Wyoming

We entered the northeast corner of Wyoming and stopped to camp at Belle Fourche River Campground in the Devils Tower National Monument. The igneous rock formation is nearly 900 feet from base to the top. We spotted a couple of climbers on the top from our campsite. It’s definitely one of the unique structures in nature. How it formed is still being discussed, a volcanic plug being the most accepted. That the rock cooled into the geometric strands is what is interesting to see up close.

We left Devils Tower and made our way to Buffalo, WY, where I took the blacksmithing class during last year’s trip. In Gillette, WY we ran into a young guy who was doing a live webcast travel blog as we pulled into the gas station. I think he was a little excited seeing an Earthroamer because he kept telling me how awesome our vehicle is. It’s good to see others out on the road and experiencing this beautiful country.

We stopped in Buffalo to say high to my instructor and his wife. It was David’s B-day so we stayed for a great shrimp boil and some Rainier Beer (had to if you’re a Longmire fan). Buffalo is the city Durant, WY is based upon for the Longmire books and TV show. Another student blacksmith from Portland had just finished his class and was discussing which of his two new forged hammers he was sleeping with that night – it’s a blacksmith thing.

We stayed the night at the Mountain View Campground. In the morning we jumped over the Bighorn Mountains and made our way to Thermopolis for a nice afternoon soak in the hot springs.
We then made our way to the Wind River Valley near Crowheart, WY where friends own some gorgeous land along the river.

Bert and Leigh retired from the cattle business in Wisconsin, but keep some longhorns on their land as pets now.

We gathered there with friends and family of Bert and Leigh to watch the eclipse. Their place was right on the center of the totality path. One group of photographers had an impressive collection of equipment, including a quad-rotor drone with a camera.

We weren’t sure what to expect with the eclipse. I tried to shoot photos through my eclipse glasses during the transition, but that didn’t work.

We parked ourselves in one of the pastures and watched the sunlight and heat slowly go away over the hour during the transition from this….

To this…..

Because we were on the centerline we saw the totality for about 2 minutes and 20 seconds. It was very awesome, and at the same time somewhat eerie, to watch the sun disappear.

The light through the trees showed the partial coverage transition period and the crescent shape made from the sun and moon. It was amazing how after the totality that less than 1% of sunlight was again too much light to see up without glasses. I guess that is what made the totality so unique – the daylight was gone.

We stayed at Bert and Leigh’s for a few days after the eclipse. I helped Bert with a few chores and got to drive his dump truck while he picked up a few wood piles around his place that had been recently cut.
We also explored the area. We drove up Whiskey Mountain and found some petroglyphs.

And the view from near the top was beautiful. We hiked the trail at the base of the glacier-formed valley from the parking lot you can see in the photo. The largest glacier field in the lower 48 states in on the far mountain tops, covering 100s of square miles still.

The trail ran up to a series of lakes and a nice river that was cascading down the cracks in the rocks.

The views in the area were incredible.

Bert drove his truck up the adjacent hillside and the drive was a lot of fun.

The next day we did a short trip to Jackson, WY, passing the Tetons on the way.

If you have never been to Jackson, they have a town square with these huge antler entryways at each corner.

Dubois, WY, which is the next town upstream from Bert and Leigh’s place, has the National Bighorn Sheep Center. It has some great displays of the bighorn sheep from all over the world, including the four found in the US: Stone’s sheep, Desert Bighorn sheep, Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep, and Dall’s sheep – from left to right.

We took another day trip with Bert and Leigh over Union Pass, which tops out at about 9,200 feet. We drove over the pass and had a nice lunch and some good beer at the Wind River Brewing Co. in Pinedale.

We took the South Pass way back and had to stop at Farson Mercantile for the huge ice cream cones. We also drove through the mining ghost towns of South Pass City and Atlantic City.

The last two days at Bert and Leigh’s two moose decided to have breakfast on some local trees. The larger bull moose was impressive in size. The smaller bull moose must have been learning the ropes from his older grazing buddy.

It was a great time there, but we left Wyoming and headed south for Colorado and our yearly trip to the Earthroamer factory for some needed tune-up to our rig.

North Dakota

Having never been in North Dakota, neither of us knew what to expect. From watching Fargo we envisioned crazed folks with wood chippers and a snow blown country all year long. Therefore, we took the bypass around Fargo (lol) to get to our first stop. We camped at Jorgens Hollow Campground in the Sheyenne National Grasslands. It was a beautiful spot and the campground was new, free and nearly empty. Two other campsites were occupied: one by a couple that could be the wood chipper kind of folk, and another couple from Seattle who pulled out an accordion and played in the evening campfire – a first for us.

It was nice to finally bust out of the tree-clogged highways we have been traveling in east of the Mississippi River and in northern Minnesota to once again get to some gorgeous wide open spaces across North Dakota. We took the back roads across the state and saw some interesting things, like this farm implement display on the horizon – “harvesters in waiting”.

What totally surprised us along our drive was that one of the biggest export crops grown in North Dakota is sunflowers. We’ve never seen acres and acres of sunflower plants before. What an amazing sight.

We made our way to the southern unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The geology was a cross between the Badlands and the Painted Desert, very beautiful. The campground was full in the southern unit mostly because it was right next to a freeway and easily accessed. The Ranger said the northern unit, about 60 miles north, was never full so we went there instead to camp at Juniper Campground.

The northern unit was wrapped around the Little Missouri River and while similar to the southern unit, it was greener from the river. Also the bison in the park were very plentiful.

Pam and I went for an evening stroll to a nearby rock formation. In the evening dusk we were surprised by the bats heading out for an evening meal from their roost in the thin cracks in the rock wall.

We explored the park the next day and found some gorgeous overlooks down the river valley.

The bison are pretty happy just grazing around the park. Here was a huge bull just lounging by the road.

We left North Dakota with a new appreciation for the beauty of the state and headed into South Dakota. There was something of note on our map that was kind of off the beaten path so we had to take it. The road out there was fun to drive through the ranches of northwest South Dakota.

What was out there was the geographical center of the US (including Alaska and Hawaii). It’s marked with a lone US flag and a US Geological marker in the huge field.

After feeling very centered, we headed into Wyoming and our next adventure.