Archive for the ‘Devils Tower National Monument’ Category

Mermaids in Montana

September 16, 2010 - 10:44 pm No Comments

Woke up at 7am to see beautiful clear skies and a sunlit Devil’s Tower through the back window of our truck. It’s cold. Stef’s got a high-tech sleeping bag, but mine sucks. Hands and feet are frozen.

Hopped into the public shower at the campground to get warmed up. The “public shower on a road trip” dilemma. Do you shower with your sandals on to save your feet from fungus, or do you shower with your sandals on and risk them stinking up the car for the whole day? I kept my sandals on, and it turns out that Stef did, too.

We headed back over to Devil’s Tower for a morning walk around its base. Good to see it at different times of day, because the sun hits it differently. Again, I found that the walk around was a little too close to the base, and it’s hard getting the true perspective of the thing.

Devils Tower

Stef at Devils Tower

Rock at Devils Tower

It’s not quite symmetrical like I had always imagined. One side has a gentler slope. If you get the right angle on it, it’s quite beautiful.

Devils Tower

“Plop, plop, plop.” That’s the sound of a red squirrel systematically dislodging pine cones in the branches above and letting them fall to the ground all around us. Doesn’t matter if we’re underneath. The red squirrel has no worries.

Devils Tower


Devils Tower

Cows at Devils Tower

Lots of senior citizens and bikers around. We’ve been surrounded by them for days. Seems like this is a popular route for them.

Driving west from Devil’s Tower, the Wyoming landscape is full of yellow scrubland, with bluish mountains in the distance. Lots of cows and horses. I’m a bit disappointed we haven’t seen a bison yet.

Red Truck in Wyoming

Mountains and Scrub

Crazy Woman Creek

Highway in Wyoming

Welcome to Montana!

Heading north into Montana, hills of goldenrod, tope, white, and patches of faded green scrub surrounded us. A blanket of gray loomed overhead.

We stopped in Billings for a nice lunch and hit the road again. As we zipped across the scrubland, a drizzle and stiff wind battered us from side to side. Stef was a champ, driving between 90 and 100 mph most of the way and aggressively passing on the narrow 2-lane highway while I worked on my blog.

Cell phone service in this open country is spotty. Stef seems to be having better luck with Verizon than I am with AT&T. Wifi is hard to find, too. As everything piles up, this is going to make for some enormous blog entries.

Big Sky in Montana

Judith Gap Wind Farm

Road to Great Falls

We decided to stop for the night in Great Falls. At our guidebook’s recommendation, we stayed at the O’Haire Motor Inn, famous for it’s tiki bar/lounge called the Sip ‘n Dip.

Dinner at the Sip 'n Dip Tiki Lounge

We grabbed a quick dinner and then headed out to see the actual falls. At night, they are not so great.

When we got back to the Sip ‘n Dip at 9:30pm, the place was raging. Locals crowded the bar while an old lady sat in a booth and banged out some tunes on her keyboard. Through one of the windows behind the bar, a mermaid playfully danced in the adjoining pool. What a concept! She was quite the performer, constantly smiling, doing acrobatics, flirting with anyone who made eye contact with her. I was completely mesmerized by the mermaid. Stef was not impressed with the number of pictures I took (56).

Mermaid at the Sip 'n Dip

Mermaid at the Sip 'n Dip

Mermaid at the Sip 'n Dip

Mermaid at the Sip 'n Dip

Jeff & the Mermaid

After a few minutes, the mermaid was joined by a merman, who did nothing but float and stare awkwardly into the bar. Lame.

Merman at the Sip 'n Dip

On the other side of the bar, “Piano Pat” wailed away on her keyboard. She’s a local celebrity.

Piano Pat

We’re making it an early night tonight because we need to get an early start tomorrow morning. Our goal is to get to Glacier National Park by 8am, and there’s still a lot of Montana to cross…

Rushmore to Devil’s Tower

September 15, 2010 - 9:31 pm 1 Comment

Returned to Mount Rushmore first thing in the morning so that we could catch the morning sun shining on the presidents’ faces.

Entrance to Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore

George & Tom



Grand View Terrace

Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore

Jeff & Stef at Mount Rushmore

We walked along the trail in front of the memorial for some different perspectives, had a quick bite in the café, and then hit the road for Crazy Horse Memorial, the Native American answer to Mount Rushmore and a privately funded operation. The sculpture itself is massive but far from complete, so it’s not all that impressive.

Crazy Horse Memorial

Next to the parking lot is an enormous visitor center filled with “authentic” Native American souvenirs and cosmetic jewelry. All this schlock really cheapens the experience for me, and I appreciate the tastefulness of the National Parks in this regard.

At $10/person, the Crazy Horse experience isn’t worth it. The view from the highway is good enough.

Aside from the big billboards and cheesy attractions, the landscape of the surrounding area is beautiful. Craggy, anthropomorphic rocks carpet poke through a blanket of dark green forest. Stef and I think they should expand on the Mount Rushmore idea by carving American heroes, maybe one from each state, into the mountains everywhere. It would be a lot of work, for sure, but the place would make a killing.

Rocks in a Field

Our next stop was Wind Cave, one of the largest caves in the country. Inside the cave, they didn’t allow tripods and didn’t have railings for me to use to take longer exposures, but it didn’t really matter. It was mostly a dark, narrow walkway through vertical cracks, no big expanses or creative lighting like they have at Carlsbad and Luray. Stef seemed to enjoy it, but I found it underwhelming.

Colors of Wind Cave

Boxwork in Wind Cave

Large Wildlife on Roadway

Lunch was in Custer. We picked an authentic-looking Western restaurant and shared a buffalo burger. Tastes halfway between beef and lamb. I enjoyed it.

There seem to be a lot of Russian and Ukrainian exchange students in the area. Our young waitress was Russian. As I usually do with foreigners, I tried to joke around with her to show her that Americans (everyone assumes I am American) aren’t all stupid and humorless. When she ran through the list of dressings for our house salad, I smiled and told her I wanted Russian dressing. As I said it, it occurred to me that she might not know what Russian dressing is (it’s not really Russian), and that it might sound awkward. After an uncomfortable pause, the waitress excused herself. An embarrassed Stef glared at me and told me it sounded like a pick-up line.

We hit the road again. Stef volunteered to do most of the driving so that I could work on this blog and my photos in the car, which was a fantastic idea. I’m making slow progress on the blog, but with sunlight streaming in through the windows, it’s nearly impossible to see my photos. Do they have lightproof goggles that you can hook up to a laptop that can give you a view of your display? Nerdy, but I’d get a pair.

We stopped in Deadwood, Wyoming, since it has a cool name and is supposed to be a historic western town. Turns out it’s not much more than cheap-looking casinos and souvenir shops.

Stef & Jeff in Deadwood

We made a pit stop at Mt. Moriah Cemetery, where “Wild Bill” Hickock and “Calamity” Jane are buried. By all accounts, Jane was an ugly hooker obsessed with Hickock, whose dying wish was to be buried next to him. She got her wish, but I wonder how Hickock feels about it.

"Wild Bill" Hickock's Grave

Deadwood from Above

The last leg of today’s journey was to Devil’s Tower. In the official literature, Devil’s Tower doesn’t have an apostrophe, but I’m going break convention for grammatical accuracy. Devil’s Tower is an oddly shaped magmatic intrusion made famous by the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” It’s one of those weird places that I’ve always wanted to visit.

Field of Gold

Approaching Devils Tower

Steer at Devils Tower

Devils Tower

We arrived just as the sun was setting. At the park entrance, Stef and I bought an annual National Park pass for $80, which should save us a bundle on this trip alone. The drive into the park took us past a field filled with friendly, chirping prairie dogs. We pulled onto the turnout to sat hello, but we had to push on to beat the quickly setting sun.

Black-tailed Prairie Dog

Devils Tower

The visitor’s center takes you pretty close to the base of the tower. Too close, I think. When you’re that close, Devil’s Tower doesn’t stick out from the surrounding landscape, and it’s much harder to appreciate its grandeur. We took a short walk around the base. The sun painted the rocks orange, and the sunset filled the sky with color.

Devils Tower

Columns of Devils Tower

Stef & Jeff at Devils Tower

Wyoming Sunset

Wyoming Sunset

After Labor Day, everything in the area starts to close down, including the restaurants. We were lucky enough to find a little diner just up the road, called the Tower View Restaurant, still serving food. The husband and wife who ran it and the adjoining gift shop were very friendly. Stef described them as a “Bob and Ethel.”

We arrived at our campground near the base of Devil’s Tower just as the last wisp of light disappeared into the night.

Stars Over Devils Tower

We’re spread out in the back of our truck, tucked into sleeping bags. I’m exhausted. It’s only 9:30pm, but it feels like it’s 2am. Another big day tomorrow.