Waterton National Park

Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada, was our next destination on July 13, 2017. We made Crooked Creek Campground our home away from home for a short two-night stay. Fortunately, we arrived around noon, which gave us plenty of time to drive into the park and have a look around.

Waterton Village

Waterton Lakes borders Montana’s Glacier National Park and is part of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park created in 1932 and designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.

The Prince of Wales Hotel, a National Historic Site, is a nice little chateau-style inn that serves afternoon tea from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. each day complete with a three-tier curate stand filled with little sandwiches and other delectable items. We weren’t ready for a meal so we bought Frappuccino’s instead.

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Prince of Wales Hotel

Waterton Village is a typical resort area with restaurants and gift shops. We drove through the Townsite Campground, which looked like a great place to stay with extra wide spots that included full hookup, electric and water only, or tent camping. Some sites will accommodate both an RV and a tent, which is rare in most campgrounds. Ninety percent of the sites are reserved six months in advance. Only ten percent are available on a first-come-first-served basis.

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View of Peaks and Waterton Lake From Waterton Village
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View of Surrounding Peaks From The Village
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View of Prince of Wales Hotel From The Village

Cameron Lake

The next day, we drove to Cameron Lake. The drive took us through twisting turns, each with breathtaking views of the mountain peaks, forested areas, and an abundance of wildflowers. Several times on the drive we asked, “Is this the right way? Did we miss our turnoff?” The Akamina Parkway map didn’t seem to correspond to the route we traveled and took longer than I had expected.

Along the way, we encountered the roadkill clean-up crew. The bear stood at the side of the road for a few seconds before he ambled over, snatched the dead rabbit between his teeth, and disappeared into the forest.

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Roadkill Clean-Up Crew

A few miles later, we came across a few deer munching on something in a parking lot. It must be a popular place because they were there when we drove in the other direction several hours later.

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Grazing Deer

When we arrived at Cameron Lake, only a few cars were in the parking lot, and the rental store had not yet opened. We saturated ourselves with a generous spray of Off to prevent the flying insects that hovered around us from flying into our eyes or opened mouths. We walked along the short lakeshore trail that skirted the west side of the lake. A sign that warned us this is bear country made us a bit leery as we trekked down the trail and stepped over what looked like bear scat. Onward we pressed as we made our presence known. Thankfully, no bears lumbered through the brush to ruin our day.

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Cameron Lake – Along the Right Side is the Lake Trail
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Bear Scat

 

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Could This Be a Bear Track?

Rowe Creek Lakes Trail

The 3.9 km (2.4 miles) hike looked doable except we didn’t realize it would be all up hill. We loved walking through the yellow, white, pink, and blue wildflowers.

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View From Rowe Creek Lakes Trail
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Rosy Spiraea
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Daisies Are Among the Numerous Wildflowers in Waterton Park
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Rowe Creek Tumbles Over Red Rock

I was glad I had worn long pants and long sleeves. There were several places where we snaked our way through thick vegetation that reached five to six feet.

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Bear Grass was in Full Bloom

We stopped for a snack at Lower Lake and had to fend off aggressive squirrels that, if given the chance, would have scampered onto our laps to steal our cashews and dried fruit.

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Lower Rowe Lake – Alpine Lakes Have Such Clear Water

Red Rock Canyon

Our last stop of the day was Red Rock Canyon where visitors climbed the rock walls, cooled their feet in the icy creek, and walked the trails on either side. The argillite rock walls contain about 3% oxidized iron, which gives them the rich red color. Although there are erosion and danger signs about climbing on the rock walls, people either did not read the signs, or they choose to ignore them.

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Red Rock Canyon

Our short visit to Waterton National Park piqued our interest for another visit someday, perhaps combined with Jasper and Banff. We called a few places for reservations, but none were available. July isn’t a good month to find RV space without reservations, so we headed west to catch a glimpse of more Canadian scenery before dropping back into the U.S.

Frank Slide

When we left Waterton, we took Highway 6 north and then highway 3 west through Crowsnest Pass. About an hour into the drive, Frank Slide loomed in the distance. At 4:10 a.m. on April 29, 1903, 90 million tons of limestone rock broke away from Turtle Mountain. Within 90 seconds, large boulders had buried the eastern edge of Frank, a mining town, the Canadian Pacific Railway line, and a coal mine.

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Frank Slide Area
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View From Behind of the Extensive Boulder Field

It was hard to comprehend the slide’s power as I looked up at the bare space on the side of the mountain, the boulders on either side of the highway, behind me, and beyond. I could almost hear the deafening rumble and feel the earth shake as boulders crashed into cottages, crushed business buildings, covered a cemetery, and stretched for 1.2 miles across a road and railroad tracks. Approximately, 70 to 90 people perished in the slide and many of them are still buried under the boulders. The exact number could not be determined because no one knew how many transients may have been in town or whether people who had said they were leaving town had actually left. The cloudy, misty weather enhanced the somber feeling that came over me when I thought of the people who had died, and the survivors whose lives were changed forever.

Next up: Coulee Dam, Hanford project, and a guided tour of a decommissioned B-Reactor

Columbia Falls, Montana

Glacier National Park is more than just the Going-to-the-Sun Road. With so many trails, creeks, and lakes to explore we could have easily spent a whole month there. Hmmm, something to consider for the future.

Here are a few other places we managed to explore.

Johns Lake and Trail

Situated just past the north end of Lake McDonald, is a trail that loops around Johns Lake, through a forest, and along the banks of McDonald Creek.

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Johns Lake Trail

We could barely see Johns Lake through the overgrown forest and vegetation that surrounded it.

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Johns Lake—No Way To Fish Here

In some areas along the trail, lodge pole pines looked like a game of pick-up-sticks.

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Let’s Play Pick-Up Sticks

The best part of the short hike was McDonald Creek where water rushing over the rocks and boulders was deafening.

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McDonald Creek

I don’t recall seeing a creek with such a beautiful shade of turquoise.

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McDonald Creek

A few people stuck more than a toe into the icy water. Although it was a warm day, we decided to pass on a dip.

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McDonald Creek

The way the fallen trees provide nourishment for the new growth reminded me of the Hoh Rain Forest west of the State of Washington’s Olympic National Park. In the Hoh Rain Forest, the infant trees grow in a row on the fallen tree trunks.

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Baby Pines

Camas Road and Forests and Fire Nature Trail

The Camas Road took us on the west side of the park to the Forests and Fire Nature Trail. Along the way, we stopped at Fish Creek Campground to see what they offered. There were a few spots that might have worked for our rig, except for the ones tucked into the vegetation. Visions of creepy crawlies around the vegetation discouraged us from attempting to stay there. Rain threatened to pour from the sky so we were unable to take the Forests and Fire Nature Trail, but we did see a few sections where the cycle of forest regeneration of the woods progresses.

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Forest Regeneration in Process
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More Recent Burn Area

Near the burn areas, tightly clustered trees surrounded what we thought were meadows. Actually, they were fens, a type of wetland. According to Wikipedia, fens are an area that is pH neutral or alkaline with high mineral content but few plant nutrients. Streams and springs provide the necessary nutrients for the grasses and wildflowers to grow.

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A Fen Looking West
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A Fen Looking East

Avalanche Creek, Trail of Cedars Nature Trail, and Avalanche Lake

The park service picked one of the most beautiful places for the ADA accessible Trail of Cedars. A boardwalk marks the trail, which winds through old growth cedar and hemlock forest along a stream. There are places to stop and gaze at fallen tree stumps showing off their roots and ferns carpeting the forest floor.

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Decomposing Tree Roots
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Ferns Blanket Forest Floor
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Ferns in the Sun

The sandstone cliffs covered in moss and ferns reminded me of an Indiana Jones movie. There’s a way to the hidden treasure somewhere among the cliffs, I just know it.

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Where’s The Entrance to the Treasure Chest?

Sparkling clear water cuts a path between moss covered cliffs.

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Avalanche Creek
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Avalanche Creek

The 5.8-mile round trip hike to Avalanche Lake has an elevation rise of only 500 feet. Or so the map says. They forgot to mention that the trail goes up hill and downhill at least ten times. That was okay. It was better than a constant incline.

There were a few spider webs near the trail that kept us busy rubbing our faces and arms to brush them off. I liked the way this one glistened from the filtered sunlight.

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“Here buggy, buggy, buggy. Won’t you rest awhile on my web?

We were so glad to come across vault toilets a few yards before reaching the lake. I feared I’d have to veer off the trail and squat.

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There Are Two Vault Toilets Near Avalanche Lake

The closer we came to the lake the more Spanish moss covered the tree branches.

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Tree Branches Wearing Their Spanish Moss Scarves

When I saw this photographer with his entire collection of gear strapped to his body, I feared he would fall in. Sadly, he and his buddy had arrived a bit late to capture the perfect photo.

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Watch Your Step

The sunlight through the haze made it difficult to photograph the falls. Here’s the best I could do, with a lot of help from Lightroom. Thank goodness for the dehaze function.

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Avalanche Lake and Waterfalls

A half hour after we arrived, crowds descended on the shoreline. Time to head back down.

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Let’s Go Swimming

Whitefish, Montana

Curious to see the towns surrounding Columbia Falls, we drove through Whitefish. There we found a quaint resort town with the typical restaurants, gifts shops, art galleries, and such. We checked out the train depot and museum, which included bronze statues of an engineer and a little boy.

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Whitefish Train Depot
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Where Are All Those Tankers Headed?
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Inside the Train Depot
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“Yes, sir. I want to be an engineer just like you when I grow up.”

Casey’s looked like a good place to stop for a dark and stormy.

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Casey’s in Whitefish, Montana

Served in copper mugs, of course.

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Copper Mugs of Dark & Stormies

We had to fork over our driver’s licenses in exchange for the mugs. Apparently, some patrons erroneously thought they bought the cup along with the contents.

There were plenty of other sights to see and things to do in Glacier. Unfortunately, the limited time we had didn’t allow us to tick off all the trails, boat rides, and other activities that had piqued our interest. We were glad for the days we had to visit Glacier National Park. Only now we are saddened to learn of the destructive fires caused by lightning that broke out in August. Logically I know that fire is a good thing for the forests. I only wish it didn’t have to be that way.

Glacier Fire Update

I checked out the Glacier webcams on September 8, 2017. The smoke from the fires obliterated the view across Lake McDonald revealing only a few feet of the lake from the shore. On September 14, although still a bit hazy, I was glad to see the smoke had lifted allowing full view of the lake, mountains, and cloudy sky. Smoke had also cleared from other parts of the park.

As of noon on September 13, 2017, Glacier National Park and the Flathead County Sheriff’s Department issued an evacuation warning for the Apgar area within Glacier National Park and portions of West Glacier due to a shift in high winds forecasted. According to the incident report, the Spraque fire has gobbled up 14,795 acres, is 60% contained, and full containment is not expected until November 1, 2017. For updates, go to https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/5510/

While hurricanes pummel and flood Texas, the Caribbean, and Florida, the western states battle their fires. It’s been a tough year so far.

Safe Travels

 

 

Columbia Falls, Montana

Going-To-The-Sun Road (GTTSR) was first on our list of things to do in Glacier National Park. The fifty mile road includes several points of interest for fantastic views of the wildflowers, snow-capped mountain peaks, and valleys below.

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Wildflowers, Peaks, Valleys, and Snow

Going-To-The-Sun Road

With speed limits ranging from 25 to 45 miles per hour, drivers can’t be in a hurry to reach the other end of the park. The park recommends an early start to avoid the traffic jams. This is fine if you don’t want to stop at Logan Pass Visitor Center or are only traveling one-way. For a round trip drive, however, plan on spending a full day and encountering significant traffic on the way back.

The road is an engineering marvel for the 1920s. Instead of creating a solid tunnel with no view, portholes were created so passengers can catch glimpses of the scenery as they drive through. This is an example of one of the tunnels.

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One of the Tunnels on GTTSR

Weeping wall is a remnant from construction of the GTTSR. Engineers created a cliff when they carved through the rock in this section. Water from springs and melting snow pour over and onto the road surface below.

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Weeping Wall

It was a good thing we took photos on our way eastbound because on our return trip it felt like driving through downtown San Francisco during critical mass when all the bicyclists arrive to disrupt traffic flow. Wildlife traffic jams are a common occurrence in national parks. On our return trip later in the day, the wildlife turned out to be two young women. One woman posed on the wall side of the road with the water pouring down behind her while her friend stood on the other side taking a photo. The vehicles going in both directions inched their way between them. It always amazes me how people put their lives in jeopardy all for the sake of a photo.

Enjoy a few more renderings of the scenery along the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

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Peaks, Valleys, and River
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Peaks, Forests, and Snow
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Falls Along the GTTSR
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More Falls
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More Peaks, Valleys, Snow and Falls
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Quite a Bit of Snow for July 8
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Hanging Valleys

We thought we had left early enough to make a stop at Logan’s Pass Visitor Center. Not so. We drove into the parking lot along with other cars circling around in search for a space. We spotted people getting into their car. Jon turned on his blinker and left room for other vehicles to pass. The car’s back up lights came on. A lady pulled up next to us. We thought she would drive on. No such luck. I got out and told her we were waiting for the car to leave, didn’t she see our blinker? Her reply, “I followed them from way over there. It’s my spot.” Really? Is that a thing? It wasn’t worth arguing about so we ended up taking turns driving around the parking lot so we could visit the restrooms. If we come back to Glacier, we’ll take the shuttle to Logan Pass Visitor Center.

Further down the road, only a few cars had parked along St. Mary Lake leaving plenty of opportunity to take pictures.

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St. Mary Lake

Many Glacier

We exited the park in St. Mary and headed toward Many Glacier. The road into Many Glaciers travels through the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. Although evidence of recent road work was visible, huge potholes and washboard areas made for a very slow and bumpy ride to the park entrance. A few yards from the gate, this cub was too busy foraging for his meal to raise his head for a photo op.

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Foraging Bear Cub

The Many Glacier Hotel in the Historic Swiss Chalet, looked like a great place to get a bite of lunch.

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Many Glacier Swiss Chalet

The rich wood paneling, high ceilings, gleaming floors, and stone fireplace created a sense of warmth that invited us into Ptarmigan Dining Room.

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Ptarmigan Dining Room

The view from our table could not be beat.

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View of Swift Current Lake
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Cabin and Dock at Swift Current Lake
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Swift Current Lake and Mount Wilbur
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Swift Creek Lake and Jagged Peaks

The food? Not the best part of our experience. My bison sloppy joe wasn’t the most enticing dish when the server placed it in front of me. Although it tasted okay, it was nothing special.

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Bison Sloppy Joe

Unfortunately, after Jon took a spoonful of his bison chili, he wanted to ask the server, “Where’s the bison?” The chili was mostly beans. We found the reviews on Travelocity similarly mixed.

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Bison Chili

After our meal, we walked along the Swift Current Trail that wraps around the lake in a loop.

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Swift Current Nature Trail
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View of Many Glacier Hotel from Swift Current Creek Nature Trail
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Swift Current Creek
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Clear Water in Swift Current Creek
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Deer Crossing Trail

If we make our way back to Glacier National Park, I’d like to spend a few days on the east side and explore the numerous trails around Many Glaciers, maybe even take a boat ride, or try out a kayak or stand-up paddle board.

Good to Know Information about Going-To-The-Sun Road

An audio tour of the road is available to download on the NPS website here. Transcripts of each recording are also available.

Tours:

  • Sun Tours imparts information about the Blackfeet Indian culture and the importance of Glacier National Park to their heritage
  • Ride in a historic Red Bus and enjoy the scenery in a convertible vehicle
  • Going-to-the-Sun Road Shuttle System travels between Apgar and St. Mary visitor centers making stops along the way, including Logan’s Pass

A few precautions:

  • Vehicles longer than 21 feet, wider than 8 feet, and/or taller than 10 feet are restricted. Visit the website for more information about the road conditions here.
  • Don’t be in a hurry
  • Watch out for
    • Construction zones
    • Bicyclists on portions of the narrow road
    • People walking into traffic at trailheads and points of interest stops
  • Cell and WiFi service is pretty much non-existent throughout the park
  • Pack snacks and/or a lunch

Stay tuned for more of Glacier National Park and a visit to Whitefish, Montana in next week’s post.

Safe Travels

Livingston, Montana

Only July 4, 2017, we made progress toward Glacier National Park selecting Livingston, Montana, as a waypoint for a few days. Smoke streaked across the sky along Interstate 90, even though Inciweb indicated no fire in the area. A few miles east of Hardin, we drove under the stream of smoke leaving clear skies ahead. We continued through hills sporting their golden summer hue, saw a cornfield growing between the freeway and a train yard near Laurel, and experienced the finest rest area ever. Greycliff Rest Area Westbound didn’t have the usual dark and dank multi-stall facilities one finds when stopping along the freeway. Instead, we found two building wings—one for men and one for women—with individual ADA accessible rooms. The room couldn’t have been any cleaner or more comfortable. As we continued our route, the Crazy Mountains loomed ahead with the remnants of winter snow outlining the crevices and valleys.

Off Pine Creek Road (US-89 S) we found the Livingston Paradise Valley KOA nestled between tall cliffs of a canyon. I thought for sure the authorities had banned fireworks in this area of forest, farms, and ranchlands that border the Yellowstone River. Silly me, the explosions echoed in the canyon until at least midnight. Happy Birthday, USA.

The City of Livingston, Montana, is a historic railroad and ranching town and was the first gateway into Yellowstone National Park. Art galleries, bookstores, outfitters, breweries, restaurants, boutiques, and banks occupy several blocks of historic buildings.

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Independent Stationery Stores Still Thrive
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Livingston, Montana, Post Office

Step into Montana Watch Company for a custom-made timepiece. I’d love to own one of these gorgeous watches. Unfortunately, their price point is beyond my budget.

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To escape the sweaty 100-degree weather, we stopped in at Katabatic Brewing for a pint of Hefeweizen and taco salads served by Fiesta En Jalisco, a Mexican restaurant next door. I received a meteorological lesson when I asked about the name Katabatic. The owners named the brewery after the ever-present winds in Livingston, which can equal or exceed 70 mph. The Santa Ana winds in Southern California are also of the katabatic variety where the wind carries high-density air from higher elevations down slope. With winds exceeding 30 mph on 246 average days a year, Livingston is the windiest city in Montana. What else would you call a brewery in the windiest city?

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Katabatic Brewing Co.
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Katabatic Offerings On Tap

We recommend breakfast at Northern Pacific Beanery in Livingston. With vintage décor and a choice of counter seating or chairs at a table, you’ll feel like you stepped into the 1900s when the location served railroad workers, locals, and visitors who rode the train to Yellowstone, the world’s first national park.

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Best Breakfast in Town at Northern Pacific Beanery
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Historic Building of Northern Pacific Beanery

On the hunt for freshly baked bread, we headed to Bozeman. Our mouths watered when we walked into Great Harvest Bread Co. and smelled the yeasty goodness baking in the ovens.  We enjoyed the aroma of a loaf of Honey Whole Wheat the rest of the day and until we returned to the KOA.

While in Bozeman, we visited the American Computer and Robotics Museum. Their displays range from stone tablets to an iPad, cyborgs and robots, early video games, an original Apple I signed by Steve Wozniak, and the first PC. They have filled each room with memorabilia for the theme be it robotics, computers, video games, or brains and thinking machines. Also included are pictures and biographies of the creators and scientists.

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1945 Clifford E. Berry Analog Computer Reduced Calculations of Simultaneous Equations from 5 Hours to 44 Minutes.
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Grace Hopper Conceptualized Programming Language That Led to Development of COBOL
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From Stone Tablets to Apple iPad in 4,000 Years

The Tinsley Living History Farm at the Museum of the Rockies was our next stop. The volunteers stationed in each of the main rooms of the house wore period costumes, multiple petty coats under cotton dresses with long sleeves in 100-degree heat. Oh, my! I was glad I had on shorts and a sleeveless top. The docents detailed the history of the house and the people who lived in the home. In the kitchen, they took turns churning cream into butter. Tinsley descendants and other people donated many of the furnishings, decorations, and appliances, some of which could have been purchased from the Sears catalog in the day. Outside we found a wheat field, chickens, gardens, and a replica of the Tinsley’s original log cabin with a sod roof, in which they lived for 20 years before they built the house.

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Tinsley House Built in 1889
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Blackbill Magpies Squawked at the Visitors
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School Room and Work Room
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Sit a Spell and Sew a Few Stitches
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Vintage Working Loom
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One of the Bedrooms in the Tinsley House

It looked like the walls were lined with a sail cloth fabric. We were told it was actually paper.

 

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Another Bedroom

 

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It’s the Little Details that Help Tell the Story

 

 

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Child’s Bedroom
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Here Chicky, Chicky
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Can’t Wait To Harvest The Wheat

The Tinsley’s, along with their eight children, lived in a cabin similar to this one for twenty years before they built the big house. I can’t imagine living in that tiny space with more than one other person, much less eight children.

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Replica of Tinsley Homestead Cabin

After each day of sightseeing while in Livingston, this golden eagle greeted us back to the campground. Always perched on the same electrical pole and scanning the field for dinner.

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Golden Eagle Greeter

We waved goodbye to the golden eagle on July 7, 2017, and pointed the truck in the direction of Columbia Falls, Montana. On our way, we found a couple of gems worth mentioning.

In Missoula, Montana, we stopped for fuel and some lunch. What a surprise to bite into a generous serving of sandwich fillings between freshly baked bread from Wheat Montana Bakery and Deli. We were thankful for the fresh ingredients and tasty meal worthy of a gourmet restaurant. It was so unexpected at a fueling station where the usual offerings consist of pizza, soggy cellophane wrapped sandwiches if you’re lucky, or anything that is fried or spinning on a spit.

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Wheat Mountain Bakery Deli

Bowman Orchard and Winery on Highway 35, which runs along the east side of Flathead Lake had ample parking for our rig. We munched on sweet cherries the rest of the way to Columbia Falls.

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Visit Bowman Orchards & Winery for Sweet Cherries

Join us next week when we begin our tour of Glacier National Park from our base camp in Columbia Falls, Montana.

Safe Travels

Garryowen, Montana

We left the Black Hills of South Dakota in our rearview mirror on June 30, 2017, and headed for 7th Ranch RV Camp in Garryowen, Montana. We were surprised to find that our campsite was at an actual working ranch with cows and horses.

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The best part about 7th Ranch was the free huckleberry ice cream sandwich we received upon checking in. They made a perfect treat after setting up the trailer for our four-night stay. We enjoyed waking in the morning to the sounds of cows mooing and walking the property to see all the whimsical birdhouses that sat atop fence posts.

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Yikes! Wasps! Run!
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Here Fishy Fishy Fishy
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Big Home for a Big Bird

Oh, and I can’t forget the beautiful sunsets each night.

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Fiery Sunset
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Calming Sunset

What’s in Garryowen, Montana? Not much other than a privately owned Custer Battlefield Museum, a Conoco gas station, and a trading post. However, one exit to the north is the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, also known as Custer’s Last Stand, and by the Lakota and Plains Indians as the Battle of the Greasy Grass.

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

We counted ourselves lucky to have arrived at the monument in time to hear a ranger talk on the two-day battle between the American Indians and the Cavalry.

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Ranger Will Abbot, A Great Storyteller

Through his storytelling, I could see smoke rise from the American Indian camp near the river, and hear the thunder of horses, the cracks of rifles, and the shouting and whooping as the cavalry and Indians clashed. Mr. Abbot explained the impetus that culminated in the conflict, the strategy of each side, the skirmishes within a five-mile stretch of hilly land, and how it all ended. The National Park Service had a unique opportunity to perform painstaking research when a 1986 fire uncovered archeologically significant evidence. This discovery allowed them to corroborate the American Indian oral histories and written accounts by the troops who came upon the scene in the days after the conflict for a more accurate account.

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View of Visitors Center from the Custer Monument

We drove the 4.5-mile trail pulling over at each information stop to listen to a recording on the cell phone of what happened in that location. White posts marked the spots where the cavalry troops fell during the battle, red posts marked places where the American Indians fell. Even the horses that died in the conflict have their own memorial at their burial site.

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Cheyenne Warriors Remembered
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Cavalry Troops Remembered
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Cavalry Horse Cemetery

Jon, with his military background, was most interested in the skirmishes and determining what the cavalry did right and what they did wrong. The senseless death and destruction affected me more. While driving the battle route and walking the grounds of the national cemetery I wanted to whisper and walk softly to honor the sacred ground of both the white and red men who fought and died to protect their way of life.

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Custer National Cemetary
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Custer Monument
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Custer Monument and Field of Fallen Troops
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Indian Monument
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Artwork at Indian Monument

The place calls out for solemnity, the same feeling I experienced when we visited the Arizona at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii where over 1,100 sailors are entombed in the ship.

Yellowtail Dam National Park

The picturesque drive to Yellowtail Dam National Park took us through the Crow Indian Reservation ranch and farmland along the Bighorn River. The river is a fly-fishing paradise with numerous cabins and camps along the banks.

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Bighorn River and Valley

No tours are offered of the dam, but the visitor center has nice displays depicting the building of the dam, the after bay, and river. They also show a movie that explains the surrounding area, recreation opportunities, and wildlife.

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Yellowtail Dam Visitor Center

The dam regulates the flow of the Bighorn River for irrigation purposes and generates power to residences in the area.

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Yellowtail Dam and Red Canyon Walls
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Water Flows Into the After Bay Before Becoming Part of the River

Near the park headquarters, we found Ok-A-Beh Road and headed out to the marina on Bighorn Lake. We enjoyed the views of more green grassland, red canyon walls, and the river valley.

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Green Fields and Red Hills

We pulled off at one point to look at a fenced off area. Posters inside the fence told the story of the vision quest and gave other information about the tribe.

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Displays About American Indian Culture

About a half hour or so of driving, without seeing more than one or two vehicles along the way, all of a sudden cars, SUVs, and trucks, some with boat trailers, lined both sides of the road for about a quarter-mile. We gave up on the idea of eating our lunch at the marina. We dropped down into the main parking lot to turn around. Up one lane and down another.

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Ok-A-Beh Marina Parking Lot

Then, “Wait. Slow down. That guy is jingling his keys.” No one else vied for his spot. Score! We munched our tuna sandwiches and tortilla chips with salsa while boats and jet skis glided in and out of the marina. The red canyon walls and the lake enhanced our view under cloudy skies.

 

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Bighorn Lake and Ok-A-Beh Marina

Big Horn County Historical Museum

With temperatures approaching 100 degrees, an inside activity seemed the smart choice for our sightseeing one day so we drove to Hardin, Montana, to wander among the artifacts and displays inside the air-conditioned Big Horn County Historical Museum.

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A Display Inside the Big Horn County Historical Museum

As it turned out, most of our visit was outdoors exploring an early mid-1900 farmhouse, a schoolhouse, ranch cabins, a train depot, and two barns filled with vehicles including surreys with fringe on top, stagecoaches, mid-century fire trucks, and other conveyances.

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Mid-Century Farm House Dining room
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Schoolhouse
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Ranch Cabins

 

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Ranch Cabin, Teepee, and Out Buildings
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Tool Board
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Meat Market
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Train Depot Kitchen
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Church Outside
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Church Inside
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Ranch Camp Dining Room and Kitchen
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The Fly Inn Gas Station and Corinth Store
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One of the Barns Filled with Vehicles

And Then There Is Food

We had seen several Taco John’s locations for the past couple of weeks but never tried them out. We were surprised to find they had a large selection of tacos and other Mexican-style dishes, all made to order with fresh ingredients, chips, and a variety of salsa to choose from. It definitely was not Taco Bell. I’m sure we will visit them again when we are near one of their stores.

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Great Tacos at Taco John’s

Next up? Glacier National Park after a few days in Livingston, Montana.

Safe Travels

Black Hills, South Dakota – Part V

Finally, the last post for the Black Hills in South Dakota with Rapid City, Jewel Cave, Deadwood, Devils Tower, and a few more sights.

Rapid City

None of the jewelry stores near Custer could replace watch batteries so off to Rapid City we drove. With a new battery and refreshing drinks in hand, we explored the downtown area. John Adams looked thirsty so Jon gave him a sip from his Frappuccino

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Jon Making Friends with John Adams

Bronze statues of 43 US Presidents stand on almost every corner of the downtown city blocks earning Rapid City the honor of the “Most Patriotic Best Small Town in the United States.” We had fun guessing who the statues portrayed before we read the plaques. Visit the City of Presidents visitors center for to see the original statues, information on the presidents, and a map.

The City Park was hopping while we were there. On stage groups of children performed while family, friends, and neighbors beat the heat by playing in the water feature or huddling under umbrellas.

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Keeping Cool in Rapid City Park

Independent bookstores have a tough time these days keeping the doors open. Diversifying the business model to include jewelry, music, and T-shirts seems to help this store make ends meet.

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Again Books & Bazaar

The popularity of brewpubs has done wonders to revitalize run down buildings in older cities. Firehouse Brewery converted the old Rapid City Fire Department building, complete with a 9/11 tribute mural on the side.

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Firehouse Brewing Co.

I’ve seen other breweries housed in old firehouses during our travels. Buildings renovated by breweries throughout the country include banks, churches, factories, and old hotels. What would have happened to all those buildings without the popularity of craft beer?

One of the most interesting parts of the city was Art Alley. A one-block alley filled with art painted on the walls of buildings, staircases, and dumpsters. Some of the art expressed a message.

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Mural in Art Alley

Others contained cartoon characters in contemplation.

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Contemplative Homer

As is often the case with any rules, not all artists obtained the required permit from participating businesses or honored the prohibition against painting stairwells and dumpsters.

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Superheros and More
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Art Alley Murals

Looks like the owner or tenant of this building gave up the idea of having a pristine canvas on the wall.

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Is this considered art?

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I liked the detail in this mural of a man.

 

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Art Alley

 

Although we only stayed a couple of hours, we liked the feel of the town. We encountered friendly people, a thriving downtown scene, and other amenities a population of 73,000 might enjoy. I wouldn’t mind going back and spending more time.

Jewel Cave National Monument

Jewel Cave was the last place on our list to visit before leaving the southern end of the Black Hills. Tickets for the 80-minute scenic cave tour are distributed on a first come, first served basis. We arrived around 10 a.m. and the next available tickets were for the 12:40 p.m. tour. Jewel Cave is not as pretty as other caves we have toured. There aren’t as many stalactites or stalagmites. But the sparkling quartz gives Jewel its own unique beauty.

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Quartz Formation in Jewel Cave
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Different Formations On Same Wall
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Cauliflower, Broccoli, or Jelly Fish?
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Great Example of Bacon Drapery Formation

Other tours are available: A 20-minute program, a historic lantern tour, and a wild caving tour, and internship for students. Jewel Cave is the third longest cave in the world, only about 3% of which has been explored. Some people believe it is possible that Jewel Cave and Wind Cave, 20-miles away, are connected.

Roubaix Lake

On Monday, June 26, we drove a short distance to Roubaix Lake Campground in the Black Hills National Forest hoping to snag a campsite for a few nights.

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The campground host directed us to the unreserved sites and I think we managed to get the best site in the campground. The large space that overlooked the rest of the campground made it easy to maneuver the fifth wheel in place for a patio view of the forest and no close neighbors.

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Upon viewing the lake and learning that the Game Fish and Parks Department had recently stocked trout, Jon found a place to purchase a three-day fishing license.

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While Jon went fishing for two days, I enjoyed sticking around the trailer. Although cellular service, Wi-Fi, and electricity were non-existent, I kept busy writing with pen and paper and catching up on my reading backlist. Jon was thrilled to have reeled in one of the biggest trout he has ever caught.

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Deadwood and Sturgis

One afternoon we took in the sights at Deadwood and Sturgis. Deadwood was a typical western town complete with gift shops, restaurants, bars and grills, and even a cigar bar below street level.

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View From Atop the Parking Structure
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Another View from the Parking Structure
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This Close to Sturgis a Motorcycle Shop is a Must
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Below Street Level, End of Walkway is a Cigar Bar
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Candid Street Shot

Sturgis did not impress us. Then again, we arrived on a slow day. Motorcycles, Camaros, or Mustangs did not fill the streets. Perhaps it’s not the city itself that is the attraction, but the rallies that occur several weeks out of the year and the people who attend. Or, maybe we went to the wrong part of town. Only one lone photo to prove we had been there.

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Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway

Fall must be a magical time to drive through Spearfish Canyon. Ponderosa and spruce pines share the Spearfish Creek banks with aspen, birch, and oak trees. The damp rainy weather that accompanied us on our drive coated the leaves and branches with droplets of rain. Layers of limestone in beige or tan, mauve, pink or red hues, sit atop layers of brown sandstone.

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Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway

I had picked out a couple hikes for us to try along the canyon. Unfortunately, the inclement weather kept us in our truck. That is until we came to Bridal Veil Falls where we had to make a stop long enough to dodge the plops of drops to snap a photo.

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Bridal Veil Falls in Spearfish Canyon

Sundance, Wyoming, and Longhorn Saloon

After driving through Spearfish Canyon, we drove out to Sundance, Wyoming. This small town is where Harry Longabaugh spent eighteen months in jail for stealing a gun, horse, and saddle from a nearby ranch. Longabaugh continued his criminal activity and later earned the nickname the Sundance Kid. We ate the best burgers and service ever at the Longhorn Saloon and Grill.

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Devils Tower National Monument

Devils Tower National Monument was our next stop. The tower was visible for miles as we approached. Several vehicles stopped at this viewpoint to take pictures.

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View of Devil’s Tower from Scenic Overlook
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Red Canyon Next to Scenic Overlook

We were glad we hadn’t towed our trailer to the monument. Parking was limited at the visitor’s center and not suitable for a truck and trailer rig.

The 1.3-mile loop trail around the base of the formation delivers views of the surrounding area, spots to check out the progress of climbers, and a multitude of perspectives of the tower. Sacred to the Northern Plains Indians and other tribes, it is a place requiring reverence.

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Devils Tower

We made it back to the visitor center with only a few raindrops on our heads, but while I was in the restroom, a hailstorm let loose and bombarded me on my way back to the truck.

What caused the geological formation to rise from the landscape with such significance? Geologists agree on what formed the tower, but not how. Visit the National Park Service online for more information.

We had a great time in the Black Hills, but for now, it was time to move on. Next stop? Little Big Horn Battlefield.

Safe Travels

Black Hills, South Dakota – Part IV

Iron Mountain Road & Needles Highway

A trip to the Black Hills is not complete unless visitors drive the Iron Mountain Road and Needles Highway. Designed for motorists to slow down and enjoy the view of the hills and the fresh pine scent of the forest, the 17-mile Iron Mountain Road, constructed in 1933, contains 314 curves, 14 switchbacks, 3 pigtails, 3 tunnels, and 2 splits. The slow pace kept my motion sickness at bay as the road corkscrewed in a 360-degree fashion through the pigtails and the 180-degree switchbacks.

Below is one of the pigtails. Note the asphalt below the bridge and how the road continues through the tunnel.

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One of Three Pigtails

The tunnels were so tight I thought for sure we’d scrape the truck on the granite walls.

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One of Three Tunnels

Stopping at the turnouts to catch a glimpse of the presidents or peer out at the expanse of forest is a requirement.

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Mount Rushmore Seen From Iron Mountain Road
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View From One of The Stops, With People Standing on the Foreground Rock

At one stop, we saw the driver of this motorhome considering whether to stuff his rig through the tunnel.

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“Should We Try It?” “Sure, Dad. It Will Fit.” “I Don’t Know.”

The motorcyclists made encouraging comments, but the RV started a slow backup process around the curves he had just navigated.

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Motorcyclists We Met At Tunnel

One of the motorcyclists said the motorhome found a place to turn around a few yards down the road. I guess the driver of the RV ignored the cannot-miss signs that warned against oversized vehicles, or maybe he didn’t realize how big his unit really was.

Needles Highway came next, another beautiful drive through the green forest, granite spires, and one-way tunnels, on a curvy narrow road.

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View of Meadow With Mount Rushmore Rising Behind the Forest
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I See A Dragon’s Back. What About You?
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Climbers Creep Up Toward the Mouth of This Creature

The Needles Eye is a popular place for taking photos. There are a few parking spots, but they fill up fast during busy times.

 

Sylvan Lake

After winding our way through the scenic roads, Sylvan Lake surprised us at the end. Ah, a perfect place to stretch our legs.

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Sylvan Lake
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Sylvan Lake Spillway

The lake was created by Theodore Reder when he built a dam across Sunday Gulch in 1881 and it became part of Custer State Park in 1921. It wasn’t a large lake, but very popular for fishing, swimming, paddleboards, and kayaks. Sylvan Lake Campground offers sites nearby for hike-in, tents, and small RVs and trailers between 25’ and 27’ in length. Interested in something more elegant, try Sylvan Lake Lodge where a couple can also host a wedding.

Custer State Park – Wildlife Loop

The best viewing for animals on Wildlife Loop in Custer State Park is around sunrise or sunset. We opted for another early morning to catch the animals before they hunkered down for the heat of the day. Six o’clock A.M. was slow going when watching the road for signs of deer that might bound out in front of the truck.

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One of Many Deer Alongside the Road

Prairie dogs poked their heads out of their burrow or stood on their hind legs as if scouting the horizon for predators. I wondered if there was a hierarchy involved in determining which rodent lived in which neighborhood. And what about their governance structure? Who is in charge? Off to Wikipedia to learn more. I won’t go into the details. If you are interested, click here.

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Prairie Dog

At one point, wild burros walked toward us on the road. In their group was one with a white coat. I don’t think I have ever seen a white burro before. Have you?

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Gray Burro
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White Burro

The buffalo were next. What a sight to watch them amble along a path only they knew existed, nibbling on grass as they traveled.

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Herd of Buffalo

The young calves would run up toward the road and stop, look back, and scamper back to the adults. Then they’d repeat their antics, back and forth. They reminded me of our son when he was young. On our hikes, he would run ahead, run back to us, then run ahead again. He must have hiked twice as far as we did.

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Young Calves Waiting for Mom and Dad

We watched the buffalo make their way across the road for about a half hour until a certain cow and bull finally made it to the other side. Then the young ones ran ahead. What a sight to watch these powerful beasts. They seemed so docile as they slowly moved forward to their destination until a couple males exerted their dominance and charged at each other. I was sure glad I was safely inside our truck.

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Hey. Get Out of Here. That’s My Grass.

Not too far from the buffalo, we spotted a coyote up on a hill.

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Coyote Shedding His Winter Coat

I fell in love with the Black Hills on this trip. However, there was one thing I did not care for. The helicopters.

IMG_2532The whop, whop, whop of the blades seemed to follow us everywhere and ruined the ambiance of the Black Hills experience. The aircraft flew overhead at Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse, while we rode the 1880 Train, as we traveled Iron Mountain and Needles Highway, and at Sylvan Lake.

I don’t begrudge people who want to see the scenery from the air. I’m sure they gain a different perspective of the place. I only wish the helicopters could fly as quietly as an electric car. I prefer to experience nature without a side of whop, whop, whop in the air.

Next up is the final episode of our Black Hills adventure.

Safe Travels