After spending the night in West, Montana, we drove back into Yellowstone and turned north. The park is magnificent. It is HUGE! As we re-entered the park, there were dozens of Elk right next to the road. We saw elk, buffalo and several smaller mammals. I was really hoping to see a bear (from a distance), but we didn't. We had decided to exit the park via the north gate so we could see some of the sights in southern Montana, (neither of us had seen any part of Montana, except for the night we spent in West). Near the north gate, we came upon the Mammoth hot springs. As we were approaching, I saw all of the steam and actually thought that we were just approaching yet another glacier basin. The springs were equally amazing. This is definitely a "must see" park and I will absolutely be back when I have several days to spend, just wandering and wondering what I will see around the next bend.
I have to confess, I've always had a romanticized image of Montana...snow everywhere (year-round), roaring fires (again, year-round), gorgeous cowboys "riding the range" (everywhere), quaint towns, etc. Boy, was I disappointed! We drove east through southern Montana toward Billings. I was really expecting Billings to be a replica of Jackson, WY...its not. In fact, there's just really not much to it. We stopped at the "Information Center" in "Old Town Billings" and when we asked what there was to see and do in Billings, we heard...the sound of crickets as the attendants sort of stared at each other for a minute and then started directing us to sites out of town...sad. My bubble burst...I was totally bummed. Oh well, add that to the "been there" category...sad. But I started thinking, (always a dangerous thing for me to do)...maybe, in a few years when I get tired of spending my days exactly as I want to, with no set agenda and no "time-clock" to punch, etc...maybe I should consider becoming a consultant for cities to help increase their tourism. Goodness knows, I am quickly becoming a professional tourist. I know what people like me like to see, do and expect when we are on a "road-trip." Hmmmm, I might be on to something. Anyway, we were soon on our way toward Devil's tower in north-eastern Wyoming.
You know Devil's Tower...remember the potato mountain that Richard Dreyfus's character sculpted in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"? Well, that's Devil's tower. Honestly, I was really hoping for a sighting of the "mother ship" while we were there. I just kept thinking: "Beam me up, Scotty, there is no intelligent life on this planet..." yep, I'm a Trekkie nerd. Anyway, in my opinion, there is not enough press given to this place. To be honest, it isn't near anything. There is no reason to be at Devil's tower, except to purposely and intentionally go there. So, go there, it is really cool. If you do much research as to the origins or wonder what it actually was or how it was formed, you are going to find that the short story is, no one really knows. There are several conflicting theories. So, of course, I'm going with the "mother ship landing pad" theory...just saying!
Our next stop was in the Southwestern corner of South Dakota...Mt. Rushmore, near Rapid City and the unfinished Crazy Horse memorial. (What most people, including me, until recently, don't know is that Mt. Rushmore is also unfinished.) The original plan called for all four presidents full body to be carved into the hillside. It didn't (and won't) happen, obviously. The monument is still breathtaking! I am a huge art lover, probably because I have very little (read NO) talent. The fact that someone could carve these faces into solid rock, literally hundreds of feet tall, is enough to absolutely BLOW MY MIND!!! I'd have a difficult time creating the mash-potato mountain.... The Crazy Horse monument is just down the road from Mt. Rushmore. It is even more interesting in some regards. One of the biggest differences between the two sculptures is the funding sources. Rushmore received government funds while the Crazy Horse monument is funded privately. Members of the Lakota Indian tribes are ever present and perform ceremonial dances, give history lessons about their culture. The quote under the model (center picture above) is from Crazy Horse: "my lands are where my people lie buried." Both of these places, but especially the Crazy Horse monument will touch a special place in your heart and spirit.
Mom and I talked about some of the gifts we were given on this trip. The first, of course, was our ability to make this journey. But we were also aware of the times our Guardian Angels showed up to guide us through various "scary," uncertain, and long-boring-nothing-to-look-at roads. Then, we saw this rainbow (obviously in the middle of nowhere) and we are positive it's from our Father, just reminding us that He loves us and is with us...so Blessed!!!
Our last "tourist" stop was in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Another very tourist-friendly town...(get a clue Billings, MT!) You have probably seen towns that display large sculptures of items that are of special significance to the town's history or culture...College Station's trains, Austin's guitars, etc. Well, in Cheyenne, its boots. They are displayed in several locations throughout the downtown area and are really cool! Speaking of the downtown area, it is exactly what you'd expect. Remodelled "old" buildings that serve as restaurants, antique shops, vintage clothing/decor/furniture stores and a really cool remodelled train station. We had a great time and weren't at all bothered by the soft rain that fell on us as we meandered. (Thanks for telling me that we "had to stop" in Cheyenne, Laura...you were right, I loved it!)
So, again, all too soon, we headed back home. Our drive back was (thankfully) uneventful and only moderately dull. We drove through most of Nebraska, and while there is not anything spectacular about Nebraska, I have to tell you that their corn crops beat anything I have every seen anywhere else! HOLY CORN TORTILLAS, BIO-DIESEL and FRIED CATFISH! There is A LOT of corn in Nebraska...not much else, but there is CORN! After Nebraska, we turned south and drove through Kansas (my Father's home state), and Oklahoma and arrived home. It was a wonderful journey but I still don't know what we were thinking. While we were out of Texas, most of our days saw high temps in the mid-80s and in some parts, highs were in the 60s; we got back home to highs in the low 100s...what the heck were we thinking? I kept telling mom we should have stayed until early October. Oh well...