Category Archives: National Forests

Lake Tahoe & Reno ~ September 24 – 28, 2014

Beginning in Red Lodge MT, and continuing for the preceding 45 days, we’d followed the first appearances of fall colors across the west and down the Washington and Oregon coastlines. Random wisps of cool air and pronounced temperature differentials had been nipping at our backsides, nudging us forward just ahead of autumn’s arrival.

With the unanticipated deluge that forced us out of the Redwood Forest, fall had officially won the race and taken over. Its conquest coincided with a planned eastward turn into the mountains toward Nevada…

 

the first of several detours that had us zig-zagging across, in and out, and down the state of California for the next month and a half. (See our California path on our “About” page.)

From Arcata, we followed the Trinity River via State Highway 299.

Trinity River, Hwy 299 toward Redding
Trinity River, Hwy 299 toward Redding

The river, changing leaves, grazing elk, along with a mix of rain and mist enhanced the gorgeous drive across northern California to Redding.

 

Still soaked and with an extra day, we stopped in Redding and checked into a hotel. After showering, we hauled our camping gear into the room, sorted and dried everything including our tent, which we pitched atop the spare bed.

Yelp and a hankering for comfort food led us to Nello’s Place for a cozy Italian dinner – one of our most memorable dining experiences in quality, service, and for being exactly what we needed when we needed it.

Dungeness Crab Cake, Nello's Place, Redding, CA
Dungeness Crab Cake, Nello’s Place, Redding, CA

Funny how what first appears to be a mishap ends up being a beautiful gift. These magic-of-the-Universe moments occurred often on our trip, just as they do in life.

In frustration, we tread through life’s darkness and around its rough edges as best possible only to end up somewhere completely unexpected, almost like an award for making it that far. It is only then that you recognize the past’s challenges as beautiful puzzle pieces laid out behind you, perfectly placed together.

One only needs to take the time to notice.

Elk buck along the Trinity River, Northern California
Elk buck along the Trinity River, Northern California

Over the last shared bites of Nello’s cherries jubilee, our favorite dessert experience on the trip, we expressed our deep gratitude for simply being in that moment, and for the obstacles that had led us there.

North Lake Tahoe, California

To avoid driving around Lassen Peak’s mountainous roads in a thunderstorm, we headed south from Redding along the Sacramento River and into the Central Valley. The sun and blue skies soon appeared highlighting the valley’s olive and pistachio orchards…

Orchard in California's Central Valley

Barely an hour into our drive, the geography had completely changed. We found this to be true in most areas of California — if you don’t like the scenery, just drive an hour in any direction.

Heading into the Sierra Nevada Mts
Heading into the Sierra Nevada Mts

The clouds and rain returned after steering eastbound again into the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Heading to North Lake Taho

But, the weather was forgotten upon setting eyes on Lake Tahoe’s vibrant blue hues. We were captivated and regretted having less than 24-hours to enjoy them.

North Lake Tahoe, CA

That is until frigid air blew in with a storm foiling our plans to bike, and keeping us inside our small rented cabin for the evening.

Public Beach, Tahoe Vista, North Lake Tahoe
Public Beach, Tahoe Vista, North Lake Tahoe

All was good as our rustic cottage was comfy and adorable, and looked out onto Lake Tahoe.

 

Mart in front of our cabin

We watched from the warmth of our cabin as wind gusts and waves knocked around boats docked along the shoreline.

View of choppy Lake Tahoe from Rustic Cottage

Driving across the Mount Rose Highway the next morning, we were stunned to find a light snow had dusted the mountain and roadsides. Snow in September, another first!

Snow dusting Mt. Rose in September 2014
Snow dusting Mt. Rose in September 2014

Family Reunion – Reno, Nevada

Reno, Nevada Panorama
Reno, Nevada

Because Reno is the home of my brother and most of his family, a visit to the biggest little city in the world had been on our must-do list since our trip’s onset  We loved catching up with our family! And touring Reno…

 

a progressive, beautiful city surrounded by mountain vistas, and not at all similar to what Hollywood tends to project.

We spent an afternoon with my brother exploring the terrain and historical sites along State Highway 341, also referred to as the Virginia City Scenic Drive. We climbed along mountain edges, passing wild horses, and into the infamous silver-mining town of Virginia City.

Virginia City's main street
Virginia City’s main street

Take away the paved highway cutting through town, along with all the cars and motorcycles, and Virginia City appears closely to what I imagine it did in the 1800’s. With its redbrick buildings, colorful storefronts and covered wooden walkways, Virginia City offers visitors a taste of living on the outer edge of law & order in the old west.

Virginia City, Street Vibrations Rally
Virginia City, Street Vibrations Rally

Our visit happen to overlap the Street Vibrations motorcycle rally. Like in the Black Hills during the Sturgis rally, new and classic Harley’s lined Virginia City’s main street, augmenting the fun outlaw vibe.

Reno is a lovely city, and our visit with family was too short.

 

It was difficult to say good-bye; this was the last of many reunions on our trek and we still had two months of travel ahead.

Up Next… back to California, the Wine Country

More Pics…

View of North Lake Tahoe heading up Mt Rose Hwy
View of North Lake Tahoe heading up Mt Rose Hwy

 

 

 

 

 

Redwood National & State Parks ~ September 22 – 24, 2014

The “Redwood Forest” is a patchwork of federal and state parks along California’s northern coastline.

map

Together, they’re a UNESCO World Heritage site with joint missions to manage and preserve the remaining old growth forests. Before effective efforts to protect the giant redwoods were established, logging had wiped out 70% of them. Yes, 70%!

Stout Grove, JS Redwoods State Park

Arriving at the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, located in the northern end, we’d officially traveled from the gulf stream to the redwoods.

Being surrounded by new growth trees and thick underbrush provided our campsite some privacy. And for me, senses of comfort and safety came with sleeping among the giants.

We spent our afternoon exploring the campground and forest. Trey and I had previously encountered a few giants – a young transplanted sequoia in Victoria’s Butchart Gardens, and firs around Mount Rainier and Mount Olympus – but those trees did not prepare us for the magnitude, majesty, and grace of the old growth redwoods.

It was love at first sight!

Giants, JS Redwood State Park

The park’s campground sits alongside the Smith River.

Smith River, JS Redwoods SP
Smith River, JS Redwoods SP

Being September, it was unlikely we’d catch a trout or salmon, so we didn’t purchase licenses. Instead, each evening we walked along the riverbank, admiring river rocks and wildlife, and keeping an eye out for bears.

While Stout Memorial Grove is near the campground—it sits just across the river—the old growth grove is not easily accessible by car. The grove is off a narrow dirt road about two miles from the main highway, US 199.

Because of its isolation, we had the grove mostly to ourselves. Taking a loop trail and then a break-off trail down to the river, we walked among the giants…

Giant Redwood, Stoutgrove

and basked in our quiet communion.

JSRSP, Stout Grove 4

We were thrilled to come across another banana slug because 1) they’re awesome!, and 2) we missed photographing the first one we spotted in our campground.

Banana Slug, JSRSP

Leaving the grove, we continued down the dirt road, Howland Hill Road, into the community of Crescent City.

Howland Hill Road2
Howland Hill Road, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

We highly recommend this drive! In all, it’s only about six miles, but allow plenty of time for winding through the giants, braking and backing for passing cars, and stopping for photos.

JSRSP, Stout Grove 3

Once in Crescent City, we shared a beer and filled up with good Tex-Mex at Perlita’s before heading back to camp for the evening. The sky was overcast, but the chance for rain was only ten percent.

Claps of thunder woke us at midnight followed by a downpour that continued through the night. Though dry inside, by 6:00 a.m. our tent’s floor felt more like a waterbed.

Rainy Campsite, JSRSP

Stepping out to go to the bathroom before breaking camp, we discovered our shoes had floated away with the small stream running thru our campsite and under our tent. We found them in the brush behind the tent, then packed up our soaking selves and threw our gear into the Escape Mobile to leave.

Still raining, we took refuge in The Chart Room, a seafood restaurant that happened to be open for breakfast. The rustic restaurant sits on a narrow peninsula dividing Crescent Harbor and the Pacific Ocean, and its windows provide great views of both.

As we ate, we watched a sea otter catching his breakfast and frolicking in the calm harbor, while across the restaurant, we saw 10-foot waves crashing over the levy onto the road.

Driving south down the coastline on U.S. 101, the waves continued roaring just off the highway. Before reaching the cutoff to our detour to Redding, we stopped at Lady Bird Johnson Nature Grove.

The first First Lady from Texas played an active role in the conservation and beautification of many of our nation’s natural treasures, including a section of the Colorado River that runs through Austin. Of course we had to stop!

Lady Bird Grove & Nature Trail

The rain let up as we arrived, but we’d trekked only a quarter mile and had taken a couple of photos before it started pouring again. Still, a great departing experience and perfect location to say goodbye to the lovely giants.

More pics..

Two Giants, Stout Grove

 

 

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

sunsetting-near-astoria-oregon.jpg
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

 

 

Drive Between Yellowstone & Mount Rainier National Parks ~ August 17-19, 2014

After grabbing dinner at the Old Town Café in West Yellowstone, we gassed up the “Escape Mobile” and headed north to connect with U.S. 287 — a highway we had traveled countless times across north Texas, but never across Montana.

Hands down, the Montana portion is more interesting and beautifulLake Hebgenwhile traversing the east bank of the Madison River, between canyon walls, and along the shorelines of several lakes.

Positioned in the lower western sky, the sun provided great photo opportunities of the lakes. (Photo above is Hebgen Lake.)

A particularly long stretch of a lake prompted our curiosity and called for us to stop at its overlook point. Quake Lake, MontanaQuake Lake had been formed exactly fifty-five years prior when the combination of an earthquake, massive landslide, and subsequent rushing, rising water flooded the valley.

Just minutes after the quake and slide, the new lake began forming. In the following weeks, it grew to encompass an area five miles long and 190 feet deep.

 

The formation of the lake came at a great cost – twenty-eight people died the evening of the earthquake, either by drowning or being crushed in the landslide.

For Trey and I to be the only individuals standing above the former campground on the 55th anniversary date of its tragic demise, was surreal and humbling.

Tree tops emerging from Quake Lake
Dead silver treetops emerge from Quake Lake as an eerie reminder of the past.

Before continuing the drive to Butte, where we would spend the night, we said a short prayer in honor of the lost souls.

Spokane, Washington

The 316 mile trip from Butte to Spokane…Montana Landscapeincluded a seventy-four mile trek across the top of Idaho.

As we approached Idaho, the trees grew dense, steep ravines began crossing under Interstate 90, and fall colors dotted the hillsides.

 

We were in Idaho just long enough to realize we should have planned a stay there. Next time.

After settling into a hotel on the outskirts of Spokane, we headed downtown for dinner and a walking tour of the city. Spokane was a pleasant surprise because we had no expectations. No thoughts whatsoever, other than a place to sleep for the night. I think perhaps its location in eastern Washington, and its lack-luster name, conjures up images of dust and doldrums.

Spokane is the opposite — lively and lovely. Spokane, WaThe Spokane River runs through the city’s center. A river walking path was being extended as a part of a larger Riverfront Park renovation plan.

Spokane Riverfront Park Improvements
Part of Spokane’s new river-walk and Riverfront Park revitalization efforts

On to Mt. Rainier…

We stopped at a lookout point outside of Vantage, Washington to bask in our first sight of the immense Columbia River. Columbia RiverGinkgo Petrified Forest State Park lay just beyond the opposite bank and was once home to the Wanapums, an indigenous, peaceful tribe of fishermen who are near extinction.

 

A few hours after crossing the Columbia, and after refueling both the car and our bodies in Ellensburg, we soon caught our first glimpse of the mammoth Mount Rainier. Mt Rainier in the distanceThe sighting renewed our energy and enthusiasm for the remaining two hour drive to our campsite.

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

 

Devil’s Tower and Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monuments ~ August 9, 2014

 

We departed Black Hills National Forest with the sunrise and via the infamous community of Deadwood, South Dakota.

Deadwood SD
Deadwood, South Dakota

Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming

After breakfast wraps and coffee at Wild West Espresso in the also infamous ranching community of Sundance, Wyoming, we detoured 27 miles from Interstate 90 to Devil’s Tower, our nation’s first national monument under the Antiquities Act.

Wyoming
Beautiful Wyoming

We were greeted by grazing buffalo and longhorns – sights we had not seen since leaving Texas.

Wyoming Buffalo Longhorns

We were officially in “The West” and it was exhilarating! That feeling was amplified at our first glance of the massive igneous rock protruding from the horizon – Devil’s Tower, or Bear Lodge, one of its many native names.

Devils Tower Horizon Shot

The tribes of the northern plains consider Devil’s Tower sacred and regularly conduct ceremonies or leave prayer clothes and offerings at its base. Visitors are reminded to respect and honor these traditions. As we strolled around the tower’s base on the Tower Trail, we sensed a hallowedness among the rocks and colorful cloths tied around tree limbs and branches. The feeling was no less, and perhaps greater, than the feelings we experienced within the great ornate basilicas we had visited.

Devil's Tower 2

This church however was formed from and by the earth, rises 867 feet above it, and hosts a diverse group of plant and animal species. Its great columns cling tightly together in their battle against the elements and gravity. That’s what it looked like to me anyway. Kiowa legend states that the rock had been sculpted by the claws of a great bear – it’s easy to see that, too.

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We had heard from a ranger that golden eagles were in the area and we spotted one fly over and around the tower’s top a couple of times, but the eagle was too quick for us to snap a photo.

Climber on Devil's Tower
Climbing is allowed only by permit

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, Montana

We arrived at the Little Bighorn battlefield as a park ranger began recounting the story of the U.S. Army’s 1876 effort to end the centuries old independence, cultures and customs of the northern plains’ native people.

Indian Memorial at Little Bigfield Battlefield

Thousands of Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho had joined forces in a valley east of the Little Bighorn River where they outnumbered and overwhelmed General George Custer’s regiment of 262 men.  It was one of the northern plains Indians last successful  battles in preserving their identity. We had been starkly reminded of their eventual defeat while driving through the Northern Cheyenne and Crow reservations on our way to the battlefield.

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
The Battlefield of Little Bighorn

The young ranger confidently relayed the battle scene while pointing out specific hills and slopes that laid out before him and the crowd that had gathered. He was Crow and a U.S. government employee.

Lacking the time for a guided tour, we walked along Battlefield Road and walking paths surrounded by tombstones that had been placed where bodies had been found.

Path through Little Bighorn Battlefield

Last Stand Hill and the Indian Memorial are easy walks from the visitor’s center.

Little Bighorn Battlefield

We left the monument feeling somber and wishing we had been able to spend more time there.

Markers in Little Bighorn Battlefield

As it was, we had two more hours left of the seven and half hour drive to Red Lodge, Montana.

More pics…

View of Montana from the Tower Trail

Buffalo and Bird

Devils Tower Columns