Tag Archives: MT

Four Foto Friday – Black Hills and Beyond

As you may have heard, we’re trying to “Live Below the Line” this week. This is a challenge to raise money and awareness to fight global hunger, and we set out to eat on just $1.50 each per day. We’ll plan to write more this coming week on how it all went (spoiler alert: we survived!).

Despite limited food rations and lower than normal energy levels, we also managed to complete one of our most active weeks thus far! Turns out, this corner of the US has many great attractions and, with several days of sunny weather, we were able to pack in a lot.

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Owen amongst the boulders of Devil’s Tower, WY.

Montana and Wyoming: OK, I spoke too soon about the nice weather. Last weekend was pretty cold and rainy as we headed east on Route 90. Sunday found us passing over rolling hills of the high prairie with strong winds and freezing rain. We opted to make an unexpected stop in the town of Gillette and wait for better driving conditions. Despite the slowdown, we still managed to salvage the long drive with stops at the Little Bighorn Battlefield (site of “Custer’s last stand”) and Devil’s Tower National Monument. Both marked our entrance into Plains Indian territory, and it was interesting to learn the significance of these two sites to the local Sioux. A good perspective as we entered their most sacred region, the Black Hills.

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Cubs at Bear Country, USA.

Rapid City, SD: Our first full day in Rapid was a slow but enjoyable one. We explored the downtown area and discovered a really cool store called Prairie Edge, which was filled with Native American artwork, a fine arts gallery, and an extensive collection of western books and music. In the afternoon, we went to Bear Country USA, a drive-through game park that featured over 100 black bears. Normally, we try to avoid such touristy stuff, but this one was surprisingly well done. We had a great time passing through the bear pens, which also contained wolves, buffalo, big horn sheep, and many other large mammals. The highlight, however, was in the walk-through area (more like a zoo) which had a number of new bear cubs that were born this spring. We loved watching these little guys wrestle and play (not unlike a couple of active young boys we know!).

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Our American Family

The Black Hills: On Wednesday, we drove into the heart of the Black Hills with our first destination: Mount Rushmore. This seemed like an obligatory stop for our trip, but we all left highly impressed by the artistry and craftsmanship behind this audacious project. The visitor center did a great job of showing just went into creating the monument, and the spectacular viewpoints gave us many opportunities to appreciate both the sculpture and its natural setting. From Rushmore, we passed by the Crazy Horse Memorial (still in the making) and on to the National Museum of Woodcarving in the town of Custer. Owen, especially, loved visiting this place and seeing the many fine pieces of carved wood. This definitely reignited his interest in woodcarving and gave him a few more ideas for his own projects. To cap off the day, we drove back to the RV park via Wildlife Loop Drive in Custer State Park. This scenic drive through prairie lands featured many animals (buffalo, elk, pronghorn, deer, etc) as well as newly born baby buffalo, which were super cute to see.

On Thursday, we returned to the Black Hills to visit the Old West mining towns of Deadwood and Lead. Deadwood’s wild past (think outlaws, saloons, brothels, and gunfights) has largely been replaced by a modern casinos and staged performances for summer tourists. We found, however, an authentic historic record of the town in the Adams Museum. Nearby, we also visited the town of Lead, home to the largest gold mine in the western hemisphere (Homestake Mine). The good folks at Black Hills Mining Museum gave us a great tour and we left with a much better understanding of the South Dakota gold rush and the history of mining in this area.

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Climbing around the Badlands.

Badlands and Minuteman: Today, we traveled east of Rapid City and found two very different national parks. First was the Badlands, whose landscape was desolate, but beautiful. We only had a few hours here, but enough time to hike over and the through the otherworldly formations. Nearby, we also visited the Minuteman Missile Historic Site. This included a very interesting tour of the underground control station (given by a man who had actually worked at the site) as well as a look into a defunct nuclear missile silo that is inconspicuously surrounded by acres of grassland. This experience gave us a good opportunity to share with the boys what it was like to grow up during the Cold War and the nuclear age. Both both parks were interesting sites that we all enjoyed.

One last pit stop for the day was Wall Drug. Like South of the Border in the Carolinas, this store’s billboards stretch out for hundreds of miles in both directions. We appreciated the 5 cent coffee (which fit into by “Live Below the Line” budget) and the boys picked up some fudge that they’ll be able to eat tomorrow. Wall Drug is a great story a great story of persistence, luck, and the entrepreneurial spirit.

Looking ahead, our plan for this weekend is to make some progress across the plains and make it to Chicago by the middle of next week. We’re still on target for a return to CT on March 20, but have the Great Lakes and upstate New York still to come. Thanks for following along!

Four Foto Friday – Hot Springs, Ghost Towns, and More!

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Hanging out at the hot springs.

Lava Hot Springs, Idaho: Last weekend, we met my parent’s friends (the Meier-McKenna family) at a KOA campground. We were in our RV and they were in a cabin. On Saturday we went to a amazing indoor and outdoor pool. When we drove up we saw the outdoor pool and it was huge. They had a water slide that went over the sign and a gigantic pool, but the outdoor part was closed because it was too cold. When we went inside they had a heated pool. The pool was big and it had a diving board and a climbing wall. I think that the climbing wall was the best because I could climb to the top and then fall and not get very hurt. After that we drove a few miles to the hot springs. They had different parts where the heat was hotter or cooler than the last one, but they were all hot. The hot springs were very relaxing but we needed to drink lots of water to stay hydrated. The food that we had at the campsite was really good. We had tacos and grilled steak that were great. We also built a fire that was really warm and it was just right to roast marshmallows. We had a great time hanging out with our friends.

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Old mining equipment.

Bannock State Park, Montana: Bannock was a old mining city in the 1860’s that got turned into a ghost town. The people who used to live here were mostly miners that mined gold. The gold there was 99.5% pure and that is more pure than most gold and that is why they settled so far away from other places. I think the ghost town feels and looks like a real town that was left after people moved. The state park wants it to feel like the people left and every thing hasn’t fallen down yet. The hotel is huge and the rooms look like they would’ve been big and nice. The state park did not put replicas of furniture and other stuff so I had to imagine how other people would’ve lived. The mining equipment was really cool because I got to pick them up and play around with the carts. There was an old truck that was really interesting because I could see the engine and the other gears.

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Bison pooping.

Yellowstone National Park – wildlife: We spent the rest of our week at Yellowstone where we saw tons of wildlife like bison, bighorn sheep, elk, pronghorn, and mule deer. The bison were huge and there were tons of them. On the road we got stuck because a herd of bison was walking and there was no way to get past them but finally after about 30 minutes they gave us just enough room to pass them. We saw a bighorn sheep on the side of a hill and I thought that it would feel horrible to have those heavy horns on my head. The elk that we saw were very scruffy and they had weird looking butts. We saw birds too and the coolest birds were a bald eagle, ospreys, and ravens. The ravens might not seem cool but they are huge and they look really cool when they fly. One of the ospreys that we saw was in a nest with a baby tucked under its wing.

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One of the geysers that we saw.

Yellowstone landscape: At Yellowstone the geysers were really cool. Two geysers that we saw erupt were really cool because they went really high and the went for a long amount of time. The big pools were amazing because of the colour. The colours were really bright and there were so many all in one pool. My favorite colour is the emerald green. Yellowstone also had a Grand Canyon that was really amazing and the waterfalls were over 300 feet high. I threw chunks of ice off of were we stood and they floated down (even the big heavy pieces). At the geysers, the smell from the steam was gross because it was warm and it smelled like rotten eggs. The way I blocked off the smell was by using pine needles to block the bad smell with a good one. The mud pots were places that hot water mixed with soil and made mud that bubbles and looks pretty weird. I think that Yellowstone is so far the best national park we have been to because of all the wildlife and the unique landscape.