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7,000 Mile Road Trip Plus Iceland, Part 1

Bryce NP, Colo. Monument, Rocky Mt. NP, Poney Express, Hoover Library, Wright-Patterson Museum, Gettysburg, Philadelphia, New York City.

sunny 80 °F

I added Iceland to my bucket list after watching a few shows on Discovery channel. Dramatic scenery, glaciers, volcanoes, Iceland is the land of fire and ice. I told my nephew I was thinking of visiting Iceland and he suggested I looked at WOW Airlines for a low fare. I had never heard of WOW but he plays games on the computer and several of the guys he plays with live in Iceland. I pulled up the WOW website and started comparing airfares with Icelandic Air. No comparison. WOW was much cheaper. Like most discount airlines, they charge you for extra for everything. If WOW is flying where you want to go, compare and see it makes sense for you.

I mentally divided the trip into 3 phases: drive to Boston, Iceland for 8 days, drive back to Las Vegas. I got a great airfare with WOW Air by departing from BOS. The other option was to fly out of LAX, but I wanted to see the Buffalo Roundup in Custer State Park on Sept. 30th. A friend of mine is a professional photographer and Gregg urged me to visit CSP during the Roundup if possible. They only do the Roundup one day a year, so that date was fixed in stone. I would drive it and hit several of our National Parks going there and coming home. I looked at WOWs prices departing in Sept. and found Sept. 11th was the cheapest date to fly. I booked it with a return flight on Sept. 20th. I paid $300 r/t trip with WOW. Icelandic was over $600 for the same dates. Even paying for seat selection, baggage, food, you will be saving serious money by flying WOW Air to Iceland.

I left Las Vegas August 25th and headed for Bryce Canyon NP. It was still very hot out West and I wanted to sleep where it was still cool at night. Very hard to sleep in your van when it is too hot. Bryce is about 5 hours from Vegas, got there around 3pm. Plenty of camping spots still open. This week all vehicles get into all National Parks for free as it is the 100 yr anniversary for the Park Service. Bryce NP now charges $30 per car for 7 days. I have my Golden Age Pass so all NPs are free for Seniors. One perk for getting older! Entered Bryce, got the newsletter, map and headed for Sunset Campground. I have stayed in Sunset campground before and knew the ropes. Found a spot, left some water on the table and back to the entrance. Camping is now $18/night here, I pay half so I put my $18 in the envelope for my 2 nights. I had enough time to walk to Sunset Point and take an hour walk/hike. I wanted to eat and then listen to the Ranger program at the Bryce Lodge, 8 pm. Got some decent photos, soup for dinner, then drove to the Lodge. It is not that far, but walking back in the dark is not a smart idea IMO. The Ranger's topic was Bryce at night. Bryce has less light pollution than most of the US. Very good spot for watching the stars. Informative talk then we all headed outside to view the night sky. Most of us that live in cities, esp. Las Vegas never see many stars. Several had binoculars plus the Ranger had a telescope we could use. With no clouds and very little light pollution, the stars were on full display, very impressive. Back to Sunset, bed. My first day on the road was over.

I am not a good sleeper in my own bed, let alone in the back of my Odyssey. I took my prescribed sleeping pill, but still had difficulty sleeping. I got up with the sun and fired up my stove for my BF. I have oatmeal at home, I will on the road as well. Over to the bathroom to clean the dishes and myself. I drove over to Sunset Point for a morning hike. I chose the Navajo Trail hike. Not that difficult but it gets you down among the hoodoos. The perfect weather brought out plenty of hikers but it was not too bad. I got plenty of decent photos and some good exercise. There was a lady that was using an off-road type of scooter. I talked to her and her husband about using it on the trail even with limited mobility. After getting back to the rim, I drove to the Lodge and left my van there. I was going to use the free shuttle rather than drive to each location and have to find a parking spot. I got off at Ruby's Inn, just outside the park. Bought a sandwich for lunch and just relaxed for awhile. Shuttle back to the Visitors Center for the movie and exhibits. Shuttle to the Lodge, then killed time until the Ranger talk. I had my laptop, so e-mailed, cruised the web and read my book until 8 pm. I had some fruit and then sat in on tonight's talk on historic Bryce. It was OK but not nearly as fun as the night sky lecture yesterday. Drove back to Sunset campground, bed at 10 pm.
I got up at first light and headed out. I had my camera ready as there are plenty of deer in Bryce. I saw a few as I exited the park, got a couple photos and headed for I-70 East. I stopped when I hit Red Canyon in the Dixie National Forest. Some of their landscape is almost as pretty as Bryce. Certainly worth a stop if you have time.
I took a few photos and moved on. I wanted to make it to Colorado National Monument (CNM), just outside Fruita. There is a Visitor Center right next to the Veteran's Memorial Park. I used their restroom, then had lunch at Wendy's next door to the Vet's Park. I then headed uphill to CNM. It is quite a steep climb but you are rewarded with great views once you get to the top. I got in around noon, hit the VC, got maps, info and found a camping spot in Saddlehorn Campground. $10/night for seniors. Just down the road from Saddlehorn is the Window Rock Trail. It is not a difficult hike, but has some nice views of the canyon. Back to the VC for some advice and then decide to drive to the Coke Ovens Trail. This was about an hour hike with plenty of elevation changes. Got some photos and then back to the campground to clean up and fix dinner. I only have eggs or soup, so went with eggs & bread. Not much to do when you are camping in your van, so went to bed when it got dark.
Up with the sun and I headed for Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). I used to ski in Winter Park and knew there was a shorter way to RMNP. I took I-70 East to Wolcott, then 131 North. You can take a dirt road to Kremmling off 131. I used to take this route instead of going over Vail Pass, Eisenhower Tunnel, and Berthoud Pass to get to Winter Park. Several raft companies use this road to access the Colorado River. Rancho Del Rio has camping and river access to rafters. I followed one of their trucks until their turnoff and keep heading for Kremmling. At Granby, I filled up with gas and bought a Subway to eat while driving to RMNP. Great weather in Granby, but got increasingly cloudy as I approached RMNP on Hiway 34. I bought a National Park Passport when I was in Bryce. I should have bought one many years ago when I was hitting the National Parks in the 80s & 90s. I stopped at the Kawuneeche Visitors Center, close to the Grand Lake entrance. I got my stamp, map, headed up Trail Ridge Road. It started to rain as I climbed towards the Continental Divide. I stopped a few times for photos, but did not get much as the rain started to get serious the higher I went. It was a mixture of rain, snow at the top. This is late August! No wonder Trail Ridge Rd. is closed for most of the year. Plan A was to camp close to the Estes Park entrance. Even in the rain, all campgrounds were full. I went into the town of Estes Park to find The Wheel Bar. A friend of mine from Las Vegas moved to Estes Park back in the late 70s to help run the bar. His father owned it and needed help as he got older. I talked to one of the bartenders, but Steve was not there that day. He called his cellphone, but only got voice mail. I left a note telling him I was passing thru, but would be heading East since he was not there.
I stayed on 34 thru the Big Thompson Canyon, on to Greeley, met up I-76 East. I decided to just drive until I got tired. I priced a few motels as I drove thru small towns in Nebraska, but could not find one under $50. I made it to Ogallala, found a Subway shop for dinner, and followed my GPS to the closest Walmart. Almost all Walmart's let RVs, big rigs, vans park overnight without hassling them. I went inside to use their restroom, bought some fruit, then crawled in the back of my van and went to bed around 10 pm. I was up with the sun the next day and headed East. I stopped at Gothenburg to walk thru the Pony Express Station. Chatted with the docent at the station and found out I was not the first person from Vegas to visit that day. That was a surprise. A couple of photos and back on the road.
Grand Island, Lincoln, Omaha, cross the Missouri River and into Iowa. Now I just needed to get in some long days driving to get to Gettysburg. My plan was to camp close to Gettysburg until my Airbnb room in Philadelphia was ready. I stayed at Pine Lake SP outside of Des Moines. $10/night for seniors. Had a hot shower, teeth, bed at 10:30 pm. Up at first light, I got back on I-80 and headed East. Stopped at West Branch for the Herbert Hoover Library and Museum. Paid the fee, got some photos and an hour of walking. One of the problems of driving cross country is getting some exercise. I try to get some walking & stretching in each day, but some days seemed to be mostly getting some serious miles in each day. After the museum, I headed for Indiana. I tried to get an Airbnb room in Indianapolis but could not find anyone online while I was. Got to Indianapolis in the rain and settled for another night at a Walmart parking lot. Up early, on to Dayton Ohio and decided to visit the National Museum of the US Air force. The Air Museum is at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and has its own entrance. I missed the entrance the first time, found it and went in. I spent 3 hours walking the exhibits and taking photos. The museum tells the history of flight from the Wright Brothers to the Space Shuttle. Anyone who likes aviation should try to visit this museum.
Back on I-70, I headed for Wheeling West Virginia. Same routine. Wendy's for dinner and e-mail, then find a Walmart for a quiet night's sleep. The next day I drove into Pennsylvania and got on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. If you are headed for Gettysburg or Philadelphia, the turnpike is really your only choice. I got off on highway 30 and headed for Chambersburg. I stopped for gas, food before driving to Caledonia State Park (CSP). I was going to be camping for 2 nights and needed bananas, eggs, bread. I had checked online and priced camping in the Gettysburg National Military Park area. Private campgrounds were around $40/night so I decided to stay in CSP. $15/nite, no break for seniors. I paid for 2 nights and picked #8. I wanted another night but they were full because of Labor Day. I drove to Gettysburg, Visitor Center (VC) for my stamp, maps, advice. There was a Ranger talk in 10 minutes on medical care during the Civil War. Informative, then another Ranger talk on the overall strategy of both the Union and Confederate armies. After the talks, I walked to the cemetery where President Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address. Saw there was another Ranger talk on the battle for Cemetery Ridge, got some photos and several hours of walking in. I hit Wendy's for dinner and wifi before driving back to CSP and bed. They have hot showers and hit those before turning in.
Up with the sun, fix my oatmeal, dishes, clean up and head back to Gettysburg. I went with the Ranger for the Cemetery Ridge walk. Photos, then back to VC. I signed up for the President Eisenhower Farm Tour, $15. Tour of his house and farm. Shuttle bus back to VC, then I drove to the Confederate Ave. The vast majority of the monuments at Gettysburg are Union. Well, after all the Union did win the battle and the war. The winners get to put up monuments and memorials. But there is a road dedicated to the Confederate side of the battle.
Photos and then I found a picnic area to stretch, read kill time before going to Wendy's for dinner and wifi. I tried to get online most days to e-mail friends, my nephew. Drove back to CSP, shower, bed. Up with the sun, fix my oatmeal, back to Gettysburg. I went on the Lincoln's Gettysburg Address tour. I did not want another day of walking the monuments so I decided to drive to Antietam Battlefield. I got off the road when I saw a Visitors Welcome Center to Maryland. The guy recommended I stop at Monocacy National Battlesite. It was worth maybe 30 minutes, then on to Antietam. Into the VC, got my stamp, short film on the battle and a Ranger talk on what happened and what to see. After Gettysburg, Antietam is a very poor second place. Got a few photos, drove back to CSP. I did not have a camp spot, but knew I could use their showers easy enough. Drive in like you belong, stop in the parking lot by the showers. Nobody checks and I was on my way in 20 minutes. Back to Wendy's for dinner and then hit the Walmart next to it for bed.
I could not check-in to my Airbnb room in Philly until noon. I saw that the Harrisburg, Capitol of Pennsylvania was on the way to Philly and decided to go that way. I stopped at the Capitol but it was early Sunday morning. Nothing open, but took some photos as I walked around the building. Got on I-76, the Penn. Turnpike and headed for Philly. I saw that Valley Forge Historical Park was close. Got off and followed the signs. It was the Sunday before Labor day and the place was packed. With the crowds, I had to use the overflow parking lot. Hike over to the VC. got my stamp, map and headed out to see what I could of Valley Forge. There was a Ranger giving a talk about the winter the Continental Army spent at Valley Forge but lost interest and walked away. I walked over to the replica huts that are on display. Each hut housed 12 soldiers and were constructed by the men that would live in them. I wanted to spend more time at Valley Forge, but it was hot, crowded and I wanted to check into my room as close to noon as possible.
I headed for Philly and my Airbnb room for the next 2 days. I used my GPS to find his address. Thank goodness. Without GPS it would have been much more difficult because of all the one-way streets. I got lucky and parked my van almost right in front of Pat's Airbnb place. Checked in and unpacked. I talked to Pat about getting down to the historic section of Philly. It was very easy. Take the blue line train to the historic section and walk to the huge VC. Plenty of maps, advice on what to see. I walked to several of the major sightseeing attractions, photos then train back to my room. I was pretty tired and just fixed my eggs. toast, shower, read and hit the bed. I was up at 6am, did my stretching, sit-ups, fixed my oatmeal, toast and got ready for a full day of sightseeing. I bought a ticket for National Constitution Center, film, exhibits and the statues of all the signers of the Constitution. The US Mint, Ben Franklin's Grave, Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Betsy Ross's house, and historic Elfret's Alley. Just had snacks all day so was pretty hungry when I got back to Pat's place. Eggs, toast, shower, some TV downstairs with Pat, bed. I did my stretching, sit-ups, clean-up, my oatmeal, toast, got ready to leave. I hung around for 30 minutes waiting for Pat to appear. He did not so I headed for NYC.

I programmed my GPS for the Airbnb in Queens where I would be staying 3 nights. Pay the bridge toll and GPS took me right to Rockaway Blvd. Called Amy, the lady renting her rooms. She came out and moved her van so I could park right in front of her house. Got settled in and asked her how to get to Manhattan. She drew on a map how to get to the train, when to get off. Had a PBJ sand, got my backpack ready and walked to the Green Line. I bought a $10 fare card that should be enough for my trips back/forth to Manhattan. I got off at and decided to walk the Brooklyn Bridge. Light rain, but not bad. Some photos and started chatting with the bus guys selling their hop on, hop off tours. I picked Grayline Tours as they had the best 2 day deal. $54 that included a boat tour of the harbor. One World Trade is an easy walk from the tour bus spot and decided to take a look. I took a few photos but did not get much due to the weather. I saw that my subway station was right there so I headed back to Queens. Back to my room, fixed eggs, toast, shower, chat with Amy and her husband Eddie. I tried to watch TV but they don't have cable or satellite, so came in enough to watch. Read my book, bed. I walked to Cresent station, into Manhattan, found the bus and started my day. We went by the bull outside of Wall St. then down to the harbor for the boat trip around the Statue of Liberty. I had to wait about 30 minutes but just had a snack and watched the boats. We had nice weather and got some good photos of Lady Liberty, Ellis Island and the skyline of NYC from the water. The tour boat came up the Hudson River and the pilot told us about the day 'the miracle on the Hudson' happened. He was piloting his tour boat that day and rushed to help the passengers. As did many other boats that were closeby. You get a nice view of the New Jersey skyline as well as New York's as they approach the docking area. The docks are not too far from the USS Intrepid. It was $30 to tour the ship, a bit steep but since I was there I got in line. Except there was no line. It was closed for a political event. The First lady was going to speak and so it was closed for several hours. Got back on the tour bus to Times Square. Then transferred to the one going to Central Park. The stop is next to the
Dakota Building and I walked over. A tour guide was telling his group about the building and the day John Lennon was killed. According to the guide, Yoko Lennon still lives in the Dakota as do many other famous people. Anyone that does live there has to have a substantial bank account. There is no cheap place to rent or buy next to Central Park. I got as many photos of the park and surrounding buildings as I could, but did not see hardly any of Central Park. You would literally need days of walking to cover it all. I cut thru the park as I needed to get to the East side to get back on the tour bus., Next stop was Chinatown and got off there. I walked a few blocks but did not see much worth a photo. I guess I was on the wrong street. Walking back towards the bus pick up area, I saw a subway entrance. Found the one back to Queens and headed back to Cresent Station, A short walk and I was back at Amy's place. She was upstairs with Eddie and we chatted about my day. Fixed my eggs and toast for dinner, then a quick shower before bed. There is a TV in the room but coulod not get anything to come in clear enough to watch. Up early the next, BF and get ready for another day in NYC. Subway to Manhattan then walked to One World Trade Center, It is $35 for seniors to go to the top, but paid it as it is probably a once in a lifetime event. Great views from the top and good weather. I took plenty of photos and then down to the footprint of the North & South Twin Towers. All along the edge are the names of those who died that day. I then walked the Brooklyn Bridge again. I had much better weather today than a few days ago. Hopped on the tour bus to Times Square. Then bus to the Museum of Natural History, $17. I walked as much as I could, but could not see everything in the time I had. Up to Harlem, got off the visit the St. John the Devine Cathedral. St. It is the largest gothic cathedral in the world. There is a suggested $10 donation to enter. I took some photos inside and then a few of the 11 acre 'close' outside. I got back on the bus and rode back to Times Square, There was a subway at Times Square and figured out how to get back to Queens. It had been a full day and I was tired of walking. Once back to Amy's, I had my eggs, toast, then shower and bed. I got up early, had my BF and started packing to leave. I said goodbye to Amy, programmed my navigation system and headed for Mass.

I was heading for Gardner where my friend Steve runs Standard Chair of Gardner. I was good friends with Richard, his uncle who ran Standard Chair with Steve's father Mel for many years. Richard had died in April at age 82. We talked on the phone about my Iceland trip and Steve said I could stay with him and leave my van at his house in Leominster Mass. I had been to Gardner many times to visit Richard over the years and knew where Walmart, Dollar Stores were. I wanted to hit the office at 4pm to chat with the office ladies I knew. I got to see Linda, Donna, Joy, Wendy before they got off at 5pm. We talked about the sudden death of Richard and how the office was running w/o him. He had been a fixture for over 30 years running Standard Chair so it was a big blow to everyone when he got ill and died. More than a few tears were shed recounting his life. Steve had me follow him to Leominster and his house. His wife was away for the weekend so it worked out perfect. I spent Sat. with Steve, we got in a workout at his fitness center, movie, pizza and then Sunday was time to fly to Iceland.

Posted by vegasmike6 21:50 Archived in USA Tagged parks Comments (0)

7,000 Mile Road Trip Plus Iceland, Part 4

South Dakota. Missile tour, Prairie Homestead, Badlands NP, Jewel Cave NP, Crazy Horse Memorial, Mt. Rushmore NM.

sunny 70 °F

I got up with the sun and retraced my way back to I-90. The police tapped on my window at 2am, just checking on me they said. The lady at the campground warned me that they would. Crossed the Missouri River and stopped at the first rest stop for bathroom, clean up and reload my water bottle. I saw a sign for the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site and decided to stop. It is just off I-90 and worth your time IMO. It was 8:30am and I walked up to the Ranger standing outside and listened to his information. They would open the doors at 9am and offered tours every half hour. I was in the first 6 and was given a ticket for the 10am tour. That gives everyone a chance to watch the movie on the cold war, then tour the exhibits. You have to drive to the Delta 01 Launch Control Facility to start the tour. I drove over to Delta 01 and joined my group. Jim, our guide actually worked at a launch control facility while in the Air Force then came out of retirement to to give these tours. His photo is on the wall and several on the tour recognized his name when he introduced himself to us. We walk inside the facility, take the elevator down to the launch control area. Now we know why only 6 are allowed each tour. The elevator only holds 7 adults. We learn about life underground for the airmen that control the missiles. It was very cramped quarters but I popped off a few shots for my blog. We were very fortunate to have such an expert on the Minuteman Missile and the launch procedures. The ranger at the desk told us how lucky we were to be taking the tour today. The summer crowds were gone, the weather was perfect and the free tours would end soon. I looked it up and he was right. You now have to book your tour online, $6.
30 minutes later we were back on top and I headed down 240 for Badlands NP (BNP). I stop at the Prairie Homestead Visitor Center to see if it is worth my time & money. I decided I don't want to spend the $7 to walk around old buildings. There is a real 1909 sod house on display but I am content to just use my zoom and get a few shots.
Down the road to BNP, I stop at the VC for my stamp, map, exhibits then take 240 back towards I-90. I got some decent photos of the erosion that makes BNP noteworthy. On my way out of the park, I see a line of cars pulled over. This usually means animals are in camera range. There is a prairie dog town close to the road so I pull over as well. I try to get something worthwhile, but really needed a bigger zoom than I have, Five minutes later I am back heading for I-90. I did not allow much time for BNP as I had been there many years ago and would not be taking any of the hikes. Just get some photos and move on.
240 joins I-90 at Wall so I stop for gas, food. There must be hundreds of signs for Wall Drug as you travel thru South Dakota. They claim they spend $400,000 and their signs every year. Ted Hustead started it all 1931 by offering free ice water to all that would stop at his store. The road to Mt. Rushmore brought thousands of travelers thru Wall and he never looked back. Now there are signs all over the world declaring how far they are from Wall Drug. My GPS takes me right to the place. The huge parking lots are a clue they get plenty of visitors daily. RVs and big rigs have their own parking lot. I go inside to see what all the fuss is about. I had not had anything to eat but pop tarts and granola bars so far, so I head for the restaurant area. The prices are a bit steep but the line is what deters me. There must have been 30 people in line before me. No thanks. Wall Drug is huge and packed with tourists. It looks like they have taken over several stores over the years and just kept getting bigger. You walk from room to room, each one full of kitschy stuff. Anything you want with Wall Drug on it, they have it. Plus souvenirs with the theme of Indians, buffalo, South Dakota stuff and everything else you could possibly want. I don't need any more souvenirs so I am in/out in 15 minutes. I found a gas station that also had a Subway sandwich shop attached. Paid for both gas and veggie sub and headed for Rapid City.
I ate while driving and in less than an hour was in Rapid City. I follow the signs to the Information Center and get some maps and advice. I told the lady my plans to camp in Wind Cave NP (WCNP) until the Buffalo Roundup. She calls them for me and tells me they still have spots available. Her advice was to take 79 South to Hot Springs. A quick look at the map and you realize that you are going too far south and have to go back north to WCNP. She tells me that going thru Custer State Park (CSP) and taking 87 South is very slow going and time consuming. I believe her and get rolling. I set my GPS and cruise control and set off for Hot Springs. I cruise the town looking for grocery stores, restaurants, motels. I see one motel that looks affordable and stop to chat with the guy at the desk. Rates are not too bad until the day before the Buffalo Roundup, then it jumps to $100+. He tells me there are only a few places open for dinner now. I stop at the China Buffet to get prices. She tells me it is $10 for the dinner buffet and they have a TV. I told her I would be back for food and Monday Night Football. A quick stop at the store for bananas, bread & water. WCNP turns off the water today in the campground and the rates are cut in half. I figured I would need a few gallons over the next 4 days. I then head up 385 to WCNP. I stop at the Visitors Center (VC) to verify they still have empty slots and the price has been reduced. Over to the campground, find a spot and pull in. Most NP campgrounds are so big that you drive in, find a campsite, mark it and then drive back to the entrance to reserve and pay. This campground is small enough that I just walk back to pay. I got 4 nights for $18 because I am a senior and the water was shut off today. I meet a Chinese girl that is at the pay station at the same time. We chat a bit and she tells me her name is Hanling, now living in Kentucky. I botched pronouncing her name and asked if 'Hailey' was OK. I think this has happened to her before. Many Americans probably mispronounce it first few times they try. Hanling was gracious enough to let me slide by with Hailey. I told Hanling my plans asked if she would like to have Chinese food in Hot Springs. I was pleasantly surprised when she said yes. We agreed to roll in about an hour. She had to set up her tent, and I wanted to take a sponge bath plus get my van ready for sleeping. I drove back to Hot Springs, parked and we went into the China Buffet. The lady running the place recognized me from earlier, greets us and seated us in a booth. One of the things I like about buffets is that once your drink order is in, you can help yourself. We both picked what we wanted were eating in minutes. I found out Hanling had been born in China but now living & working in the US. With a PhD in Engineering, she had landed a job in Kentucky at a consulting firm. I was impressed. My years at UNLV in Education could not stand up to a PhD! After eating, we went into the banquet room where the TV was located. After an hour of football I drove back to WCNP. Said goodnight to Hanling and hit the sack. I was up at first light and got my oatmeal going. I said goodbye to Hanling as she was heading to North Dakota and Teddy Roosevelt NP. After BF, I cleaned up and decided to tour Jewel Cave NM. Up to Custer then on 16 West. Parked, got my jacket and camera then headed for the cave tour booth. Jewel Cave is a constant 49f (9c) so you will need a light jacket. I paid my $6 for the cave tour and went into the VC. Got the stamp for my NP passport and waited for my tour to be called. Elevator down to the cave and follow our guide thru the cave. Jewel Cave is huge, 3rd longest in the world and not all of it has been explored yet. It was discovered by two local prospectors in 1900. They felt cold air blowing out and decided to explore what they could. Teddy Roosevelt designated Jewel Cave a National Monument in 1908. It was named Jewel Cave because the calcite crystals inside the cave resemble jewels when the light hits them. We listen to our tour guide tell us about what we are seeing. Cave photos are tricky but took what I could. They warn you when you book the tour how many stairs there are. They are not kidding. Anyone with mobility issues simply could not do this tour. About an hour later the tour was over and we took the elevator up and out. They do have 2 hiking trails at Jewel Cave, but 90% of the park was burned by wildfires in 2000. It will be decades before it looks anything like it did before the fires.
I looked at my map and decided to visit Crazy Horse next. I stopped to take a few photos of the burned area then on to Custer. Up 385 North a short distance is entrance to the Crazy Horse Memorial, I pay the $11, and into the building They have built a new visitors center since I was last here about 15 years ago. Take in the movie, the indoor exhibits then outside. There are plenty of Chinese tourists here all getting photos of the huge sculpture of Crazy Horse off in the distance. It is so big you could put all the President's heads at Rushmore on just the head of Crazy Horse. Those working on it admit they will not live long enough to see it finished. It is financed by entrance fees, no tax dollars used here. This is my third time here and doubt I will come back. Not that much progress in last 15 years that I can see. A few have speculated that it will never be finished. What is certain is that all of us here today won't be around if and when it is finished. I asked a few visitors to take a photo of me with both the model of the sculpture and real thing off in the distance. After about 30 minutes out on the plaza, I decided I had seen enough. I went back to my van to switch into shorts. It had warmed up considerably since this morning. It was another perfect day in SD. Sunny, warm, light wind.
As I walked to my van, I saw Hanling's car parked 2 over from mine. I recognized it and then checked the license plates to be sure. I changed and then fixed a PB&J sand plus an apple for lunch. I wanted to see her again so decided to wait until she was through touring the Crazy Horse Memorial. I greeted her when she got to her car and found out she had been over to Jewel Cave as well. I was a tour behind hers and then we both headed for Crazy Horse. She was going to visit Mt. Rushmore next and so was I. I followed her over to Rushmore and realized we made a mistake. Last time I was here they did not charge for parking. Now they do, $11 per vehicle. We could of left one car at Keystone and saved $11. Too late now. We each paid $11 to park and walked beneath The Avenue of the Flags. At the top of the amphitheater you have the best view of the President's heads. We both got our photos and then decided to walk the President's Trail. You get some interesting views of the heads as you walk the trail. Certainly worth doing if you are mobile enough to climb some stairs. There are a few exhibits at the end plus a small gift shop. I bought a Mt. Rushmore bag and we headed for the parking lot.
Hanling had booked a motel in Rapid City so I followed her there. I needed a Walmart for a folding chair for the Roundup. I left mine in Vegas and would need one in a few days. All of us viewing the Roundup will have hours to wait before they drive the buffalo past the viewing area. I bought some bananas, apples plus the chair and I was done shopping. Hanling found a Pizza Hut on her phone that was not too far from her motel. I put the address into my GPS and we would meet there in a few hours. I went to a Wendy's to use their wifi then read until time to meet. I used my GPS to find the Pizza Hut and got a surprise. It was for take-out only and not a real restaurant. I called her and said we needed to find a different pizza place. The problem was that my GPS is 10 years old and the pizza place close to her motel was not in my GPS. The street was not on my GPS either. Hanling was kind enough to drive to the Pizza Hut so I could follow her to the Pizza Ranch. The Pizza Ranch turned out to be a great choice. It is a buffet style with salads, soup, bread sticks, and dessert plus pizza. All for $11, a bargain IMO. I gave it a good review on TripAdvisor. We had a great meal and I had a good dinner companion. I got to know more about Hanling, her job and life in Kentucky. All too soon it was time to say goodbye, again. She could not stay for the Roundup and needed to head for Teddy Roosevelt NP. I had basically the same itinerary, but she would be 2-3 days ahead of me. She had noticed one of my headlights was out. I used my bright lights as much as possible on the drive back to WCNP rather than drive with 1 headlight. I set my GPS for WCNP but made a poor decision. I should have gone thru Hot Springs again but followed my GPS instead. It took me thru CSP instead. The lady at the Information Center was right. 16A & 87 has too many curves and slow speeds to make decent time to WCNP. That route may be shorter mileage wise, but not time-wise. I got back to my camping site about 10pm and turned in. What a great day. The weather was perfect, toured Jewel Cave, Crazy Horse, Mt. Rushmore plus had dinner with Hanling again. Hopefully we can stay in touch meet again one day.

Posted by vegasmike6 19:51 Archived in USA Tagged parks Comments (0)

7,000 Mile Road Trip Plus Iceland, Part 5

Deadwood, Chainsaw art, Mt. Rushmore,Wind Cave tour, Custer State Park

sunny 70 °F

I was up with the sun and fixed my oatmeal. I decided to visit Deadwood, Sturgis and then Mt. Rushmore at night. I knew they had an evening program and since I would be close, it made sense to hit that on the way back to Wind Cave campground. Drove to Custer, then on to Deadwood. The leaves were just starting to turn color at this elevation and stopped to take a few photos. I just blundered my way around downtown Deadwood until I found the Visitor Center. I had to pay to park but it was only a quarter for 30 minutes. There is free parking in Deadwood, but not in the historic section. I got my maps and headed out. I wanted to visit their library to check my e-mail then started walking historic Main St. I found the saloon where Wild Bill Hickok was killed and looked at the exhibits. The saloon recreates the killing of Wild Bill several times at day but the next performance was hours away. Main St. is full of souvenir shops and all were running sales because the summer was over. I bought a Sturgis hat for my nephew and a few Deadwood coins for myself. Next up was Mt. Moriah Cemetery, the 'Boot Hill' for Deadwood. This is the final resting place for Wild Bill Hickok and many others. Deadwood has plenty of tourists because Wild Bill got killed here. The TV series 'Deadwood' helped as well. I doubt they would have had as much success if Wild Bill had been killed in nearby Lead (rhymes with heed).
I had asked at the VC about a laundry and auto parts store. I was told both were over in Lead, only 5 miles away. I did a load of laundry, my first since leaving Steve's house in Mass. Read my book while waiting and had a PB&J sand, apple, banana for lunch. I found the auto parts store, paid for a new headlight and ask who could put it in for me. The counter guy said he could and within 5 minutes he had it in. I gave him $5 and headed for Sturgis. It was on the way but a waste of time IMO. It is a special place during motorcycle week, but just a regular town the rest of the year. Drove to Keystone and got out to get some photos of the wood carvings for sale. Jarrett Dahl does chainsaw art while you watch. Worth a stop IMO. It is just outside Keystone on your way up the hill to Rushmore. I showed my parking pass at the entrance to the parking garage (good for 1 year) and walked to the amphitheater for the evening program. It is impressive, worth doing, once. I doubt I will make the effort again. A Park Ranger introduces a film explaining how Gutzon Borglum and 400 workers carved the president's faces between 1934-1941. Then she asked all veterans to come onstage to be recognized. It was impressive how many vets were in attendance that night. I got a few photos of the veterans on stage, the four presidents and then drove back to Custer, 385 to WCNP, bed about 10pm.
I got up with the sun, had my BF, and over to the Visitor Center (VC). There is no water in the campground and I used their bathroom to clean up. I signed up for the first cave tour and waited for my start time. Wind Cave was known to the Lakota Sioux who spoke of a hole that blew air. The first recorded discovery was in 1881 by Tom & Jesse Bingham. It is recorded that Tom Bingham's hat blew off his head the first time he looked into the opening, the second time his hat was sucked into the cave and never found. We walked behind the VC to the natural opening to Wind Cave. The elevator is next to the natural opening and we all go down to start the tour. It was a decent tour, but if you only have time for one cave tour, I would recommend Jewel Cave NP. It just has better cave features than WC. Back on top, I decide to spend the day in Custer State Park. I want to find out where to park and the best way to view the Roundup.
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On my way to CSP, I stopped at the Wind Cave sign on highway 87. Several bison were using the corner of the sign to scratch themselves. Got some good snaps and moved on. At the West entrance, I paid the $20 fee and took the Wildlife Loop Rd to the buffalo corrals. I saw a sign for prairie dogs and took the dirt road to have a look. Got a few snaps and moved on. Plenty of deer, elk, antelope and bison were out this morning. Burros were wondering around the loop road and most cars slowed or stopped to get a photo. I took a few from my van and moved on.
They have erected large tents close to the corrals and I pull in with many other vehicles. CSP rangers are giving advice on the Roundup, parking, pancake BF, etc. I saw some buffalo were being herded this morning. I joined many others in getting some photos of what was going on. We could hear the crack of the whips the cowboys were using to herd the buffalo to the corrals. I was told that they were getting a few dozen in the corrals today. After they had that group of buffalo in the corrals, I drove to the CSP Visitor Center.
This VC is newer and nicer than most National Park VC. They have a film on CSP narrated by Kevin Costner. It is very well done and highlights the park, bison and has a section on Sylvan Lake. After the film, I stopped at the Game Lodge, but they were closing early because of the Roundup tomorrow. I wanted to check my e-mails but would have to go to Custer for that. I went to the Custer library and logged on. After e-mailing and checking the weather for Glacier & Yellowstone, I decided to visit Sylvan Lake. Took 89 North to Sylvan Lake and walked about halfway around the lake. It really is a pretty lake with huge granite boulders in and around the shoreline. It was time to head back and I took 87 South. This section is really slow going as the road twists and turn continuously all the way back to Wind Cave. You go thru the Needles Eye Tunnel. This is a very narrow, 1 car at a time tunnel. RVs and large trucks simply won't make it thru the Needles Eye. I get out to take a few snaps of the tunnel and of the Black Hills. 87 It is very slow going but very scenic as well.
It took over an hour to get back to the campground and it was starting to get dark. I had decided I was going to go back to the China Buffet in Hot Springs rather than fix eggs and go to bed at 8pm. As I was getting ready to leave, the sky lit up in a beautiful sunset. After the show was over I drove back to Hot Springs. The lady there ask where Hanling was and I told her she had moved on to Yellowstone NP. After eating, I watched Thursday Night Football until they closed at 10pm. I missed having Hanling there to socialize with. Eating alone just is not much fun. Back to the campground and time for bed.

Posted by vegasmike6 19:07 Archived in USA Tagged parks Comments (0)

7,000 Mile Road Trip Plus Iceland, Part 6

Buffalo Round-Up, Devil's Tower, Yellowstone NP, Grand Tetons NP

overcast 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

Posted by vegasmike6 18:48 Archived in USA Tagged parks Comments (0)

SW Winter Trip: Day 2

Arches NP, Monument Valley, Flagstaff

sunny 20 °F

Both Chris and I are terrible sleepers, so we were up at 6:30am. We headed for the BF room next to the front desk. They had waffles, oatmeal, cold cereal, toast, donuts plus hot/cold beverages. I chose oatmeal, waffles, hot chocolate. Chris went with the waffles, yogurt, coffee. After BF, we cleaned up and were on the road back to Arches by 7:30am. We drove straight to the Landscape Arch trail-head and got ready. It was really cold, 4 F (-15 C) according to my car. We both had good parkas and I had gloves, but my ears were taking a beating. I pulled the collar up as far as possible and started hiking. I had a cortisone shot for my knee right before Christmas, so my knee was not hurting like it has been for many years. When we got into the sunny part of the trail, it got better. Still cold, but at least we were in the sunlight. Landscape Arch is probably the best known arch in the park. There were only 4 others on the trail at 8am so we felt we had the place to ourselves. We got our shots and started back.
There are 2 other arches on the way back. We never did hike over to them in the summer, so we got off the main trail for Pine Tree Arch. Nothing special but worth a 10 minute detour. Same with Tunnel Arch. A few shots and we headed for the car. It was good to get out of the cold and warm up after about an hour of walking. We stopped at Skyline Arch for a few shots and then on to Sand Dune Arch. It is a narrow canyon and not sure it is worth the effort. You can walk under it very easily and it is probably the lowest arch we saw. We agreed that we had enough photos of Arches and we headed for the Visitors Center.
We passed on it yesterday and both of us needed the restroom. We did not go into the VC this summer, so it was worth some time to walk through it. Nice gift shop, small museum, Ranger Desk. 10 minutes and we were ready to hit the road again.
We headed back to Moab, loaded the car with gas and headed for Monument Valley. We stopped at Wilson Arch on 191, about 40 minutes South of Moab. Got out to stretch and pop a few photos. The snow makes it more interesting than our summer photos. We hit Monument Valley around 2:30pm, paid the $10 entrance fee and headed down the loop. The road is dirt, but is in decent enough shape to take my Avalon over it. Just go slow and you won't have any problems. At least in winter. Maybe after a rain it might make sense to take the tour. Not the day we were there. However, we were disappointed how little snow was left. It had been 3 days since it snowed and most of it was gone by the time we got there. We spent about an hour, stopped for a few shots and headed out. We did stop at the MV Visitors Center for a bathroom break and tour the gift shop. I decided to help the Navaho's out and bought a travel coffee cup, $10. I will use it for hot chocolate in the room tonight.
We left MV and started driving for Flagstaff. Unfortunately we were heading almost due West on 160, driving straight into the setting sun. It was a real chore to see the road. The sun was below the sun visor and I was using my hand to block it. Not fun I can tell you. Finally 160 turned enough South that the setting sun was not a problem anymore. We hit Flagstaff about 6pm and were ready to eat. Chris voted no on Denny's so we picked Pizza Hut. Large pizza plus salad bar was $8 each. Chris went to Univ. of Oregon and they were playing in the Fiesta Bowl against K-State. We watched the game while we ate and just relaxed after a pretty long day of driving. Oregon crushed K-State, so Chris was happy. Next up was to find a room. There were several motels around the Pizza Hut, but all were close to $100. I thought we could do better than that so we kept driving on 160. We saw the Luxury Motel stopped to priced it. They did not have many guests so the lady was willing to bargain. She quoted us $50 with an AARP card. The room was not nearly as nice as the Super 8, but good enough. It had wi fi so Chris was happy. He spent the next couple of hours editing that days photos. I showered, watched some TV, read my book and called it a night at 10:30pm. Day 2 of our winter adventure was over.

Posted by vegasmike6 19:38 Archived in USA Tagged parks Comments (0)

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