May 29 until June 6, 2017 South- and North Dakota and Montana
Once we get up the air is steel-blue and the sun is shining. However, there is a chilly breeze and long pants are still desired. We walk to the Visitor Center of the Badlands. Of course we have to stamp our National Park Passport and after enjoying the movie we drive into the Badlands. Sharp rocks rise high above and beside us. No wonder the former pioneers called this “Badlands”. No way you could pull a wagon through this area. But now there is a beautiful route and we enjoy the savage peaks. Of course there are grasslands with piles of sand, characteristic for prairie-dogs. But unfortunately we only see them far away.
Fortunately, on the rocks there is a herd of Bighorn Sheep. The baby’s are funny to see, they jump up and over the rocks like there is no gravity at all. Finally we arrive in Wall and decide to stay on the campground in town. From here it is just 2 blocks to Wall Drug. This Drug store on the prairies did not work well for 5 years until Dorothy, the owner, figured out that signs with “Free Ice Water” beside the roads was the best way to attract customers. They were hot and sweaty after crossing the prairies. And that worked. Now the small drug store turned into a huge shop and there are lots of things to buy. Twice I bought beautiful shirts so that’s why I wanted to come again.
Unfortunately no nice shirts this time but we have an excellent lunch in the dining room filled with paintings. Including lunch we spent 3 hours in this store and of course I sent an app-message to my sister Hannah, here are plenty of Minnetonka’s for sale and if she and Henk arrive next month, here she can buy her beloved moccasins. Late in the afternoon, after we found a cache and looked at the film about the National Grasslands, we walk back to the campground. I stay outside to write for the website and Dick is looking at the pictures. The latter is a real job if your wife is shooting approximately 200 pictures a day. The weather is good and even with the cold wind I can sit outdoors until 8 pm. Tuesday, May 30, the sky is blue again and you feel it’s going to be hot today. We drive to Rapid City and after a delicious Sonic milkshake, with real pieces of pineapple, we continue to the Black Hills. In Custer State park we find a nice camping spot. There is no “first come, first serve” system. You have to dial a number to ask which places are free.
Fortunately, there is a phone on every campground and at Legion Lake is a beautiful sunny spot available. We book for two days, so we can drive around the park tomorrow. The rest of the afternoon we walk in the area, extend our collection of plush animals with Foxy the Fox and while the camp host tells us that we can take wood from the forest, I climb hills to gather branches and trunks. For the first time the temperature is so pleasant that it’s possible to stay and cook outside. We prepare our meat on the wood fire. But first the wood has to be gathered in the hills and to be cut in pieces by Dick, then we can sit in the sun and enjoy the warmth, not to mention the herd of deer that roam next to the campground. Wednesday we wake up early and after having a great shower on the campground, we drive the wild- loop. Custers State park is known for its large herd of Buffalo’s and we are not disappointed.
After admiring some Pronghorns, we encounter in front and next to us, a huge herd of Buffalo’s. Everywhere you look they walk and lie down, sometimes with little ones. My camera makes overtime. Buffalo’s are very impressive animals to me, so we stay for a while. After two hours we start a new loop, the Iron Mountain road. Until now we ‘ve only driven this road in bad weather and with snow. But now the sun is shining and the temperature reaches 76 degrees. The great thing about this road is that several times after leaving a tunnel you have a view of Mt. Rushmore with the heads of four major American Presidents: Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln.
Despite the fact that we already walked twice around this monument we love to see those in rock-cut faces. Also, this loop ends so there is only one road we never have been able to drive as our previous camper was bigger: “Needles Highway”. At Sylvan Lake we are stopped by the park ranger who tells us that we really make this tour at our own risk. Two tunnels may give problems, one with a width of 8 ft, 4 inches and one with a width of 9 ft. Another tunnel can give height problems because of the 10 ft, 7 inches.But Dick measured the RV and wants to give it a try. The height does not show any problem and we drive a beautiful narrow and steep road along towering rock needles. This is beautiful. As we approach the smallest tunnel I am discouraged. It’s very long and very, very narrow.
Will our RV fit? An additional problem is that no one dares to drive through because there is a Mountain Goat in the tunnel. I always wanted to study a Mountain Goat so I walk into the tunnel. I approach the goat, but stay aside, and have a good look. The goat only looks at me disapprovingly for several times and let me know that this really is his mountain and his tunnel. But finally he leaves the tunnel followed by me, and climbs the rocks outside. From his elevated place he looks disapproving to anyone who approaches him with camera and phone. Meanwhile, Dick decided to give it a try and drove into the narrow tunnel. It looks scary. On each side of the camper, with collapsed mirrors, there are only a few inches. Like a snail Dick creeps forward, driving very, very careful and without any scratches he get through this long tunnel. People on the other side are looking stunned and admiring that Dick moved through this tunnel without any scratches.
Together we look at the white Mountain Goat and then we continue our drive through a landscape dominated by towering needles of rock. What impressive! Awesome! Even the Beartooth Highway, I consider this as one of the most beautiful roads, doesn’t get even close to this narrow, winding, mountain road. Unfortunately, we cannot walk the trail between the Rock Needles because the parking is filled up with cars so we’ll really have to go back one more time. The second tunnel is tight and very short but slightly wider than the first one and it isn’t a problem for Dick to drive through so after a wonderful trip we go back to the campground. In one piece. Again, we enjoy the great weather. The temperature reaches 78 degrees and after I have collected new wood for our fire we can sit down, reading and chatting with other guests. Of course, with this weather we make a wood fire in the evening and prepare our meat on it. After two wonderful days in Custers State park it’s time to leave on Thursday June 1. We take the route through the Black Hills to the North and around noon we arrive in Belle Fourche, South Dakota.
This place is the center of the US (when counting Alaska and Hawaii). The real Center is not on the place where the monument is built, it’s on private land just North of Belle Fourche, but standing on the monument (map of the US) it feels like you are the center of the United States. After making a lot of pictures we drive over the Grasslands to the North. Only endless green hills with every now and then a ranch and if you see this landscape you think of the millions of Buffalo’s that roamed here in former times. I haven’t thought of that or suddenly Dick stops the RV along the side of the road. Next to us is a huge herd of Buffalo’s consisting of several hundred animals. Of course I have to go to the fence and with only barbed wire between me and this impressive herd we stare at each other, the Buffalo’s and me. In such situations, Dick stays, wise as he is, in the RV. It’s so impressive! Staring at me for a long time, finally the herd is turning away from the fence and we drive further North over the Grasslands. After passing a crossroad between the towns of Buffalo and Bison, we arrive in Buffalo, a town with 380 inhabitants and the appropriate name for this environment. Along the way is a roadside picnic spot where we can spend the night and sometime later we walk in this small town, find two geocaches and sit in the thick grass of the picnic spot to enjoy the sunshine (it is 90 degrees) with an ice cold beer.
We can sit outside till late in the evening. Around 9 pm it’s getting cooler and almost bedtime. When we get up at half past 6 at Friday, June 2, it is already warm. I wake up at 5 am (the sun was already there) but we didn’t want to get up so early. After breakfast we drive the US-85 further north. At 9 am we arrive in North Dakota. Now we visited all the States of the USA except Hawaii. Of course we have to find some geocaches because then, with the souvenirs you get, we can prove that we visited every State on the Mainland. Fortunately, there are a few caches hidden in Bowman, ND, so, after finding them and getting information about the State of North Dakota we drive to Roosevelt National Park. Around noon we arrive and there are still some spots available on the campground. After taking a nice spot we drive to the Visitor Center and see the movie about this park. After he lost his wife and mother on the same day (february 14th) Roosevelt searched comfort here, found it and bought a ranch, where he enjoyed live again.
Of course we also drive through the park. It is wild and vast and according to us, here is the biggest colony of Prairie Dogs we have ever seen. Thousands of Prairie Dogs stay along the road and it’s fun to study them. The wild-loop twists itself through this wild and deserted park, but it is in the middle of the day and despite the many clouds, it’s probably to hot to spot wildlife. Only a huge Buffalo climbs a trail (we only see a glimpse of him) and we drive further (in line) to find other wildlife, but it isn’t there. So we go back to the campground, fill up with fresh water, place our RV in our spot and sit outside to read and write. At 7 pm our neighbors warn us: “there are Buffalo’s roaming around”, 5 huge animals. I walk straight towards them and take pictures. One of the Buffalo’s has an eye on me and if I want to make a picture again, he looks at me very intense, makes a few steps in my direction and looks at me again. I suddenly realize it is wild animal, take a step backwards and fall down into the bushes. I don’t know how fast I am back on my legs to get to the other side of the bushes. When I go around again the huge Buffalo reverse himself again and takes some steps towards me. The fact that the battery of my camera is exhausted saves me because I walk back to the RV. I have enough adventure. After a few drops of rain the air cleared and Saturday morning you feel that it will be a hot day again. We decide not to visit the northern section of this National Park, it’s a 100 mile drive and continue to the West. We’re reasonably on schedule and would like to have some spare days for our trip to the North. At 9 am we arrive in Montana and after finding some geocaches we take the I- 94 to the West. It is a quiet and beautiful road and follows the Yellowstone river.
In Forsyth, MT, along the fast-streaming Yellowstone river we find a park of Wildlife Montana where we can stay overnigh. As there is only one tent on this campground Dick decides to clean our RV. It’s not a luxury because the RV is filthy. I ‘m sitting in the shadow of some trees behind my laptop to write. It is warm, over 85 degrees. Around 8 pm the sheriff arrives and announce that the water of the Yellowstone river rises, but ….. he works all night so he will wake us up when the river overflows the path to the campground. Then we are blocked on this place. Not really exciting news if you like to sleep. Our neighbors are so panicked that they break up and leave. After an hour we walk to the River. The water is high but there is not a flood yet so we sit down and start a fire. There is so much driftwood and we enjoy the warmth and the stars above us. It’s not completely dark because of the almost full moon. Around 11 pm we go to bed. We keep our clothing next to us, just in case, and we sleep like a block of concrete. The Sheriff does not wake us up at night so we can have breakfast in the morning on Sunday June 4. After inspection of the river we find out that the water in the Yellowstone river is increased, but only 3 inches, insufficient to overflow the path. The US-12 takes us across the prairies with their yellow glow caused by the many flowers here. It will certainly give tasty honey because regularly we see beehives in the prairies. The temperature rises as we approach Helena, Montana and also the mountains are getting higher and higher. We drive a beautiful route through a valley with mountains towering on either side. In Helena we are allowed to stay overnight at Walmart. After getting some groceries the sky is darkening and it starts to rain and lightning. No wonder, the temperature passed 90 degrees. In Walmart is a hairshop and as I cannot handle my hair any longer I go inside. I should have known better. The hairdressers in Walmart are not usually very good and this one beats every one. I may not look in the mirror and cannot see how she is cutting my hair and the haircut is finished within 10 minutes. Dick does not understand why I could not wait until Alaska to get a decent cut. The parking at Walmart’s is quiet and we have a good sleep. Sunday we continue our trip west over a beautiful road, cut through the mountains. It’s no punishment to drive interstate. After Missoula we enter Indian lands, easy to recognize by the many casinos, the here and there dumped cars and the gray color on our hakuna. This highway US-93 is obviously a dangerous one because everywhere they placed white crosses and in some places we find 6 crosses within 50 feet. We have never seen so many crosses (deadly accidents) along a road.
At 1 pm we arrive in Polson and after eating a Subway we drive to the down shop “Three Dog Down” to greet Bob, the owner, we already known for 6 years. It is a wonderful reunion and after he has sung for us in the smallest theatre in the world (in his shop) we discussed the political situation in the world and other things and I bought a beautiful high quality down jacket, we drive back to Walmart. It is now late afternoon. Half past six Bob picks us up to have dinner together. In the meantime we have time to fresh up, it’s 80 degrees. Exactly on time Bob arrives in his white Mercedes convertible. Dick has to drive this car although he says he isn’t used to drive automatically and always drives a clutch. According to Bob a non- argument because an automatic always drives easier than a clutch. On our way to the restaurant Dick can try how it feels to drive in such a fantastic car. It’s cooling down during our meal. None of the Americans here have problems with it because everyone stays outside in T-shirts even when the temperature falls to 60 degrees. After a delicious and pleasant dinner we walk outside to the Mercedes. Bob wants to drive a couple of miles to admire the sunset on the Lake. At first Dick is a little bit stressed behind the steering wheel but soon you see a big smile on his face. This car is a boys toy.
Who would not want to drive around with such an amazing white Mercedes convertible. While Russian music and later on Puccini’s (both quite appropriate in this environment ) get through the speakers, Bob shows some secret buttons. Windows go up, wind catchers appear, warm air flows everywhere so the driver and co-driver never suffering from the cold wind and even I on the back seat have warm air. Bob also teach us some lessons: When a bear, moose or deer hits the road: “Hit them in the ass, never from the front”. And the most important thing for Dick is: “don’t crash into a moose or deer with my precious white convertible Mercedes”. Driving in an open sports car is really different than our RV and we enjoy. The sun disappears behind the mountains and we love to see the rising moon while we drive and drive and drive. All together Dick drives for 61 miles in this white race monster and at half past 10 pm we are back at Walmart. We had a great evening with our friend Bob. What a wonderful day, it was nice to be here again and to see our friend. We agree to come again on our trip back from Alaska, so between half and end of August we will be in Polson. Tuesday June 6th we get up early because we want to do our laundry before continuing our journey. Nearby is a beautiful and clean laundry and soon 5 machines are filled up with our dirty clothes and bedding. After everything is stored again we drive to Three Dog Down to say goodbye and look for a t-shirt for Dick. The latter succeeds and as Bob arrives and I also bought some nice fur moccasins we really leave and continue to Glacier National Park. It’s not busy so we can look for a spot and find a great one in the sun.
Despite the fact that the temperature is around 80 degrees, we find it still enjoyable to sit in the sun. After drinking coffee with a delicious cupcake, Bob gave us for midnight snack, we walk to the Visitor Center of Glacier National Park. The “Going to the Sun road” is still partially closed and the shuttle runs only on weekends, so unfortunately we can’t go up into the mountains. So, after stamping our passport we walk back to the campground. The rest of the afternoon we work at our laptops (administration and writing). At 7 pm we built a fire. We still have some logs and it isn’t allowed to take them with us into Canada, now we enjoy the warmth of the wood fire, not bad as the temperature drops fast. Tomorrow we will cross the border to Canada.