Day Seven

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Today we took a brief detour from Wyoming to Montana, and had another goose bump moment thanks to our National Park Service!

We left Sheridan, Wyoming about 9 AM, and headed out westbound on Interstate 90 towards the Wyoming/Montana border. Our plan for the day was to first spend some time at the Little Bighorn National Monument in Montana, and then return to Wyoming and head towards Yellowstone National Park. The trip to Little Bighorn took us about an hour, and passed through some very desolate territory. Thank goodness we had a fairly full tank of gas when we left, because exits on the Interstate were mostly just cross roads with nothing on them. Several times after entering Montana, we crossed over the Little Bighorn River for which the battle was named.

As the National Park Service is still celebrating it’s 100th birthday, entrance to the monument was free…damn, when am I going to get to use my $10 Senior Pass again??? We parked and entered the visitor center, and after looking around the museum, we sat through a 25 minute movie, which laid out some of the reasons that led up to the battle. Then we went outside and sat through a 45 minute Park Ranger talk which told us about the battle, what happened, and why. Both were very enlightening, and gave us a much better understanding of the battle. It was very moving and a little troubling to really hear the facts of what we did, as a country to the Native Americans. Sad when you realize that the discovery of gold in the Black Hills was a pivotal episode in our treatment of the Lakota and other tribes.

Then we moved out to the actual battle field and headed up to the hill that is called Custer’s Last Stand Hill. There is a monument there that lists all that died on the hill, and under it are the aggregated remains of the enlisted men who died that day. The officers’ remains were sent home (Custer’s are at West Point), but the enlisted men were hastily buried after the battle in shallow graves. Several years later, the outrage of the American public caused the Army to return to the site, and that was when the monument was erected and the bones were buried in a mass grave beneath it. At the same time, they erected marble markers where each solder was killed. It is a very moving experience to see these white markers scattered all across the battlefield and realize that each mark was where a man lost his life.

As a country, we were very slow to recognize the Native Americans who died that day, but recently red marble markers have been erected on the battlefield to show where they died. In addition, a monument to the Native American warriors was also erected across the road from Custer’s Last Stand Hill. Slowly, as a country, we’ve recognized that these warriors died trying to defend the Native American way of life. As I said, it was a very moving 3 hours we spent there, and well worth the detour from Wyoming.

Then, it was time to head back to Wyoming, and return to our path to Yellowstone. Since I had driven up, and since we’d be returning over a lot of the same territory, Susie offered to drive and I accepted. We were back on I-90 (eastbound this time), across the Montana/Wyoming border, and 9 miles into Wyoming, we exited the Interstate. Susie had read about a road that was called “one of America’s most scenic”, and thought it would be a great way to head towards our destination for the night, Cody, Wyoming. What she didn’t read was that this road was so scenic because you drove over the Bighorn Mountains to get to Cody!! Again, driving through pretty desolate territory, the road slowly started to head into the foot hills, and before Susie realized it, she was driving over the Bighorn Mountains!! Switchback after switchback, climbing ever higher, the speed limit dropping from 65 MPH to low as 20 MPH on some of the curves, she continued. Finally we reached the top, and the sign that welcomed you to an elevation of 8327 feet! Susie admits a few sweaty hands during the climb, but she did great and she was proud of what she’d done, and so was I!

After we were about a third of the way down, we hit a rest area with bathroom facilities, took advantage of them, and I took over driving. All in all, we can see why they called it one of the most scenic roads in America, as it was beautiful, when you had the nerve to look over the side! The rest of the ride to Cody was uneventful, with a long straight road heading off into the distance (reminds me of Vanish Point), and about 4:30 we pulled into the Comfort Inn in Cody, having traveled 254 miles.

All along the trip, we have been very lucky with our choices for places to have dinner. Our food routine each day is to either partake in the hotel offered free breakfast, or to skip breakfast, and eat lunch out of our cooler. Yesterday we finished up the ham and american cheese rollups Susie made before we left, and this morning we had a very nice breakfast at the Comfort Inn in Sheridan, Wyoming. We always end our driving day with a Sailor Jerry Rum and Coke (some days, like today, they are very much needed after a particularly stressful drive), and then seek out a local place for dinner. Tonight we discovered Pat O’Hara’s Brewing Company Pub and Grill located a block from our hotel. It featured local brews and Irish Pub grub…what could be better? We started with Irish Egg Rolls and Susie had Shepard’s Pie, and I had tonight’s special…Corned Beef and Cabbage! Another good choice Susie!!

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Notice the coaster under by “Atlantic City Lager”  

We are now about 50 miles from the East Entrance of Yellowstone National Park, and tomorrow our destination will be the Yellowstone Lake Hotel in the park, where we have 2 nights booked. Our original plans had us leaving Yellowstone via the southern entrance and then driving through the Grand Tetons. Unfortunately, a lightning strike started a forest fire in the Tetons, which is burning across the road leading from Yellowstone to the Tetons, closing that southern entrance. We keep checking the daily reports, but it doesn’t look good for us to head that way on Tuesday, so we will probably have to leave via the western entrance. Then we will loop through Idaho and head south. We may make the Tetons this trip or not. You can’t fight Mother Nature, so we will take whatever path we can come Tuesday, and not worry about it till we get there. There are too many wonderful adventures ahead of us in Yellowstone National Park!

Thanks to all who are reading this blog and following along on our adventure with us. Wish we had room in the back seat for you, but you’d have to sit on the cooler and hold our map bag on your lap! Thanks for the likes and comments on Facebook, and thanks Laurie for the message today…you made our day!

Good night all…

IMG_6063Susie and her much needed Rum and Coke tonight

Our Big Trip Update

imageSo, the last time we talked about our “Big Trip”, we told you that because of a need to make certain reservations now or not be able to stay where we want to, our trip had taken on some real details. We will be leaving Long Island on August 21st…two months from tomorrow… and heading west, so this is becoming more and more real! Since our last update, some of our reservations have changed and more of the early part of our trek has been further fleshed out.

imageOriginally, the only place we could originally get in the Grand Canyon was a room at the Yavapai Lodge, this was definitely not our first choice. While it is indeed located at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, it is not ON the South Rim, but is back about a 1/2 mile. As everything else at the Grand Canyon was already booked for our dates, we felt fortunate that we were at least in the Grand Canyon and not miles outside of the Park. Frank had read online advice from many folks that said to grab something, and just keep on checking back and see if something better opens up, and that’s exactly what we did. After checking back on almost a daily basis, we were rewarded with exactly what we wanted. We now have reserved a cabin at Bright Angel Lodge, which is literally feet away from the rim of the canyon! Sunrises and Sunsets will be much easier to enjoy from that location!

We’ve also fleshed out our stay at Yellowstone a bit and have booked one dinner at the Lake Yellowstone Lodge, a boat tour of Yellowstone Lake, and a Lake Butte Sunset Tour, the vehicles for which are classic Yellowstone “Yellow Buses” from the 20s and 30s. This along with exploring things like Old Faithful on our own, and seeing the varied wildlife in the park, should make for two unforgettable days in America’s First National Park!

We have also looked closer at the days leading up to our two night stay in Yellowstone. The amount of reading you have to do, the number of maps you need to consult, the websites you have to check, and the mileage and time calculations you have to do to have a successful trip can be mind boggling! But, when it’s a trip you have been dreaming and talking about for years, it all becomes worth it! One of the things that will be included on those days leading up to our Yellowstone visit will be one of Frank’s main Bucket List items on this trip, Mount Rushmore!

imageHis desire to see Mt. Rushmore in the flesh, probably stems from seeing Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint climb across the faces of the presidents in the Hitchcock classic, North by Northwest. Frank found an interesting article recently dealing with what was actually filmed on site, and what was shot back at the studio. Of course, it would seem fairly obvious that someone like Cary Grant was not actually dangling from Lincoln’s nose on the real Mt. Rushmore, but apparently the head of the National Park Services was fearful that back in 1959, some folks might think he was! It seems that the permit that Hitchcock and the crew were given for the scenes they filmed at Mt. Rushmore contained specific language detailing what the film makers could do in scenes shot on site, or in the studio using mock-ups. The reason for this language lay in one simple fact: master film director Alfred Hitchcock had long wanted to film a movie involving the “Shrine of Democracy,” but the Park Service had concerns about the memorials potential “desecration.” After seeing a preview of the movie before it’s public release, the head of the service wrote, “The phony studio shots leave the average customer with the idea that the scenes of violence were staged on the memorial itself.” Kind of hard to understand that logic when 60 years later we have seen everything from the Empire State Building to the White House destroyed in movies, but the Park Service actually tried to have the release of the movie stopped…obviously that didn’t happen. You have to wonder how many of the tourists who have journeyed to Mt. Rushmore over the almost 60 years since the release of the movie, have done so for the same reason we are… because they saw North by Northwest. In hindsight, perhaps the movie they feared so much, was the best publicity a monument in the Black Hills of South Dakota could have gotten! As Cary Grant playing Roger Thornhill, the advertising executive protagonist in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest says, “Ah, Maggie, in the world of advertising, there’s no such thing as a lie, there’s only the expedient exaggeration!”.

So, anyway, Mt. Rushmore is the first major stop of our adventure, and as we said, we have fleshed out some of the days leading up to our visit. Leaving NY on August 21st, we will journey out Interstate 80 to Chicago, then head slightly north until we join up with Interstate 90. Depending on weather, the road conditions, how we feel, and what we may want to stop and see along the way, we figure it will take us the better part of 4 days to reach South Dakota. We are planning our first stop in South Dakota to be in Murdo, and then the next morning, we expect to hit our first National Park of the trip, Badlands National Park, on our way to Mt. Rushmore. Next we reserved two nights in Keystone, South Dakota which is right in the heart of the area with easy access to Mt. Rushmore, Custer State Park, and the Black Hills National Forest. After our two nights in the area, we will head out, hopefully hitting Devils Tower National Monument and detouring north to pay a visit to Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in Montana. We hope our stop that night will be in Sheridan, Wyoming and then the next day we will head into Yellowstone for our two days there.

imageTo be honest, this kind of planning is definitely not our style. We are more the type of folks that get into the car, have a rough idea of where we’re going, a general idea of our time frame, and then take off, stopping each night in hotels we find along the way in the AAA Tour Books. What we have discovered though, is that when your trips include National Parks and Monuments, unless you want to drive around half the night looking for a place to stay, you really have to plan ahead. So at least on this first leg, we have been forced to make hotel reservations, figure out how much mileage we’ll cover each day, and what we’re going to see. Hopefully the next leg of the trip, will leave us a little more leeway to wander, but we will see when we soon take a closer look at the two weeks between Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. We’ve already looked at the maps and are thinking about the next leg taking us to the Rocky Mountains, Salt Lake City, Denver (perhaps a baseball game there), Pikes Peak, and maybe even Vegas. We don’t want to give away too much of the “adventure” of this trip, but just thought you might be interested in a bit of the planning we’ve put in. Only time will tell if our trek between leaving Yellowstone on August 30th, and checking into the Bright Angel Lodge in the Grand Canyon on September 14th will be as planned, or more free form. Only time will also tell if our plans will all work out, or if we will be doing some “flying by the seat of our pants”. Stay tuned!