I left Bozeman, MT after staying for a few days and hanging out with my sister’s friends. I had the privilege of going hiking twice, attending Music on Main, and exploring downtown with some awesome people. I left town on the morning of the 13th of July and rode down into Yellowstone for some epic sightseeing. The first sign of awesomeness came when I arrived at Mammoth Hot Springs. There were elk lounging everywhere, just watching the traffic go by, paying no attention to the people milling about the grounds. After some time at the visitor center, I hit the road, feeling very antsy to get a move on and see the wonders of Yellowstone. This park did not disappoint: steaming fumaroles, bubbling hot springs, and spouting geysers abound in this volcanic wonderland. I made several stops along the western route through the park (I rode north to south on this road, in case you want to look it up) and took advantage of the extensive network of boardwalks built throughout the area. Early on in the journey, I came across a moving roadblock, a bull bison. Needless to say many tourists found it necessary to pull over and take photos, me included.
If you ever go to Yellowstone, definitely stop by the Museum of the National Park Ranger, an underappreciated gem near the center of the park. While visiting the museum I had the privilege of speaking with a retired National Park ranger who, upon hearing about my trip and my future hopes for employment with the NPS, provided me with information and inspiration.
There are many wondrous things to see in Yellowstone, too many to see in a day and far too many for me to describe here. I am obligated, however, to speak of my experience with Old Faithful! While this is certainly not the most beautiful nor mysterious nor wondrous force of nature the park has to offer, it is iconic and reliable. The geyser erupts regularly every 40 to 120 minutes or so, and on any given day the rangers are able to calculate and predict when each eruption will be. As I approached the visitor center for Old Faithful I thought, I should be arriving sometime not too long before the next eruption, then I’ll look around a bit and head out. As luck would have it, I saw a spout of water up over the pines just as I was pulling off the main road. Hmm, this has to be Old Faithful. Sure enough, after parking and walking into the visitor center, I learned that I’d just missed the eruption and the next one was not for another hour and a half. A lesson in patience, I told myself. I had lots of time to wander and explore before going to see the geyser. And I must say, it does erupt with regularity; Old Faithful faithfully spouted within two minutes of the predicted time. For the first time in my life, I saw Old Faithful erupt, at 2:17 p.m. on Friday, July 13.
After my Old Faithful experience I left the park, riding south toward Grand Teton National Park. It had been a hot day in Yellowstone, with the sun shining through crystal clear skies. The Grand Tetons are only miles from Yellowstone, yet I might as well have been a world away once I approached the lovely and majestic peaks of the Tetons. Being late afternoon, a storm was brewing around those majestic peaks, a storm I watched grow as I rode closer and closer. By the time I arrived at the visitor center, the skies had opened and proceeded to dump as much water on me as possible. I left the park through the east entrance and found a nice place to camp, just a few miles from the park boundary. My biggest regret so far is that I did not dedicate more time to visiting Yellowstone and Grand Tetons; someday I will go back and satisfy my craving to explore these places in more depth. For now I will content myself with the ethereal and mysterious feelings instilled by views of these peaks enshrouded with mist and clouds, thunder and lightning.
|The Grand Tetons|
The day after my Yellowstone/Grand Tetons adventure was one of the most difficult and monotonous days to date. I rode 474 miles, going east through Wyoming and entering South Dakota at the Black Hills. I camped out that night on US Forest Service land with sore wrists and sore butt cheeks, but it was well worth it; I had a beautiful camp site surrounded by pines, and plenty of leisure time to take a much-needed walk. The next day, on the 15th, I packed up camp and hit the road by 6:45 a.m. I rode to Wind Cave National Park, where I saw another bull bison (this one standing in front of the park entrance sign, as if to welcome me) and, for the first time in my life, prairie dogs! At the park, the visitor center didn’t open until 8:00, and cave tours don’t start until 8:45, so I walked around a bit before continuing on to Badlands National Park. This was a true adventure, as I opted for the back road entrance to the park, going through the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation on Reservation Route 2, a long and dusty dirt road. At the White River Visitor Center I met a very kind Native American gentleman who worked for the NPS. We talked a bit, and I learned that the nearest gas is in Interior (yes, my low fuel light came on again, and I was a bit nervous…). I left the visitor center and rode north on Reservation Route 27, turned east on HWY 44, and made it to Interior, a little town in the middle of the desert. I fueled up and enjoyed a cold sarsparilla in the parking lot (it was a VERY hot day) before riding on to the Interior Entrance to the park. This is where the main attraction is, one of the terminus points of the Badlands Loop Road. I rode this northwest up to Wall. The Badlands are, to sum it up in one word, incredible. They are a paradox, for life abounds in these harsh lands despite the extreme and harsh weather. The plateaus and hills are alluring yet one knows that survival here is difficult (I would say impossible but the Lakota people lived here for centuries). Due to the heat I did not spend much time walking around; rather, I took my time riding slowly through the park, taking in all the wonders it has to offer. At Wall I stopped at Wall Drug for some sightseeing and lunch. Wall Drug is huge, filled with all manner of trinkets and souvenirs. I had a terrible tuna salad sandwich and the most horrendous slice of pie I’ve ever eaten, followed by a stomach ache. From Wall I traveled west to Rapid City, South Dakota, and south to see Mt. Rushmore. An impressive mountain indeed. It’s a funny thing to see the heads of these four famous men carved into a mountain. What else can I say about this? You all know what it looks like.
|Somewhere in South Dakota|
|Resident in Wind Cave National Park|
|The Badlands of SD|
I spent that night couchsurfing in Rapid City, then left early the next day for Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. Roughly 300 miles from Grand Rapids, this was another long haul. There is a lot of nothing between South Dakota and North Dakota, and it is beautiful. T.R. National Park was much more than I had expected. These are the badlands Roosevelt came to for healing after his young wife and his mother both died within hours of each other. Roosevelt came by train, and learned life as a rancher in these wonderful lands. These badlands are much different than those in South Dakota. They are more vegetated and therefore, in MY opinion, more beautiful. Here I visited the museum in the Medora Visitor Center, where I got to see Roosevelt’s own firearms, including his lever-action Winchester and a three-barreled shotgun/rifle. The Scenic Loop Drive through the park is beautiful and provides plenty of photo opportunities. The sky was overcast this day, and it even rained on and off, which added to the ambiance of adventure (and helped keep the temperature down). Near the end of the loop I pulled over to hike the Petrified Forest Loop Trail, a 12-mile journey across big plateaus of grassland and into a canyon filled with petrified trees. As luck would have it, the sun began to come out as I started the hike, which made things a bit warmer. While on foot I passed a bison herd in the distance and several prairie dog towns. These little guys make the funniest barking noise, and all together they make quite a racket as I pass by. After traveling through the petrified forest and back up onto a grassland plateau, I started my trek back to the trailhead. A few miles from the parking area, however, the bison herd I had seen earlier that day had migrated and decided that the prime grazing grounds were right on top of my trail. I’m not about to let a herd of bison get in my way… or maybe I will. As I got closer, the bulls slowly lifted their heads, turned in my direction, and walked toward me. Hmm, this doesn’t seem like a very good idea. No, not a good idea at all. I immediately made a 90-degree turn, and glanced over my shoulder. They’re still following me. And, as I walk past the herd, every bull I go by lifts its head, turns in my direction, and starts walking. Well, THIS seems like a bad deal. Heart racing, I do my best to give the herd a wide berth, hiking out into the grassland but keeping the trail in sight. After about ten minutes of walking and keeping a wary eye on the herd, I made it back to the trail and continued on my merry way, still in one piece. All the grassland in the world and they have to pick my trail to graze on… Might I add that on the same day, a man went missing in the park, and an airplane flew overhead the whole time I was hiking. Maybe he pissed off a bison herd or something.
|Theodore Roosevelt National Park|
|The bison herd when it WASN’T in my way|
|Little barking bugger|
|This is why you don’t mess with these guys|
|The herd I had to go around|
Upon returning to the trail head, I took a much-needed bath in the Little Missouri River, then got back on the bike and headed east to Dickinson, North Dakota, where I stayed the night with a very nice couple, Luke and Danae. They own a coffee shop in town, a wonderful establishment utilizing an old church. Luke fed me bratwurst and burgers, pickles, beer, and tea, and I gratefully consumed everything he put in front of me. Twelve miles of hiking in the badlands really takes its toll. After dinner, we had an awesome conversation that included topics on beer, brewing, traveling, video games, coffee, mountain biking, and probably lots of other things I can’t remember. Later in the evening a couple of his buddies came over and we enjoyed cigars and pipes – a new experience for me, and one that I enjoyed very much.
The next morning saw me at Luke and Danae’s coffee shop, where I dined on homemade pumpkin bread and a pot of tea while reading a book. After about an hour of relaxation I decided I’d better hit the road, so off I went, gong east again until I reached Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, where my wonderful little sister is spending the summer with her fiancee Alex and his family. Awesome people, the Feldts! Fun, generous, friendly, and always ready to help you out. They put me up for several days in my own room with my own bed, and they fed me as much food and beer as I wanted. I did many fun things with the family while I was visiting, including swimming in lakes and dining out at various diners and bars. One experience is well worth mentioning, however. My first evening there, while we ate a magnificent dinner prepared by Karen (Alex’s mom), we heard a big WHUMP on the side of the house. Further inspection revealed that a mallard hen was the culprit, having decided to commit suicide by flying into the not-invisible side of the house. Why she did this, we may never know, but the duck was beyond repair and was slowly losing its life as we watched it wobble and flap on the ground. Something had to be done, so I got to play executioner and break the duck’s neck. Yet another life experience to add to my resume.
I’ve since left Detroit Lakes and my wonderful little sister behind, but all that has occurred since then will have to wait for another time. Until then, I hope you find the following link entertaining; it’s the album I’ve stored all my photos, many of which have not been posted on this blog.