Category Archives: South Dakota

Black Hills to Yellowstone

August 18, 2007

Where to start. It has been a long time since my last update and I have made it to Oregon, at least to Ontario on the south eastern border of the state.

Let’s go back 10 days.

Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park

I, as mentioned last time, I did not go to the Joan Jett concert, instead I stayed in the Badlands and tried to get some good photos with setting sunlight. Well, I didn’t get anything too exciting. Just couldn’t find a good spot, oh well. Would have been too tiered to drive 3 hours to Sturgis for the concert anyway. I didn’t

Lakota Indian reservation

Lakota Indian reservation

even make it to the Wounded Knee that day, next time.

Harley Davidson motorcycle rally - Main Street

Harley Davidson motorcycle rally – Main Street

The Black Hills. I don’t know why people are so excited about those hills. Is it because of Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park? I had no expectations and I was very disappointed. Drove along the Iron Mountain Drive thru the mini tunnels to see Mt. Rushmore and headed straight north out of the hills. Other than the pine smell, there was nothing much to write home about. It might not have helped a lot that there were gazillion bikers there either.

Mount Rushmore National Monument

Mount Rushmore National Monument

Bikers continued to crowd the roads all the way to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. The bikers themselves are very nice folks. They just want to see the country as well. Some of them ride for 10 hours a day / 500 miles. I don’t even do that in the car. At the same time, they don’t really ride bikes; those Harleys are more like cushy chairs on wheels.

Devils Tower

Devils Tower

Devil’s Tower was pretty amazing. Not just a monolith in the middle of nowhere, but a monolith that is layered in a vertical way. It has something to do with the magma that was forced upward and when it cooled it contracted and fractured into columns. All this happened 60 million years ago. The drive from South Dakota to Devil’s Tower was suppose to take 1 ½ hours, it took me 3. I tend to drive very slowly in the beginning of the day to be able to see what’s around me and to be able to stop and take pictures. No, I don’t block traffic, I do pull over and let cars/bikes pass or there just is no traffic. I usually pay the price by the end of the day when I am nowhere near a campsite or motels. I made it to the campsite in Greybull, WY, about 3 hours east of Yellowstone. Thanks to the lack of sunlight, the sun was hiding behind clouds, I made it thru the Big Horn Mountains. If you ever make it out this way, you have to see these mountains they are stunning. The rock formations are amazing and the views are unbelievable.   There is supposed to be a waterfall, which I missed since I was rushing to make it to the campsite before nightfall. Setting up tent in the dark is not that much fun.

Horses by the Powder River Valley.

Horses by the Powder River Valley.

The next day I was wiped out. Couldn’t get going, had a nice conversation with the people running the campsite, they were from Amsterdam. Didn’t leave for Yellowstone until noon! It is just too much, not the driving, but too many impressions to adsorb. I feel like I have visited 3 museums a day for the last couple of weeks. I am not doing the landscape around me any justice. Good thing that I have stayed away from museums so far, I would be on total overload. I sat in the truck starring at the outskirts of Yellowstone Park before I drove in. Didn’t know if I could handle anymore.

Yellowstone; I am not sure what to think of it. Ask me in a couple of weeks. The drive into the park from Cody, the east entrance now closed because of the wildfire (17,000 acres burning), was great. Again, the

Yellowstone National Park - Dead trees at Mount Washburn

Yellowstone National Park – Dead trees at Mount Washburn

rock formations are unbelievable and the colors. Once I entered the park I was saddened by all the dead trees. In 1988 Yellowstone had several fires, all caused by lightning, in which case they are not fought, but they let them burn out. Yellowstone lost 36% of its trees and they have not yet grown back. It is almost depressing to see so many bare trees standing there like matches just waiting to fall.

Geologically, Yellowstone is very interesting and I think there is even some wildlife.

The biggest wildlife comes on two legs and it is called humans. I haven’t seen this many people since I left New York. This makes me wonder how I will handle the masses of people when I get back. It seems that people checked their common sense at the entrance of the park. They see bison, of which there are a lot in Yellowstone, they stop and walk up to them to have their picture taken. They stop in the middle of the

Yellowstone National Park - "Artist Paint Pot"

Yellowstone National Park – “Artist Paint Pot”

road, walk across the road where they shouldn’t, pull into parking spots for which you already signaled (feels like NYC). They should really limit the number of people they let into the park at one time. I guess, summer is not the best time to come and visit. I spent 3 nights in Yellowstone. I did see a grizzly, but even thru my 300mm lens he was just a small dot. Saw Old Faithful go off and even better, saw the Beehive Geyser go off which only happens a few times a week. Did take a “bath” in the Boiling River, needed it after a 3 hour hike up and down Mt. Washburn. The highest spot in Yellowstone, 10,400 feet or so with a 1,400’ incline. At the end of the third day I was so tired of seeing people that I asked the ranger at the campsite check-in where I could go for some peace and quiet. She suggested a pebble beach along

Yellowstone National Park - Old Faithful geyser

Yellowstone National Park – Old Faithful geyser

Yellowstone Lake, near a boat landing. What bliss. Only a few people and some kayaks. I was in luck; I joined a small group of kayakers for a 2 hour tour on the lake. Not as relaxing as laying on the beach, but what an opportunity to see Yellowstone from the water. Paddled along some geysers and even saw an elk standing at water’s edge. I moved very slowly not to entice her to swim out to the kayak. Since I wanted to be back on land before sunset, I had to paddle a little faster than the rest of the group on the way back. What a work out, had a sore butt the next day.

Yellowstone National Park - Dawn over Yellowstone Lake

Yellowstone National Park – Dawn over Yellowstone Lake

Left for Grand Teton the next morning. Now those are real mountains. Had to control myself not to take too many pictures of the same mountain. There were fewer people in the Grand Teton compared to Yellowstone, but still too many. Went for a little walk, this time just flat no major inclines. Stuck my feet into Jenny Lake and headed for Jackson.

I stayed for two nights with friends in Jackson. They took me in with open arms. They are filmmakers / photographers and we had plenty of shop talk. They live outside of Jackson in a very quiet area surrounded by buttes. The hummingbirds were buzzing around our heads, I am not kidding. They have a feeder on the patio and those little birds dart for it often missing your head only by inches. The buzzing of

Teton Range and Jackson Lake in the Grand Teton National Park. Far left Grand Teton Mountain on right Mt. Moran.

Teton Range and Jackson Lake in the Grand Teton National Park. Far left Grand Teton Mountain on right Mt. Moran.

their wings is tremendous. Even saw a bald eagle pair and a juvenile eagle sitting in the trees across the Snake River from their patio. Who needs Yellowstone. Went to a local rodeo, was fun to watch it in person. I was very happy to have some company for a while and sleeping in a real bed with a private bathroom was not bad either. Since Richard and Diane had traveled the US extensively, they could give me some good travel tips. I changed my route slightly. Instead of going north thru Idaho to Washington State, I am only driving thru the southern part of Idaho and than into Oregon to a place called Sisters. From there I’ll head north to Mt. Hood and into Washington State, Mt. St. Helens and maybe Mt. Rainier. Since I am heading all the way up north to Bellingham to stay with a friend for a couple of days, I might save Mt. Rainier for the way back down. Looking at the calendar, time seems to be running away.

Farmland along highway 20/26

Farmland along highway 20/26

From Jackson I only made it to Twin Falls in Idaho. Saw several wildfires in the distance. Driving thru Arco, the air ways filled with smoke. There are fires burning all over Montana and the eastern side of Idaho.

I got eaten alive by mosquitoes at the Twin Falls campsite. Still itches like crazy. Twin Falls has a beautiful waterfall, 50’ higher than Niagara Falls and not commercialized and hardly any people!!!

Shoshone Falls

Shoshone Falls

I have to get some breakfast now, it is already 8:30 AM. Have been typing for the last hour or so.

Train tracks at sunset

Train tracks at sunset

Have a nice weekend.

I start to forget what day of the week it is.


August 8, 2007

It’s turning into an adventure. First of, North Dakota is not flat and if anyone tells you that there is nothing to see, they are dead wrong. Where as the east was pretty and green with all its lakes, North Dakota is rugged and awesome. You would not believe the multitude of colors. I don’t remember having seen such a variety of greens, dark, light, silvery looking green.

Straw bales

Straw bales

Don’t get me started on the yellow, orange and gold of the wheat fields and the yellow of the sunflower

Sunflower field along highway 85 north of Bowman.

Sunflower field along highway 85 north of Bowman.

fields. All these colors intensify with the afternoon sunlight or during/after a thundershower. Can’t tell you how many “ohmygod” moments I had. The spaces are wide open, but not flat. The fields are more like rolling hills.

Driving from Fargo 350 miles straight west you get to the North Dakota Badlands. All of a sudden, the fields disappear and the landscape changes into all these free standing peaks. Think of it as if water washed through land, cutting hundreds of riverbeds into the ground and all that’s left standing are these peaks. This particular area is called Painted Canyon. Some of the tips of the peaks are red and I arrived just in time for sunset!

Theodore Roosevelt National Park - Painted Canyon

Theodore Roosevelt National Park – Painted Canyon

I set up camp just outside the Badlands park, pretty neat.

I almost was adopted by a cat. She came around while I was packing up, jumping up on the cabin of the truck watching. But she decided to go back to her family.

I saw my first prairie dogs, they are very cute, not much larger than a NYC subway rat, but much more adorable. I thought that was exciting. Not more than five minutes later a bison crosses the road, how cool is that? Just around the corner from that was a whole herd of about 100 bison, wow. They were just outside the parks campground. I had intended to stay there the night before. I am glad I didn’t; don’t know how I would have taken it if a bison would have knocked on my door. Spent almost an hour

Badlands National Park - Prairie dog

Badlands National Park – Prairie dog

watching these amazing animals. Sometimes one of the bulls would charge after another bull and parts of the herd would move across the road, where the cars were lined up watching. The bison were literally at arms length. Nothing could top this experience. After lunch I headed south to the South Dakota Badlands and Sturgis. The Harley rally is in full swing.

The drive was beautiful, more amazing colors. The great thing is that there is no traffic in North Dakota and the road I was traveling on was very, very empty, which made pulling over to take pictures that much easier.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park - Badlands, South Unit - Bison at Little Missouri River

Theodore Roosevelt National Park – Badlands, South Unit – Bison at Little Missouri River


There are hardly any towns along the way. They post the towns’ name, but don’t even bother with a population count; there might just be a dozen homes along the road. When the settlements get a little larger, they do post population counts. The lowest I have seen was in the low hundreds.

South Dakota’s landscape changes only slightly. The fields change into rugged grassing land. It was very hot all day long, mid 90s. It didn’t feel that bad with the wind. The wind was so strong that it blew me off the truck when I was standing on the rear bumper. Holding the camera still was another challenge.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park - Badlands, South Unit - Bison

Theodore Roosevelt National Park – Badlands, South Unit – Bison

Getting closer to Sturgis the number of bikers increased. They had been passing me in both directions all day long. These are crazy people. Most of them wear no helmets whatsoever and shirts are optional.

Driving towards Sturgis the mountains start to rise.

The Black Bear Butte is the most prominent peak. Sturgis is full with bikes and bikers. The streets are filled with the roar of their engines, cool.

Bikers at the entrance to I-90, exit 78

Bikers at the entrance to I-90, exit 78

I wanted to spend the night in the Badlands, just 1 ½ hours further south east. Make that 2 hours with stopping. I drove this last stretch on the interstate, usually an uneventful drive. Except there was this big rainbow in the sky. Behind me the sky was clear and beautiful; ahead of me it started to get dark quickly.

I had to pull off the interstate to just get the right picture. It had started to rain a little and the road was wet, that combined with the setting sunlight made for one heck of a photo. Driving on I could see the sun setting in my rearview mirrors. Sometimes the best pictures are behind you.

Old Highway 14-16 looking east intersecting with 173rd Avenue.  Wicksville Community Church on left.

Old Highway 14-16 looking east intersecting with 173rd Avenue. Wicksville Community Church on left.

That’s were the fun ended. I called the KOA campsite to make sure that they still have space and that they would be still open when I got there. Yes to both questions. However, I was cutting it close. The site was 30 minutes from the interstate. The rain had turned into a thunderstorm with lighting and somehow I didn’t feel like spending the night in a tent, call me chicken if you want. There were a couple of motels along the way to the campsite, but they were all sold out. It had stopped raining, but now it was just dark. Setting up tent in the dark was not my idea of fun. That’s when I came across the “Bates” motel. Funky old people running the place. They too were full, but they offered me a trailer which didn’t have hot water, but all other amenities functioned. This little old totally wrinkly woman showed me the trailer. The smell was not pleasant, as it turns out there were several leaks in the trailer, one of them above the bed. Thank God for the pull out couch. I had two choices, move on set up tent in the dark and get rained on or live with the smell and the springs of the mattress in my back. I opted for later one. I had my camping mattress and all would be fine. That is if I had my mattress. As it turns out I had left it at the last campsite. I had put it on the picnic bench when I was loading the truck and forgot it. The mattress goes in last since I don’t deflate it while traveling. Shit. What a lousy ending to a great day. A call to the campsite didn’t turn up anything. They will look again in the morning; they too had very strong winds. I would drive back if it wouldn’t be over 300 miles. I’ll keep you posted. I might find a place around here which sells those things or I have to order it from NJ and have them FedEx it. It is 7:30 am, I have to get going the sunlight is still nice.

More adventures to come.


P.S. I found a new mattress at Wall Drug. Works just fine.