We were sad to leave the Tetons and Yellowstone after our first week but also excited to get to the next leg of our cross country trip. Here’s a snapshot of what we’ve been up to:
Beartooth Pass and Montana
After leaving Yellowstone we headed through Cody, Wyoming and drove up the Chief Joseph Highway to get to the Beartooth Pass. Many folks describe the Beartooth Pass as one of the most scenic drives in the United States. It was indeed spectacular, with a bunch of switchbacks that eventually take you up to around 11,000 feet. Along the way we encountered a pretty feisty chipmunk who was pretty pissed that we wouldn’t feed him. I think if Jaime let him he would’ve crawled all the way up his leg and chirped at him.
The Beartooth eventually took us into Montana and our destination for the night at the KOA in Billings, Montana. We didn’t have much time in Billings, but it seems like an okay town. There is a cute little strip of restaurants and bars on Montana Avenue. We ducked into this great little dive bar on Montana called the Rainbow Bar. It’s a cash only establishment with cheap drinks and sassy bartenders. Our bartender indicated to Jaime that his next drink was on the house by shooting him a bird and throwing his 5 dollar bill back at him. Loved that guy!
I feel like Gillette deserves a post all for itself. From Billings we were intending to drive all day through Montana and Wyoming and end up in Devil’s Tower, Wyoming. Well, that didn’t happen as planned because our car overheated near the town of Gillette, Wyoming. We got off the exit when it was overheating and a Motel 6 was right off the exit so we coasted into that parking lot and got a room for the night. All of the mechanics were closing so we made plans to get a tow into a mechanic the next morning. Long story short, we partied a bit with some locals at the nearby Best Western bar. We ended up meeting a UGA fan randomly there because I spotted his “Between the Hedges” t-shirt. Turns out he was born and raised in Wyoming but has always had a love for Georgia football. Go figure!
Tom at Cowboy Up Auto in Gillette fixed us right up and got us on the road within a few hours. If you ever find yourself with car trouble in Gillette, Wyoming head over there. It was clear that they do a brisk business and they went out of their way to work us in to their busy schedule at the last minute. We really appreciated their kindness and honesty.
Devil’s Tower, Wyoming
After our minor setback we made it safely to Devil’s Tower. It is pretty much in the middle of nowhere but well worth the drive. Devils Tower is a monolith of phonolite that has become a destination of sorts for rock climbing enthusiasts. It was also featured in the Spielberg movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Our KOA was in the foreground of Devil’s Tower so you wake up to one hell of a view.
That night at Devil’s Tower we experienced our first and only hailstorm while tent camping. The lightning and hail were enough to convince us to huddle in our car for about an hour to let it blow over. I have to give props to the REI Half Dome; that baby wasn’t fazed at all by quarter inch hail and 60 mile an hour winds!
From Devil’s Tower we headed for South Dakota. We stopped through Rapid City for lunch and I am now referring to Rapid City as the City of Kitsch. There are so many weird, quirky roadside attractions in that town that I wished we had more time to spend there. Look for my upcoming post on roadside attractions for some of the mother lode from South Dakota.
Since we were in South Dakota we had to tour Mount Rushmore. I have to be honest, when I saw it for the first time, I was like, okay, four white guys carved into the side of a mountain. But when I toured the exhibit hall and really understood the skill, craft and danger that went into carving it I had a different level of appreciation.
Upon recommendation from one of my former coworkers (thanks, Derrick!), we drove a little out of our way to see the Crazy Horse Monument. Work began on the monument in 1949 and will continue well past my lifetime. It is funded entirely by private monies as opposed to the government funding of Mount Rushmore. As you can see from the photo below, since 1949 they’ve completed the face and are now working on his hand and horse’s head. When finished it will be the largest carved structure in the world.
The main reason we decided to drive through South Dakota was to see Badlands National Park. It is such a stark and striking landscape out there. One of the most memorable things we did was the Notch hike which leads you through a canyon and up to an overlook with a great view of the White River Valley below. Check out the pic of me climbing up the ladder at the beginning of the trail.
While we were in Badlands the weather was cloudy and rainy and Jaime was disappointed that he couldn’t get out to shoot sunrise or sunset in the park. Despite the weather the landscape was still stunning and he was still able to get a few shots he was happy with.
Nebraska and Missouri
Since we had never been to Nebraska we decided to follow a route from South Dakota that would take us through Omaha. After 11 nights of camping we decided to treat ourselves to a hotel room, treat being used lightly. With the College World Series in town jacking up hotel rates, we ended up at a Motel 6 for way too much money. Omaha has a neat little section of town called the Old Market, which is essentially old warehouse district that has been converted to trendy little cafes and shops.
We got up the next morning and drove to Hannibal, Missouri to visit my Uncle Tommy and Aunt Claudia. As all of you Mark Twain fans know, Hannibal was his boyhood home. There we enjoyed touring the Twain sites and visualizing places he’d written about. For example, we toured the cave that Twain wrote about in his novel Tom Sawyer. Here is a pic of me painting the fence from Tom Sawyer:
It was so nice catching up with my aunt and uncle – they showed us a great time. If you are ever near Hannibal I encourage you to check out the Twain sites. The museum and exhibits are well done and the city has such a love for all things Twain!
That’s it for now. For the next two weeks we will be visiting friends and family back in the south in Tennessee, Georgia and Florida before we fly out to Peru on July 5th.