Thursday, December 6, 2007

Honeymoon - Day 9

Day 9 – December 5, 2007

Didn’t get the early start as we hoped, but it stays dark until late so really there was no point in getting up too early. We wouldn’t have been able to see anything while on the road. As it was we, okay me – Robert was already up, rolled out of bed about 6:30am. It was a chilly 16-degree in Wall with a light dusting of snow. We skipped breakfast and were on the road by 7:15am heading south on State Route 240 towards Badlands National Park. The $15 entrance fee was waived because we used our America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Pass. We knew we would be visiting quite a few National Parks so we bought the pass when we visited Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in Montana. For only $80 the pass gets us in free to a number of parks and monuments and is good for a year. By the time our trip is over I think we’ll have got our monies worth and then some.

Badlands National Park was beautiful. The lighting wasn’t too good for photography, the sky was rather gray because there were some low-lying clouds, but nevertheless I took quite a few pictures. As soon as we entered the park we saw a Bighorn Sheep walking across a field. A paved road looped through the park, but we saw plenty of mule deer from the comfort of our car. The grass was so long that when the deer laid down all we could see were their big ears sticking up. By December the deer usually lose their antlers, but there were a few still sporting huge racks. While we watched two deer started butting their heads together and hearing their antlers strike against each other was a cool sound.

We spent about almost two-hours cruising the Badlands then it was back on the State Route 44 towards Rapid City. We drove through Buffalo Gap National Grassland. I thought this was rather funny, because the national grassland area is the same type of grassland we’d seen while driving throughout the entire state! Somewhere along SR-44 we saw a huge dinosaur (a fake one of course) in a field. There was nothing around it, except a few grazing horses. Another oddity we’ve come across during our travels.

We reached Rapid City (24-degrees) around 11:15am. A disgusting lunch of overcooked chicken at Wendy’s then onward to Mt. Rushmore. I am so glad we have a GPS. Robert bought it specifically for our trip. I can never tell which direction we’re headed. I think we’re heading north, but the map reads west. I’m a mess without a big ocean to use as a reference point! Plus, it’s nice to find gas stations and hotels miles down the road so we can plan our stops. We call our GPS Maggie and she’s become a really good friend, although I have to compete with her sometimes for Robert’s attention.

One word to describe Mt. Rushmore – AWESOME! It was so awe-inspiring that I started to cry. I was so amazed by its beauty and history. This is definitely on my Top 5 list of must-sees in America! Traveling off-season does have its advantages. Although some attractions have been closed, the ones that are open have absolutely no people. At Mt. Rushmore we saw maybe 20-25 other people and I was able to get some really good pictures without any people getting in the way. I could have sat there all afternoon just watching the sun move across the stone faces; an incredible experience for me.

Just after arriving at Mt. Rushmore we saw a mountain goat walking through the parking lot. As we were leaving Robert spotted about 6-8 more grazing alongside the road. We stopped and were able to get unbelievably close. They looked at us at first, but kept grazing once realizing we weren’t a threat. As they grazed, one moved closer and closer until he/she was about 10-feet away.

We have seen so much wildlife during our trip, but the one thing I haven’t seen that I am very disappointed about is bison. No other state has as many public herds as South Dakota, but the only one we saw was on the Idaho/Wyoming border in Yellowstone National Park. However, we saw (or think we saw) a small herd hanging out in a field next to someone’s barn just off Highway 385 near Custer. Custer, along with the Badlands, is one of the areas where bison are found. Because of the bison’s close proximity to buildings, I wasn’t sure if they were penned in or not. We passed by so quickly that we were only able to catch a glimpse.

We followed SR-89 and Highway 18 into Wyoming. About 3:10pm we crossed into Wyoming. The grasslands are so flat that we could see for miles. The golden grass against a darkening purplish-blue sky was so pretty, plus there were numerous herds of pronghorn grazing alongside the road. It was one of those sights where words can’t adequately describe its beauty. We made good time crossing into Colorado on I-25 at about 7pm.

Our first thoughts about Colorado – stinky! It was dark so we couldn’t see the surrounding countryside, but man, did it smell like cow crap, literally. At first I blamed Robert, but as we drove it kept getting worse. I can only assume there were cow farms, thus the heavy poop smell, somewhere out in the darkness. Another observation about Colorado is the highways suck. We were on a major interstate coming through Fort Collins and it was thump thump thump all the way. I suppose the harsh winters take a toll on the roads, but it was so irritating. I couldn’t even rest my head on the seat, because the constant bouncing gave me a headache.

Finally, Denver! and Carrie and Jacob (Jeremy was at work) standing on the front porch in their jammies waiting for us! Talk about a welcoming site. A warm dinner of lasagna, some good conversation, and off to bed. Of course I waited until Jacob, who’s 6, to go to bed first. Total travel miles for today: 524.

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