Adventures, Travel

The Big Horns and more…

Big Horn National Forest, WyomingBig Horn National Forest, WyomingBig Horn National Forest, WyomingBig Horn National Forest, WyomingBig Horn National Forest, WyomingBig Horn National Forest, WyomingBig Horn National Forest, WyomingI’ve got a soft spot for Buffalo. If I could live anywhere in the west, Buffalo would be in my top five. It’s small enough to not get lost but big enough to have all the creature comforts. The downtown is charming but not offensively touristy. It’s the gateway to Yellowstone and is located at the base of my beloved Big Horns. The KOA is immaculate and the tent sites are located next to a babbling brook with a waterfowl refuge on the other side. One of the maintenance workers stopped by my site to show me pictures of the forty baby geese that they have tromping though every morning. They’re so darn cute when they’re young. The storm system that I’d mentioned in my last post finally hit the area at around 7 am. I awoke to my tent nearly flying away with me in it. I had to quickly vacate, pick up the tent, stuff it into my car (still set-up) and dive into the backseat before anything flew away or flew at me. Overall though, after that day I had before, I was super grateful that the storm didn’t hit in the middle of the night. I was easily able to ride out the storm and catch a few more hours of sleep in my car until it was time to embark on my favorite part of the journey: Route 16! If there’s one stretch of road that you want to drive in your life, this may be it.

I left Buffalo at 10:30 am and headed into the Big Horn National Forest. This place is an unknown national treasure and I love it. It rivals Yellowstone for me. If you have to, skip Yellowstone, skip Glacier, skip Yosemite and just hit the Big Horns for a vacation. It’s snow covered mountains, vast canyons, lush grasslands, rolling rivers and majestic pine forests are absolutely beautiful and free to enjoy. There are campgrounds, lodges, skiing, hiking, fishing, horseback riding, snowmobiling, kayaking…anything recreational you can think of. I’m surprised it’s managed to fly under the radar for so long.

After the Big Horns is the tiny town of Ten Sleep (population 257) which may also be on my top five list of western towns that I’d live in. It’s so small and so quaint and better yet, I see that they’re opening a brewery. I may just have to pay them a visit on my way back. After that is miles and miles of rolling, sagebrush BLM land with oil drilling and livestock grazing. The landscape is absolutely beautiful and if you’re lucky you can catch a glimpse of an antelope butt on the hill next to you (they’re pretty proud of their best asset and will gladly feature it in the landscape). This stretch of road is all about dinosaurs (Themopolis–dinosaur central is not too far away), oil drilling, recreation, livestock, cowboys in beat-up pick-up trucks, bentonite clay extraction (this is what I make my toothpaste out of!), small towns and beautiful scenery. Cody, Wyoming comes almost too soon.

 

Adventures, Travel

Keystone, South Dakota to Buffalo, Wyoming

After the Badlands, I hit the road again with the intention of stopping off to see Mount Rushmore. My mother told me that I’d enjoy the little town of Keystone and Mount Rushmore is basically right there so I veered off Interstate 90. That area of the state is basically a hot spot for tourist sites, adventure and fun activities. It would take at least a week to see all there is to see there. Just in the thirty minute drive from Rapid City to Keystone there is the Reptile Gardens (the 2014 Guinness World Record holder for having largest collection of reptiles), Bear Country (a drive-through wild game park), some sort of Scandinavian village, a mystery spot and various other goodies. And speaking of the drive into Keystone…all I can say is that I almost simultaneously filled my drawers and puked at the same time. It was soooooo steep that my newly serviced brakes were hanging by a thread. I’m no stranger to downshifting on hills instead of riding the brakes. That’s my usual deal but this was way beyond my driving ability. The road went straight up and down mountains, with blind hairpin turns thrown in there for fun. I was forced to downshift AND ride my brakes just to stay in control. And Keystone was right at the bottom of one of the mountains. I have no idea how people escape getting smeared by runaway RV’s when trying to cross the road.

Needless to say, I had a hard time enjoying Keystone knowing that I had to endure another near death experience on the way out. To make matters worse, I was baking in the sun (Yes, I applied sunscreen twice to no avail and no, I wasn’t using Sweet Pea’s sunscreen. I decided to use up another brand before I dipped into mine. Never again.) and I ate at perhaps the worst restaurant ever. You know it’s bad when there are hundreds of tourists around and you’re the only one in the joint. People were walking in, looking around, grimacing and immediately leaving. It’s crazy what health & safety violations you’re willing to overlook when you’re hungry. I walked around for a bit, tried to make peace with impending food poisoning, felt my skin burning, and dreaded the trip out. I decided to get the heck out of dodge and totally skip Mount Rushmore. Yup, I was about two minutes from the national landmark and I skipped it. I was having a moment. Not wanting to retrace my steps, I took a back road to Hermosa and then back to Rapid City. This would be my suggested route if you’re looking for a drama-free approach from the north. There was only one scary spot and I held my breath through it. I never thought I’d be so happy to see Interstate 90 again but I was over the freakin’ moon.

Soon after that I hit a storm with 60 mph winds and quarter size hail. Yup, this was not my day. Eventually, I made it to my regular KOA stop in Buffalo, Wyoming and was able to shake things off a bit.