Jun 29, 201207:19 AMRoad Trips
Exploring the world within driving distance of Columbia.
Our Western Adventure Continues
After several days in the Black Hills, we drove westward and a bit north to the town of Sturgis, S.D. Famous for the annual motorcycle rally there each year, it is a town filled with mostly bars and T-shirt shops.
Sturgis was a good launch site for the next day into Wyoming and a short drive to another of the natural wonders that abound in the area: Devil’s Tower.
We could see it for miles before reaching the actual site where our one-time purchase of a “Senior Pass” for 10 bucks let us in the park. The tower is immense, rising from the rolling prairie. And people actually were climbing on the darn thing, reaching individual goals and some making it all the way to the top.
After gawking in amazement and watching a ranger demonstration of climbing techniques (one interesting thing we learned was that climbing equipment can cost as much as a thousand bucks or more), we drove west into Wyoming, arriving in the cowboy town of Sheridan.
After checking in to a historic mill that has been beautifully and tastefully renovated (the Mill Inn), and being surprised at the price, we were equally surprised by a restaurant we visited that served up delicious vittles.
We got up early the next morning and took a short drive west to the Big Horn Mountains. As we climbed higher and higher in the mountain range, snow (this is June, mind you) went from scattered to blanketing and on reaching the top before our descent, we found blowing snow and terribly cold temperatures in the 20s with wind gusts of up to 40 mph.
We headed down the western slope of the Big Horns, which is an experience in itself. About 16 miles of the cutbacks offer spectacular views of more mountains and beautiful valleys. The grade was 10 percent. That is steep! Thanks to a ranger who gave us the tip, however, we put our vehicle in low gear and hardly ever had to brake. Others who weren’t tipped off had plenty of smoking brakes along the turnouts.
Then we headed north to Montana and the quaint former mining town of Red Lodge.
We had reservations for one night there at The Pollard, an old hotel that is now owned by a fellow from Boston who evidently has more money then he knows what to do with. A spectacular hotel, it is convenient to downtown.
After checking in we had an evening’s entertainment at the pig races. Yes, they put ‘silks’ on piggies, name them, put them in starting gates, play the traditional “call to the post” and open the gates. The races last about 30 seconds as the pigs gallop to the finish line where food awaits them. They hold races about every 15 minutes and yes, you can wager. We did place a bet but alas, couldn’t pick a winner. What a hoot! Or maybe better said, a big OINK!
Back at the hotel we learned that the famed Beartooth Pass, south of Red Lodge, had filled with snow and was closed. That pass was one of our planned highlights so we stayed over at The Pollard a second night until the roads were cleared. It was worth the wait. What a spectacular drive and even at the top, at about 11,000 feet above sea level, we drove through valleys of snow on each side of the road that reached over 20 feet high.
Eventually, awestruck, we reached the Northeast Gate to Yellowstone National Park. We saw the typical animals including one bear, prairie dogs, buffalo, moose and antelope There was the obligatory visit to Old Faithful and join thousands of others there in the geyser’s hourly eruption. The most impressive of the geyser areas, however was not at Old Faithful but at the other smoldering geysers always churning with some of the most brilliant and varying colors.
Leaving Yellowstone by the south gate, we arrived in Grand Teton National Park.
Like the other scenery we had viewed, only more so, the Tetons rising majestically and pointed toward the heavens, are beauties of nature that words cannot adequately describe. Nor can the west’s natural beauty be captured photographically to do justice to their majesty and splendor.
We stayed in Jackson at the south entrance to the Tetons, a bustling town of many fine shops and restaurants.
The area is a place where the rich and the famous go to see, be seen and play. The huge airport in the basin of the Jackson Hole area speaks volumes as to the visitors that arrive. And, just north of Jackson is the village of Grand Teton Village.
Filled with condos (prices start at near $1M for one bedroom) and where luminaries such as Harrison Ford have homes costing tens (maybe hundreds) of millions, it is beauty filled with extravagances.
We departed Jackson and headed south toward I-80 and our trek homeward. It included a stop in Fort Bridger where my deceased wife was raised. The town was of terror more than 30 years ago It will be a story to be retold in another venue at another time but it involved a local boy, star athlete, charismatic and talented, Mark Hopkinson, Mark was subsequently executed by the State of Wyoming, convicted of heinous crimes in that peaceful little valley. Now, 30 years following his execution, the townspeople are still divided over his guilt as they were when he was executed. In fact on the day of his execution, one of the few local bars offered free beer to celebrating townsfolk, while others gathered at a neighboring restaurant to mourn their perceived injustice.
We drove east, along the rolling, barren plains, alongside the railroad tracks, seeing train after train hauling coal from the mountain region.
In Omaha, we took time to visit the Old Market, filled with shoppers as the College World Series was in full swing. Then we headed south (lodging was difficult to find and very high priced in Omaha) and made a chance stop in Nebraska City, Nebraska. What a wonderful place we found, including the Arbor Area, which will certainly appear at a later date in one of Inside Columbia’s publications.
After three weeks, we were home! It was a wonderful trip.