Buffalo Round-Up, Devil's Tower, Yellowstone NP, Grand Tetons NP
30.09.2016 - 04.10.2016 55 °F
I got up at first light and packed the van. I would not be coming back to Wind Cave after the Roundup. Sept. 30th and the Buffalo Roundup was the fixed date that influenced when I returned from Iceland and my drive home. I headed up 87 to Custer State Park (CSP). Everyone says to get up at 5am, and get in line. They open the road at 6:15am but I found out the day before that they start moving the buffalo about 10:30am. I should of asked about 4 Mile Draw Road yesterday as it cuts off many miles and time when heading for the South Viewing Area (SVA). It was bumper to bumper from shortly after the West Entrance Station to the SVA. No charge to enter CSP on roundup day. I had a banana, granola bars as I inched along towards the SVA. As we got closer to the SVA, the cowboys and cowgirls were riding along the road. Many would chat with you as we drove by them at 5 mph. They told me that you have to prove to CSP that you have the riding skills to participate in the Roundup. Buffalo are fast, mean and don't like horses. According to the riders, it is an honor be picked.
I made it to the SVA about 8:30am. I got my chair, day bag with camera, water, granola bars out of the van and walked towards the fence that separates the buffalo from the crowds. I decided to sit on the road as it was 3-4 people deep at the fence and the road is several feet higher than the fence. I chatted with those around me and we all waited for the action to begin. It was overcast and cooler this morning, it had been perfect weather the previous 3 days in SD. Around 11am we see the riders and trucks start to move the buffalo towards the corrals. I take as many photos as I can as the buffalo move from right to left in front of us. Any photo you see from the Roundup that is a side view, it is from the SVA. The North viewing area has the head on shots. Within 30 minutes the buffalo are past us and it is time to pack up and leave the area.
I got to my van before most of the crowd but got caught it the traffic trying to leave. They let each row go in turn and there is no hurrying the process. I had asked a Ranger if the 4 Mile Draw dirt road was open, he told me it was OK to use. I decided to take it as it cuts off both time and mileage to get back to 87. It is very scenic on this road and even though it is dirt, my van had no trouble. Took some photos and got back on 87. Headed South to meet 385 and back to Custer. I wanted to go to the library and check the weather in both Teddy Roosevelt NP and Glacier NP. Once on the library computer, I got the forecast for both. Bad news for me. Both were getting colder and snow was predicted in the next few days. Teddy Roosevelt is famous for their grasslands, buffalo, wild horses and big game. I had already seen as many buffalo as I wanted to see and decided not to drive hundreds of miles out of my way for more of the same and perhaps wild horses. I headed West on 16, past Jewel Cave NP, 85 North towards Devil's Tower National Monument (DT). I stopped several times to take photos as DT came into view. DT is impressive as you drive towards it. A 1,267 ft (386m) tower that juts out from the Belle Fourche river valley. DT was once hidden by soil but erosion has brought it back into view. DT became our first National Monument in 1906 by order of Pres. Teddy Roosevelt. DT certainly has the smallest VC of all the National Parks that I have visited. Got my stamp, bathroom and then walked the path to the base of DT. The Tower Trail wraps around DT but I only walked about 30 minutes of it to get some exercise and photos. Unless you are a rock climber, DT is only worth a few hours of your time IMO.
I stopped in Gillette for gas, food. On to Sheridan then picked up alt 14 thru Rowell then Cody. It was now raining and alt 14 is a 2 lane road. I saw a sign for Elk Creek State Forest. I was tired of driving in the rain and just wanted a break. Found a quiet spot, crawled into my sleeping bag and called it a night. The rain helped me get to sleep and for once I had a decent night's sleep in my van. As soon as I saw some sunlight, I retraced my way back to alt 14 and headed for the East entrance to Yellowstone NP (YNP).YNP was established by Pres. Grant in 1872 and is considered the first National Park in the world. YNP is huge, mostly in Wyoming, it is 3,468 sq. miles (8,983 sq. km). Free entry, got a map and headed for Yellowstone Lake and Fishing Bridge. It was a nice day early, sunny, not cold. The clouds & rain rolled in a few hours after I arrived. Got some nice photos Yellowstone Lake and the surrounding area. YNP has had some major fires over the years and millions of dead trees are still in evidence. It will take decades before these areas look like a healthy forest again.
My camera quit working and see that my batteries are depleted. Canyon Visitor Center is the closest place to recharge them. It was raining pretty hard when I got to Canyon and ran inside. Most outlets have a sign near them that telling you not to charge any batteries. This must be a real issue to post signs at each outlet. I found an outlet upstairs behind a couch and plugged in both my phone and camera batteries. Walked the exhibits, then watched the film on YNP. I then got in line to talk to the Ranger. She told me that all campsites were taken except Lewis Lake. Lewis Lake campground is about a two-hour drive from Canyon and it would be full before I got there. I retrieved my batteries and headed for Norris, then Madison. I remembered Madison from my winter trip to YNP with Chris a few years ago. Used the bathroom at Madison and decided to drive over to West Yellowstone (WY). It started raining again as I drove to WY. Chris and I stayed in WY and I knew it had a McDonald's plus an Information Center. Had lunch then went in the Center to talk to them. The Center has 4 sections: Rangers are answering questions about YNP, the Chamber of Commerce help with all thing WY, Montana & Gallatin-Custer National Forest have reps as well. The lady at the WY section told me there were no motel rooms available under $100 tonight. I really did not want to camp outside the park in the rain either. She confirmed that rain/snow was predicted for tomorrow and I decided right there I would head home. The fastest route would have been to retrace the way Chris and I had driven. Take 20 until it ties into I-15 South and head for Vegas. But, I decided I wanted to see what I could of YNP that day and also drive thru Grand Tetons NP on the way home. I went back to Madison and followed the Yellowstone River towards Old Faithful. I saw some bison close to the river and stopped. When I was heading back to my van, I saw some elk moving close to the road. Back on the road, I see a line of cars on the shoulder of the road. That means animals so I pull over as well. There is a large herd of bison in the meadow and thought it worth a few shots.
I then drove to Midway Geyser Basin for some photos. It was crowded with RVs, cars and bus after bus of Chinese tourists. I thought in Oct. the crowds would be much smaller than the summer crowd but I was wrong. The campsites were full and every viewing area and parking lot were packed. I stopped at the same place we did during our visit in the winter. This is old ground for me so I just snapped a few shots and moved on to the Great Prismatic Spring parking area. It was so full I had to circle around until someone was leaving. This is Oct. and YNP was packed. It must be unbearable in the summer months. It started raining again so I got what photos I could and headed for Old Faithful. It was packed with cars and tourists as well. Finally found a parking spot, then a long hike in the rain to Old Faithful. I missed the eruption by about 5 minutes as the crowds were heading for shelter because of the rain. I popped a few anyway and headed indoors as well.
Hit the bathroom, the gift shop for a YNP bag, a quick snack of granola bars and headed for home. I was tired of the rain, the crowds and living out of my van. I drove to West Thumb, then headed for Grand Teton NP. Stopped for some photos at Lewis Lake and kept on truckin' south. Jackson Lake and Jenny Lake offered some good photo ops so I stopped several times heading for Jackson.
There were some dramatic clouds over the Tetons as I neared Jackson and several cars had pulled over. A few miles later I see dozens of cars off the road. As I get closer I see why. Buffalo are milling across the road and that is worth a photo. Some were getting out of their vehicles but I just shot a few as I slowly drove by. I have plenty of buffalo pictures at this point. No need to get out of the van with bison this close.
After Jackson, I got on 89 and decided to drive until I got tired. My goal was Evanston WY but got tired of driving in the rain on 2 lane roads. It is both tiring and dangerous. Stopped for gas at Cokeville and saw that RVs and big trucks were parked for the night. After gas and bathroom, I parked next to some RVs and called it a night. I woke up while it was still dark, but had to pee and knew I was not going to get back to sleep anyway. I fired up my Honda and headed for I-80. I-80 wraps around Salt Lake City and ties into I-15. I drove until to Cedar City, gas, food and knew I was only 3 hours from Vegas. I got in around 3pm, unloaded my van and was happy to be home. My 7 week, 7,000 mile long road trip was over