When I put tonight’s hotel into the sat nav, it was somewhat disconcerting to note that the Roosevelt Inn was situated on Cemetery Road. I guess the neighbours will be a quiet bunch! However, we left Cody under brilliant blue skies which stayed with us to the end of our journey. Having left the magnificent mountains of Montana, we set off into the wide wilderness of Wyoming. It was impossible to photograph this relatively flat prairie and it was somewhat disconcerting to see almost nothing else on the road. I confess to checking my phone to make sure we had a signal and reassuring myself that on this trip we had a spare tyre.
After about 50 miles of this vast empty plain, with hardly another car on the road, we were back with the mountains which had loomed from beneath a heat haze. What mountains they were too! We stopped for gas at Grey Bull (where there were signs to Little Big Horn) and just outside the town we began to climb. Our journey took us past various historic sites (Big Horn Basin, General Custer references, etc), such that you were looking to see if there were smoke signals. The route was advertised as ‘scenic’ and that it was. Granite cliffs, sandstone stacks, boulders which appeared to be on the point of tumbling down sheer rock faces, all added to the drama. Even the roadworks completed the picture. Mile after mile of work is happening on these passes. It doesn’t impede progress on the whole, although we were stopped briefly to wait for a pilot car to escort us through the construction. That way the workers aren’t held up and nor are the road users.
Eventually, we began our long descent through the thickly wooded wilderness. There were dramatic run-offs for lorries which couldn’t make the bends and regular instructions to test brakes. We had already begun our descent when I noticed that the elevation was over 9000 ft. It took 7 miles of hairpin bends, travelling at 40 mph to finally descend to another vast plateau. The mountain rocks were declared to be over 300 million years old but we were too busy trying to unblock our ears to compare them with others that were merely 200 million years old.
We had lunch in Buffalo (more memories of cowboy films) and took a very fast road for the next 200 miles to arrive at Mt Rushmore. This place had been on my personal bucket list for some time, so I was very pleased to see George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln looking down on me.
I watched the information film with interest and learned why these Presidents were chosen, about the man who had the original idea, the sculptor who brought the vision into being and the methods he used. Fascinating and worth seeing. Maybe we will even go back in the morning to see them in a different light….and then again, maybe Cheyenne, our next stop, will beckon.
Carolyn’s Curios & Curiosities
Today was full of… well, roads! Our Road Trip this year is more road than trip and today’s 379 miles is only the third longest of our journey. It seems a long way but the miles went by quickly. The journey covered mile after mile with ever changing yet, in the main, similar features. The 360 degree vista varied from scrub to arable land, to mountains, passes, inclines and declines. Phew, what a journey.
I chose the short straw as Kath’s drive after lunch was her preferred 80 mph straight road with the cruise control set. It varied slightly as we neared our destination of Mount Rushmore with a few downward bends but a relatively easy drive. The morning? Well,…
We, and by this I mean ‘me’, had a disappointing breakfast time with no waffles available. I don’t usually eat breakfast at home (I know I should) let alone waffles. But, when in America, waffles are my obligatory choice. Not this morning.
However, putting that behind me, I sat in the driver’s seat and the day’s ‘road’ trip began. Being blasé about ‘Whatever!’, I didn’t know what was to face us until we started climbing. Up and up. The hills became mountains and, as we wound round the bends ascending the mountain, enormous cliffs, stacks, buttes etc, reared before us. Onwards and upwards, we proceeded. The road was carved into the rocks but even that didn’t ease the gradient. Our ears started popping and we weren’t surprised to find that the height of the Pass – note: not the mountains – was over 9000 feet high! Fabulous views (Kath told me! And her photos show it) when I briefly glanced off the road ahead. Seriously, it was the scenery filmmakers would want so frequently.
Added to the spectacle were the enormous trucks with their trailers coming down the mountain and facing us. What I also found interesting were the frequent roadworks on the narrow, almost vertiginous carriageways. Not merely the top surface was stripped but the whole tarmac/concrete structure. We were driving on dirt! Clouds of dust from oncoming traffic had to be negotiated addIng to our fun. We continued although there were no edge barriers today even on the downward hairpins which, at one time, ran for seven miles at a stretch!
We smile at difficulties and laugh at danger! (Yeah, right!)
So, we lunched at Buffalo (and ate a Buffalo steak for my evening meal!) and journeyed through Dayton which described itself as ‘A little piece of heaven’; onwards past Moorcroft; over Crazy Woman Creek (which resonated with us!) through Big Horn (signs to Little Bighorn), Sundance, Custer and Crazy Horse. Those of us who were brought up on comics and cowboy films know the story of Custer’s Last Stand at Little Bighorn where Crazy Horse and the Native Americans inflicted a major defeat on the 7th Cavalry in 1876. We didn’t see any battles today and the only bloodshed was from the several roadkills which we passed by on the roadside. Talking of cowboys, we have entered South Dakota which is home to the Badlands and the Black Hills of Dakota.
Visions of the early settlers crossing the Pass we went over in makeshift wagons instead of our hired Nissan Rogue. Pushing their family goods (and their families) across unknown territory to who knew what. Fearful of attack from Native Americans or bandits. What a journey they must have endured.
Now we have a road, vegetation and… the occasional (rare!) industry.
Kath and I decided that, had we been outlaws, we wouldn’t have chased after the stage coaches but would have lain in wait for them! Be assured these were idle thoughts not contemplations for a future career!
The Badlands were home to ‘The Hole in the Wall Gang’ (Jesse James et al.) and we saw the various caves where they could have hidden. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were also from these parts and didn’t ride a bicycle with ‘Raindrops keep falling on my head’ playing in the background.
And, so, we dropped down into Rushmore View to visit Mount Rushmore. To be honest – as I always am – the carvings of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln weren’t as impressive as I’d anticipated but watching a film about how and why they were carved added interest for me. It’s a very important monument for Americans and blends some commercialism with appropriate solemnity well.
The United States’ history is nowhere near as long as Britain’s but they take it more seriously. Perhaps, because it’s shorter and the beginnings are more recent,
As we travelled in Wyoming we didn’t see many people. A house with two storeys was incongruous and the scattered homesteads were sometimes miles from their neighbours. Urban it is not! It has the second lowest population density (6 per square mile) of all the States with only Alaska below it. For comparison, England has a population density of 1023 per square mile!