Navigating National Parks - PART TWO (June 18th to June 29th, 2019)
Updated: Apr 20, 2022
Back in the Badlands on June 18th, I wrapped up the blog, Ted and Azlan came back from doing laundry, and we went on a scenic drive in the park via Sage Creek Road - aka Gravel Road. Bison and Prairie Dogs abound, even some big-horned sheep on the steep sandy cliffs. At the end of the road, we ‘blinked’ through Scenic (an abandoned ghost town but I think people still live around here and there), and took the Sheep Mountain Table Road for an inspiring view of the desert peaks growing up from the grasslands. We met a photographer, @elsiefortunephotography, that gave us some good tips, Azlan drew a bit and I did a very quick study of the two blending landscapes in color pencils. I hadn’t worked with color pencils in a long time, much less the watercolor pencils I have. It felt wonderful to sketch, I’m excited to pick it back up again. Dinner was at the Wagon Wheel in the town of Interior, population 94. It was a full bar and served bar type food, not the healthiest options. I probably should have cooked at home but after that long drive, we wanted easy.
The next morning we started with the Minuteman Missile Visitor’s Center. I didn’t really know what it was other than a missile silo, a big hole in the ground in the most basic terms. There was a Ranger Program there at 9am, so we rushed over to the Delta-09 site to ask questions and listen. On the way we passed a small building, the launch station Delta-01. In the next hour I learned that from roughly 1969-1991 there was a missile campaign. There were over a thousand missiles ready to launch – pointed at Russia – at a moment’s notice…into the development of the Minuteman Missiles. They were designed to be activated and officially start the launching process within 60 seconds. And about 30 mins until actual fire. Now a days, we are under 10 mins to a launch and weaponry is way more advanced than in the 80’s. Also, the site we visited is retired and inactive – whew! You can peek in the hole and see a training missile, learn how they activated it, how they operated etc… Lots of details and steps to take in order to be able to launch…if you hit ‘launch’, there is no abort button, that’s it...detonation guaranteed. Remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Well the Minuteman type is 80 times more destructive….AND WE HAD OVER 1,000 OF THEM READY TO GO…just waiting. 80 times more potent, and over a thousand --------- WTF?!?!?!? Why should we even have these, much less have these ready to go – and that’s not just for America – but every single country out there! The potential for destruction at this scale and quantity is absurd. We have been to Nagasaki, we have seen evidence of the damage done and what just one nuclear bomb can annihilate, including the repercussions of the explosion for many years after the fact. I am of two minds here and I have endless moral and military questions and justifications related to this situation. For example, would a large bomb dropped over an enemy country solve a lot of problems like halting our husbands, sons and fathers going to war to get shot at or killed? Yes. Would this same bomb kill a lot of innocent people in the process? Yes. Hmmmmmm……we can go for a long time arguing either way. For right now, I will move on and if you are interested, we can try and take on this conversation when we see you in person. It’s easier to calm people down when you are in front of them…haha.
On that note, we move on to a chopper ride over the Badlands! The team at the Badlands Helicopter Tours was wonderful. We took the Adventure Tour - A-MA-ZING! This place is really magnificent and getting to see it from the air was a real treat! That afternoon we spent some quality family time just hanging out.
On Thursday, the 20th, we rolled out of the Minuteman RV Park and headed to the Horse Thief Campground in the Black Hills of South Dakota. On the way out, we drove through the Badlands again and stopped for what we thought would be a very quick hike on Notch Trail. Luckily we had our boots and insulated backpack basically ready to go. It was a great hike! Took us about an hour and a half, we scaled a pretty high rock, walked very close to dangerous drop-offs and descended a cool log ladder. Overall, a very successful hike.
Once we got to our new site in the Black Hills, we connected the Glamper and immediately hopped in the Jeep to drive around Custer State Park to see some wildlife and go over Iron Mountain Road. It was a lovely park and when we looped back towards our campsite, we also got some good views of Mount Rushmore. The next day we went to get a closer look at the 4 presidents' faces and did a walking loop in the area. It took them 14 years to finish Rushmore. Most of the carving into the granite stone (which is very hard) was done with dynamite. They got about 3 inches from the final surface and the last 3" were carved with a kind of jack hammer and chisels. Mind you, this was back in 1927-1941, before all the efficient equipment we have today. Our next stop was the Crazy Horse Memorial. This memorial is dedicated to Crazy Horse, a Lakota Indian Warrior, and hero to the tribe's way of life before their lands were taken and they were forced to live on reservations. This is an on-going project which has been in the works for 70 years already and still has a really long way to go. The story goes that Chief Henry Standing Bear asked Sculptor Korczak to work on the memorial "My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes also." - Chief Henry Standing Bear. Korczak and his family all worked on the memorial, they denied a 10 million dollar government fund twice because they didn't want the project tarnished or changed by any investors, and the family still runs the project today. The dream of what they want to build is inspiring and meaningful. At the end of a dance performance, a Lakota woman explained their belief that everything and everyone is connected. This is such a powerful statement, we are all connected. Humans, all of us, here on Earth, connected by our spirits and nature.
Azlan and I then made some Dream Catchers to block out the bad dreams filled with war, hate and death. That afternoon, I stayed home and cleaned while the boys drove the Needles Highway. It was one of the best drives of Ted's life according to him. I'm sorry I missed it but at the same time, not sorry. I get motion sickness now, I think this started after Azlan was born. Winding roads, long vehicle rides, lots of swerving...not for me anymore. I never liked being in a car for more than an hour and at the pace we have been going on this trip lately - I'm not the happiest glamper. We didn't allow for enough time in these gorgeous parks. C'est la vie - we are gonna keep going anyways, I'll have to adjust accordingly because - lets face it - this trip is AWESOME and I need to just deal with my issues! I'm still gonna bitch about them occasionally though (eye roll and laugh here).
On June 22nd, we left Hill City, South Dakota and headed towards Wyoming for a boondocking night. We stopped at Little Bighorn Battlefield on our way. On this battlefield in 1876, in one of the last big stands of the Indian's to preserve their way of life, 263 US Soldiers died fighting thousands of Indians from the Lakota and Cheyenne Tribes. This was Lt. Col. Custer's last stand and the only place that has markers of where each soldier and Indian warrior fell on the battlefield. It's a sacred place, reserved for reflection and to learn about this country's past. Despite the contemplative stop, it was another really long day in the Glamper. Thankfully we snagged one of the super long spots at a gas station, had a delicious Chinese Buffet meal, and slept just fine with all the engines running in the lot. The next morning, we headed to Cody, WY, but were tired from the long day before so we just passed through it, Buffalo Bill State Park and Yellowstone to get to the town of West Yellowstone and our new site at the Valley View RV Park . After being cooped up in the Glamper in rolling mode for so long, we have a full chill day. June 24th was a stay at home, clean, organize, and grocery shop kind of day. We really wanted to give camping another go since we weren't able to do the full experience in Teddy Roosevelt's park. During these last few days, we went to a Walmart to stock up on food and get a bigger tent and some more camping equipment. We packed up the car with all the camping things and headed out. Um, YELLOWSTONE IS HUGE!!! Each leg you drive from one intersection to another is at least 30 mins, possible 45 mins to an hour or more....like 2-3 hours depending on road construction. Our first destination is Mammoth Hot Springs which is pretty cool. We do a Ranger Program which ends up being very informative but too long for Azlan. I also ended up dropping my water bottle off the deck and on the ground, oops! We couldn't get off the deck walkway (because of preservation and caring for the spring), so Ted lowered Azlan by the ankles and he grabbed it for me! Epic save Ted and Azlan!!! After that we headed to one of the Visitor's Center to find out which campgrounds still had availability. The ones I wanted were full but we had a shot at the Tower Falls campground. Mind you, I had been monitoring the website for camping availability for a few days (until we had no more internet), and a few campgrounds still had availability at noon. Well we 'rushed' over there....no rushing in parks y'all...it just doesn't happen, nor does cellular or internet service (not all the time anyways). Well, it was full. We literally drove around a circle...like a 6 hour circle and no campground. Please recall the last paragraph where I hate long car rides - can you just imagine our delight when we spent so long in a car and didn't even get a camping sight? Why in the world didn't we make a reservation? Oh yeah, DUH! Because the places you can reserve are booked a year in advance, all we had left was first come and first serve. In retrospect, we should have gone straight to the site instead of going to a Ranger Program. Lesson Learned! We made it through the day regardless and we really hope our third try at camping is the charm!
June 26th, Wednesday, was Yellowstone Revival Day for us. We did not attempt camping but went into the park to see some superb natural views. We focused on the Canyon Village area which was about a 2 hour drive from the Glamper. This place is called the 'Grand Canyon of Yellowstone' featuring a waterfall higher than Niagra Falls, and is spectacular. We restricted the day just to this area so we could actually enjoy some time out of the car. We started with Inspiration Point - my very first poop in the woods experience, also where I sketched for real. I spent about 40 mins working on my sketch and it was an absolutely remarkable self-care experience. I had completely forgotten how liberating and calming sketching is to me. Thanks to my sensational husband, I was able to concentrate on me while he took care of Azlan. After that we went to Artist Point for a picnic lunch. WOW, what a view! Ted challenged me to a 15 min sketch session which I eagerly accepted. What a phenomenal day!!! We were prepared for the drive, the stops, the lunch and even the poop. Turns out I like being prepared....who would have thought?
June 27th we link up with one of Ted's buddies that is also traveling in his RV! We then leave Valley View RV Park and drive through Yellowstone heading south on Firehole Road. We stop at the Midway Geyser Basin to see the Grand Prismatic Spring. This place is nuts! Nuts in the sense of colors and texture - from an artistic perspective. One of the coolest things I have ever seen. The bacteria growing in the water/land mix make these opulent color rings that bleed out into rusts, pinks, reds, yellows, beige...etc... The view from the boardwalk is the most boring but that's what we had time for and...I got to sketch again!!! Yay!!! Too many people for the walkway though so we didn't spend too much time there.
Next stop was Old Faithful! Azlan was able to get over his fear and swear in as a Junior Ranger (which he quickly rejected after I refused to get him a stuffed wolf in the store....whole other story for another time). We had lunch in the Glamper, I sketched, we saw it blow, and off we went to the Fireside Buffalo Valley RV Park just outside Grand Teton National Park. And when I say ' just outside' I mean like a few miles or so. This RV Park had a full bar and sold all sorts of things, like alcohol and cigarettes (temptation, please enter here). I was able to stay away from the smokes, but not the vodka. Fireside has a storyteller that goes out to their field every weeknight to tell tales of truth and myth. He lights a fire at 7:30pm, the crowd gathers and he puts on his show, complete with a funny song story. We made S'mores, had some laughs and went to bed before the stars appeared. We are having a hard time trying to stay awake to look at the stars but we will make a valiant effort in Montana.
June 28th, we go into Grand Teton National Park. WOW WOW WOW!!! This is our new favorite National Park (so far)!!! The mountains just burst from the ground and climb to the sky in massive elegance. The lakes are pristine, cold as shit, but crystal clear. Forestry, animals, flowers....basically everything was beautiful and made us feel humble and grateful. Since we only had one full day in the park we packed up for a day at String Lake. I was surprised at the bear warnings. You have to store all food in these metal 'bear proof' bins because everything smells good to a bear apparently. Well, we hooked up our Hammock, spread out the chairs and chilled out enjoying the spectacular view. Lunch time comes around and so do the bears. It was a bit of a cluster as they had volunteers and Rangers telling us different things like - 'stay here' or 'go to the parking lot' or 'go gather with that group to stay together' or 'stay here'. I know they were just trying to protect the people. The bears moved on and at that point so did we because we read there was a shuttle boat across Jenny Lake and to Inspiration Point. Ted absolutely loves being on the water (that's his happy place). We arrive and take the hike up the mountain...huffing and puffing. I got about half way up and decided I wanted to do some sketching back at the river. Ted and Azlan went all the way up to the view point. I would disagree with calling this hike 'easy' - it was more of a 'moderate' hike. Either way, the hike was great - got our tickers pumping anyway. We also went to Hidden Falls, now that was pretty epic. Even a badger was appreciating the waterfall! That night we grilled out, went for a walk, and got ready to roll the next morning. Luckily we were able to rent a boat from the Signal Mountain Lodge last minute on Jackson Lake. The morning of the 29th, I completely ruined the boat ride for Azlan and Ted because I was cold and irritated and thought we would be puttering on the boat, not going at full speed. I calmed myself down and apologized, I'm glad I was able to recognize I was in the wrong, admit it and apologize (thanks therapy!). We left Grand Teton knowing that we would be back for sure in the next few years but this time I will reserve an RV spot in the park a year in advance :)
Next stop - Idaho Falls and Boise - to be continued next week.
Daisa, Ted and Azlan