I thought we never would, but finally, we reach Yellowstone!

Day 5 of my ‘Great American Road Trip.’ From my journal, May 3rd 2010.

“We were quite late leaving Billings, as I didn’t get to bed until after midnight, and don’t wake up until 8am. After a quick breakfast, we set off on the 3 hour drive to the NW gate of the park. We stop for yet more petrol, then get onto the Interstate 90 and are once more on our merry way. We pass builder’s and lumber yards, farm machinery suppliers, many trailer parks, and small housing estates. The scenery is a curious mixture of industrial parks and scrap yards, with the odd farm dotted in between. The railway runs alongside the highway and cows graze right next to it. This is definitely not a scenic route so far, as even the farms looked more like scrap yards.  We pass a sign to “Montana Factory Outlets,” and I read it out loud, but Hubby’s ears are tightly closed. No time for retail therapy today, even though there’s no sales tax in Montana. We pass derelict houses and barns. It seems that when people abandon them, they do just that, and leave them to rot and eventually fall in on themselves. They build the new house, sometimes right next door to the old one. We saw a new church the other day with the old one falling down right next to it. Very weird.

As we come over a rise, Yellowstone suddenly appears on the horizon, all white and sparkling in the sun. We’re still in grey wet weather though, and the trees along the route are bare and untouched by Spring.

After about an hour, the rain has stopped, the sun shines through, and the scenery improves dramatically. There’s a Rest Area, so we stop for a wee break before entering the park. Faced with a choice between McDonald’s and Arby’s, I decide in this case “Better the devil you don’t know.” It isn’t too bad, and the apple turnover I have, is so flaky that it melts in the mouth and all over the table too. Then we were off on the way to Gardiner, fifty one miles to go. We pass “Slip ‘n Slide Ranch” and then stop to take a photo of “Devil’s Slide,” which, according to the brass plaque, is where the long-horned sheep have been coming down for centuries to drink at the river. I would love to see them come slipping and sliding down that rock face, but there aren’t any thirsty sheep today.

We arrive in Gardiner and go to the Visitors’ Centre to get a map and some advice, and then we are into the Park for a mere $25 per vehicle. In the information literature, is a leaflet that says, “WARNING. Many visitors have been gored by Buffalo. Buffalo can weigh 2000 pounds and sprint at 30 mph, 3 times faster than you can run, DO NOT APPROACH BUFFALO!”  I promise I wouldn’t even dream of it. 😉

The Town Centre has its own Justice Centre, Post Office, Church, etc. and there are many buffalo and deer, grazing the grass on the lawn there.

As we’re driving further along, we see more Buffalo  crossing the road and have to stop. We definitely do not approach them.  They approach us! HELP!!!

Along the way, is a petrified tree, 50 million years old. The plaque says that it’s indistinguishable from the modern Redwood which grows in coastal sub tropical areas. This tells us that in the past, the climate in Yellowstone was very different from what it is today. I just can’t imagine this freezing place as ever being sub tropical.

Pronghorn deer peacefully graze at the side of the road.

The scenery all around us is magnificent and majestic, as the following pics show.

Tomorrow we will go to see more of the park and of course “Old Faithful” which I’m sure will be one of the highlights of our trip.”

Have a great weekend, everyone, whether you’re in winter or summer.

‘Snow falling on cedars’ on the icy road to Rushmore.

Day 3 from my journal:

We woke up to find that about 2 inches of snow had fallen overnight and it was still snowing. After  breakfast and when hubby had scraped all the snow off the car windows, we set off for Mount Rushmore. I said I wanted a pic of the snowy scene outside the hotel before we set off, but hubby said, “Oh, it’s going to get much worse than this where we’re going. I think we’re in for a bit of what we had yesterday.”  “Great,” I thought, and said, “What ARE we doing?” When you book a holiday, you can never be sure what you will find at the other end. I was reminded of the title of the book by David Guterson, “Snow falling on cedars,” as we set off through the white and grey landscape.

Actually, the snow thinned out after a few miles, and I relaxed. We still had nearly 600kms to go though. A little further along the road, the wind became so strong and the snow was blowing across the road. Every time one of those huge, ugly rigs passed us going in the opposite direction, our car shook from side to side. My iPod was playing Andrea Bocelli singing “The Prayer.” I thought the words were very close to what I was thinking, “ I pray you’ll be our eyes, and watch us where we go…………Guide us with your grace, to a place where we’ll be safe.”  There were few vehicles on the road and it would have been a good day to stay at home beside a log fire, with a good book and a mug of hot chocolate. It really looked like mid winter instead of spring out there.

I was thinking about the time when this area was populated by the Red Indian tribes until the 1800’s. They must have spent a miserable 8 months of the year, living in their tents in the snow and freezing cold with their babies, children and old people. Why didn’t they migrate south to warmer climes, I wondered? We passed through a small town and saw a sign, “88 miles to Buffalo.” Then we were back into the snow-covered countryside. The road was now clear though and we were able to get up to 65mph.  Bob Dylan was singing, “Beyond the horizon,” and I was wondering what exactly was beyond that white horizon I could see ahead. The sky and land matched perfectly; pure white.

We saw a few “nodding donkeys” quite close to the road. These are oil well pumps which draw the oil out of the ground. Hubby obligingly got out to take a photo, and, I suspect, peed icicles behind the car. 😉

We drove through a place called “Ten Sleep” with a population of 343. I wondered whether they repaint the sign after each birth or death. The road then passed through Big Horn National forest, and we saw, through a misty haze, rocks hundreds of feet high, towering on either side and covered in snow and fir trees. At least today there was a crash barrier along the side of the road as I peered down into the chasm way below us. Hubby again stopped to get a pic for me, and you of course.

We rose ever higher around icy hairpin bends and a snow plough going “Hell for Leather” whizzed past us in the opposite direction, with snow flying up into the air, as it cut through the drifts at the side of the road. We passed “Sitting Bull Camp Ground.” Not much camping going down this weather, I thought. Then “Big Horn Ski Resort” which made a lot more sense. Now, the road was all white and only marked out by tall sticks at the side, every few yards. I think the snow ploughs have a full time job here. It was actually much worse than yesterday, but it didn’t seem as scary today because we’d done it all before.

We saw a sign pointing to pre-Cumbrian rocks, 3 billion years old, but couldn’t see anything for the snow, and driving through “Powder River Pass” there was a complete white-out. We just had to have faith that the road would eventually lead us somewhere and soon. I asked silly questions like, “Are you sure we have enough petrol?” and “How far to the nearest loo?” As we started to descend, hubby took the car out of 4 wheel drive. The roads became clear of snow and the temperature rose to -2 degrees. The wind was still gusting across the road, but we could see the green grass and then soon a few house came into view.

In Buffalo, population 3900, we found a loo in a supermarket and speaking to a couple of locals, were told that the snow is very unusual so late in the season. Chunks of ice were falling off the roof of the car as we pulled into the gas station. The sun was coming out. A rough-looking guy tried to hitch a lift to Casper, whilst hubby was pumping gas. I gave  hubby my ‘Death look’, but he isn’t the type to give a ride to a stranger. This guy might be a serial killer on the run, my fertile imagination tells me.

On to the Interstate 90 and there was no snow to be seen, except on the mountains behind us, It started to rain hard, but that was better than snow. We passed a huge truck with a sign painted on the back saying “DO NOT PUSH.” Would anyone really try?

We made a slight detour to Devil’s Tower which rises dramatically to a height of 1,280 feet above the Belle Fouche River. This has become a rock climbing Mecca and was featured in the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” It was an important landmark for the Plains Indian Tribes, who called it “ Mateo Tepee” or “Grizzly Bear Lodge.”

After seeing this, we stopped off at the ‘Devil’s Tower Trading Post’ for a hot chocolate and blueberry muffin, which was so very welcome after the long journey. The parking spaces right outside were reserved for Harley Davidsons, but no sign of any this weather. We drove on to Rushmore and found our lovely hotel for the night. Clever hubby had found it on the internet and got 25% discount for a last minute booking.

I’m sorry that we are only here for one night. The suite is really gorgeous and there is a gym and a hot tub down the passage.Tomorrow we will actually go to Mount Rushmore, Deadwood, the Custer Memorial and then on to Billings Montana.

Now I’m rushing off to play the piano for the shoppers at the mall, But I’ll be back tomorrow to tell you some more of my tale. Have a great day everyone.