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2001 - Mount Rushmore
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2006 - Vegas Connection
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Mt. Rushmore

Road Trip - 2001

We stopped in White Sulphur Springs, Montana the first night, had supper and played a couple games of pool at a local pub. Back in the room we were looking at the map again and I realized how close we were to Yellowstone National Park. The next morning we got up, left town in the wrong direction thanks to Karen's great navigation, turned around and headed for Yellowstone.

Our new "plan" was not to have one.

2001 Mount Rushmore Photo Album

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Yellowstone Entrance

Yellowstone National Park, established in 1872, was America's first national park. It is located in three states - Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.

It was about the US Border that we decided to change our original plans and add Yellowstone to our itinerary (which was exactly the point that I knew my trip with Karen was going to be OK).

Two roads in Yellowstone were still closed from winter but the main road through was open.  We entered Yellowstone at Gardiner and exited on the east side via hwy 20/14/16. No matter that they can't decide what highway we were on. We were now going to include Cody on our route.

A Strange Weather Pattern
At the west entrance into the park, after we had taken photos, we turned back to the car and saw the strange weather patterns behind us. Within the scope of one picture, the sky goes from bright and sunny to thunderstorms.
Old Faithful

Old Faithful

It wouldn't be right to visit Yellowstone and not experience Old Faithful so we took a breather, had lunch, and waited for Old Faithful - who, by the way is not totally predictable. The average interval between eruptions varies from 65 - 92 minutes. An eruption lasts 1 1/2 to 5 minutes. So we waited - and waited. After all, we were here. She erupted (it lasted about 1 minute) and we were on our way.

Cody, Wyoming

We stumbled upon Buffalo Bill's Guest Ranch and inquired about room rates. They have a trail ride at dusk and another in the morning. It was still too early to stop for the night, so we kept this in mind for another trip and continued on to Cody. We headed east towards Cody, Wyoming and hit a snow storm at the top of the mountain in the Shoshone National Forest.  This road had only opened four days earlier.

Buffalo Bill's Guest Ranch

This area was our first sighting of the pink/red rocks that look like sandstone with huge crevices splitting the cliffs. This was also the beginning of our rock collecting which we subsequently learned was illegal.

Jasper Fire/Jewel Cave National Monument, South Dakota

At the Wyoming/South Dakota border area we came across the aftermath of a recent forest fire. It wasn't until many miles later, when we reached Jewel Cave National Monument information center, that we discovered the explanation for the devastation. It was caused by human hand.

In August 2000, an 83,508 acre forest fire burned 90% of the Monument and surrounding area from Newcastle, Wyoming to Custer, South Dakota. The visitor center and historic buildings at Jewel Cave, however, were saved.

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Custer State Park

Custer State Park is a wildlife reserve in the Black Hills of southwestern South Dakota. The park, named after General George Armstrong Custer, was South Dakota's first state park. The area originally started out as sixteen sections, but was later changed into one block of land.

The park is famous for its scenery, its scenic drives (Needles Highway and the wildlife loop). It is home to 1500 free roaming bison, elk, mule deer, white tailed deer, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, mountain lions, and feral burros.

Corkscrews - Hwy 16A

Part of the Scenic Byway is highway 16A Iron Mountain Road also know as the Pig Tail Highway because of the circular "pig tail" bridges and "switch backs" to get you up and down.

There are several tunnels along this road. You have to stop and honk before proceeding through them.

A unique viewpoint from inside the tunnels in the evening are the faces of the four presidents fully illuminated and framed by tunnel walls.

Mount Rushmore, South Dakota

"Mount Rushmore is a memorial that symbolizes America, and Americans should never lose sight of their cultural beginnings." Gerard Baker, Superintendent.

Mount Rushmore Website

George Washington, (1st president) led the early colonists in the American Revolutionary War to win independence from Great Britain. He was the father of the new country and laid the foundation of American democracy. Because of his importance, Washington is the most prominent figure on the mountain.

Thomas Jefferson, (3rd president) he was the author of the Declaration of Independence, a document which inspires democracies around the world. He also purchased the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803 which doubled the size of the United States.

Abraham Lincoln, (16th president) held the nation together during it's greatest trial, the Civil War. Lincoln believed his most sacred duty was the preservation of the union. It was his firm conviction that slavery must be abolished.

Theodore Roosevelt, (26th president) provided leadership when America experienced rapid economic growth as it entered the 20th Century. He was instrumental in negotiating the construction of the Panama Canal, linking the east and the west. He was known as the "trust buster" for his work to end large corporate monopolies and ensure the rights of the common working man.

Crazy Horse Monument, South Dakota

We did not enter the memorial grounds and just viewed the monument from the park gates.

The Crazy Horse Memorial is at Thunderhead Mountain approximately 8 miles from Mount Rushmore. It is the form of Crazy Horse (an Oglala Lakota warrior) riding a horse and pointing into the distance.

Thunderhead Mountain is on land considered sacred by Native Americans. The memorial consists of the mountain carving, the Indian Museum of North America, and the Native American Cultural center. The monument has been in progress since 1948 and is still far from completion. When finished, at 87 feet high, it will be the world's largest sculpture.

Buffalo Bill Cody Burial Site - Golden, Colorado

William Frederick Cody (1846-1917), known as Buffalo Bill, was a buffalo hunter, U.S. army scout, and an Indian fighter. But he is probably best known as the man who gave the Wild West its name. He produced a colorful show called Buffalo Bill's Wild West.

There is a small museum and gift shop at the site that provides a closer look at Buffalo Bill's colourful life.

Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave

Glenwood Springs, Colorado

Glenwood Springs sits on the western slope of Colorado in a beautiful mountainous valley. We stopped here for a rest and picnic lunch.  After being cooped up in the car for a long time, the scenic rest area we found for our picnic was a welcome relief.

We were on a "push it" day so the picnic in this peaceful valley was just what we needed to rejuvenate us.

Highway 128 & Moab, Utah

It was necessary for us to put some miles behind us as we had a hot date with a Pool Tournament in Vegas. We passed through Grand Junction early evening and decided to continue on to Moab before stopping for the night.

At some point Karen (a self proclaimed expert map reader) had us turn onto (what she described as a four lane highway) Highway 128. It was nearly dark but we only had another 60 miles to go. Surprise!!

We soon determined that we were definitely NOT on a four lane highway. It was barely a two lane. The twisty, turvey, up and down highway seemed to hang precariously on the side of a mountain. And then it was dark - pitch black.  When the tops of the trees disappeared from the side of the road into what we imagined to be a huge black abyss, the asphalt at the edge of the road was crumbling away, and we realized there were no guardrails, the squeals from the passenger side (Karen) had me laughing so hard I could hardly drive.

As she tried to climb as far away from her side of the car as possible, I had to point out there just wasn't room for both of us in my bucket seat - not to mention that there was a gear shift between us. I literally had to stop the car in the middle of the road until my tears of laughter subsided.

For two years, it was left to our imaginations what was out there in that big black abyss. We have very good imaginations. In 2003, we finally drove highway 128 again.

2003 Eastern Road Trip

Valley of the Gods, Utah

When researching where the big red rocks were, Karen had come across an area called "Valley of the Gods". So, of course, when we saw the signs, it was hit the brakes and make a right. It is an eerie, desolate, magnificent landscape and immediately one understands it's name.

The map showed a road - unpaved over the sand. Not knowing where it led, we did not venture too far in - just far enough to know it was somewhere we wanted to come back and explore.

Valley of the Gods Page

Monument Valley, Utah
Highway 163 Approaching Monument Pass

Karen wanted to see Monument Valley so we decided to include it on our trip. After all, what could I say - I wanted to include Mount Rushmore which was 1000 miles out of our way. We really didn't know what it was all about or how exactly we would connect from it to get to Vegas. All Karen knew was that the John Wayne dusters were filmed there and all I could think of was advertisements with jeeps on the top of huge cliffs. Other than that we knew absolutely nothing about Monument Valley.

The Mittens

I don't really know what I expected when we included Monument Valley on our route, but my first sighting of it was a feeling I will never forget.  As we approached Monument Pass on highway 163 we stopped the car several times to take pictures. We never could truly capture the awe we felt.

There is only one main road through Monument Valley. The stretch approaching the Arizona/Utah border from the north gives the most famous image of the valley, a long straight empty road across flat desert heading toward huge stark red cliffs on the horizon. The highway cuts through the mesas at Monument Pass.

Goulding Lodge

Goulding Lodge is in the heart of Monument Valley.  The backyard to this lodge is a towering red wall that protects the buildings. It looks like pieces of it could crumble at any moment and crush what lies beneath. A museum is housed in the original Trading Post and home of Harry and 'Mike' Goulding. Mr. and Mrs. Goulding made lifelong friends of the Navajo people.

Harry invited movie director John Ford to Monument Valley to view the landscape and the rest is movie making history. Parts of the original set from "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" are on display and the John Wayne cabin is still intact. There is a museum of movie making memorabilia and indian artifacts that can compete with any national museum. Monument Valley is still used today for movie and commercial filming.

Over the years, Monument Valley has been the setting for more Western movies than any other site in the United States. Many movies have footage in Monument Valley, including, just to name a few Thelma & Louise, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Easy Rider, Back to the Future III, Forrest Grump, and Mission Impossible.

We were unable to spend a lot of time in the Valley but resolved to return and explore - as I put it "up close and personal". It was starting to look like we needed several more years of traveling together just to accomplish the "plans" we made on this first trip.

Monument Valley Page

Grand Canyon, Arizona

For our first trip through Grand Canyon, I can only say it was impressive but having just driven through Valley of the Gods and Monument Valley, the first sighting of the Grand Canyon did not take our breath away. Perhaps because it is so well known and publicized there was not a lot left to the imagination.

However, if we try and think of what the settlers thought when they came upon this part of the country, the impossibility of the task ahead would have been overwhelming.

Seligman, Arizona

Just outside Seligman there are signs that say Route 66 turn here - so we did and found the quaintest little store that I'm sure the original beach boy still operates. It has 50's cars, ladies of the evening mannequins on the balcony and old pioneer graves along side the outhouse.

We had a ball buying all sorts of sixties souvenirs and music.

Seligman, established in 1886, is a small, unincorporated town situated in the beautiful Upland Mountains of Northern Arizona. In November 1987 Arizona officially deemed old US Route 66 from Seligman to Kingman as Historic Route 66. Seligman marks the beginning of the longest continuous stretch of Route 66 still in existence.

Laughlin, Nevada

We pulled into Laughlin with about 2 hours to spare before heading for Vegas. We went into the Colorado Belle hotel and took the River Taxi on the Colorado River for a round trip tour. Smart idea to stay in the spray of the water as the temperature was 120 degrees. We were afraid the car would melt into the asphalt if we stayed too long.

Laughlin's current location was established in the 1940's and was called South Pointe due to its proximity to Nevada's southern tip. The settlement consisted of a motel and bar that catered to gold and silver miners and to the many construction workers who built Davis Dam.

In 1964 Don Laughlin, owner of Las Vegas' 101 Club, flew over Laughlin and offered to buy the property. In less than two years there were all-you-can-eat chicken dinners for 98 cents, 12 slot machines and two live gaming tables. Guest accommodations were available.

South Pointe was renamed Laughlin when the U.S. Postal Service inspector insisted Don Laughlin give the town a name-any-name in order to receive mail. Mr. Laughlin recommended the name Riverside or Casino, but the postal inspector used Laughlin instead.

Las Vegas, Nevada

We arrived in Vegas none the worse for wear totally enthused and full of stories about our trip. It was time to buckle down and get to the task at hand. Both Karen and I were playing in the Pool Tournament and refereeing when not playing - in between making plans for next year's road trip.

Craters of the Moon, Idaho

One final tourist stop on the way through Idaho was at Craters of the Moon National Monument, located 160 miles east of Boise.

It doesn't actually resemble the moon. Rather, it's a vast expanse of cinder cones and 2,000-year-old lava beds.

Karen drove home with hubby Steve that year. I think she must have pre-planned that just in case we were in "kill" mode by the time we got to Vegas.  However, we ended up following each other home on the highway.  We stayed at Jackpot, Nevada the first night and Great Falls, Montana the final night.

It was a great holiday, a fantastic road trip, and not at all like I feared. I had found my true travel mate. The best was yet to come.

Next - 2002 Desert Ghost Towns


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