice).  

Meanwhile the guys took the ferry from the Visitor Center to the mountainous side of the lake, and from there they had a 3.5 hour hike and Guy Bonding Session around the rim of the lake - they also bonded with some very bold marmots and other smallish woodland critters, and saw a black bear at what was luckily a more comfortable distance.

After their long hike, the guys were happy to get back to Jackson Hole for a stint in the hot tub, a short nap, and a very generous serving of ribs from Bubba's BBQ.

The next day was largely devoted to rest, hot tubbing, doing the laundry, and looking for a hat for Scott. In the evening, however, we went to the Bar J Chuckwagon for a traditional cowboy supper and a truly impressive music and comedy show by the Bar J Wranglers.  We had a great time, and fell into bed that night full to the gills with food and entertainment.

Up at 4am, packed our gear into the van again, and it was time to hightail it for home.  But we still had time along the way to see more wildlife, gawk at the sights...

... and get ourselves in a minor scrape or two.  About one mile outside the gates of Yellowstone, we (meaning 'I') locked ourselves out of the car, and were informed by the gift shop personnel that the rangers did not feel obligated to help anyone who was outside of the boundaries of the park proper.  Great.  The nearest locksmith or patrol car would have to come from Cody, at least an hour's drive away.  Luckily I talked Impatient Spouse out of his 'let's break the windshield' idea; after a bit of a struggle with a wire hanger, Impatient Spouse's handy Leatherman, and with the help of a passing Cheesehead (we Midwesterners have to stick together), we were able to break into our own van and get back on the road in fairly short order.**

Off we went again, and got past Cody with no further incidents... until we hit Shell, at which point we discovered that the highway we were on was closed further up, there were no alternate routes open, and we had to turn around and go back.  But we are nothing if we are not flexible (when forced to be so), so we backtracked to Greybull, went south instead of north, and took a great big loop around the higher areas of the Bighorns in order to get back up to I90.  A less scenic and much less direct route, but luckily the lower climes allowed for faster speeds, so although we added a lot of miles, we didn't add too much time to our trip.  By nightfall we were safely ensconced in our motel in Wall, SD, home of ubiquitous signage and thus the famous Wall Drug.  

Up at a more reasonable 6am the next morning, well in time for breakfast and ice water at Wall Drug, then off for another long stint of driving.  Handsome Son took over the driving near the Minnesota border, just in time to spend more than three hours traveling with a spectacular thunderstorm that was heading towards the Twin Cities.  He handled the stresses of straight-line winds and nearly zero visibility with grace, and we safely arrived at home by nightfall.  

Goodbye and thank you, Wyoming and South Dakota.  It was wonderful to meet you - we hope to visit again some day!

** For what are probably obvious reasons, I'm not entirely certain this is a good thing, even though it allowed us to get on our way with minimal delay and expenditure.  Let me point out, also for obvious reasons, that our van is more than ten years old and is a very basic model - the only semi-valuable thing in it is my similarly old and battered wheelchair scooter, which we got from a pawn shop at a very very low price, for good reason.  I'm just sayin'...


Delighted Hands said...

Looks like a great time-last time I was through that area was in 1976 on my honeymoon!

krex said...

hot springs and fuzzy animals....lovely stuff . I'm glad your all home safe and sound and thanks for all the's like my own little vacation with out the hassles ; )

Nancy K. said...

You should have been a travel writer! I'm amazed at how much you packed into your vacation and the photos are absolutely stunning!

Maybe I want to go West for a vacation someday...


The Violet Hoarder said...

You guys are just like modern pioneers, rolling with the punches--snow, bears, car locks, rain, marmots, burros, canceled rodeos. Eileen, you are a fantastic storyteller and photographer! Thanks for sharing. That Devil's tower photo is worthy of a postcard! And you're right, your son is handsome!

charity said...

Eileen and Scott,
I honestly dont read blogs but when you shared your link to me, amazingly I started to read from top to bottom. Thumbs up! you toured me to great places "for free" . Thank you and may God bless you and your family..
-charity villas

mrspao said...

Looks like you had a wonderful time xxxx

pao said...

Gosh there is more of this journey. I am so reminded of the road trip that you guys took us on a few years back.

Great to see you guys having a good time.