Good morning everyone. My husband got a phone call early this a.m. and well, let’s say it started my morning earlier than I would’ve liked. LOL. So off to work I go. TO DO #1, the blog.
In my previous post I mentioned that I would blog about shopping and some of what we did on our trip. So here is a little top 10 list I compiled of things to do while travelling from the midwest to Yellowstone (and back) that are truly must see’s! Believe me, the Yellowstone adventure is not something that you want to miss out on!!
10. MUST SEE Devil’s Tower in the Sundance, WY area. Devil’s Tower is the Nation’s first National Monument and is run by the Department of the Interior. It is truly an amazing place. I’d allow for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours to walk around (at the very least). There are campgrounds in the area as well. It truly is a must see location. This link will take you to a first person narrative written in the 1930’s of what Devil’s Tower meant to many Plains Indians in the region. The Cheyenne Legend is one that I overheard on our walking tour around the Big Rock. I loved Devil’s Tower and it was our first stop on our trip that made me feel almost caught in time, timeless and one with the past. Almost mystical.
9. MUST STAY, MUST PLAY in South Dakota for the road weary traveler. First leg on the Illinois to Yellowstone tour takes you to (or last on the way back) Sioux Falls, SD. Clubhouse Inn and Suites is a boutique hotel chain that does everything right. For $150ish a night we stayed in a beautiful suite that surpassed anything we stayed at anywhere the entire trip (for even less $$$). I wish this hotel chain was more abundant because, I kid you not, their service, their breakfast, their rooms and their price surpasses any hotel chain just about anywhere (even compared with the Westin’s, Sheraton’s and Wynham’s of this world). Family friendly, it rivals even the better hotels we’ve stayed in on other trips. Gets ***** stars from the Marmalade Family!! There is a smallish indoor pool with a small water slide, perfectly sized for families with smaller children. I almost wish something would lead us back to Sioux Falls because this hotel (it’s the flagship for their company) is such a great place to stay.
2nd leg: Rapid City, SD in the Black Hills Area. On your way into the Black Hills, the Fairfield Inn (adjacent to the Watiki Water Park which is a nice size for the 4 and above age group). We thought this hotel offered a nice smallish hotel suite but the service was somewhat lacking, although in fairness to them it was HIGH tourist season. However for a rest stop for kids who’ve about had it with the fun of a road trip, this is a great place to stay. There is also a La Quinta Inn that is adjacent to the water park, however I cannot vouch for the La Quinta as we didn’t step foot there.
3rd leg: We stayed at the Best Western in Cody, WY. Comfortable, relaxed accomodations, it’s a nice place to stop. The services are pretty decent and it’s convenient location make it easy to access the #7 spot…
#8: Bighorn National Mountain & Forest as we found out are a destination in of themselves! I cannot access any of my images off this computer currently (grrr…) however I do promise you that the Bighorn area is an area well worth spending the day travelling in and around. It’s on the drive going from Rapid City up to Cody and we couldn’t stop ourselves from stopping (plus climbing that mountain put a workload on our SUV that it hadn’t seen before!) Take the Rt 14 passageway going up (much less steep then the 14a Medicine Wheel passage that I recommend seeing on the way back to Illinois).
#7: The World Famous Cody Rodeo. Never had been to a rodeo…it was a truly sort of fun experience. The girls lined up to get the participants autographs afterwards and it’s kid friendly as they get the kids involved in a chasing calf scene that is quite funny to watch. The rodeo clown/host for the night kept the things upbeat and although the contestants (it’s a real sort of minor league for rodeo participants) didn’t fare all too well, the rodeo clowns’ antics truly made for a fun evening. Another highly recommended fun event to see & do. While in Cody, you should try to stop and visit the downtown area, which is beyond adorable and wear I shopped to get my hiking shoes man, I wish I paid that price that link quotes(that can also be used for trail running which was a fave past time of mine awhile back before the big sprained ankle incident of ’05!).
#7: Bighorn National Mountain & Forest as we found out are a destination in of themselves! I cannot access any of my images off this computer currently (grrr…) however I do promise you that the Bighorn area is an area well worth spending the day travelling in and around. It’s on the drive going from Rapid City up to Cody and we couldn’t stop ourselves from stopping (plus climbing that mountain put a workload on our SUV that it hadn’t seen before!) Take the Rt 14 passageway going up (much less steep then the 14a Medicine Wheel passage that I recommend seeing on the way back to Illinois).
#6: The Buffalo Bill Reservoir and Shoshone National Forest (all in the front/backyard of Yellowstone’s East Entrance). This area is amazing. The Reservoir has a visitors center (where we first paid attention and purchased National Park Passports for the girls) , there at the center you learn all about harnessing the power of water. Buffalo Bill (as I learned) was a visionary of his time and envisioned the damming of the Shoshone River to bring agriculture and vibrant life to this area of Wyoming. The Reservoir is an amazing amazing body of water and you come away from viewing this site with awe at what man could do before the dawn of industrial machinery.
#5: Where to stay in Yellowstone National Park. First off let me give a few tips re: lodging and eating. VISIT Old Faithful for a few hours and the surrounding geysers, however do not stay at the Old Faithful Inn. We found it overcrowded, overpriced and bustling with semi rude people. The staff less was less than helpful at times (for instance, I had to find out the physical address for the Inn and I was literally ignored by several staff members; my DH lost his wedding ring for a night and when he called them at the Inn they were rude and unhelpful. Again, this was high season for them so I am willing to cut some slack but the difference in attitude in the air between Old Faithful and Lake is almost palpable). However we highly HIGHLY recommend the Lake Cabins at the Lake Hotel (the Lake Hotel is the oldest hotel in the park and is very dignified in appearance). The staff at Lake Hotel and Cabins is pleasant and the atmosphere is lake laid back (if you ever have visited a resort lake type village you know what I’m saying). We aren’t really campers (not that we’ve experienced it, to tell the truth…LOL) so the lake cabins were the perfect blend of roughing it (not really) with civilization. What you do need to know about most if not all the lodging inside Yellowstone: there are no tvs, there is no air conditioning and if you stay at any of the cabins I highly recommend bringing a fan along with you because although Yellowstone evenings tend to be on the cooler side there is no guarantee of that happening in the high season months. If you plan to visit and stay at the park (be it hotel lodging *or* camping) it is highly highly recommended that you book WELL in advance. WELL in advance. Seriously, WELL in advance. We booked our stay in October of last year and could only book 2 consecutive nights at Old Faithful, if that gives you any idea. And we were told that the camp grounds book up before the hotels do so please abide, words to the wise.
Inside Yellowstone, there is a million things to do and see. I highly recommend the Junior Ranger Programs at Madison Junction (where my two Junior Rangers got their patches). We were fortunate to see Jack Gladstone perform his unique storytelling music, courtesy of the Yellowstone Foundation (Jack and his son performed several songs at Madison during the day and had a night show that we, unfortunately, couldn’t see). Jack is truly unique and forthcoming regarding political truths and the presence of his Blackfeet ancestry is so apparent in his musical outpouring. A true artist.
We also recommend the Fishing Bridge nightly campfire programs. We attended one on the history of Yellowstone. Goodness had I known that the bulk of the park lies in the caldera of a supervolcano, I might’ve thought twice about going there (well, not really…however it does give you pause to dwell on the power of the forces of the earth within). Here is some interesting Discovery Channel docudrama outlined in Wikipedia info for all you geological geeks out there!
Le Hardy’s Rapids ((sigh)). I love this area. There are several images from our trip specifically to this spot in the post prior to this one..I won’t bore you with repeats. We took the 406 for a Sunset Tour (starting from Lake Hotel) one evening. Well worth the money and time.
Hayden Valley is buffalo central, so cool to see them just be. Amazing to see them roam. Lake Yellowstone (once again) is just an absolute sight to behold (even if the water is so Lake Superior cold we couldn’t stand to have gone more than ankle deep). La Mar Valley is vast and beautiful. I couldn’t stop staring outside my window. This was the first time we viewed pronghorn antelope (I saw one hopping through on the walk up to Medicine Wheel as well).
Also other must sees: The Norris Geyser Basin, the view of Yellowstone’s Caldera between Canyon and Tower Junctions (and stop and read about the road points of interest, eek, scary to think there are sections of Yellowstone that even the scientists feel tricky about!), the view I have pictured does NOT do that mountain road justice, it is truly a breathtaking site…
There is the 5-7 mile hike to Fairy Falls (images of shown in post below). We did the 7 mile variation, yes, even my girls hiked 7 miles in the HOT HOT sun, however it was amazing to get to the falls and feel the outdoor natural air conditioner. In fact if you like hiking this site on Yahoo lists some fabulous hikes and is much cheaper to print than purchase any of the hundreds of books available on the subject.
Some of our most enjoyable family memories at Yellowstone consist of a lazy afternoon playing cards at the rec tables at the Lake Lodge Hotel (which was just down the street from our cabins). I love the log cabin atmosphere at Lake Lodge and they have fairly decent cafeteria style food in their cafe. It’s one of the more intimate settings as far as hotel lobby’s are concerned and since we’re lake people at heart we felt right at home on the expansive front porch or snuggled in front of the fire that seems to burn constantly day and night in the lobby. I think we enjoyed that afternoon of laziness with the beautiful views of the lake more than anything else, in a different way for sure.
Whatever you choose during your stay inside the park, Yellowstone has SO much to offer. I think you could go there year after year and still not do it all. I don’t think that’s humanly possible. The park is massive, the sights are too incredible and it is spectacular to be so close to wildlife that is truly wild.
What we did spot, as far as wildlife goes, spans every large mammal that is possible to be seen at Yellowstone except wolves (which I had really wanted to see, I had been following the reintroduction of the grey wolf to Yellowstone since about 1995 and was anxious to really see one in person–from a considerable distance, of course) and moose. It’s a shame we didn’t get to see those animals, however it gives me something to look forward to in future trips.
#4: The Grand Tetons again, another destination in of itself if you chose to go that route–we did it as a day trip half way through our stay in Yellowstone. The Teton range above Jackson Lake is featured below in some images I have posted. We stopped off at the first picnic area out of the south entrance/exit from Yellowstone to have lunch in the Teton National Park; the area where I took those images below is just a short walk about 100 yds from our picnic spot. Lake Jackson/Jackson Lake (I’ve seen it both ways) is surprisingly warm (not swimming warm but much warmer than Yellowstone Lake). The girls were able to play in the water for a few minutes. Also of note there is, quite literally, a swimming hole/swimming area on Jenny Lake in the Teton area. Just follow the people with the tubes, rafts, bathing suits and beach towels. That spot is really neat to see. People of all ages wading in mountain lakes…you definitely don’t see that everyday in the midwest! If you choose to day trip this, make sure to allow enough time to enjoy the Tetons area and allow some time to drive down to Jackson Hole, Wyoming which is just outside of it. Jackson Hole downtown is one BUSY little area but from the car the downtown area looked cute. However, I say this with fair warning, on the weekend that we went through the downtown area was ubercrowded with sightseers galore. Be warned. Also if you plan on planting your roots and staying more than awhile in Jackson Hole, get ready to shell out some bucks for a nice homestead.
Since it’s time to go home, you may choose the “scenic route” (a true misnomer being that all routes to Yellowstone are scenic). Coming out of Yellowstone taking the northeast exit takes you into Montana for a bit where you encounter the #3 spot…
#3: Beartooth Highway through Cooke City on this webcam at the local Exxon station you can see what’s up in Cooke City, also read Mike’s Blog for some interesting and amusing stuff on this town. It’s a town filled with a cool little souvenier store (the Trading Post), some interesting townfolk and a love for it’s great Western Wilderness roots. Also I newly discovered The Duckboy and The Duckboy Way. Seriously, I cracked UP at these cards and at the book. I also stocked up so if you are the lucky recipient of a Duckboy card in the future, be aware it ranks up right up there with my love for Mik Wright and you are truly loved and cherished for your sense of humor (however getting me to part with any of the forementioned is quite a feat of itself).
#2: Black Hills Area is so much more than a set of foothills. This is an amazing part of South Dakota and we should’ve allotted just one day alone to the Crazy Horse Memorial on its’ own (or at least four-five hours). Yes, there is THAT much to see there. If you can, stick around for the evening laser light show that they project onto the mountain, we were unable to but we heard it was done nicely. The backstory is amazing and really really shows that one man can make a difference to a whole nation of people…what Korczak Ziolkowski started 59 years ago is only about 1/6 complete. The memorial is a definite work in progress but what it stands for and means for the Native Americans is a testimony to time and to the dedication that one man singularly had. Many of his ten children are following in his footsteps and continuing his hard work at blasting at that mountainside. Awesome, amazing and a sobering look at what a dream and a passion is all about. I highly recommend this (even moreso than Mount Rushmore).
The South Dakota Black Hills area has interesting sites. You can obtain a highway map to access the Needles Highway…we were running out of time so we took the short way through and only went through some of the tunnels but the images here of the Needles give you some clue on what you’ll be encountering. Also, the Needles are a pay to drive byway that also takes you through Custer State Park (which houses the largest buffalo herd in N. America (so they say) so get ready for that extended drive. Also you go around these bridges, they call them pigtail bridges and they really do curl around like a pigtail. I think I had a case of motion sickness so it’s probably a good thing that we cut that trip through the Needles short.
Then there is Deadwood and Sturgis. Deadwood is a massive historical restoration effort funded by the legalization of gaming…you can’t walk three steps in Deadwood without coming upon gambling. However, the town is impeccably restored almost totally to its’ former Victorian glory and it is an amazing town to come across. And if you know riding, Harleys and festivals than you should definitely stop by Sturgis and if you’re a rider definitely hit the Sturgis area in that first week of August.
#1: Even though technically it’s Black Hills (a hop skip jump from that whole area), the Badlands (you can access them from the Wall Drug exit ;)) deserve a whole day or two of exploration. As it was 108 degrees there, no water to speak of and no shade cruising around the gravel road in and around the Badlands was as good as it got for us. I so want to return trip just to explore a little further. We were captivated by the theory of why the Badlands formed, by what it was and the amazing landscape that it is. The Badlands is the location of the Big Pig Dig. This is an amazing discovery discovered by two amateur photographers (hehe) in 1993 and the dig continues on today. It is reported that over 20,000 fossils have been discovered here in the days since the vertebrae of the initial big pig was found by those picnicking photographers in the Conata Basin. If I could only spend a few more hours in the Badlands (with an air conditioned SUV ready to whisk me away at the drop of a hat, because the Badlands are a vast space of dryness and unrelenting weather where you feel the loneliness of the old west and the timeless nature of something so greater than you as a person.
Ok, ok, so I lied, it’s a top 11 list and if anything could make it beyond #1 (for now, we’ll just let it tie with #1!) the Medicine Wheel can. The Medicine Wheel is located on the 14a route of the Bighorn Trek listed above. You would do this before the Black Hills on the way back and it’s a must see. It’s a drive up up up (so high at 10% grade that it will tax your vehicle and your nerves) and it’s an hour and a half excursion up the mountain but whatever way you look at it, it’s a vision quest of sorts…has been for Native Americans for an estimated 10,000 years. Nobody knows WHY it’s there or what its’ purpose is but it is a true attempt at mysticism in this cynical era. Highly recommended if you have the fortitude to attempt it.
Gosh it’s turned into afternoon after taking a short nap in between. Thank you for bearing with me…if you plan on going to Yellowstone in the future, these are truly must sees on the journey. Allow for about 2 1/2 to 3 weeks time total for travel. Lots of time in the car but believe me, well well worth it.