Nice and slow day today. Caught up on blogs earlier, we did laundry and visited the Jewel Cave. It’s about a 180 mile of cave tunnels with a good 1/2 mile walking path for a tour. The wind cave, another cave not too far away, offers a more spelunking experience where you squeeze through a rather tight space to see the “natural wonders inside”. I’ll let them continue to be a mystery in that cave.
We did stop at the ranger station and got a great map for dispersed camping (just pull off a forest service road). It’s very common is AZ, but not so much as you move east. Picked a spot that was gorgeous for tonight. You can’t see it, but the vista also overlooks the Crazy Horse carving off in the distance. Grilled a couple of steaks and a baked potato for a great meal overlooking the valley. Saw two red-tail hawks circling right in front of us (they wanted the steak), but no deer or elk. Got to say that this ranked as the new #2 spot.
We stopped at Devil’s Tower as we left Wyoming. A very neat rock. Camping is turning out to be interesting. We made a reservation in Yellowstone, but everywhere else we just find the local national park or national forest campsites and pull in. Most folks crowd into the KOAs or larger sites, with folks spaced about 10 feet apart in their 50 foot trailers. The park and forest sites are really nice, are mostly tents and the hosts have turned out to be some interesting folks.
South Dakota is a new state for both Pam and me. The Black Hills area is very pretty. Camping in the forest around here is just like the Rim, Ponderosa trees and grassy fields. As you approach the area the one thing you notice is the number of bikes in the area. Sturgis kicks off next week, but a lot of bikers are already in the area.
Rushmore was interesting. The area around it was the busiest place with the most people we have been in for some time. It felt like entering Disneyland, but the rock was neat to look at up close.
Crazy Horse was huge and will be incredible when it is finished in a few decades. Maybe we’ll be around to see the carving completed.
Laundry is now done so we’re on our way east.
We dropped out of Montana into Wyoming and Yellowstone. We came in the north entrance, left through the south entrance to go to see Grand Teton range and then left out the west entrance for Cody and points east.
Yellowstone is huge and unfortunately its set up for driving around. We decided to be different and hike the canyon area during our trip there.
We hiked from the campsite to the falls and back since parking the roamer in the small lots gets interesting. Stopped for a good lunch spot along the way and saw a really neat osprey nest in the rocks. Also had a couple of good drafts when we got back to the lodge.
Yellowstone is a pretty amazing place. Every turn offers a more beautiful vista of a totally different type. These were the thermal vents that seem to be all over the park.
We dropped down towards Jackson and saw the Grand Teton range. Never realized there was a huge lake at the base of the range. Thinking more about owning a boat now and pulling it behind the Roamer.
We then pointed the Roamer east and headed for Cody. We stopped in the Wild West Museum there. Huge place with a lot to see. Their gun collection was amazing. This is a fraction of the guns that were in the place. (add picture later wi-fi is dead).
Camped in the forest east of Cody after climbing a huge hill. The sign said “steep grade”, but it was only because they don’t make “100% grade” signs. Thankfully the Roamer has plenty of power and it was a lot cooler in the trees. We visited the Medicine Wheel on the top of the hill. No pictures were taken because there was a prayer ceremony within the wheel ongoing. It reminded me of the pictures of Everest Base camp – pretty neat.
Next up – the Black Hills of South Dakota
The drive to Billings was through grassy, rolling hills covered with crops nearly ready for harvest and wildlife, with the occasional vista along the way. We saw a lot of deer, bison and pronghorn in the fields, with three large birds that are as of yet undefined (believed to be sand hill cranes – lifer!).
Stopped for lunch at a fishing access spot and ran into a cigar-smoking dentist with waders on and heading into the river. He gave us directions to the Tobacco Row cigar shop in Billings. Got to like fishing dentists. We visited Pompey Pillars, the place Clark (of Lewis and Clark) carved his name in the rock over-looking the river in 1806 during his return trip east. It is the only known sign they left along the way during their journey. Besides the historic rock graffiti, the visitor center was a pretty interesting building inside.
Next stop was Little Bighorn battlefield, where Custer and the 900 men that made up the 7th Cav met Sitting Bulls and 20,000 upset Sioux. The June 1876 outcome (just 70 years after Lewis and Clark passed through the same area) was pretty much a given due to the numbers and home field advantage. Questionable tactics led to Custer’s and about 50% of the 7th Cav’s fate on Last Stand Hill.
It was a reflective experience to walk the area, and in 1991 the Sioux were given approval to add a monument to honor their side of the battle. That word of the defeat reached Washington, DC during the 100-year anniversary celebrations did not bode well for the Sioux in the months that followed Little Bighorn.
We then took off for Yellowstone and a beautiful drive through the Beartooth wilderness area. Another high altitude pass with incredible vistas. This is an area to visit again and check out some of the dirt roads we saw on the other side of the valley heading into the hills – perfect for the Roamer. We passed another Earthroamer going the opposite direction on the pass road.
Out of internet coverage for the last couple of days in Glacier NP, which is not a bad thing when you think about it. We saw McMurtry at the Top Hat Lounge in Missoula Saturday night and it was great. His blues / country guitar and great lyrics were awesome to see in person. We’ll have to swing through Austin, TX on our homeward leg and see him again at his regular location.
Headed to Glacier on Sunday and got a spot at Avalanche campground (1st come 1st serve). Smoke from forest fires in Washington on Saturday darkened Missoula’s skies and possibly made folks think twice about going to Glacier, but on Sunday the smoke cleared and it was blue skies and beautiful. The campground is nicely located in the park for easy access to the trails and shuttles.
We hiked the Trial of the Cedars when we got there, which is right next to the campground. The water rushing through the rocks was clear and snow-melt cold.
We then hiked the Sperry Chalet trail, but realized it was a 13 mile round trip with a 4000 foot elevation gain after we started (need a better map), and diverted to Fish Lake for an easier 6 mile hike. This left more time for a couple of good beers and appetizers at the lodge before we caught the shuttle back to the camp for an afternoon nap (best part of retirement). Saw 3 deer with velvet antlers at the start of the trail but luckily no bears.
The diverted trail to the lake was not a high traffic route and was shaded and spongy from the hundred of layers on pine needles that marked the path. Fish Lake was pretty but thankfully there was a nice breeze to keep the mosquitoes from achieving a full attack.
Sperry Chalet sounds like a future trip since it was fully book this year. I imagine it to be Phantom Ranch in reverse (hike up instead of down to get there) but a lot less exposed to the sun hiking through the forest. Plus a day hike to Sperry Glacier from Sperry Chalet is supposed to be one of the more beautiful hikes in the park. Any one interested?
We then hiked to Avalanche Lake which is just gorgeous, before heading out of the park. Another stamp too.
We are now in Great Falls, MT where Louis and Clark chose correctly at the fork in the river only to encountered 5 huge falls within several miles of each other (hence Great Falls) that they had to port around on their way up the mighty Missouri river. The area around here is just beautiful grasslands at the foothills to the Rockies. Check out the awesome vehicle parked in the background.
The Ranger at the Louis and Clark Encounter gave me a volcanic rock as we were leaving. Must be a good day.
We all leave the reunion tomorrow in the various directions we came from. As our time comes to an end the real issue will be what is for dinner tonight? The trick is to leave with zero food left so it may be a varied menu tonight. The cousins have had a blast together and we’ll definitely be doing this again.
I did find out that I cannot paddleboard. I think it has something to do with weight to paddleboard buoyancy ratio, and I was on the wrong side of the equation there. The water felt great though and the nephews that jumped on the board to help me made it much better.
Pam and I will drop Tom and Taylor in Spokane tomorrow so they can catch their flight home and then we’ll head back to Missoula in the near term. Turns out that James McMurtry is playing there Saturday night. Sounds like a date night. Then it will be off to Glacier and points East after we restock the Roamer in Missoula.
As we were relaxing on the porch in the evening, we discussed all the places we’ve been and could not recall a “lake vacation” before this one. I say that because it is really nice. We rented a kayak, paddleboard and a ski boat for our time here. The ski boat we had for just a couple days (and maybe later in the week too) but the kids (from 5 to 27) all rode on the tube, got bounced around and loved it.
A few of the bigger kids and adults did some skiing and the old folks (myself included) took the boat around the lake area where we are staying to see some of the houses along the lake. I could easily become a lake person with a boat.
The best idea would be to buy a small lot, build a dock, buy a boat and just park the Roamer on the lot for our house. The Roamer is just parked now in the shade. The tree canopy is so great that the solar panels cannot keep up with the electrical load. However, I found that if I just run the engine for 15 to 20 minutes every 3rd day the batteries fully charge. Also, the roof hatches all have rain sensors so that during 10 minute showers we get the Roamer just automatically closes them down and I don’t have to run out and shut them to keep the inside dry.
The rental house is right next to a fish hatchery. Therefore, there are many osprey and bald eagles that fly overhead all day waiting for the fish releases. At dusk, the house also is the home for about 100 bats that come out of the attic through a sliver of a gap in the flashing and help keep the flying bug population in check.
Reunions are always fun, however more injuries seem to happen to us older folks as the years go on, but the food and beverages are always great. Feeding 24 allows you to buy in bulk so the price per meal is really low for some really good meals. Allan grilled up some “secret recipe” salmon last night for another great meal on the lake.
Our boys flew into Missoula Friday and we headed for Sandpoint, Idaho for the Stuart family reunion (Pam’s Mom’s side of the family). Twenty-four folks will be converging on the place, where most of us arrived yesterday. The Roamer was packed full with most of the stuff from the 15 folks who headed in from Missoula. We stopped at a Costco in Coeur d’Alene to pick up the food for 24 folks and one guy came over to us in the parking lot and said, “You have the end of the world vehicle here and you’re loading a ton of food into it. Is there something I should know?”
The place is gorgeous. It looks like some reality TV show house. Pam and her sister found it on VRBO (vacation rentals by owner) and split 24 ways it’s not too bad. It is up for sale if anyone wants to buy it. Pam and I are sleeping in the Roamer at night while we are here. It has become our own space, with our own stuff, and much preferred over a guest room. It’s also a quiet place to relax, tucked in the trees behind the house.
The inside of the house is really nice, with several areas to sit and visit with all the relatives that will be here, two kitchens, a bar area with a tap and many, many bedrooms. Today is the world cup final so I’m sure the TV area will be crowded with the soccer fans all rooting for Germany.
We pick up some water toys today and the ski boat tomorrow. Given the size of the lake, a sail boat may be a good idea too that I need to check into today. Should be a nice week to kick back and enjoy a family visit and the Idaho sunshine.
We are now in Missoula. We did some awesome hikes this morning at Craters NP. That place is so interesting. I now want to add a foundry to my list of things to do and melt down some of the volcanic iron slag into some interesting projects. But that is another story for the future.
We made our way north to Missoula through the Sawtooth National Forest, down the Salmon River valley, over another pass and down the Bitterroot River valley into Missoula. Saw a couple of bald eagles and tons of hay and potatoes. The area is just beautiful and every turn presented a better vista than the previous. The Salmon River road (Hwy 75) could have been a little wider, but it helped to improve my skills driving the Roamer. I think all four tires were touching at all times, but in reality only 3 are required and possibly two if you really lean hard.
I’m catching up from yesterday since we had no bars in Craters NP. The trip from SLC to Craters was interesting. It covered a few hundred miles, but the stops we made along the way made the trip. First one was at Promontory, Utah. For those of you that know the significance of this place get bonus points. We saw the sign for the “Golden Spike Historical Monument” and pulled off the highway on a 58 mile off-course adventure that turned out to be well worth it. Promontory, Utah is where the railroads met to join the east and west. They had replicas of both of the steam engines on the track and in operation, each with a very interesting story on how they got to be the engine of choice. The building itself was made of iron and copper quartzite that was very striking. Definitely on the building material list for our next house. Well worth the 58 mile detour if you are in the area.
Next we stopped at the Shoshone Museum and gift shop. They had some great stories of the local families, very beautiful beaded apparel, but we only walked away with a bag of buffalo jerky for the road. It was good.
The final stop before the Craters was EBR-1, or Experimental Breeder Reactor 1 located out in the middle of nowhere Idaho. It was the first atomic reactor that was brought online in 1951 to show that atomic energy could replace coal and oil. A very interesting place and the period furniture in the place made the trip. Took a lot of guts to try what these guys did, not knowing if the lights would flick on or if the entire place would go up in a mushroom cloud. I wonder who decided who throws the switch the first time, and did someone say “bang” when he did?
We made it to Crater around 4pm expecting all of the camping spots to be gone. In fact only a few were gone and we picked a rather nice one. We did an evening hike with a Park Ranger and sat through a great night show on the moon. By sunset (around 9:30 this far north) all of the camping spots were filled. All around good day.