Category Archives: Hiking

Astoria, Oregon & US Hwy 101 Coastline Drive, Part 2 ~ September 15-17, 2014

Quaint Astoria sits on a peninsula barely east of where the Columbia River clashes with the Pacific Ocean. Outlined by Young’s Bay and River on its southern shoreline, with the mighty Columbia River comprising its north border.

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Above Astoria, looking west: Views of the Pacific and Columbia, Young, and Lewis & Clark Rivers.

Yes, water is the heart, soul, and breath of the community. Its sustenance, and existence.

Accessing Astoria from Washington State requires either a boat or crossing the massive Astoria-Megler Bridge, a cantilever through-truss design. As we drove the 4.1 miles across to Oregon, my thoughts turned to my sister. Many times, she had relayed her dizzying experience bicycling over the Columbia River while water rushed in one direction below and crisscrossing cars whizzed past her side. I was grateful to be inside the Escape Mobile.

Welcome Party
Astoria’s Welcome Party

Checking into our riverfront hotel just before sunset, we were greeted with an unrecognizable noise permeating throughout the lobby. Curiosity led us down a corridor and out a back door where the now recognizable barks overwhelmed our senses. Seals, hundreds of them, had taken over docks and landings sitting 150-ish yards away. Gladly, the barking did not disrupt our sleep.

With one full day to explore Astoria, we made the most of our time. First order was a must-visit to the Goondocks…

Gonnies House
The Goonies House

a row of Victorian houses made famous in the 1985 Goonies movie. While we easily found parking and walked up to the primary “Goonies’ House” to snap photos, increased tourist traffic and mishaps have since halted such practices.

Next, a walk around and up into the Astoria Column provided both a historical accounting and scenic overview of the area.

Styled after Rome’s Trajan Column (which Trey has since visited), its spiraling pictorials tell of the “discovery” of the Columbia River, Lewis and Clark’s expedition, and the arrival of John Jacob Astor’s merchant ship which was instrumental in establishing Astoria as a key outpost in North America’s fur trade, helping Astor to control much of that trade. How ironic, or perhaps “offensive’ is more fitting, that Astor’s descendants later dedicated the column as a memorial to the Chinook Indians.

The remainder of Astoria was explorable by bicycle via The Riverwalk…

Astoria Bikepath, Trey
Trey on The Riverwalk near base of Astoria-Megler Bridge

a roughly 5-mile pathway following the Columbia River bank from the peninsula’s westernmost point, and turning into forested hills at the eastern end.

Astoria Bikepath
Eastern end of Astoria’s Riverwalk bike path

Along the way, The Riverwalk provides easy access to downtown shops and restaurants. Note, a trolley line follows much of the pathway.

During our bike ride, we enjoyed eating wild blackberries growing aside the pathway, watching the day’s catch being unloaded, the ever-present wildlife, and being entertained by Coast Guard drills while eating pizza.

Astoria gulls

Astoria is charming with a laid-back, fun vibe that balances well with the hard work and challenges that I imagine accompany living at the convergence of three rivers and an ocean. Also apparent was Astoria’s reliance on tourism.

Downtown Astoria

Astoria Food experiences…

A bit of a foodie city, there were several on-budget options. Five stars to T Paul’s Supper Club for dinner, Street 14 Café for coffee and lunch, and the chain restaurant Pig N’ Pancake was a breakfast favorite for locals and tourists.

Fort Clatsop – Lewis and Clark National Historical Park

Fort Clatsop is just south of Astoria so we saved this historical site for the morning of our departure. The fort sits where the Lewis and Clark expedition settled in for winter, awaiting and planning for their return east.

All structures are replicas based on surviving journal entries. A footpath leads to the Lewis and Clark River and follows the shore 1-1/2 miles to Netul Landing (Netul is the river’s original name).

Fort Clatsop View
View of Lewis & Clark River from footpath to Netul Landing

US Hwy 101 Coastline Drive – Part Two

Astoria to Lincoln City

Mesmerized with our first Oregon coast drive, we stretched the 2 hour and forty minute trip to Lincoln City into most of the day; stopping at numerous overlooks…

Oregon Coast - Drive to Lincoln City 6

touring Tillamook Cheese Factory…

and traipsing between homes to access a public beach…

Lovely day best expressed through photographs:

Oregon Coast - Drive to Lincoln City

Oregon Coast - Drive to Lincoln City 5

We arrived in Lincoln City at sunset, without hotel reservations, and famished. Trey had spotted Puerto Vallarta Mexican Restaurant as we entered town — best Tex-Mex fix since Pittsburgh, margaritas included of course.

Sailor Jack Inn, Lincoln City
Trey checking in

Lincoln City’s Sailor Jack Inn stands out as one of our more memorable sleeping experiences; notable in a unique, funny, and lets-not-do-that-again way. It was a cheap motel with a million dollar view.

Oregon Coast - Drive to Lincoln City 4

Slinking carefully into bed, we drifted to sleep easily to the sound of crashing waves. I’m sure the margaritas were helpful, too!

Woke the next morning to clear skies, and another Pig N’ Pancake breakfast fueled our bodies for the drive to Portland.

More pics…

Oregon Coast - Drive to Lincoln City 2

Oregon Coast - Drive to Lincoln City 3

Lewis & Clark Routes

 

Olympic National Park ~ August 13-15, 2014

The last morning of our Alaskan cruise, breakfast table-mates recommended hiking Hurricane Ridge, along the northern border of Olympic National Park. With our late departure from Seattle, we decided to spend the night in Port Angeles, a 160 mile drive from Bainbridge Island, and hike the nearby ridge the following morning.

Located on the U.S. side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and with a ferry crossing to Victoria, Port Angeles was a bit of a tourist destination.

View of Port Angeles and Victoria BC
View of Port Angeles with Victoria BC in the distance

We hadn’t accounted for that, nor the fact that it was Saturday. Pulling into town, scores of hotels greeted us… all full or over budget. Before continuing westward, we looped back into town and noticed the Riviera Inn. The unassuming, yet comfortable and clean motel had a few vacancies available.

Also surprised by the many culinary options, we decided on Italian for dinner at Bella Italia and breakfast at First Street Haven, both on East 1st Street (Hwy 101 East). And both good and on budget.

 

Olympic National Park North – Hurricane Ridge

Olympic National Park Map

Encompassing more than 1,400 square miles and the Olympic Mountain Range, with Mount Olympus near its center, one doesn’t drive through Olympic National Park. Like Mount Rainier, you steer around it and enter through various access roads along its changing ecological perimeter.

Relative to the rest of the park, the north is dry with a mix of meadows and foothills leading into the steeper heart of the park.

Trey on Hurricane Ridge

After a stop at the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, we were able to continue onto, and park at, the trailhead.

Hurricane Ridge Trail

Rising 700 feet over 1.6 miles, the hike up Hurricane Hill is easy to moderate, and the stunning panoramas are absolutely worth it!

Olympic National Park Panorama

Olympic Natl Park from Hurricane Ridge

Lots of wildlife, too!

Hurricane Ridge Marmot
Hurricane Ridge Marmot

The amazing 360 views beckoned us to stay longer, so we settled down under the shade of a tree to fully absorb the beauty.

It wasn’t long before we were surrounded by treat-seeking chipmunks and bunnies.

 

Lake Crescent & Marymere Falls

Sunsetting on a lake

About thirty miles west of Port Angeles, we came across Crescent Lake and a sign post for Marymere Falls. The trail to the falls was just shy of a mile, wound through giant firs and hemlock trees, and deer grazed just off the trail.

Marymere Falls
Marymere Falls

That excursion, the extra time spent atop Hurricane Hill, and a stop for hamburgers in Forks, positioned us in a race with the setting sun to the pacific coast.

Ruby Beach, Washington

Arriving at Ruby Beach with just enough light to capture a few photos, we were happy to have officially arrived at the Pacific Ocean. A gorgeous welcome and a memorable setting for what I consider our third left turn around the U.S.

 

Olympic National Park South – Quinault Rainforest

Most National Parks we visited had park-owned lodges that are historic in some context related to the parks’ origin. And all of these lodges are well over our price point, as was the case for Lake Quinault Lodge.

Lake Quinault Lodge
Lake Quinault Lodge

Due to its remoteness along with our eagerness to experience a national park lodge, we made a one-night exception.

Arriving after 9pm, and tired from the day’s hikes, we were thrilled with the prospect of a warm comfortable bed over pitching the tent and blowing up air mattresses.

The next day, we’d arranged an early morning educational tour with a park ranger, so we grabbed breakfast to go and jumped into a van.

Olympic National Park Ranger
Olympic National Park Ranger

Over four hours, we learned about river restoration efforts and the rainforest’s trees and plants. We discovered how the Olympic Mountains were formed by glaciers, and visited the “world’s largest spruce tree…”

several waterfalls…

Rainforest Waterfall

and this guy:

Mossquatch
MOSSQUATCH

Before departing Lake Quinault Lodge, we took the time to explore its tranquil grounds and enjoy a quick lunch.

The lodge is operated and well maintained by the Quinault Indian Nation, an indigenous sovereign nation. We regretted not being able to spend more time there.

Not included on the tour, the ranger told us of nearby “Big Cedar,” assuring it was worth the half-mile hike.

Quinnault Big Cedar
Quinnault Big Cedar

Located across the lake from the lodge, we decided to visit the ancient tree (1,500 years old) on our own. So glad we did, as it has since fallen due to a storm in July 2016.

 

US Hwy 101 Coastline Drive – Part One

The sun had set by the time we left Ruby Beach and turned southward down the coastline, so we missed what I imagine are magnificent views of the Pacific. On the way to Astoria, we got a taste of what we had missed, and of what was to come…

Between Lake Quinault and Astoria

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Sun setting near Astoria, Oregon

More Pics…

Sully's, Forks
Sully’s in Forks, Washington (We didn’t realize we were in the Twilight zone until we stopped to eat and saw this on the menu.)

Mart with Mossquatch

Ruby Beach, Washington 2
Arriving at Ruby Beach

And because I love trees…

Fall Colors

 

 

Whistler, British Columbia ~ August 25-29, 2014

Ferry Crossing to Vancouver

While there was no gorgeous sunset to mesmerize us during this ferry crossing, we stayed entertained.

 

The drive took us into the center of Vancouver and across its harbor via the Lions Gate Bridge.

 

 

Sea-to-Sky Highway

Howe Sound, Sea-to-Sky HighwayThe Beartooth Highway, which crosses mountainous passes between Montana and Wyoming, was distinguished as “the most beautiful drive in America,” and the Sea-to-Sky Highway from Vancouver to Whistler, British Columbia, was by far, our most beautiful drive in Canada.

 

The first half of the 120 kilometer drive hugs the coastline of Howe Sound and offers breathtaking views.

Howe Sound, Sea-to-Sky Highway(3)

There are several lookout points to safely take in the beauty which stretched the hour and half drive into two and half hours.

Whistler, British Columbia

It was late afternoon by the time we arrived and checked into Lost Lake Lodge, located in a wooded area west of Whistler Village near Lost Lake Park. Although drained from the day’s travel, we explored the area by foot after eating dinner.

Lost Lake at Sunset
Lost Lake at Sunset

We discovered a series of foot and bicycle trails that we later learned were cross-country and biathlon tracks used in the 2010 Winter Olympics. The trails were fabulous for forest walks, and we were able to use them to bike into the heart of the village and all over the Whistler area.

 

We fell in love with Lost Lake that first evening in Whistler. Not only is it peaceful and beautiful, but it’s also off the tourists’ beaten path (hence its name).

 

We’d end each day with a walk or ride to its banks, stopping to watch for tiny Western Toads migrating out of area marshes.

 

Alta Lake is the area’s main water attraction with its beaches and canoe, kayak, and stand-up paddle board rentals. Challenging due to steep hills, we bicycled around the lake via the Valley Trail, a great way to experience both Whistler’s beauty and eccentricities.

 

Another great (but pricey) way to observe Whistler’s majestic surroundings is via the Whistler-Blackcomb Peak2Peak Gondola. Glass-bottom compartments cross the world’s longest and highest free-spanning wires joining Whistler and Blackcomb mountains.

 

Probably not an ideal ride for the faint of heart.

The $53 pass gave us all-day access to lifts, providing easy access to great hiking trails. We rode to the top of Whistler Peak for more phenomenal views.

Panoramic from Whistler Peak

 

Then hiked down to Harmony Lake and continued onto, and looped around, two lower lakes.

Trey on Harmony Lake Trail

A steep, and somewhat strenuous trail, but we loved hiking among the fir trees, around glacial lakes, and along rocky ridges.

Arriving at Harmony Lake
Arriving at Harmony Lake

Our time in Whistler helped to rejuvenate this road weary traveler. It’s lovely and relaxing. In fact, Whistler is one of only a couple of places we have revisited since concluding this six-month tour.

Olympian Travelers

More pics…

 

 

Mini Inukshuk, Whistler Peak
Mini Inukshuk on Whistler Peak with The Black Tusk in background

 

 

 

 

 

Mount Rainier National Park ~ August 19-21, 2014

The immensity of Mt Rainier dominates the landscape from every approachable vantage point.View of Rainier from Sunrise Road2

After connecting up with US-12 in Yakima, we entered the park’s east border via state highway 410.

The 14k+ mountain also dominates its national park. Within the park, it is not possible to traverse around the mountain by car. Getting from one area to another takes time and planning.

map_driving_tours
Photo source: http://www.visitrainier.com

After much research, we chose White River Campground located more centrally within the park along the northeast facing slope.

White River Campground 

White River offers convenient access to the hiking trails that attracted us. Plus, it sprawls along the bank of the White River, a raging storm of a river furiously fed by three glaciers.

White River from campground

We loved the non-stop sound of water forcing its way down Rainier’s slope, tossing boulders out of its way.

Mart among the gian fir trees
Excitement could not be contained at the sight of these giant Douglas firs!

Because White River campsites are issued on a first-come-first-serve basis, we had a “Plan B” reservation at a campground an hour and half away in the southern end of the park. We were able to cancel that reservation after securing site D17…

 

located directly across from the Glacier Basin Trailhead and a short walk to the Wonderland Trail.

The nearest supply and grocery store is 25 miles away in the community of Greenwater.

Greenwater outfitters
Greenwater Outfitters — good coffee, breakfast and deli style sandwiches.

Glacier Basin Trail

Glacier Basin Trail - HikingFrom our campsite, we followed Glacier Basin Trail into a thick grove of fir trees and past numerous creeks and waterfalls.

Glacier Basin Trail 2
Glacier Basin Trail

Just shy of a mile, we veered onto the Emmons Moraine Trail:  a one-mile (roundtrip) excursion overlooking Emmons Glacier and a beautiful glacial lake.

Emmons tRAIL
Glacial Lake below Emmons Moraine Trail

Instead of trekking the additional 2.2 miles to Glacier Basin, we headed back to camp for lunch and a nap (I was fighting a cold).

Emmon Trail
Trey on the Emmons Moraine Trail

Re-energized, we hopped on our bikes and coasted downhill for six miles, past the Ranger Station to Highway 410. In hindsight, we both agreed the roundtrip hike to Glacier Basin would have been easier than the steep ride back up to our campsite.

Henry Weinhard Private Reserve
Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve – NW Style Lager

Sunrise Area & Wonderland Trail-North

Sitting more than 2,000 feet above the White River Campground, Sunrise has a restaurant, lodge and visitor center. It’s accessible by heading north (away from the river) on the Wonderland Trail for three miles, a strenuous hike due to the rise in elevation.

We opted to drive since we’d planned to hike some of the area’s many trails. Sunrise Park Road climbs up from the campground access road, through a series of sharp curves, switchbacks, and outlook points. Gorgeous drive! northwest panoramic from Sunset AreaIt provides many photographic opportunities of Mt. Rainier and its surrounding mountains, valleys, and glacial lakes.

Sunrise Lake, from Sunrise Park Road
Sunrise Lake, from Sunrise Park Road

Sunrise has ample hiking options for every level. From Sourdough Ridge we headed west to Frozen Lake…

 

 

looped south around Sunrise camp and Shadow Lake, then caught the Wonderland Trail back up to the Sunrise parking area.

 

The loop provided varied hiking environments, conditions and wildlife experiences.

Wonderland Trail-South

The Wonderland Trial encircles Mt. Rainier for 93 miles across varied terrains and elevations. It is a popular trail for fit and fervent thru-hikers.

Wonderland Trail Bridge, White River
Wonderland Trail Bridge Crossing the White River

With our tent and camping gear broken down and packed away in the “Escape Mobile,” we had yet to brave crossing the “bridge” over the White River to venture southward on the trail.

 

Trey went first.

Wonderland TrailSince we lacked the time and transportation to one-way hike to an access point along the campground road, we hiked only about 1/2 mile in before turning around and departing the campground.

Sunrise Area Panoramic

Mt. Rainier stands out as a highlight among our camping adventures – it was our first experience among glaciers, and is a truly majestic towering beast of a mountain.

We will be back.

 

Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks, Wyoming ~ August 13-17, 2014

Upon entering Yellowstone National Park’s northeast entrance (located on the Montana-Wyoming border) we were greeted by Buffalo, and more buffalo escorted us throughout the 85 mile drive to the Grant Village Campground.

First stop along the trek was an overlook view of Tower Fall, the famous 132 foot waterfall of the Yellowstone River.

Tower Fall, Yellowstone River
Tower Fall, Yellowstone River (namesake taken from the surrounding rock spirals)

The overlook sits at the junction of the Yellowstone River and Tower Creek which also permitted us to experience the strength of the water forcing its way through the canyon.

Yellowstone River
Convergence of Tower Creek and the Yellowstone River south of Tower Fall

There is no shortage of wonders along Grand Loop Road which wends through the heart of Yellowstone and around the north shore of Yellowstone Lake.  For this reason, the two-and-a-half hour drive took us about four hours, getting us to our campground with just enough daylight to set up camp and grab dinner at Lake View Cafe.

Yellowstone Lake @ Sunset
Yellowstone Lake @ Sunset

 

Grant Village Campground

Grant Village is located in the southern end of the park on the “west thumb” of Yellowstone Lake, and within the volcano’s caldera. Our third experience camping, and our third experience pitching our tent in the rain.

Grant Village Campsite
Grant Village Campsite, Loop K #391

What a great camping experience! Our site, 391 on Loop K, was spacious and sits near the ledge of a shallow ravine.

Yellowstone is wild, and camping provides a great opportunity to experience that wild. On several nights we were awakened to the howls and barks of wolves running through the ravine below.

The third morning we woke with the sun and to a strange snorting noise outside our tent. A quick look out the window eased our minds – the noises were from two elk cows and four calves grazing just outside.

The calves decided to nestle down in the grass around our tent and keep us company through breakfast.

With everything one would need from restaurants, showers, a post office, and general store, Grant Village is truly a village. We particularly enjoyed exploring the campground by bicycle and the Ranger’s educational presentations at the visitors’ center.

We learned:

  • Yellowstone’s supervolcano incurred three major eruptions over the past 2.1 million years, and it’s doubtful another one will take place within the next 10,000 years.
  • Grizzlies’ forage after dark in the summer months and during the day in the spring and fall.
  • The native lodgepole pine tree has a second type of cone that opens only under the extreme heat of fire assuring the species’ survival

 

Thermal Geysers

There are more than 10,000 thermal geysers in Yellowstone, and Trey attempted to see them all! Kidding, but at times it seemed as if that was his goal.

Of course Old Faithful was a must-see, and due to its southern location, it was our first stop.

Old Faithful
Old Faithful erupting on schedule

Most of the geyser touring areas line Highway 191 on the park’s west side. Raised boardwalks varying in distances from a quarter mile to two miles cut between geysers and keep visitors safe from the unstable, scalding hot ground.

Sapphire HOle
Sapphire Geyser

While visiting each geyser area was impossible over a five-day period, we exhausted ourselves checking out Old Faithful Basin, Biscuit Basin, Fire Hole Loop, and Norris Geyser Basin.

Morning Glory Geyser
Morning Glory Geyser

 

 

Grand Teton National Park

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Grand Teton’s north entrance is located 54 miles south of Yellowstone’s Grant Village which made it ideal for a day trip. After checking out Lewis Falls, we headed out of Yellowstone via the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway.

The Parkway follows the Snake River and then Jackson Lake, with the Tetons laid out along the other (west) side of the lake.

The day was spent mostly touring the park in the “Escape Mobile.” There is much to see by car including Signal Mountain, which offers great vantage points for both the Tetons and the Snake River Valley to the east.

View from Signal Mountain
Looking east from Signal Mountain

The initial plan was to hike around Lake Jenny, but we decided to explore more of the park rather than spend the day on a 7-mile hike.

Jenny Lake
A short, but steep, hike to Jenny Lake’s edge, we arrived just as a swimmer made it across from the west side. (his arm is visible in lower left of photo)

As an alternative, we chose the shorter Taggart Lake-Beaver Creek Trail, a 3.8 mile loop. Instead of looping, we hiked about a mile-and-a-half in and backtracked. The trail offered gorgeous shots of the Tetons.

A lovely day that we ended with a fabulous dinner at the Jackson Lake Lodge, donated to the park by JD Rockefeller, Jr. Despite being under-dressed in our hiking clothes, we were seated at window table with a prime view of the Tetons.

Great food! Afterwards, we stepped outside and onto the Lunch Tree Hill trail for a short hike up a ridge overlooking the valley and Grand Tetons. Trey was hoping to see moose, but the sun set while we waited.

Outside of Jackson Lake Lodge

 

Leaving Yellowstone

Having depleted most of our energy, we opted to pull up stakes in Yellowstone a day early, breaking up the 500+ drive to Spokane. We toured another geyser basin on our way to the west exit, where we were escorted out by more buffalo.

DSC02989

Note, though visiting Yellowstone in mid-August, we kept our jackets handy at all times. The evening temperatures fell into the 30’s, and some afternoons brought sudden, but short-lived, storms and hail.

More Yellowstone Wildlife…

 

Red Lodge, Montana – August 9~13, 2014

We experienced two firsts during our stay in Red Lodge – we saw our first bald eagle in the wild, and we saw our first sign of the coming autumn. Both of these firsts took place while rafting (without a camera) on the Stillwater and Yellowstone Rivers. We had been hoping to spot a bald eagle as they’re pretty common in the area; the changing leaf colors on Aspens and Cottonwoods was a surprise though. It was early August and autumn was arriving. We would follow its arrival from that point across the remaining west and into the northwestern states and Canada. Much like we had followed the hydrangea bloom up the eastern states and into Vermont.

Red Lodge, Montana
Broadway Avenue, Red Lodge, Montana

Red Lodge is a former mining town and retains the rugged charm of its past in the late 19th century brick buildings that line its main street, Broadway Avenue. We stayed in one such building, The Pollard, which claims to have hosted legends such as Bill Cody, Calamity Jane and Harry Longabaugh, a.k.a. the Sundance Kid, who ended up robbing the bank housed on the building’s first floor.

The Pollard Hotel
The Pollard Hotel

There’s not a whole lot to do in Red Lodge other than strolling Broadway’s sidewalks to browse gift shops and scout restaurants, of which there were many. Nightly dinner options were difficult decisions due to the many amazingly good options. We particularly enjoyed Bridge Creek Backcountry Kitchen & Wine Bar and the Carbon County Steak House, where we dined on fresh Alaskan Halibut.

For as much as Red Lodge appears to be the standard western outpost trying to attract visitors with a taste of the past, in actuality, we found it to possess a progressive sophistication. This was evident in the food, the local market and the people making a living there. There was also a yoga studio that offered destination hiking and yoga trips in the mountains that I sadly had to miss. We will have to get back there.

Montana Cover Photo 5

The adventure starts at the city’s perimeter where the Montana wilderness begins. We had received a warm welcome, loads of helpful advice and maps at the visitor’s center on our first full day in Red Lodge and then immediately headed out of town via West Fork Road to a trail labeled as a good “conditioning hike.”

Basin Creek Lakes Trail
Basin Creek Lakes Trail, Trail #61

The Basin Creek Lakes Trail ascends steeply for two and half miles following Basin Creek to a lower lake and then continues for another mile and a half to an upper lake.

We opted to turn around at the lower lake for a total roundtrip hike of five miles. We had started to turn around after about two miles because I was growing more apprehensive as we headed further into the wilderness. We were in the middle of grizzly country and seemingly alone on the trail…bear bait. Just as I had talked Trey into turning around a group of twenty-somethings caught up to us and then quickly passed out of sight. I decided I could make it the rest of the way and the reward for my bravery was the gorgeous scene and the serenity of the mountain lake.

Arriving safely at Lower Basin Lake
Arriving safely at Lower Basin Lake

Our other outing was the aforementioned rafting trip. Adventure Whitewater is located 35 miles outside of Red Lodge near the community of Absarokee. In addition to bald eagles and fall colors, our three-hour/half-day ride included rapids on both the Stillwater and Yellowstone rivers, swimming among the currents and jumping off a giant boulder. Trey enjoyed the jump so much he hiked back up onto the rock and back-flipped off.

Along Hwy 72 on the edge of Custer Gallatin National Forest
Along Hwy 72 on the edge of Custer Gallatin National Forest

The drive to/from Absarokee wends through the foothills of the Beartooth Mountains and was gorgeous as the sun and an approaching storm highlighted the golden rolling hills.

Our last evening in Red Lodge was spent doing laundry (there’s a nice laundromat on south end of town) and filling our coolers in preparation for five nights of camping in Yellowstone National Park.

Beartooth Pass
Beartooth Pass

We headed to Yellowstone’s north entrance via the Beartooth Highway (U.S. Highway 212) which the late Charles Kuralt proclaimed to be the “most beautiful drive in America.”

We have to agree with Mr. Kuralt. We experienced many wondrous pathways during our U.S. tour, and Beartooth tops our list and provided us with the unique sense of driving on top of the world.

Beartooth Hwy2

More Pics….

Long Lake, Beartooth Hwy
Long Lake, Beartooth Hwy

 

Red Lodge Butterfly2

 

Across the Mid-West and The Black Hills ~ August 4 – 9, 2014

ACROSS THE MID-WEST

We actually took three days to drive the 1,000 miles across the remaining mid-west to its western edge in the Black Hills National Forest. Neither Trey nor I recall the exact reason, but agree that the difficulty booking accommodations in the Black Hills may have influenced that decision.

As it was, we spent the first evening after departing Chicago in Des Moines, Iowa. Not a completely unremarkable city in that we could see for miles from the unobstructed view of our third floor hotel room where we had arrived just in time to see a somewhat remarkable sunset.

We had not traveled far down Interstate 80 the next morning when I saw a sign for the turn off to Madison County and its famed bridges. We did not turn and I felt a tinge of disappointment at the time which has since turned into regret — I will have to get back there.

We were to cut up Interstate 29 just east of the Missouri River which serves as the border between Iowa and Nebraska. Instead, we detoured across the Missouri and looped through the city of Omaha just so we could say we’d been to Nebraska – a first for both of us.

The reasons behind our Black Hills booking difficulty began appearing more numerously as we headed further west – Motorcycles. As in Chicago, our visit to the Black Hills had unknowingly coincided with a major tourist event – this time it was the 74th Annual Sturgis Black Hills Motor Classic.

Bridge Across the Missouri between Chamberlain & Oacoma, SD
Bridge Across the Missouri between Chamberlain & Oacoma, SD

After crossing the Missouri a third time and into the town of Oacoma, South Dakota, ours was one of only a few automobiles spattered among the Harley Davidsons parked outside of the Howard Johnson’s for the evening.

Soon after departing Oacoma, the landscape changed to rolling mounds of a golden color that I had never seen in nature. I failed to capture a photo so the image lies solely in my memory.

Wall, South Dakota
Wall, South Dakota

THE BLACK HILLS

We had felt lucky to have snagged the last available room at the Coyote Blues Village Bed and Breakfast when we had called the owner from a payphone in Ottawa. We hadn’t know just how lucky we were until we had arrived at the secluded, yet conveniently located inn outside of Hill City, in the heart of Black Hills National Forest.

View from Coyote Blues
View from our patio at Coyote Blues Village

The owners are from Switzerland and were just as charming and welcoming as the surrounding environment. It was full of European charm from the Swiss chalet feel of the inn to the traditional breakfasts of cured meats, cheeses, eggs and fruit. Each guest room is decorated in a different theme. We stayed in the Turkish room and had a private patio and sauna overlooking the valley below the inn. We took advantage of the views, patio and sauna each of the three nights of our stay.

Private Patio at Coyote Blues Village B&B
Private Patio at Coyote Blues Village

We also enjoyed breakfast each morning on an outdoor deck with friendly bikers and travelers, and loved the comradery and sharing stories of the road.

Mount Rushmore

Once we had settled into our room, we headed to nearby Mt. Rushmore with the excitement of children. It was raining and the wet winding roads were challenging for the bikers, but provided us with a unique photo opportunity.

Mt Rushmore - Crying Presidents

Mt Rushmore - Crying George

The park service has done a nice job in tastefully accommodating thousands of daily visitors while preserving, best as possible, the mountain’s and surrounding area’s natural states. The walk way up to view the monument, along with the amphitheater at its base are a bit over the top, yet successfully achieve the goal of provoking patriotism.

Mt Rushmore Walkway
Mt Rushmore Walkway

We highly recommend an evening visit for the film on the monument’s history and stories of each of its presidents.

Rushmore at Night
Rushmore at Night

The evening program ended with a touching tribute to our country’s armed services’ veterans.

Honoring Veterans
Honoring Veterans

Hiking in Custer State Park

Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park provides access to over a dozen trails including South Dakota’s 111-mile Centennial Trail that wends through the Black Hills from Butte Bear in the north to Wind Cave National Park in the south.

Sylvan Lake, Custer State Park
Sylvan Lake, Custer State Park

We chose, at the recommendation of a fellow traveler, to tackle the less lengthy trek to Little Devil’s Tower. The trailhead is located a mile east of Sylvan Lake’s parking lot and the trail is an easy walk through a grassy birch forest for about the first half mile…

Little Devil's Tower Hike
Little Devil’s Tower Hike

at which point it becomes increasingly more difficult.

Little Devil's Tower Path
Path to Little Devil’s Tower

It is the last section that earns this hike the label of “strenuous” as the trail sharply ascends through and over rocky passages to the apex.

Little Devil's Tower - Up to the Summit!
Up to the Summit!

The surrounding views from the top of Little Devil’s Tower are well worth the trip — being surrounded by the Black Hills with Black Elk Peak (Harney’s Peak at the time) and its stone tower to the north…

Black Elk Summit and Lookout Tower
Black Elk Peak and Lookout Tower

and Cathedral Spires to the southeast.

View from Little Devil's Tower
View from Little Devil’s Tower

Gorgeous!

We then drove east on Highway 87 from Sylvan Lake and through a section called “Needles Highway” for the towering spires that the road twists around.

Spires along Needles Highway
Spires along Needles Highway

Several narrow tunnels on the route limit traffic to automobiles and motorcycles, so no RV’s or trucks.

Entering Needles Tunnel, Hwy 89
Entering Needles Tunnel, Hwy 87

Crazy Horse Monument

Crazy Horse Monument
Crazy Horse Monument

This massive sculpture has been a work in progress since 1948 and has received no federal funding, per the wishes of Oglala Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear who had envisioned such a memorial to honor all Native Americans. Chief Standing Bear had been inspired, so to speak, by the carving of nearby Mt. Rushmore.

The design is based on a pointing gesture and response that Crazy Horse is said to have given a snarky U.S. Calvary man who had asked him, “Where are your lands now?” Crazy Horse’s response was, “My lands are where my dead lie buried.”

Crazy Horse Model with Sculpture in Background
Crazy Horse Model with Sculpture in Background

The carving efforts have been in the hands of a single family, the Ziolkowskis, who rely on admission fees, gift shop and concession sales, and private donations to continue their work.

To provide some idea as to how tedious the hand carving process is, Crazy Horse’s face was unveiled in 1998. To provide a sense of the size the finished sculpture is to be at some point in the future, that will mostly likely be beyond my lifetime, Crazy Horse’s pointing arm is 263 feet long and his horse’s nostrils are to be 26 feet in diameter.

~~~

The Black Hills were a fitting first step into the wild and beautiful west and provided us with a taste of the wonder that laid before us.

Up Next, Devils Tower and the Battle of Little Bighorn National Monuments…

Meanwhile, here’s some more of our favorite pics!