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Trip Report The Black Hills / Yellowstone National Park / Grand Tetons

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We returned from our trip last weekend and had a simply AWESOME time! Thanks to everyone for all the suggestions, many of which we utilized to plan this once-in-a-lifetime (for us) vacation! This is what our itinerary looked like:

DAY 1 (Sat Jul 10) -- Big Stone Lake, SD (FAMILY EVENT)

DAY 2 (Sun) -- Drove to Wall, SD, and enjoyed walking around all of the various shops. (Oh, yeah, passed the Corn Palace in Mitchell en route, and of course had a quick stop there!)

Day 3 (Mon) -- Badlands National Park -- we spent the whole day on the trails, enjoying the wildlife, etc. Glad we brought our trail mix with us! Then back to Wall for dinner.

Day 4 (Tue) -- Drove to Custer, SD with stops at Hot Springs (Mammoth Site) and Wind Cave (tours were full, but still enjoyed the scenery ... and saw our first bison of the trip!) We lunched at the Dark Horse Restaurant in Custer (hubby had Moose Drool Ale!), visited Crazy Horse Monument (a little overpriced for not that much to see), then drove over to Sylvan Lake and had a lovely walk around the lake. Headed back to Custer via the Needles Highway with several stops along the way, including our first "bison-induced traffic jam" back in the state park. What a great day!

Day 5 (Wed) -- Drove to Mount Rushmore via the Iron Mountain Road ... presidents' faces framed through the three rock tunnels, legendary "pigtail" turns, a very beautiful drive! Spent time in Keystone ... lunch at the Grizzly Creek, then over to the Alpine Slide, which was a lot of fun! More time in Keystone, then a short drive over the Bear Country USA. It was very exciting to see elk, reindeer, bear, etc., fomr the comfort (and SAFETY) of our car! After the drive portion, we spent another hour just watching the babies play ... there were about 15 baby cubs, and lots of other baby animals. It was really cute watching them play together; of course, they were BABIES, if they stood up, they would come to my waist. Then back to our hotel via another trip to Custer State Park.

Day 6 (Thu) -- Drove to Deadwood ... really disappointed in this old-west town, as it was mostly casinos. It was cool to visit the Midnight Star owned by Kevin Coster, and to see all of his movie posters, scripts, and costumes on the walls. Also visited graves of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. We wanted to drive up through Spearfish Canyon, so we backtracked south and had lunch in the town of Lead at a FABULOUS new restaurant called The Roundhouse. The theme is that of an elegant passenger train, and we ate lunch in one of the dining cars. The service was excellent and the food was outstanding. After lunch, we drove to the southern end of Spearfish Canyon and enjoyed another very scenic drive. We stopped along the road to take in a very pretty waterfall, and we stopped for hiking along the river to another very cool waterfall. After that, we headed to Devils Tower where first we stopped to take pictures of all the prarie dogs. It was late afternoon, but it didn't start getting dark until about 8:00, so we had plenty of time to hike around the base of the mountain/tower, as well as time to stop and watch the climbers. I don't think I could do that!

Day 7 (Fri) -- Mostly driving to our next destination (Yellowstone), so drove northwest from Devils Tower to Billings, MT. Passed Little Big Horn ... didn't even know that was there! Of course stopped and spent a couple of hours there. Then on to Billings, MT, where we were to begin our drive back south through Beartooth Pass. What an incredible drive!! Red Lodge was crowded with bikers, but the drive was relatively uncrowded ... and SPECTACULAR! First we're on the valley floor, gaping at the mountains covered with snow, then we're climbing, climbing, climbing (all those switchbacks with all that spectacular scenery!), then we're on the TOP of the mountains IN the snow and throwing snowballs at each other! Then a spectacular journey down the other side of the mountain, with lots of stops at mountain lakes which I suppose were created by all that snow! I am SO GLAD we included this drive in our trip! At the bottom of Beartooth Pass, we had our choice of "right" to Yellowstone or "left" to Cody, WY ... we chose left, and were treated to another incredible drive on the Chief Josephy Scenic Highway. One particular stop stands out: over some canyon where the wind was so loud I had to shout to make myself head, and I had to put my camera stap over my neck (not just on my shoulder) for fear that I'd lose it over the bridge and down to the canyon below. I can just imagine the wind huffing and puffing to carve out the incredibe canyon to which we had the great enjoyment to see!

Day 8 (Sat) -- Cody, WY. This is a day were we decided to take it a little easy. We stayed at the Cody Hotel where we had a room with a balcony facing the mountains ... beautiful! We visited "Old Town" which was across the street from us, then came back and did laundry while lounging around the pool. Refreshed and with clean clothes, we ventured into the "main" part of Cody, enjoyed all of the shops, watched the gunfight from the porch of the Irma Hotel, had dinner, then returned to our hotel where we freshed up before walking down the street to the Cody Rodeo (yes, this WAS my first rodeo!) It was so much fun!!!

Day 9 (Sun) -- The drive to Yellowstone National Park took about an hour, but again the drive was very scenic. Our first Yellowstone "attraction" was the lake itself! I had no idea it was so huge!!! Several stops at various locations around the lake, then took both the Northern Rim and Southern Rim drives and hiked to the waterfalls. We had planned to "do" the northern loop today, but the Rim Drives (and hikes) took a lot longer than we thought, so we headed south and cut across the middle of the park to West Yellowstone. Then spotted the Norris Geyser Basin and decided to hike around there for a bit. It was about 5:00 or 6:00 and there were only a handful of people there; that, coupled with excellent lighting for photos, made our hike all that much more pleasant. Steamboat Geyer went off, although only (only - HA!)about 20 feet. The place was eerily beautiful! Hubby was tired of hiking, so we decided to save the other side (Porceleine Basin) for another day.

Day 10 (Mon) -- Drove up the western side of the northern loop to Mammoth Springs. All I can say is WOW. Spent the whole day on the northern loop ... Tower Falls, etc., then headed back to West Yellowstone with a stop at the Porceleine Geyer Basin. I was simply mesmerized by all that hissing and steam!

Day 11 (Tue) -- We drove the southern loop of the park; first stop: Firehole River. Beautiful! Then on to the Upper, Middle, and Lower Geyer Basins; my memory tells me that Old Faithful was in the Middle Basin, but the guidebooks all say it's in the Upper Basin. Oh well - at the first one we came to, we crossed a river ... and I very nearly ran smack dab into a 10-point elk! Seriously, I was walking along, gazing at the geyers across the river, and this elk was moving at an incredibly leisurely pace. I stopped short with a gasp. He wasn't concerned at all about me ... he was walking down to the river. Of course, he attracted a huge crowd and of course I took about 50 pictures of him ... thank goodness for digital memory cards! Oh yeah, the geyers were pretty cool, also!

The next basin area was VERY crowded! This was were Old Faithful was located. I had to go to the bathroom SO BAD, but the geyer was "scheduled" to go off at any minute. I took a chance and went to the ladies room. It hadn't gone off by the time I got back. There are incredible vantage points of Old Faithful from almost EVERYWHERE in the park, so I wasn't concerned about not having a front row seat. When it did finally go off, it was as incredible as anticipated! The "show" lasted a good five or six minutes. If Old Faithful gives a "short show", the rangers say the next one will be in 60 minutes; if it gives a "long show", the next one will be in 90 minutes. We enjoyed the long show, then had lunch and did some shopping in the Old Faithful Inn. Afterward we headed to the Lower Basin ... there are so MANY geyers there; I had NO idea! And as you just drive around, you see field with steam vents ... so many, they are not all marked ... but plenty of signs to warn you of the danger! I know we drove around and saw more geyers, including the West Thumb Lake Basin (hubby was tired of geyers by then, but I persuaded him to do this "last one" ... he was glad he did, as the boardwalk went down to the lake and afforded a completely different perspective!) I hated to leave, but it was time for us to drive on down to the Grand Tetons.

Oh, sometime on these two days, we saw two black bears (one with three cubs) and a grizzly bear (with two cubs), both from a VERY safe distance. We also saw plenty of bison, bighorn sheep, a MOOSE!!! and what we thought was a wolf, but were told was a coyote ... not like any we'd ever seen!

DAY 12 (Wed) -- We stayed at the Jackson Lake Lodge in the Tetons and had breakfast in the Mural Room -- very beautiful, overlooking the lake with the mountains behind them. I got some terrific pictures. Oh, and I LOVED the waffles with the strawberries and whipped cream! After breakfast, we drove up to Colter Bay for a boat trip around the lake. The captain told us they had seen two moose swimming in the water on their morning breakfast cruise. We saw a few deer, but that was about it. By the time we got back to the shore, it was drizzly and overcast. The mountains were nearly obliterated, so we decided to drive to Jackson and look around there a bit. We had a great laugh over the prices in some of the shops in the "Jackson Hole" ski resort area, but prices were far more reasonable in the shopping area around Antler Park. Spent quite a bit of time just poking in and out of shops ... some of the art shops have the most INCREDIBLE photography! After lunch, we went for a drive up to Alpine (borders Idaho) then returned with several stops to watch the rafters on the Snake River. It was (once again) incredibly scenic!

Day 13 (Thu) -- The day was much nicer, so we drove to Jenny Lake and took the boat across the lake to begin our hike up to the falls and to Inspiration Point. Inspiring, to say the least. We continue to hike past Inspiration Point, and as many people just turned back, we were alone for many stretches of the trail. I have to admit, this was the first time I felt nervous about running into a bear, so I would sing a little and clap my hands. I didn't feel so bad about being a wuss, though, when we heard another party coming up to us singing "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall!

After our hike around the lake, we drove around the park some more, found "Mormon Row" where we took pictures of the famous barn with the Tetons in the background, then just stopped at about every stop there was to stop at as we made our way back up to the Moran Junction area where we would begin our eastern (then southern) drive back home.

Okay, I've also decided to post this as a trip report as well. I know I could never put into words what a simply incredible time we had, and that the pictures I took (about 1800!) will never match the splendor of seeing it all in person!

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