I didn’t write yesterday as I was exhausted. That means I have a lot to say today.
After awaking in the South Dakota Badlands, I drove through them. I got some great pictures, and I saw prairie dogs. I had never seen prairie dogs, but they play a big part in stereotypical westerns, so I was very excited.
My goal for the day was Yellowstone. I wanted a full day today (Wednesday) to play, so I wanted to get there yesterday. However, I was heading through the black hills and decided to see Mt. Rushmore while I was in the area. Big mistake. I got a few pictures, but it took me 60 miles out of my way and cost $15. In the end, I didn’t think it was that cool. I know I’m supposed to, but it seemed pretty dumb to put these huge sculptures in the middle of nowhere. A picture of them does a good job of getting the idea across too. They’re huge, so they don’t really benefit from a closer look.
After getting back on the road in Rapid City, SD, I started making pace across Wyoming. I wasn’t sure of the best way to get there, but I eventually decided that the East entrance was the most direct and offered an interesting ride as it spent a lot of time on Wyoming Route 14, which was not an interstate. I was definitely right about that. My drive on 14 went up through sunset, and it was an absolutely perfect way to get a taste of the Rockies. I made it to Cody, Wy with plenty of time to spare. I got dinner at a Taco Bell and started down the last 50 miles before Yellowstone. As I was rolling along, I got to thinking. There are bears in Yellowstone, and I don’t have any bear boxes. It’s past 9, are the gates even open? Yellowstone is huge, will the campsites be obvious? Where should I camp that would offer a solid trip in the morning? Without answers to these questions, I decided it would be best to get a hotel for the night. It turned out to be the right choice. I didn’t even realize how tired I was until I plopped into a real bed at the AmercInn in Cody. It was glorious. I took a shower and slept on a spectacularly soft mattress without waking even once.
I had found out some information last night, so I was ready to take on Yellowstone today. I got there in good time and was almost taken out by a buffalo as soon as I got in the gates. At least, that’s the way I saw it. Unfortunately I didn’t get a good picture of the guy. I had decided to claim a camping spot in the northern piece of the park and then set out from there. It took me over two hours to get up there with all the things to see and the distance. I had wanted to get lunch at a restaurant that was up there, but it was closed for the season. I backtracked to a General Store (which was mostly a gift shop) and grabbed a sandwich. Then I went up to where I wanted to camp. It was full. So, I backtracked to another campsite that seemed promising. It was open, and it was also right across from the General Store. I should have just stayed there from the beginning.
After finding a spot, I immediately got on the trail. It was a short trail that stretched a couple miles up Tower river. I was surprised at how primitive it was. It was barely better than an animal trail. It went through the floodplain of the river, and they had not even cut a way through the drift wood and fallen trees that were everywhere. It was slow going. Finally I came to a place where the trail was impassible. There was a sheer cliff that ended right on the river. Clearly, something was wrong. I took out my map and realized that I had missed a bridge. The trail was actually on the other side of the river. I found a place to ford and meandered through a buffalo meadow (luckily they had chosen to spend the day elsewhere) until I came across the trail. In that time, I found an almost complete skeleton of an Elk. It was something to see.
I hiked most of the way down the trail before turning back so that I could make it back before dark. I lost the trail twice more on the way back, but it was easy to find again. The river was pretty clear, so all I had to do was follow that. Eventually I came upon the foot bridge I had missed. It was completely washed out, there were just the stone foundations jutting out. There was also no way to cross there. I worked my way back upstream a bit, forged, and made it back to camp with a few minutes to spare before sunset. I quickly set up camp and had a bite to eat for dinner.
Now I’m writing by lantern light on a Macbook, just like the old days. I think I’ll listen to my book for a bit and then get to sleep early. Tomorrow I should make it to northern California, and I can’t wait.