Yellowstone blog pt 2: 18 days on the road by EV

Join Tennessean couple Susan and Jack Goodwin on their electric vehicle adventure as they conquer an 18-day road trip in their Teslas.

Sunset near Lander

Susan Goodwin continues her account of her and her husband’s 18-day long road trip through Yellowstone by electric vehicle. Catch up with Part 1 here.

May 19-28th

May 19th:  Long day today, so out early to go around the lower loop of Yellowstone National Park, counterclockwise from OFSL, doubling back to WTGB, then heading north along Yellowstone Lake.  We stopped at the stately Lake Yellowstone Hotel, mostly to check out the lake.  The hotel was elegant, and the staff were very gracious, even though we weren’t staying there.  Really nice quality gift shop too.  The lake had just started breaking up the week before.  The sky and the water were almost the same brooding color of slate gray, with the ice a flat white.  While looking at the lake, chilling, literally, we met a lovely couple that had approached us, because of our Tesla.  Surprise, they have a blue Model 3 also.  Originally, they had a Tesla Model S (the larger sedan), but the wife wasn’t very keen with the size of it, so they traded it in when the Model 3 came out and love it.  No surprise there.

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Lake Yellowstone.  © 2019, Susan Goodwin

From there, it was on to Hayden Valley, also in Yellowstone, which is seven miles long and known for its abundance of wildlife.  Unfortunately, for us, it was kind of a bust.  We did see a few bison and other critters, but nothing we hadn’t already seen.  Oh well, hopefully we’d see more in Lamar Valley, also known for its wildlife, a few days later. 

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Mud Volcano Thermal Area, Hayden Valley, Yellowstone National Park.   © 2019, Susan Goodwin

Next stop was the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (GCY), and indeed it was!  Went to the majestic Lower Falls first and did the obligatory photo-op, noticing the brilliant colors in the rock walls of yellow, orange, and red.  A US Geological Survey team was there studying the warm/cool vents in the rock walls. 

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Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River.  © 2019, Susan Goodwin

We then drove over to the Brink of the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River, and hiked down a very steep, switch backed, paved trail (3/8th of a mile) to get a birds-eye view of the lower falls.  It was worth it, for the photos, but it was tough going on the way back up. 

Just after the GCY, the lower loop turns west.  We were driving through Cascade Meadows, when we spotted a coyote doing the “jump and dive-into-the-snow” routine,” trying to get his lunch.  We observed a few minutes, took a few pictures, then continued on, curving more southwest to Norris Geyser Basin (NGB).   

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Emerald Spring, Norris Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park.  © 2019, Susan Goodwin

We walked along the boardwalk in Norris Geyser Basin of Yellowstone, until we reached Steamboat Geyser, where there were oodles of folks hanging around waiting to yell  “Thar’ she blows!”  It can be dormant for many years and then start spouting off.  Last year alone it erupted 32 times, beating 1964 (29 times)!   This year it has been erupting every week or two and can go up to 300 feet high!  Alas, nothing but small spewing, about 10 to 20 feet into the air for us.  I asked one of the ladies that was sitting on a bench near the geyser why there were so many people hanging around, and she told me you can’t stay in your car overnight, as there’s no camping allowed, but you can come and sit on the wooden benches by Steamboat Geyser all night (and all day), keeping a watchful vigil.  That’s amazing and a little crazy, but kind of cool too.  Also, I had noticed some of the vehicles in the parking lot closest to the entrance of Norris had been covered with tarps.  The same woman told me the spray from the geyser is caustic to automotive paint, so if the wind is blowing just right (or maybe wrong), and Steamboat really blows, it can damage your paint!!!  What the hell?  Well, personally, I’m glad it didn’t blow when we were there, otherwise coming back to our Tesla, we might have BLOWN!  I didn’t see a sign, but then who would have been looking for one?

Back in our geyser-spray-free car, we drove south along the Gibbon River where we saw a fella taking pictures of something.  Whoa!  Stop!  A herd of bison close enough to photograph once the tripod and telephoto lens were set up.  When we pulled in, the guy told us we just missed a coyote.  But it’s the bison I want to see, as they’re nursing their babies.  The babies are called red dogs, due to their reddish orange color.  With the Gibbon River as the backdrop, who could ask for anything more? 

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Bison Nursing Red Dog.  © 2019, Susan Goodwin

Well, more is Mr. Coyote who decided to make an appearance again.  He trotted directly out between the bison and us, and just stopped.  I think he was posing, but Big Daddy Bison was not happy and started stepping coyote’s way.  Not to worry though, as Mr. Coyote wasn’t even looking at the bison babies, he was watching us and posing!  Took copious amounts of photos again.

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Bison and Coyote.  © 2019, Susan Goodwin 

We then zipped over to Firehole Canyon Drive (one way) to check out Firehole Falls, and headed back for our last night at OFSL, tired, but totally satisfied.  Our cabin was reasonable in price, within walking distance to the lodge and the UGB, but barely adequate in size.  Just a head’s up for those who prefer space.    

May 20th:  Upon awakening, we find it’s snowing!  Big, fat flakes!  How fun!  I had talked to our son that morning, and it was supposed to hit 94 degrees in East TN.  But it was snowing in Yellowstone!  It can actually snow any month of the year in Yellowstone.  We had breakfast in the Obsidian, next to a roaring fire while the snow fell silently outside.  When done with breakfast we checked out of OFSL and went to wipe the snow off our car.  Here’s a vid. 

By then it had stopped snowing, and it was time to head out to see the rest of the UGB.  Two areas, the first, called Black Sand Basin (BSB), was a short drive north on the Yellowstone lower loop. 

Walking along the boardwalk I could see a little Asian girl making a snow creature.  As we approached, she hurried away and we saw her Pokemon snowman sitting on a bench, just begging for a photo op.  How cute and creative!  Finished the short boardwalk and headed for the car, when we realized, across the road was another area of BSB, that was on a map I had printed out.  No one was over there, so it would be nice and quiet.  No boardwalk or even a paved road, just a peaceful, quiet trail that had thermal springs off to the side every now and then, along with meadows and a bog-like area that had beautiful reflections in the watery surface of the dead and dying trees that had dared to grow to close to the hot springs. 

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Black Sand Basin, Yellowstone National Park.  © 2019, Susan Goodwin

We strolled all the way to Grotto Geyser, where we had finished two days earlier from the opposite direction.  We really enjoyed Castle Geyser, near Grotto, as the sky had turned an ominous black behind Castle, which is very white, while it was puffing up and out a steady stream of steam.  Very dramatic!

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Castle Geyser, Yellowstone National Park.  © 2019, Susan Goodwin

Next up was the second area of UGB we were to visit, Biscuit Basin Geyser (BBG).  Another small basin that got its name from looking like a pile of (rock) biscuits.  However, in 1959, there was a 7.5 earthquake nearby and, alas, it blew it’s biscuits.  After stretching our legs along BBG, we drove over to Midway Geyser Basin (MGB) to check out one of the most talked about springs in Yellowstone – Grand Prismatic Spring.  It’s the largest hot spring in the park, an amazing 370 feet across.  The colors on a clear day are stunning, particularly from an aerial view.  Hmm, the only problem was it was very overcast and cold, so the colors were muted, with lots of steam rising up.  Plus the spring is so large, unless you’re in a plane its hard to see all of the spring in its glory.  My understanding is you’re really lucky to get a great shot of the Grand, so we enjoyed our good shot of the Grand and the nice stroll along the boardwalk, observing the buffalo tracks near the edges and the infinite patterns the run-off makes from the springs.    

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Runoff colors, Yellowstone National Park.  © 2019, Susan Goodwin

Then over to Lower Geyser Basin (LGB), which we blew by, initially, as the sign mentioned Fountain Paint Pot, not LGB.  UGB and MGB were called just that, so why the change?  Turned around after we realized our faux pas.  It is the largest basin in Yellowstone, and it has Great Fountain Geyser (GFG), the only predictable geyser in LGB (check the forecast on the Yellowstone National Park app).  Plus, you can actually drive to it.  It erupts every 8 to 12 hours and can shoot up from about 75 feet to 220 feet!  While walking around I realized we hadn’t even gone 10 miles from Old Faithful and had seen so much already!  We then continued on to Artist’s Paint Pots (APP), which were quite colorful, one of my favorites and enjoyed getting some shots of a yellow-rumped warbler near the springs.  Jack was calling him a butter-headed, butter butt, as he was yellow on both places!  Looks like one of those “mad birds.”  Heehee!    

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Yellow-rumped warbler.  © 2019, Susan Goodwin

We then proceeded on to Mammoth Hot Springs (MHS), which is only about five miles from the Yellowstone National Park’s northern entrance.  We parked at the Albright Visitor Center, which is almost across the road from MHS Hotel.   It’s a beautiful historic stone building that had been used as officers’ quarters as part of Fort Yellowstone.  The Army was there for twenty years prior to Yellowstone becoming a park.  Basically to keep the riff-raff out.  The visitor center had some wonderful animal exhibits and mounts of different wildlife in the park.  Also a small gift shop, run by Yellowstone Forever.  This was all on the first floor, and unfortunately that’s as far as we got, as they announced they were closing.  No time to check out the lower level on this trip. 

So, we went over and checked in at the hotel lobby, even though you can’t stay at the hotel right now due to ongoing renovations (supposed to be finished later this summer).  We drove down to our cabin, dropped off our luggage, drove back to the charging station (yes, more free charging inside the park), and then walked over to the MHS Restaurant for dinner and a huckleberry margarita.  It didn’t really taste like a margarita, but it was good, and our last chance to do the huckleberry thing while in the park.  We talked with a fella at one of the neighboring tables during dinner while he shared tips on where to go and what to look for on our much-anticipated Lamar Valley trip the next day.  Twenty-nine miles of potential wildlife, where bison and elk can be fairly common sites, but also one of the best places to see bears and wolves.

May 21st:  Up at 5:15 am.  Grabbed coffee at the hotel café at six, then headed east along Grand Loop Road.  We passed Tower-Roosevelt Junction and continued on to the Northeast Entrance Road where it opens up to Lamar Valley.  I was getting excited as the coffee kicked in, not so much for the caffeine buzz, but I just felt it was going to be a good day for critter sighting.  Early on we spotted two eagles a short distance from each other, high up in the trees, but not too high for the telephoto lens.  Unfortunately, there were no pullouts, so we moved on, knowing/feeling it was a good sign.  We started seeing herds of bison, large and small, but mostly too far away, and we already had some decent photos of them.  Then a small grouping of pronghorn, more bison, and some elk.  All of a sudden, from the right, we saw a herd of bison running parallel with us, very close to the road.  Ahead we realized they were crossing the road.  We stopped in time to see numerous bison and red dogs thunder past us, kicking up swirls of dust, but moving too fast to get decent photos.  An idiot in an SUV, who was too impatient, jumped ahead of us, nearly hitting the bison.  This is a place you drive through slowly and savor the wildlife around you.  Besides the animals have the right of way!  Across the road now, the bison were passing a small lake, casting their reflections in it.  Jack grabbed the camera from me and preserved the scene with a couple of memorable photos.

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Red Dog and Bison Reflections.  © 2019, Susan Goodwin

Further along we saw an osprey in a bare tree.  I actually propped my arms up on the hood of our car, like a tripod and got a few nice photos before she flew off.  At still another pullout nearby, there was a small group of some kind of sheep, as curious of us as we were of them.  Found out later they were female bighorn sheep. 

At a few places folks had spotting scopes and would let you check out what they had found:  mountain goats, that just looked like blobs of snow on the mountain to the naked eye, but really popped through the scope; and grizzlies possibly doing a courtship ritual.  But they were really far away, so it was hard to be sure.  Grizzly guy was furiously writing on a pad of paper while talking into a walkie-talkie.  People were pulling up and jumping out of their vehicles and interacting with grizzly guy.  They all knew each other and it was quite exciting, even though we were mere bystanders.   A number of these people are retired and live in nearby states.  They come to Yellowstone, especially to Lamar Valley, to study the animals.  I suspect any information they document is passed on to the rangers, and is much appreciated.

It went along like that for hours; we’d stop where we saw cars or animals.  We turned around at the end of the Valley and were heading back when we saw a few cars off the road ahead.  I jumped out to investigate.  Jack didn’t.  Not seeing anything, I walked over to the bridge where people were looking out to the Lamar River about a hundred yards away.  An old fellow next to me pointed.  I still didn’t see anything!  Then the nothing I wasn’t seeing moved and lifted its massive head.  OMG, OMG, OMG!  It’s a bear!  Where’s Jack?  Sitting in the bloody car!  I kept looking over to the car, between photos of big boy.  Some lady shouted “It’s a grizzly,” but the same fellow that showed me where the bear was came by and told us it was a cinnamon colored black bear.  Even better, we’ve already seen a grizzly on this trip and I’ve never even heard of a cinnamon colored black bear!  We just have plain ole black bears in the Smokies.  He also shared that grizzlies have a hump on their back between their shoulders, and the bum is a bit lower than black bears.  In the meantime, the bear got up and slowly began walking our way.  You could almost hear a pin drop, except when the bear looked up, and then the click of cameras going off.  Looked again, and finally Jack was coming.  I also noticed there was a major jam on the road at this point with at least fifty cars parked skew-whiff, and still more coming, but I’m not leaving my prized spot!  The bear took its time, weaving in and out of the brush, nibbling here and there, and it was still coming towards us.  Maybe fifty yards away.  Now, the signs in Yellowstone, which are posted everywhere, say you should be at least a hundred yards away from bears and wolves, and at least twenty-five yards away from other animals.  No one was moving except the bear.  And he was still coming.  Closer!  Sniffing the air, but ignoring us.  When Jack finally dragged me away, the bear was thirty yards away, but a twenty-foot drop below us.  He was not worried so much about the bear, but I’d been there for about thirty minutes and taken seventy-five photos already.  We had to get going.  By the way, I had been hand holding the camera with the telephoto lens (total weight eight pounds), the whole time!

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Cinnamon Colored Black Bear.  © 2019, Susan Goodwin

We went back to MHS where the Upper Terraces (UT) and Lower Terraces (LT) were waiting for our arrival.  The UT at Yellowstone is a 1.5-mile, very twisty drive (no RV’s) where chalky white travertine cascades downward like stairs.  There’s also a boardwalk, if you’re up for it.  Liberty Cap and Minerva Springs seem to be the most popular at UT. 

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Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park.  © 2019, Susan Goodwin

The LT is not to be missed either.  The whole area is in a constant state of change, with the water flowing over the travertine and continually building and changing the landscape.

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Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park.  © 2019, Susan Goodwin

It was time to say goodbye to Yellowstone and begin moving toward Chico Hot Spring and Resort in Pray, MT, about forty miles north.  We already felt like we’d been up a full day, due to our really early start.  We arrived at Chico, checked in, and went to our room which was absolutely stunning.  There was a large four-poster bed that dominated the room with a seated area beneath a bay window across from the bed.  There was a lovely bathroom with the sink area outside the bathroom proper.  But all I heard was the bed calling me.  I think Jack did too, but we had a real treat that we’d been looking forward to all day:  The geothermal hot springs on Chico’s property.  We dressed in the terry robes that were provided (for a fee), to stroll to the pool/springs.  We entered the pool.  It was 102 fabulous degrees, and you could order drinks.  I’m talking alcohol.  Pretty much any other night and we’d both be saying “hell yes,” but not when you’re as dog-tired as we were.  We just chilled in the warmth!  It’s under cover, but still exposed and about one third the size of the larger, open pool, set at 99 degrees.  We soaked for thirty minutes.  If I could have been propped up, I would have stayed in the springs all night!  We went back, showered, and headed to Chico’s restaurant, where we had a reservation for dinner.  Riley was our server and she did not disappoint.  The food was fabulous! It was a bit pricey, but displayed and prepared very well.  We decided to try the flaming orange dessert, which Chico is famous for.  Riley came over with the dessert and flambéed it.  Very tasty! 

Something funny happened, literally, while waiting for our meal.  I was seated by a window looking out into a small courtyard and kept noticing people climbing in and out of a window in the courtyard near where I was seated.  After a few times I took out my cellphone and had it at the ready when a woman started to climb through the window.  I tapped on the glass and she turned around and gave me a winning smile.  Riley informed me that the hotel lobby floor was being redone, and they couldn’t walk on it yet, so the staff had to go in and out through the window!  I thought it was a hoot!

Chico had the best room by far, for a decent price, on this trip and the meal was definitely up there too.  And who could beat the geothermal hot springs?  We will have to come back when we have more time to savor this gem. 

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Chico Hot Springs Resort.  © 2019, Susan Goodwin Chico Hot Springs Resort and Hotel after dinner going back to our room

May 22nd:  We slept wonderfully after having that great meal and awesome soak the evening before, and I was ready to have another soak first thing in the morning, so I did!  Only twenty minutes this time.  Jack passed, as his tummy was a bit upset, then we headed out as we had a lot of miles to put under our belt.  Even skipped breakfast, but would do that down the road when we were charging.  When booking Chico I had asked about charging our car while staying there, and they had told us they had a place to charge on site that other Tesla owners had used.  However, when we got there it was a 220-volt connector and we needed a 240-volt connector!  So we used a regular 110 wall outlet and got about 40 miles of charge that night.  Another lesson learned, know what charger is available.

Our first place of interest today was Little Bighorn National Battlefield Monument, which is conveniently just off I-90, in southeastern Montana within the Crow Indian Reservation.  It is a preservation of the site of the Battle of the Little Bighorn (aka Custer’s Last Stand), but also a memorial to those who fought in the battle, and a cemetery.  Basically, this was a clash of cultures between white man and Indians that had been building for a century.  The Indians won this battle, but in the end lost the war.  This was the culmination of that battle between General Custer and his men in the 7th Cavalry, and the Lakota and Cheyenne warriors.  There is a nice visitor center, gift shop, and museum on site.  There is also a loop drive with pullouts that have displays explaining what was going on and where, during the two-day battle.  Definitely worth a visit.

The weather had begun to turn on us (no surprise) while we were finishing up at Little Bighorn, and it continued to get colder and rainier while working our way towards Devils Tower, slowing us down.  By the time we reached the Tower, it had stopped raining, but it was threatening to start again.  Plus, we didn’t have much time before it would be dark.  At the base of Devils Tower there is the paved Tower Trail, which is 1.3 miles and has up-close views, so we started making fast tracks around the trail, stopping long enough to get a few photos from different angles and to look out on some of the natural beauty surrounding the Tower.  It is 867 feet high from the base to the summit, and is very imposing.   (Wyoming has the distinction of being home to the first National Monument, Devils Tower established in 1906, AND the first National Park, Yellowstone established in 1872.  However, Yellowstone is not only in Wyoming (96%), but also in Montana (3%) and Idaho (1%), so Wyoming has to share the honor of having the first national park.)

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Devils Tower National Monument.  © 2019, Susan Goodwin

There are numerous Indian legends about how Devils Tower came to be, but geologically, it’s a butte that was formed millions of years ago.  It is considered a sacred site even today by numerous tribes of the Great Plains. 

So, back to our trek and the weather. It started to rain as we were nearing the end of our hike.  Lightly, at first, then harder, and the last bit we had to sprint to the car, when the heavens opened.  The fog began rolling in and we were losing light.  And then the rain changed to sleet. This was all before we managed to get back to I-90 and continue the hour drive to Spearfish, SD, where we were to overnight.  Needless to say we were exhausted when we checked in and enjoyed a lukewarm hot tub, nothing like Chico’s, but it was better than nothing.

May 23rd: The Black Hills.  Lots of sites to see and just one day to see them, the first being Deadwood, SD, only 15 minutes away.  Ok, I have to tell you this.  Jack had watched the series Deadwood 15 years earlier, I hadn’t.  So we watched two of the three seasons before we left for our trip.  We didn’t have time for the last season.  (Did finish when we got back).  He wanted me to be aware of some of its history, such as Wild Bill Hickok was murdered there.  The first sheriff of this lawless town was Seth Bullock.  Calamity Jane had been there for a while, drinking and shooting up the town.  I also became aware of its tourism:  Gambling, drinking, and up to the 1950’s, prostitution.  Neither of us were interested in doing the tourism stuff, but wanted to go through downtown for a drive by shooting.  Photos folks!  Had to say it!  So now, here we were!  As we were coming into town it looked like a magical winter wonderland – two-thirds of the way into May.  They had a foot of snow the day before and had barely had time to clear the main roads. We passed through town and the roads seemed to be OK, so we decide to head up the steep, narrow road towards Mount Moriah Cemetery to see the tombstones of Hickok, Calamity Jane, and Seth Bullock.  Well, they had plowed the streets up there, basically one lane, but the cemetery was on a fairly step hill, and it was covered in snow.  So we decided to pass on trudging through a lot of snow and maybe/maybe not finding the celebrity tombstones.  But we did get some nice pictures of the town: cars partially covered with snow, folks shoveling snow, someone using a snow blower.  The normal things you see in late May.  Maybe out West, not so much in East Tennessee.  They did have a small shop across from the cemetery that had some souvenirs and historical books for sale.  An interesting note, in 1961, Deadwood became the only city in the United States to be named a National Historic Landmark.

On to Crazy Horse Memorial.  It’s been under construction since 1948.  It’s a mountain carving of the Oglala Lakota warrior Crazy Horse.  Korczak Ziolkowski, a sculptor, was commissioned by Henry Standing Bear, a Lakota elder, to design and create this monumental project.  And, now others, including some of Korczak’s children and grandchildren continue the work.  Ziolkowski was known for helping Gutzon Borglum with Mount Rushmore.  No federal or state funding is accepted, only admissions and donations, so it’s a slow go.  There’s an Indian Museum of North America and a Native American Cultural Center, both are very interesting and a must see, if in the region.

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Crazy Horse Memorial, SD.  © 2019, Susan Goodwin

Next up was Custer State Park, which is South Dakota’s first and largest park.  It’s known for wildlife, especially bison numbering around 1500. There are a few scenic drives, including an 18-mile wildlife loop through grasslands, hills, and pines.  We overdosed on bison, but never tired of seeing the red dogs. 

Another drive is the Needles, which is only 14 miles, but the scenery is stunning.  Tall spires of granite reach for the sky in clusters. 

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The Needles, Custer State Park, SD.  © 2019, Susan Goodwin

There were a few rock tunnels you went through, one is called the Needle’s Eye and it is very narrow indeed.  No RV’s are allowed. 

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The Needles Eye, Custer State Park, SD.  © 2019, Susan Goodwin

After turning around and passing through the Eye again, we saw cars off to the side with cameras pointing, so we pulled off and immediately saw three mountain goats resting on large boulders not too far away.  Time again for the tripod and telephoto lens.

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Mountain goat, Custer State Park, SD.  © 2019, Susan Goodwin

From there, we headed for Iron Mountain Road, which in turn took us through seventeen more miles of spectacular scenery to Mount Rushmore.  This is all in the Black Hills, a fairly compact area.  I only wish we had a few more days to hike and explore this beautiful area.  We’ll save that for the next time, maybe when there’s less snow on the ground.  Or more.

We arrived at Mount Rushmore with fog closing in on us.  We couldn’t even see the massive 60-foot heads of the presidents towering above us.  Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln were chosen to represent our nation’s birth, growth, development, and preservation, respectively.  Wow!  I didn’t know that.  So, I asked nicely for the “dudes” to show themselves.  And they did!  The fog just parted, but wasn’t very far away.  Thank you!  We did the photo thing and decided to get a few souvenirs for the grandkiddos, before walking down to the Avenue of Flags. 

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Mt. Rushmore National Memorial and Avenue of Flags, SD.  © 2019, Susan Goodwin

When we came out of the shop the Big Men on Campus had gone into hiding and never showed their faces again.  Glad we took the shots when we did.  We enjoyed the stroll down the Avenue of Flags where all fifty states are represented.  Pillars directly below the flags show when each was brought into the union.  There are also one district, three territories, and two commonwealths, making up fifty-six flags in all.  The Avenue of the Flags was part of the Bicentennial in 1976.  We didn’t have time to check out the museum, story of our lives, but if you have time, go. 

One more stop before heading to our destination for the night, Wall, SD.  I found out about a place in Rapid City, SD, called the Alternative Fuel Coffee Shop during my research for this trip.  How can you pass up a name like that if you’re driving a vehicle that uses alternative fuel?  We almost didn’t make it, due to all the “stuff” we had packed into this day.  We got there five minutes before they closed at 6:00.  Jack couldn’t find a parking space, so he dropped me off in front of the main square, no parking in front of the store (of course!), and I ran across the large expanse of grass (commons area, I guess), where concerts, picnics and Frisbee throwing probably went on during summer months.  Barista Alex couldn’t believe I made it!  I had called and told her where we were, and she basically told me we wouldn’t make it.  But, we have a Tesla, need I say more?  And besides this was important!  So I ordered two (alternative fuel) coffees to go, to enjoy in our (alternative fuel) car.  While waiting for the coffees, I did a very brief video of Alex, Anna, and me.  Nice set up inside, with the usual coffee and tea choices along with smoothies, quiches, and yummy looking desserts.  There were numerous shops in the area that looked quite interesting and worth a look-see, but most were closing, except the restaurants.  

May 24th:  We wanted to be at Wall Drug by 7:00 am, as this was going to be a killer of a day (mostly) driving.  Wall Drug Store of Wall, SD, opens then.  However the rest of their block-long touristy mall didn’t open until later.  We were fine with that, although I had to get a stuffed jackalope for the youngest grandkidlette.  There is a giant jackalope statue somewhere outside on the premises, so check it out if you visit.  Great quick pic!  We opted not to, tick tock.  The drug store has been known for giving out free ice water since 1931, as a way to draw tourists.  Over two million visit annually now. 

It was a bright, sunny day as we drove south to the Badlands National Park.  We entered through the Pinnacles Entrance and turned right onto a dirt road (Sage Creek Rim Road).  It was really muddy in certain areas, which made for interesting driving.  Stopped at different turnouts for obligatory landscape shots, but never got too close to the edge, as it was soooo windy.  I had to brace myself to take photos.  Drove out as far as Robert’s Prairie Dog Town to observe the little rascals popping in and out of their burrows, then back to the turn off to head southwest onto Badland’s Loop Road, a paved road that we followed all the way to Ben Reifel Visitor Center (park headquarters).  Along the way we stopped whenever some landscape scene struck us as unusual or really interesting.  A fellow mentioned there was a bighorn sheep further along the road, but was so vague we thought for sure we’d never find him.  And then, there he was, about fifty feet from us.  He was calmly lying down, resting on the grass, oblivious to all the human traffic taking his photos.  It was another drive by shooting, where we had to wait our turn, as there wasn’t a pullout.  Wow!  Just too cool.  I figured we weren’t going to see a male bighorn once out of the national parks, but then we ended up seeing mountain goats in Custer State Park, so you just never know. 

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Big Horn Sheep, Badlands National Park.  © 2019, Susan Goodwin

I have to admit that I wasn’t overly enamored by the Badlands, (aside from the bighorn sheep), but couldn’t quite put my finger on why, until we arrived at the visitor center.  Then, the landscape across from Ben Reifel Visitor Center totally changed my idea of the Badlands.  It was so strikingly beautiful.  Vast & dramatic!  And as the wind whipped up again, causing the clouds to sail by over the I-can’t-get-enough-of-this landscape, I realized why I hadn’t been enjoying the Badlands very much.  First, until we reached the Visitor Center, we were on the top looking down, like standing on the rim of a canyon trying to enjoy the canyon wall directly below you.  And this was the second thing:  The lighting had been harsh, flat, no depth.  But it wasn’t here.  It just seemed to pop!  Hence, why photographers get up at obscene hours for sunrise photos or sunset, which we prefer (we’re already up!).  I can see why they built the park headquarters right where it was.  We had also seen bison and pronghorn along the way on the Badlands loop.

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Landscape, Badlands National Park.  © 2019, Susan Goodwin

We were grateful for the numerous Tesla charging stations along I-90.  Not only was it convenient, but lots of things to do and see along the way to help breakup the monotony of driving!  Next stop was Mitchell, SD, to visit the Corn Palace.  Now, I thought it was going to be really hokey, but was surprised to learn it’s been around for over 100 years.   The corn murals vary each year, and they not only use corn, but other grasses and grains, such as wheat, rye, and oats.  And they draw a half million tourists each year.  Interestingly, it started as a way to prove South Dakota had a healthy agricultural climate.  Inside the Palace, which is a multi-use center, they were selling everything corn:  Corn souvenirs and corn other things, mostly for kids , plus popcorn!  I like to buy ornaments from different places we’ve been, so bought a Corn Palace one, plus a felt bison, as I hadn’t found anything in Yellowstone. 

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The Corn Palace, Mitchell, SD.  © 2019, Susan Goodwin

On the road again (yes, Willie!), we made our final tourist stop of this trip at Porter Sculpture Park, about an hour west of Sioux Falls.  Our daughter had been here and spoke highly of it.  If going westbound (not the way we were going) you’d see a giant 60-foot high metal bull’s head, as you approached. 

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Bull’s Head Sculpture, Porter Sculpture Park, SD.  © 2019, Susan Goodwin

The park is just a quarter mile from the interstate.  It was fun and quirky and gave us time to stretch our legs while wandering through the metal madness.  Besides the giant bull, there’s a dragon, goldfish floating in a bowl, a butterfly resting on a finger, and a stick figure making faces at you as you go by.  Lots of love and humor go into each of these metal sculptures.  Allow a bit of time, as there are quite a few metal “characters” out there.  We managed to get some cool shadows behind the metal sculptures, due to it being about 5 PM, but not cool, also because it was 5 PM. 

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Butterfly and Hand, Porter Sculpture Park, SD.  © 2019, Susan Goodwin

We really had to boogie now to get to La Crosse, WI, for the night.  We had wanted to spend some time in Sioux Falls, SD, to check out the pink quartzite at Sioux Falls Park.  Pretty-in-pink waterfalls cascading on the Big Sioux River.  Next time!  We did finally make it to La Crosse at 12:30 the next morning in heavy fog, with everything looking very surreal.  Might have been due to our brains starting to hallucinate from sheer exhaustion!  By the way, we had lost an hour heading East and were fixing to lose another the next day as we continued southeast.

May 25th 27th:  Another full day of driving to get to the Dayton, OH, area to visit kids and grandkidlettes.  Had time for some serious visiting, playing and eating!

May 28th:  We headed home late in the morning.  Piece of cake driving five-plus hours after all the driving we’d done this trip. Mostly Jack, since I was in crazy photo-op mode when visiting the wonderful parks we managed to get slightly acquainted with.  Thanks, Jack!  Back home and our two cats, Callie & Cocoa Loco, begin “meowing” their terrible stories…  It’s good to be back! 


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