Summer 2008 Trip: Day 42 – Rapid City, SD to Marion, IA

Hit the road from the hotel at 8:30 this morning on the way to Cedar Rapids via the Badlands. Sarah needed some painkillers, so we stopped at Wall Drug. (They are a drug store, right?) I think it was worse this time around… not only is it the world’s worst tourist trap, but it’s all so cheesy. I did find the “ice water” though… which wasn’t even cold.

Down into the Badlands and through the scenic highway. I think I liked it better before I headed out west and saw Arches and Zion. It’s still amazing and awe inspiring, but a little less so than before. And it was definitely hotter; I didn’t feel like hiking nearly as much, though the low elevation definitely makes it easier.

We hit the road around 2:30pm for a long haul across South Dakota, through Minnesota and down into Iowa. it’s a bit rough when your directions include, “Stay on I-90 for 430 miles.” We finally pulled in at nearly 1am after a time zone change lost an hour. Oh well, not too much father back to MI now.

Day 42 - Rapid City, SD to Wall Drug, Badlands, Cedar Rapids, IA

Travel Distance: 717 miles

Summer 2008 Trip: Day 41 – Harlowton, MT to Rapid City, SD

I’d forgotten how nice a hot shower felt. It’d been five days since my last one.

We pulled out this morning around 9am, after getting coffee in a small coffee shop visited by Michael Keaton and breakfast at a small general store/restaurant in Shawmut, MT and headed for Billings.

After a quick search of my GPS for “western wear” clothing stores in Billings, MT and directions from that hit to another store two blocks further down the street, I’m now the owner of a real belt buckle. Not just a plain old buckle, but a fancy one with some whitetail deer on it. I can check off another item off my list of things I wanted to do/get this summer.

From Billings, it was on to Devil’s Tower National Monument about an hour and a half from Rapid City, SD. Honestly… I’m not too impressed by the place. It features a mediocre visitor center that doesn’t really educate you about too much and a trail around the base of the rock. Granted, it’s a pretty cool and large rock in the middle of nowhere and it looks like it would be an awesome climb… but, after coming from Glacier and the bigger parks, it wasn’t all that exciting. Perhaps if I’d stopped on my way out west it would have seemed more impressive.

From there, it was a straight shot into Rapid City and a pain in the butt to get a hotel room. My first thought was to stay at the Motel 6 that Kevin and I had seen on our previous trip through the area when we got a room at the world’s most expensive Super 8. Well… the road construction made it tough to find. So, we headed across the road to the Econo Lodge; they were booked up. In their parking lot, I hopped on the internet (my cell phone data plan has been a lifesaver) and checked on the Motel 6’s availability. Their website said there was a non-smoking room with dual full-size beds available. We booked it over there and I was told nothing was left but smoking rooms. A trip back out to the parking lot and a confirmation number led to the discovery of a flaw in their booking system – I hadn’t been assigned a room number. They made a call for me, and found a room for a bit more an exit down the road. Whatever… I just wanted a bed and a shower in the morning.

And I rediscovered why I hate Rapid City. Confusing roads, streets that apparently turn into one way roads after 9pm (why else can you not make a left turn onto certain roads between 9pm and 3am?), and let’s not forget the badly timed stop lights. And yet… we braved it and went to see Get Smart, which was actually a really good movie in my mind; it reminded me a lot of the old TV show.

Tomorrow: the Badlands, maybe a trip to Wall Drug and showing up at Kevin’s apartment in Cedar Rapids, hopefully not at an ungodly hour of the night.

Day 41 - Harlowton, MT to Rapid City, SD via Devil's Tower

Travel Distance: 493 miles

Summer 2008 Trip: Day 40 – Two Medicine to Harlowton, MT

Started the morning with a cup of coffee, and then an invigorating 7.2 miles on foot in the span of 2.5 hours. Needless to say, our idea of “taking it easy” was picking a mostly level trail and walking faster. Oh well, Twin Falls in the Two Medicine district was absolutely gorgeous. Once we got back to the car, we wolfed down a lunch, changed out of our sweaty clothes and hit the road for my aunt’s house in Harlowton, where they live on a ranch. (My uncle actually rides a horse and does some work as a cowboy.)

Have I mentioned before that Montana was a huge state? It really is. Two hundred and ninety-two miles driven today and we’re not even close to the border. I love it! The entire state is gorgeous, with the exception of Great Falls which has a very urban sprawl feel to it. I’m a bit used to that feeling near a military base though.

Come to find out, that my uncle’s father and sister decided to come visit over the weekend, so we were greeted to a pretty full house, which was fantastic. Lots of catching up, lots of good conversation, and of course, lots of good food. Tomorrow morning, everyone clears out, and we’ll be hitting the road shortly after the big group so we can get in a much needed shower (we haven’t had showers since Thursday morning and although we’ve been taking “field showers” they aren’t nearly as nice and don’t do much for the hair.

Day 40 - Two Medicine to Harlowton, MT

Travel Distance: 292 miles, plus 7.2 miles on foot

Summer 2008 Trip: Day 39 – Many Glaciers, Glacier National Park

My day started wonderfully to say the least (and that isn’t sarcasm). My alarm went off at 5am so I could get up and shoot the sunrise and I heard things falling on the rain fly. Sarah says, “I think it’s raining…” and before she finishes “wait, is it?” I’m back asleep. Another wonderful morning of sleep. I swear I’ve been getting 8-10 hours of mostly restful sleep the past week. It’s been quite nice, but somehow, I’m still tired a lot. Must be all the physical exertion.

We broke camp and headed to the Many Glaciers district of the park to hike to Ptarmigan Falls and Iceberg Lake. Total round trip, 9.8 miles. It was an absolutely gorgeous hike, I’d recommend it to anyone. There wasn’t a great viewing platform for the falls, but Iceberg Lake made up for it. Iceberg Lake is situated in the middle of a semi-circular group of mountains and it’s contents comes from glacial runoff. This time of the year, it’s still mostly frozen and the last half mile of our hike to the lake was over snow covered fields. It was an awe-inspiring sight.

After our hike back, we piled into the car and exhausted, drove to the Two Medicine district to set up camp in preparation of tomorrow’s hike. Highway 49 along the eastern border of the park is a blast to drive but not quite so much fun as a passenger apparently. The speed limit never drops from 70 mph, but almost every half a minute your onto a new set of curves with a recommended speed of anywhere between 25 and 45. Plus, there’s no guardrails and the valley floor appeared to be as much as 1,000 feet below us at times. I loved it, Sarah later remarked to me that she was terrified the whole time.

And… the funny story for the evening. After we had our tent pitched, Sarah was making dinner, spaghetti actually. I was absolutely out of it, half reading a book, half falling asleep at the end of the picnic table while she manned the stove. She apparently asked me, “Is it all right to put the glass jar of spaghetti sauce on the camp stove?” and I, in a voice that any man with sisters, a wife or even a mother will recognize, grunt a noise that means in effect, “I didn’t hear you, but in an effort not to get in trouble, I’m making a noncommittal noise.”

Two minutes later, I hear a boom come from the stove and look up confusedly to find spaghetti sauce everywhere. So, we had plain spaghetti for dinner and one burner on the camp stove still only lights halfway because of the spaghetti sauce residue in it.

Fun times!

Day 39 - St. Mary to Many Glaciers to Two Medicine

Travel Distance: 78 miles, plus 9.8 miles on foot

Summer 2008 Trip: Day 38 – Glacier National Park

Woke up this morning and after an attempt to make edible pancakes, we got started driving down Going-to-the-Sun Road. We stopped a few miles in and hiked out to Avalanche Lake, which was absolutely gorgeous. You step right up to the edge of the lake and it is ringed with mountains, and down each mountain there is at least one waterfall caused by glacial melt. It’s absolutely amazing.

We popped back onto the road and drove through the mountains; Going-to-the-Sun Road is described as one of the most beautiful scenic highways in the world, and I will completely agree with that. The road through Rocky Mountain National Park doesn’t even come close. In one section, four or five waterfalls are right at the side of the road and your car gets sprayed as you drive by. It is absolutely amazing.

We also hiked down to Baring Falls, where Sarah left me to hike to St. Mary Falls and Virginia Falls while I set up my picture, waited for people to clear out and the right light to hit the scene. After I had a few shots I was reasonably satisfied with, I hiked back up the path and took a few shots of Sunrift Gorge before heading to the St. Mary Falls trailhead to wait around and pick Sarah up.

Then we headed down what was left of the highway, swinging by Sun Point for some pictures (I’ll be going back there to shoot sunrise). Now… camp is set up, food has been eaten and I’m headed to bed.

Day 38 - Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier National Park

Travel Distance: 50 miles, plus 5.5 on foot