On Tuesday, June 20, we depart Blue Water Resort, heading for the Wind River View Campground at Boulder, WY. On the we stopped at the Fossil Butte National Monument. It is just about 15 miles west of Kemmerer, WY. It is an awesome display of some of the most well defined fossils we have seen. The Travel Channel was filming the displays so we had to wait until they weren't doing any audio and then they let us go thru and see the exhibits. One is a full skeleton of an ancient crocodile. Many fish fossils, insect fossils, snake fossils and bird fossil. If you ever are in that neighborhood, it is well worth the stop.
After the monument we went on to the Wind River View Campground. The campground is nice but not many trees. It does have a good view of the Wind River Range. Boulder, Wy has a post office and a small store and not much else. (pop. 70). Boulder is right at 7000 feet altitude so even though the days are warm the nights are quite cool, in the 30's and low 40's. On our first afternoon, we drove to Pinedale, WY which is about 12 miles west of Boulder. It is a fairly good size town with several restaurants and quite a bit of shopping.
While at Wind River View Campground, we went up to Lake Fremont. It was a beautiful drive and after stopping for lunch at the lodge, we drove on up the canyon to the ski resort at the head of the canyon, which is in the Wind River Range.
We also took a quick trip up to a small lake called Half Moon Lake. Even though it was a very small lake they had a stern wheeler boat which gave dinner cruises. Unfortunately, the lodge was closed for remodeling and they were not doing the cruises.
We also took a side trip up to Boulder lake. It was also a pretty lake which lies at the edge of the sage brush and the foot of the mountains. There is a guest ranch there that was an old working ranch. They offered pack trips up into the Wind River Mountain, Fishing, hiking, horseback riding, etc. However, their prices were rather steep.
Our last side trip was up to the Green River Lakes. These lakes (there is two of them) are the head waters of the Green River which runs from Wyoming down through Utah and eventually joins with the Colorado River in Southeastern Utah, to finally end up in the gulf of California. The trip up the canyon was beautiful (the last 17 miles was dirt road, but well worth the drive) with the Green river meandering through fields and pastures. The higher we went it became a valley with a lot of pine, spruce and aspen trees. The lakes lie in a box canyon which is surround with majestic mountain peaks on three sides. The upper lake can only be reached by hiking. It empties into the lower lake which in turn empties into the Green River. It has excellent fishing and a nice campground. You can even swim but I think the water might be a bit chilly. The altitude is above 8000 feet. On the way down, we stopped at a small tavern & café and had a quick beer and talked to an old timer who had lived in the valley for many years. It was a very interesting conversation. He was quite colorful.
On the way back we took a little side trip up to another lake. New Fork Lake. It was quite picturesque and had a small campground. Much too small for us. We got back to the campground tired but happy.
Our last side trip was to Jackson, WY. It was a long drive, about 90 miles. It did go through some beautiful country, including open plains with large cattle ranches and then into a mountain canyon, which followed the Snake River into Jackson. We toured the town and then had lunch at the Silver Dollar Saloon. The food was okay, nothing spectacular. The bar itself is quite unique. Furnished in a definite western motif. After lunch we rode a chairlift up the mountain and then rode the Alpine Slide back down. The view from the top was really great. We then took a stage coach ride around the city. It really wasn't worth the money. After that we decided to head home. Overall Jackson was a little disappointing. For all the hype, it doesn't have a whole lot to offer other than the usual tourist trap.
On our way to Casper we went across the historic South Pass. There wasn't much left to see but it was interesting.
After leaving Wind River View RV Park we spent the night at Fort Casper Campground which was supposed to be one of the better parks, but hasn’t been kept up to par so is now just a big gravel parking lot. We were glad we only had one night there even though there was a lot of things to see and do. Maybe some other time.
We got to Hart Ranch the next day and were really enthralled with the resort. It is beautiful, but big (500+ sites plus 66 rental units) set in the edge of the Black Hills. The sites are all cement pads with lots of lawn and the lodge itself is beautiful with a mini-mart, gas station and excellent travel information center. There is an Olympic size swimming pool with a restaurant/snack bar attached, tennis courts, volleyball court, horseshoe pits, shuffleboard courts, etc. They have excellent kids programs, so naturally lots of kids. My only complaint would be that they need a 2nd pool just for adults, but there is so much to see and do that we don’t have time anyway and the weather has been in the 90's, which is too hot for me to stay outdoors. The wind blows a lot and we have had quite a few thunder storms so there is some variety. The RV park is only a part of the 13,000 acre working Hart Ranch. There is also a golf course with privately owned condos. They also have a windshield repair person on-site and an appliance repair person, both of whom we needed. My washer quit working, which turned out to be too much soap buildup (I was unaware that the water at Wind River was very soft and didn’t cut back on the amount of soap I was using). It took several washing cycles to get all the suds out, plus we also scooped suds out. The guy said I had enough soap in the machine to keep me going for a year – oops.
Our first sightseeing trip was to Thunderhead Falls which is located 600 feet inside the oldest gold mine in the Black Hills. You walk along a rushing underground stream that ends at a 30' waterfall, but you can only see the bottom ten feet or so because it comes rushing out of the ceiling. As the stream comes rushing out of the mine it creates another smaller falls. We really enjoyed it.
The day after we arrived we all got on the Grand Canyon Railway for a 2 hour train trip to the canyon. We only had 3 hours so we just walked around part of the rim and in and out of the souvenir shops. All we usually buy are souvenir books. The canyon is awesome in its magnitude, but all the canyons we have been through in AZ with their magnificent colors are better. On the 2 hour trip back there was a train robbery. They rode up with their horses, boarded the train and went through the cars demanding money. It was pretty cool. Of course, when the Marshall came through he got booed because he didn’t catch them. It was a 2 hour ride back so altogether it was a long day.
On the 3rd we went to a chuck wagon dinner and dinner show (one of many around here) at Fort Hays which is a reconstructed western town with working iron shops, some of which were in the film “Dancing With The Wolves”. The dinner was BBQ beef, baked potatoes, applesauce, biscuits and spice cake along with a western music and comedy show that was pretty good.
After the show we loaded ourselves (4 bus loads) onto buses going to Mt. Rushmore for the 4th of July fireworks. We had been told that you needed to get there early in the morning if you were going by car and they weren’t kidding. There were cars parked along the highway for miles and the estimate was 30,000+ people. We found a spot on a hill just up from where the buses were that was in the grass and I had a tree I held onto and had a great view of the fireworks. I thought if you have seen one big fireworks show you have seen them all – wrong! These were magnificent plus they were fired from right behind the presidents’ heads. Awesome! Coming by bus was great, however; getting back was something else. The fireworks ended around 10:15 but the buses had to wait until the canyon emptied of traffic so didn’t get onto the buses until after midnight.
Our next outing was to Wind Cave National Park that Bob wanted to go to the last time we were through here but didn’t have enough time. Once we got there we decided the tour had way too many steps, but there was still plenty to do.
We went through Custer (where we had lunch) and took a drive through Custer State Park canyons and plains and saw a multitude of wildlife including bison, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, antelope and lot of prairie dogs. The road eventually met up with the Needles Highway which is an impressive highway through the Black Hills with narrow roads, extremely small one-way tunnels and magnificent scenery, including Sylvan Lake ( a really pretty lake with boat rentals, swimming and hiking, but it was too late in the day to really enjoy it). We ended the day with dinner in Hill City, a picturesque town that is also the end of the line for the old 1880 steam train that runs between them and Keystone. It would have been a neat trip, but we just didn’t have the time.
The next day was a trip to the Sitting Bull Crystal Caverns which is reputed to have been a wintering spot for Sitting Bull and is considered to be sacred ground.. It had 180 steps down into the cavern, but the rest of the group was fatter than me so decided if they could do it so could I. It was well worth the effort as it has the world’s largest display of dogtooth crystal structures (6sided crystals that grow down from the ceiling) that includes the largest dogtooth crystal (22” long) in the world. It was a long hike back up those 180 steps and after all the caves we have been in and I have not hit my head – on the very last step I really bonked it. Right next to the main cave is another cave that is about 200 feet deep that may actually connect with the main cave. Supposedly Sitting Bull camped in this cave and when they first entered the cave there were two bears already in occupancy; hence the name “Two Bear Cave”.
The next day I wanted to go to Wonderland Cave, but it would have been a long drive and we were pretty much spelunked out so stayed locally and went to Bear Country, which ended up being a great option. It is like the Game Farm only bigger and much more exceptional. It is a drive-thru that featured arctic wolves, grey wolves, elk, reindeer, foxes, coyotes, racoons, cougars, bobcats, lynx, mountain goats, dahl sheep and, of course bears, both black and grizzley. The bison, reindeer and bears were all free roaming so got to see them up close and personal. At the end of the bear area was a cattle guard where a big black was pacing back and forth and basically was only letting one car out at a time. We just barely cleared his hind end as we went out. All the
Our next outing was to The Journey Museum which was an incredible trek through time, from the violent upheaval that formed the mystical Black Hills more than 2.5 billion years ago to the continuing saga of the Western frontier (straight from the brochure). Actually, it really was an impressive museum. We are really impressed with South Dakota and their tax structure and real estate prices are excellent for retirees. We are applying to come back this winter to be camp hosts and will probably look at property locations. Also, because of their taxes, we will be setting up South Dakota as our legal residence and getting driver licenses when we get the time to come back and do that. We are getting ready to pull out tomorrow heading to Spooner. It is 400 miles so will have to make two night stops. We are really looking forward to seeing the kids, plus we are going to fly Ally and Syd out for a couple of weeks.
The first stop would be at Famil-E-Fun Campground in Mitchell, SD. This was a pretty little campground with lots of trees. It was just off of the interstate so it was very handy. Mitchell, SD is the home of the Corn Palace. We didn't visit the Corn Palace as we were there on our last trip in 2003.This would be our last stay in South Dakota