Monday, July 29, 2013

7/27 Keyhole State Park to Cody, WY

This was a very long drive--315 miles.  I try to limit my driving to no more than 200 miles per day, preferably even less, because it is so exhausting to drive a big vehicle.  Unlike driving a car, you have to keep both hands on the wheel and are constantly correcting your steering because winds and other vehicles affect how well your vehicle stays in a straight line.  In addition, I am always aware of other vehicles piling up behind me, so I take opportunities to pull over as often as possible to let them go past.

This was an exceptionally interesting drive because the scenery changed so much.  The trip started out through high plains and then mountains appeared in the distance.

After driving over the Powder River Pass at 9,600 feet. 

Then, the road dropped down a very long grade through a couple of switchbacks through a narrow canyon with sharp cliffs on each side.

And then, the mountains were left behind, and I drove through this weird area of desert hills. It looks very different from the plains back 200 miles.

Eventually, the land got smoother, and it looked more like the plains.

Finally, I made it to Cody, and drove through the town to the reservoir and state park. Really beautiful place to camp!


Friday, July 26, 2013

7/25 Devil's Tower National Monument

For me, this was one of the "Wow" things I have seen.  You first see it and say, "Wow"!

And when you get up close, it's still a "Wow."

They really need a shuttle here.  The area at the base of the tower is really small, so there is only one small parking lot for cars and RVs must park along the exit road.  You can see that there is only room for about 7-8 small to medium-sized RVs.  They do have a drop-off place at the bottom, so you can leave a towed vehicle or a trailer down there, and they require that based on your total for longer and bigger vehicles.  It took me two four-mile round trips before someone left, and I found a place to park.  Whew!

There are a lot of rocks at the base of the tower.  Some kids and a very few adults were clambering up these, but are very hard to see. Some of the rocks are bigger than cars or even houses.

There is a 1.3 mile path around the tower, and it was not too hot, so I walked around the whole thing.  The sign said it was supposed to take 45 minutes.  Ha!!  Took me almost two hours since it was up and down and I sat on a lot of benches along the way.

The view from the back was as impressive as the front.

Whatever these little flowers are, they smelled wonderful!

Since the Native Americans consider this tower as sacred, they do not encourage climbers, but it is allowed most months of the year.  Can you see this group in the middle of the picture?  They have a long way to go to the top. 

There is a prairie dog colony near the roadway on the way out. This little fellow posed nicely for his photograph.  Notice how green and lush the grass is. They have had rain every 2-3 days around here, so everything is wet.  (It rained the night before I took these photos, keeping me up, and it also rained late this evening.)

Most, however, disappeared as soon as I snapped the photo, so I ended up with several photos that looked like this:

It was a long drive back to my campground, but a good day, overall. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

7/23 Vore Buffalo Jump,WY

This is an interesting place I almost passed by.  I saw this huge white teepee as I drove along I 90, but I was mostly focused on stopping at the visitor center at the next exit to get some maps and information on what there might be to see on my way west.  They suggested I drive back along the service drive a couple of miles to this place.  There is not much visible from the road but this huge teepee and a small building. 

As this sign describes, a buffalo jump was a place where for centuries Native Americans herded buffalo and finally encouraged them to stampede over something so they could easily kill them if they had not died in the jump.  In this case, there was a natural sinkhole.  The animals ran because they did not know the sinkhole was there because it was hidden over a slight rise.  Those that did not die in the fall were quickly killed.  All were butchered where they fell and the meat processed by drying on the area around the sinkhole.  Bones were left in place and became covered with layers of silt and dirt.  Over centuries, the hole filled with 40 feet of bones.

This was discovered in the construction of the interstate highway when engineers saw the sinkhole and drilled holes to determine how stable it was to build the roadway over it.  When they found bones, they moved the highway and called in archeologists from the University of Wyoming.  The site was donated by the owners to a non-profit organization which manages it today, along with the U of W.

The teepee building was recently donated by a local log cabin building company and is worth seeing in itself.  It is covered with white plastic, but inside has some gorgeous beams.  It smelled of new wood and is beautifully made and varnished.  I could live here! 

You have to walk down this path to get to the dig site in the building shown here.

Here is the current dig site.  There are older ones which have been covered up.

Check out this buffalo's skull with horns attached.

And if you look closely, you can see a 6" spear point. 

This site has been given some really negative reviews on TripAdvisor by some people who obviously did not pay the fee or walk to the bottom of the pit and go inside the building.  One said the dig had been covered by a mudslide this spring.  Considering that it has been in this permanent building for several years, that is clearly not possible! 

More information on this site is available at 

7/22 Deadwood & Lead, SD

These two towns are very close to one another in the Black Hills of South Dakota, but they are very different in character.  Deadwood was a dying town until the state legislature approved gambling there in the mid-1980s. It is now a town with "gaming" establishments lining the entire length of main street, broken up only by the many souvineer shops.  Not my favorite kind of town since you can't even find a meal without going into a casino or a bar.  In addition, I have not seen so many people smoking on the sidewalks in a long time, so it was hard to avoid smoke.

It is certainly a bustling town, but without some of its original character.  Here is what it looks like now:

The one thing you can do in Deadwood is take a tour via bus to the old Mount Moriah cemetery where Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane are buried.  It would have been an interesting place to walk around on my own, but you cannot drive there or park a big vehicle nearby.

Both town originally were mining towns, but Lead (pronounced "leed") was/is the location of the largest gold mine in the world, the Homestake Mine.  It closed about 20 years ago, but I remember touring it in 1980 when it was up and running.  The cost of gold went down, but it was more the cost of mining up to 8,000 feet deep caused most of the problems.  It was sold and many of the original buildings were torn down.

It is worth stopping at the visitor center to see the miners' memorial and get a good view of the open pit part of the mine.  This pit is the oldest part of the mine, but also the newest, as it was enlarged considerably in the mid- 1980s which explains why I do not remember seeing it before.

Apparently, they had to move one end of main street several times because the edge of the open pit kept collapsing.

Here are some of the photos I took of mine equipment on the tour I took of the mine buildings. They have some equipment near the visitor center, as well.

This display shows the various drills and drill bits used for various mine levels.

And this is an underground porta potty.

And the two winches that lifted the cages miners rode in.  They are still used today because the mine is being used to do research on subatomic particles. It is called the Sanford Underground Research Facility and its website describes what they are doing in more detail:

There isn't much left to see in Lead, but there is a small museum where you can go underground in a simulated mine and also offers panning for gold.