“Take me back to the Black Hills, the Black Hills of Dakota,” sang Doris Day as Calamity Jane, and ever since I wanted to see those Black Hills. And so I did, some years ago, when we packed our camper and headed east from Seattle to South Dakota, and I recorded our adventures in an old fashioned Journal.
Click here for the first part of the story in case you missed it. Otherwise come along for Part 2 as we leave Devil’s Tower in Wyoming and enter South Dakota.
We take the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway to Custer State Park where we’ll camp the next three days. Scenic Byway indeed, for we enter a world of rugged peaks, fragrant pine, colorful deciduous trees, meadows, and alpine lakes. We pass through mining towns, resorts, fishing holes, and parks, finally arriving at Stockade Lake where we have the campground nearly to ourselves.
The next day we explore Custer State Park, where according to the park’s website, “nearly 1,300 bison roam the prairies and hills .. which they share with pronghorn, big horn sheep, elk and curious burros. Visitors often enjoy close encounters with these permanent residents along the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road that winds around the southern edge of the park.”
Yes we do; we drive the Loop Road and see bison around every turn.
The Black Hills are more beautiful than we imagined and Mt. Rushmore more impressive too. We take another scenic highway (too many to remember) to see the faces staring out of the rock above and walk the path around the base of the monument.
The next day we’re off to Badlands National Park, a mysterious landscape of eroded buttes and pinnacles, mixed grass prairie, and home to one of the world’s richest fossil beds. We take a short hike in the park and enjoy its quiet rugged beauty.
On our way back to Rapid City we stop for dinner and meet a friendly Native couple – he’s a Lakota Sioux and she’s Navajo – and feel welcomed by this beautiful land and its people.
All too soon it’s time to leave the Black Hills and return west. Fortunately our favorite park is still to come: Yellowstone National Park. We travel the spectacular Beartooth Highway from Red Lodge Montana to Yellowstone’s northeast entrance, climbing high past snow fields, alpine fir, and finally above the tree line. We see marmots, frosty lakes, craggy mountain peaks, and oh the views below as we reach Beartooth Pass at 10,947 feet. Wow! This turns out to be one of the highest and most scenic highways we’ve ever travelled.
As we descend, the lakes begin to thaw, meadows and rushing rivers appear, and we see two moose feeding in the woods. And then we are in Yellowstone’s immense Lamar Valley, often called America’s Serengeti, home to bison, elk, coyote, grizzly and wolf. We stop to take in its raw beauty, then continue to Mammoth Hot Springs where we’ll camp the next two nights.
The next day we head to Norris Geyser Basin, one of the hottest thermal areas in Yellowstone, where we see geysers, boiling springs, and mudpots, all in a steamy landscape.
Afterwards we drive to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and find it grand indeed!
According to Wikipedia when trapper Charles Cook first saw the canyon in 1869, he wrote, ‘I turned and looked forward from the brink of the great canyon, at a point just across from what is now called Inspiration Point. I sat there in amazement, while my companions came up, and after that, it seemed to me that it was five minutes before anyone spoke.”
No, the pictures don’t do it justice but you get the idea. And after seeing the colorful Canyon you can understand how Yellowstone got its name.
We complete our tour with a drive through Hayden Valley, then it’s back to Mammoth Hot Springs for our last night in Yellowstone. The next morning we embark on the final leg of our journey, and two days later, we’re back in Seattle.
Twelve days, two National Parks, four National Monuments, one enormous state park, scenic highways galore and too many animals to count, and we are home! I hope you enjoyed this Journal through the American West. Thanks for coming along!