Taking the Scenic Route – Conclusion

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The final post on our recent road trip:

As much as we enjoyed Yellowstone, the time had come to move on. Only twenty-five minutes from West Yellowstone is Quake Lake. The lake was created after a terrible earthquake struck the area in 1959. For approximately six miles, the highway parallels the lake where you can see the effects of the earthquake and landslides. The visitors center was closed (due to Covid-19), but it provided a lovely view and plenty of outdoor information to help us understand what happened here.

On the Continental Divide in the northern Rockies, Butte, Montana is best known for its rich mineral deposits – especially copper. Headframes, which are old mining structures that tower over the remnants of a mine, dot the town. We visited the historic district where Butte’s colorful past can be seen, and drove to the Granite Mountain Mine Memorial, dedicated to the 168 men who lost their lives in a mining disaster in 1917.

After an overnight in Missoula, Montana, we made an early morning stop at Ninemile Ranger Station, a historic remount depot and working ranger station, complete with a self-guided tour. It has served packers, firefighters, and pack animals in this area of forested mountains since 1930, and bred mules for 32 years to assist with fire suppression.

We spent several hours in charming Wallace, Idaho – the silver capital of the world.  For over 100 years, Wallace has been the world’s largest silver producer, making it the richest mining town still in existence. The entire town is listed on the Nation Register of Historic Places.

We made it to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho in time for lunch with my nephew who lives there, and my sister and her husband who were visiting! We loved our time with them over the next few days, but it’s of little interest to anyone but family, so I’ll spare you the details!

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When we left Coeur d’Alene, the forecast looked nearly perfect for Glacier National Park, but we had one more stop before we got there: Kootenai Falls and Swinging Bridge. We hiked along a dirt trail from the parking lot, over a railroad bridge, through towering trees and large boulders, downhill to where the Kootenai River surges over a 300-foot drop in elevation. It was quite impressive! A swinging bridge provided access to the opposite side of the river, but I wasn’t brave enough to cross it!

Glacier National Park was one of our most anticipated destinations… and our biggest disappointment! We knew that Covid-19 had a significant impact on the schedule for the National Parks, so when we planned our trip, we checked the status of each of the three main parks on our agenda. Glacier National Park was the last of the three to open, and even though their website said to expect “reduced services and abbreviated schedules”, we booked a cabin for two nights and hoped for the best. Imagine our surprise when we found out “reduced services” also meant no road access to a majority of the park! In early July, the Going-to-the-Sun Road (the main road through the park) was only open for 16 miles! We certainly didn’t need two nights of accommodations to see 16 miles, but here’s what we did see:

Rain in Glacier on the morning we left seemed appropriate somehow – but the clouds disappeared, and the sun began to shine as Montana opened up to Big Sky country!

We got to Billings in time for lunch at a brewery and made an afternoon stop at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. The National Park Service describes Little Bighorn as “a place of reflection” which memorializes the US Cavalry and the Lakota and Cheyenne Indians in one of the last armed efforts by the natives to preserve their way of life.

We spent the night in Sheridan, Wyoming which has a great downtown with historical buildings, murals and over 100 permanent pieces of art on display.

Four hours from Sheridan is the Crazy Horse Memorial, the largest mountain carving project in the world. It is under construction on privately held land in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  When completed, it will depict Indian warrior Crazy Horse riding his horse and pointing off into the distance.

Only half an hour from Crazy Horse is the famous Mount Rushmore, one of this country’s most popular national monuments. The gigantic faces of four U.S. Presidents carved high on a granite mountain was the most crowded of all the places we visited. Obviously, not everyone in this country wants to see our historical treasures destroyed!

We had lunch at Firehouse Brewing Company in Rapid City, stopped in Wall to see the famous Wall Drug Store, and took the Scenic Loop Byway through Badlands National Park. This 31-mile stretch of two-lane road takes you past incredible cliffs, buttes, and rock spires with plenty of places to pull-out for a better view.

We arrived in Mitchell, South Dakota on the last night of our trip after driving through a fierce thunderstorm. The following morning, we stopped on our way out of town to photograph the Corn Palace, a building on the city’s main street covered in murals made from corn and other grains.

IMG_E0678 (2)Surprisingly enjoyable was an unplanned stop at Falls Park in Sioux Falls. This breathtaking hidden gem provides various viewpoints of the Big Sioux River as it drops 100 feet in elevation over the course of the 123-acre park.

The next thing we knew, we were home… a great place to be after two weeks on the road… but what a wonderful two weeks it was!

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Taking the Scenic Route – Part One

Taking the Scenic Route – Part Two

Taking the Scenic Route – Part Two

1032137361Here’s more on our recent road trip. Remember, our agenda was Kansas City to Scotts Bluff to Grand Tetons to Yellowstone National Park to Northern Idaho to Glacier National Park to Mount Rushmore to Sioux Falls and back to Kansas City.P1040430

Between Scotts Bluff and the Grand Tetons, we stumbled upon old Fort Laramie, Wyoming, once the principal military outpost on the Northern Plains. With the end of the Indian Wars, Fort Laramie was of little importance and abandoned by the US Army in 1890.  Eleven of the original structures have been restored and Fort Laramie is now a National Historic Site.  As with most of the National Parks on our agenda, the visitors center and indoor facilities here were closed due to Covid-19 concerns. The park grounds were open, however, and Park Rangers were present and more than willing to share information. It was a Park Ranger who suggested we visit the Oregon Trail Ruts and Register Cliff which were also in the area.  We are glad we took his advice!

The Oregon Trail Ruts is a State Historic Site and a National Historic Landmark. Remnants of the pioneer trail can be seen all over Wyoming, but the tracks here are the best-preserved set of Oregon Trail ruts anywhere along its former path. We walked the short trail uphill to where 4–6 feet deep gouges were cut into solid rock by the wheels of wagons between 1841 and 1869. The geography of the area forced thousands of wagons heading west to cross the ridge in exactly the same place, resulting in the permanent ruts.

Register Cliff was an important landmark during the westward movement across the United States. It was a key checkpoint for travelers to verify they were on the right path, and it became custom for them to record their name and date of passage in the soft sandstone of the cliff. Many of the inscriptions at Register Cliff are from the 1840s thru 1860s—the peak years of travel along this stretch of the Oregon Trail.

Another stop before we reached the Grand Tetons was Ayres Natural Bridge Park, located just south of the Oregon Trail. Crafted by the hands of Mother Nature, it is one of only three natural bridges in the country with water beneath it. Weary pioneers would relax here, making it one of Wyoming’s first tourist attractions!

We spent the second night near Riverton, Wyoming and got an early start the next morning so we could enjoy as much time as possible at Grand Teton National Park. Unfortunately, the closer we got to Grand Teton, the colder and rainier it got… and the rain turned to snow just before we reached the eastern entrance. Our plans to stop at every scenic overlook inside the park no longer made sense as the low clouds and fog severely limited our visibility. I know there were mountains at the Grand Tetons, but we didn’t see them!

We made our way to the park’s southern exit, then further south to Jackson Hole. Lunch at Snake River Brewing was a wonderful experience. So good! So clean! We took our time leaving Jackson Hole, hoping the sun would burn away the fog back at the Tetons. It did not! So, we left Grand Teton from the northern tip and drove the few miles between it and Yellowstone’s southern entrance.

Yellowstone is a huge park containing 2.2 million acres of land and 370 miles of paved road. It is 66 miles from the south entrance to just outside the western entrance where we had booked accommodations for the next three nights. In the little town of West Yellowstone, we checked into the cutest lodgings of our trip and hoped for better weather in the days to come.

We loved Yellowstone! We experienced everything from desert-like landscapes to green alpine meadows;

from cool rainy mornings to glorious blue skies;

from hot bubbling geysers to cold trout-filled streams;

from bison, bear, elk and crows to graceful trumpeter swans;

… and from congested roadways to nothing else around us but natural beauty!

Our only disappointment was that a portion of the main road was closed in the northern section of the park.  Also closed inside the park were lodging and dining facilities, so we packed a lunch each day and enjoyed picnics immersed in nature. All other visitor services were very limited, including restrooms with running water. Here is an assortment of images from our two-and-a-half days in Yellowstone:

Next: Part Three – Glacier National Park and the route home

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Taking the Scenic Route

17IMG_8494 (4)IMG_8467 (3)3My husband and I had never been to Yellowstone National Park, so when we started thinking about a road trip, Yellowstone was at the top of our list. During the planning stage, we learned my sister and her husband would be in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho visiting my nephew for the Fourth of July, so we added Idaho to the agenda… and since we would be so far north anyway, why not include Glacier National Park as well! We filled in the rest of the itinerary with things we wanted to see and do along the way! We live near Kansas City, so here is the route we took:

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Packing for this trip was unlike any packing we had ever done! We crammed an entire laundry basket full of cleaning supplies: Clorox wipes, hand sanitizer, disinfecting spray, extra tissues, and paper towels. We also took a digital thermometer and plenty of disposable face-masks. To minimize our exposure at stops for snacks, we took another basket full of food and a cooler with bottled water and tea. For hiking in the northern national parks, we took bear spray, mosquito nets, bug spray, binoculars, hiking boots and raincoats. Then, of course, were all the normal items we would need, including clothes for both warm and cold weather – and cameras! Needless to say, the car was full!

We promised ourselves we would stop often to lessen long periods of time in the car – and simply because we could. So, three and a half hours after we left Kansas City, we made our first stop in Lincoln, Nebraska to see the Sunken Gardens – one of the 300 best gardens in the country, according to National Geographic. The gardens were constructed during the winter of 1930-31 as an opportunity for unemployed men to earn money during the Depression.

My husband likes beer – craft beer, in particular – so when we travel we are always on the lookout for local breweries. Whether you like beer or not, a local brewery tends to possess a certain charm and they are often spotlessly clean. We felt safer inside a sparsely crowded brewery for lunch than a fast-food restaurant, so we ate in one nearly every day! That explains our choice of the Kinkaider Brewing Company after our stroll through the garden. A “Kinkaider” is what a settler was called in Nebraska after the Kincaid Act of 1904, which provided each settler 640 acres upon payment of a $14 filing fee. The brewery had a historic hand-carved bar, original framed prints adorning the walls, and a unique and varied menu!

Three more hours down the road we found an original Pony Express Station in Gothenburg, Nebraska. The station was donated to the City of Gothenburg in 1931. It was the perfect place for a brief afternoon break.

We made it to Scotts Bluff, Nebraska – our goal for the first night. Having seen pictures online of Scotts Bluff National Monument at sunset, we wanted to witness it for ourselves. We didn’t have much time for the hiking trails, but we did manage to find a perfect spot to watch the sun sink below the horizon… and it was glorious! We got our pictures, drove through the rest of the park, then headed to our hotel and called it a day.

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For those of you curious about accommodations during this virus, I was extremely impressed with the efforts made by hotels to keep us safe. Most had contactless check-in procedures, rooms which had been cleaned and vacant for at least 72 hours, and constantly “covid-cleaned” common areas. Everywhere we stayed appeared to be immaculate, but I still wiped down the frequently touched surfaces and generously sprayed each room with disinfectant. I doubt we have ever had cleaner accommodations!

The next two posts will contain less commentary and more photos highlighting the best parts of our trip: one post on The Grand Tetons & Yellowstone, and another on Glacier National Park and the route home.

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A New Attitude!

We have finally returned from our much-needed travel break with a fresh, new attitude and a positive outlook during difficult times. Travel has a way of putting things into perspective, of making us see just how minute people and things really are in the grand scheme of things. Yes, problems in our world abound, but this too shall pass! That realization helps us to live a life less ordinary, to follow our dreams whenever possible, and to leave our burdens behind every chance we get. With a plethora of rewarding experiences and lasting memories, I’ll have countless new stories to share. You have been warned! Travel posts ahead… with lots and lots of pictures of the beauty in the USA.

It’s Only Words #8