Jul 23, 2013

Road Trip USA: Rapid City to Yellowstone

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On July first, 2013 Hannah and I drove across America from Atlanta, Georgia to Portland, Oregon. Here's our adventure! There are pictures after the text; I promise! 

On the fourth day of our drive across America (which also happened to be the Fourth of July!) we went from Rapid City, South Dakota to right outside Yellowstone National Park's east entrance (slightly west of Cody, WY). Along the way we got to see Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, Wind Cave National Park, and Bighorn National Forest.

Our drive started out in Rapid City, where we had breakfast at the hotel and then headed to Mount Rushmore! It was only about a thirty minute drive, and when we arrived the sky was beautiful and clear. The entrance fee was $11 per car, and the parking was right by the monument! When we got out of the parking deck there was a large granite walkway leading to the memorial. Along the walkway were the flags of all the US states, mounted on granite pillars that included the dates of when the states joined the union. Past that was a large "viewing amphitheater", where you could sit or stand and look at the carving. It really did look incredibly dramatic, superimposed against the beautiful blue sky. We stood around for awhile, took way too many pictures, and took a few token tourist shots before walking a trail that loops closer to the monument. It was a nice walk, and we got to see where the artists camped out (fittingly, it was basically inside a big boulder). While we were walking the skies started to get really dark--sure enough, by the time we got back to the monument and made it through the giftshop, the sky was black and it had started to rain. We booked it for the cars and then headed back onto the open road!

From Mount Rushmore we drove thirty more minutes through the black hills (a mountain range in South Dakota, so named because they look black from a distance, due to the heavy tree cover) to the Crazy Horse Memorial. The complex includes a Native American museum and cultural center, as well as what will hopefully one day be the biggest stone mountain carving on earth (it was begun in 1948 and is far, far, far from finished). It was really expensive to get inside--about $28 for the three of us--and it cost us an additional $4 each to take a bus to see the monument up close. I definitely found it frustrating that the experience was so expensive and, at first, we thought we wouldn't get to see much because it was pouring rain (they suspend bus tours until the weather clears) and I was worried we had just wasted a ton of money...

Fortunately, just before we left the skies cleared and we were able to catch the first bus to the mountain (plus, when we arrived we got lucky and someone gave us two of their bus tickets for free since the weather was so bad and they were leaving). Unfortunately, the rain earlier meant I didn't have my camera... Luckily, my iphone was there to help! The bus tour was definitely my favorite part, and I highly recommend taking it if you pay the money to get into the park. We learned a lot about the history from the driver, and the views from up close were way better then the ones from the museum area!

After seeing the Crazy Horse Memorial we drove south to Custer, a little city where we ended up getting a late lunch of Subway (I swear, thats what I lived off of during the trip. Best vegetarian/budget friendly road trip food ever.) before continuing on to Wind Cave National Park. It was a little out of the way, but I really wanted to see the cave--apparently, depending on atmospheric conditions, it either sucks in or pushes out air. Due to a case of bad iphone directions we never quite made it to the cave itself, but it was still totally worth it! We saw a ton of incredibly beautiful grassland, herds and herds of buffalo (and one herd that walked inches from my car... buffalo crossing, anyone?), and a handful of mule deer. We even saw some prairie dogs!

Unfortunately, all of our fun actives and diversions meant we still had a ton to drive, and it was getting late pretty fast. Since we were camping that night, we wanted to make it to our campsite while it was still light. From the National Park we backtracked to Custer and took highway 16. Even though it was a race against the clock, it was probably one of my favorite driving days. The roads were just so gosh darn pretty! After getting on I-90 we drove through Bighorn National Forest. Honestly, I was actually a little devastated that we weren't able to stop (it was really starting to get dark, and we still had a ton left to drive), and that's another place that I absolutely want to go back to one day soon. The mountains were so incredibly beautiful, and there were these amazing pine trees, with delicate, long trunks, which were surrounded by purple flowers. It was probably one of the prettiest things I've ever seen. The drive through Bighorn also opened my eyes to how ill-suited my V4 engine was for mountain driving... My little baby Corolla could barely make it to 60 MPH on the steep roads, and Hannah's well-loved V6 Lexus was kicking its butt! 

Our next stop was Cody, Wyoming. The drive there was really beautiful, with incredible rock formations. We drove through some pretty dramatic gullies at the tail end of Bighorn. When we finally made it to Cody it was dark. We hit up Walmart to get some food for our two days in Yellowstone, and grabbed a super late dinner at Wendy's, where we watched some fireworks in the parking lot before heading towards Yellowstone. At this point it was around 10 PM, and we were looking for our Rex Hale campsite in the dark! Hannah was convinced we had missed it, but we finally found it! It was around 10:40 PM when we pulled up and set up our tent (thank goodness it wasn't raining), and we literally had no idea what our surroundings looked like. It was definitely a pleasant surprise in the morning when we woke up to beautiful mountains (and a rainbow) surrounding our little campsite!

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