Day 3 of our 21 day adventure

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The alarm goes off, it’s 4:00 a.m. I am eager to start another day and so is Brian. After getting ready and packing the car, we head to the front desk to check-out. The staff is friendly here at the Comfort Inn and they offer to serve us breakfast early. It’s only 5:00 a.m. and my stomach doesn’t quite feel like it’s ready for food yet. But how can I really pass up a free meal? We sit quietly in the dining room; eating and catching a quick news update from the small television over in the far corner.

It’s 5:15 a.m. now, and our final destination of the day is Idaho Falls. The first thing we do is stop for gas and pray for safe travels as we begin our twelve-hour journey. Before long, we pass through Cody, WY. This is the city that I had originally wanted to stay in and I notice the Buffalo Bill Museum is located up ahead. I consider stopping at the museum, but I know that we already have so much planned for today. I shake the idea out of my mind and continue on. As we near Big Horn National Forest, we come across the city of Sheridan. The view of the mountains from here is unbelievable and I wonder what living here would be like. Just as we reach the base of the mountain, we find ourselves in a small town called Dayton. I begin to file away these places in the back of my mind as potential retirement communities for when we are eventually old and grey.

IMG_0318 copy for WPAs we head up the mountain pass, the towns below become mere specks off in the far distance. It feels like we are the only people who exist on the earth right now. The view is breathtaking from up here and we stop several times to get out and take pictures. I am mesmerized by the tranquility and the views of the valley below. I don’t understand why the mountain is so void of people and I wonder if it’s like this all the time. We wind our way along the tree-lined mountain pass. The pine forest completely covers the landscape for as far as the eye can see. I have never seen so many perfect looking trees in one place before; the colors are bright and vivid, and each one is like a delicate piece of artwork created by a master artist.

IMG_0345 copy for WPAs we near a bend in the road, we start to see the beginning of a lake coming into view. We notice signs for a picnic area and decide to pull over and take a look around. The climb up to the lake area is easily accessible, and when we reach the top, we are thrilled to find that we have the entire lake to ourselves. The lake is completely still and eerily quiet, except for an occasional fish releasing ringlets on the surface of the water. The tranquility of this place reminds me of what I imagine heaven will be like. A soft breeze blows gently across the water and gives me goosebumps. I sense the presence of God all around us; it’s surreal and indescribable the way that this place is making me feel right now. I am tempted to ask Brian if we should renew our vows here. We have been planning to renew our vows somewhere along the way, and it seems like there could be no better place on earth. Something holds me back though and I remain silent, lingering in deep thought. The enchantment is soon broken though, and I remember that we still have so many more places on our agenda. Grudgingly, we walk back to the car and say goodbye to one of the most beautiful places on the face of the earth. We vow to come back someday, perhaps eventually to live out the rest of our days.

IMG_0369 copy for WPAfter driving a little farther down the road, we are now at a place called “Shell Falls.” I can hear the roar of the falls up ahead and run to get a better look. I am now standing in front of the 120 ft. high falls. The water is hitting the granite rocks in the bottom with such force, that the water is spraying back up into the air, forming rainbows in the streaming sun-rays. I didn’t think that anything could compare to the beauty of what we had just seen by the lake, but now I am not so sure. We look around and notice some short hiking trials and decide to explore even more. After taking a million photographs, we head back to the car to continue on our journey.  About an hour has passed and we decide to stop at a visitor center. IMG_0414 copy for WPIt feels good to stretch our legs after our long journey and we walk up to a large dam that overlooks a beautiful lake. After a short tour through the visitor center, we are on our way once more. Shortly after, we drive past a strange looking house, overlooking the road from the top of a hill. IMG_0426 copy for WPThe house looks abandoned and Brian decides to take some pictures. The house leaves us wondering about the history behind it.

After several hours of driving, we are finally nearing Yellowstone National Park. A restaurant up ahead seems inviting and we stop for lunch. After relaxing in the lodge style atmosphere and then perusing the gift shop after a hearty meal, we finally make it to the entrance of Yellowstone National Park. I am excited because I have been here before, and I begin to reminisce about vacationing here with the girls when they were little. As soon as we head through the gates though, I realize that I am not seeing what I remember. Apparently Mother Nature has played a cruel trick on us. Wildfires have completely ruined the spectacular views that once graced this magnificent place. I am shaken by the devastation that is rapidly unfolding all around us. The farther we drive, the worse it gets, and I wonder if the park will ever be able to recover the beauty that was once here. After reveling in such beauty and splendor earlier today and comparing it to what I am seeing now, I am in disbelief and wishing that we hadn’t come here. I am suddenly reminded of a graveyard and sadness begins to overtake me. We keep hoping that around the next bend, we will see some sign of beauty that hasn’t been lost, but unfortunately, that isn’t what we find. IMG_0435 copy for WPAfter driving around for a couple of hours, searching for a part of the forest that isn’t scorched, we find a hiking trail near the lake and decide to stop and explore on foot. Unfortunately, we are greeted with a warning sign that bears are in the area and so the trail has been closed. IMG_0443 copy for WPAfter getting back in the car, we decide to drive a little bit further to see if there is anywhere else we might want to explore. After a little while longer, it becomes apparent that the devastation is never-ending and we decide to head out toward the Grand Tetons.

As we continue on, the Grand Tetons come into view and I am relieved that these mountains are still as beautiful as I remember. Along the way, we find a stopping point near a lake and hike up above a small beach to get a better view. IMG_0505 copy for WPThe mountains look hazy in the background, because of the humidity. People are laughing and having a good time; some are standing over by a small dam, taking pictures and playing in the water. Then there are a few people down below on the beach, playing in the sand. We have found our own little spot, up and out of the way, but I still find myself wishing that we were alone again, like we were this morning at the lake. It has been such a long day and the hours of driving are starting to wear on us.

We head out for the last time today; making our way to Idaho Falls where we will stay for the night. After getting a bit turned around, we finally find our way to the hotel and are pleasantly surprised to find that they are offering us a free dinner. We only have about an hour before dinner ends, so we quickly unpack the car and head down to the dining room for dinner. Soup and salad are what is being offered and I am glad that I am not very hungry, since the food on the buffet is almost gone. After such a long day, we talk about the things we have seen so far and the places we’ve been. We’ve had enough memories already to last us a lifetime.

The continuation… Day 2 of our 21 day adventure

IMG_0200 copy for WPThe day is turning out to be a scorcher. It’s already in the mid-ninety’s and we have finally arrived at Badlands National Park. IMG_0197 Copy for WPI spot the first viewing area and we both scramble out of the car in eager anticipation of what we might see. The funny thing is, as I make my way out of the car, I spy the same young man that we saw earlier in the day during the “Attack of the killer bugs.” I stop to speak to him and he recognizes us too. I ask him if he was attacked by the biting insects as we were, but fortunately for him, he is wearing long pants and so they didn’t seem to bother him. I feel relieved about my decision not to warn him earlier as we wave goodbye. IMG_0207 copy for WPWe make our way towards the edge of the scenic outlook.  There stretching before us is a massive canyon of gray jagged rock formations. The sight is breathtaking and leaves us speechless. We stare in awe and wonder and I see Brian digging into his camera bag for the long distance lens. He is new to photography and we are both hoping and praying that the photos capture the true glory of this place. With these first impressions soaring through our minds, we set out to find another viewing area; hoping for another chance at capturing the beauty that is unfolding all around us.

IMG_0229 copy for WPThe next scenic outlook isn’t as easy to get to and requires us to walk along a wooden platform as the sun beats down upon us. The wooden platform is raised up above the ground several feet and looks like it has recently been erected. As we near the end of the platform, we begin to see the same grey canyon that we saw before, only now it is directly in front of us, close enough for us to climb down from the platform and explore to our hearts desire. It’s as if I am viewing a million sand castles; once created by watery sand, poured through the hands of children playing at the beach. We carefully climb down into the canyon. The heat is searing and I feel the sweat dripping down the back of my neck. Feels like those bugs are back, attacking me. But really it’s just my own body reacting to the heat of the day. There are no plants anywhere in sight. Just a dry canyon of massive rocks. Reminds me of a charcoal grill and I feel like I could be dinner for the next predator that comes along. I finally start to feel a little more at ease after walking around for a while. At first I was intimidated by the jagged edges of the rocks and the sheer size of what we were about to climb into. IMG_0250 copy for WPI am actually having fun now, exploring the nooks and crannies which seem to erupt out of nowhere. There are a few caves, but they seem impossible to get to. After posing for several pictures, we make our way back to the wooden platform. A maze of dry hardened waterways mark our path and help us to find our way back. Once we are back on the wooden platform, I am a little relieved as I am starting to feel the sun’s effects and know that I need to bring more water with me the next time that we stop.

IMG_0256 copy for WPWalking back to the car is tiresome and it feels good to be able to sit down and rest for a few minutes before we head out once more. The sky is so blue here, against the backdrop of the rock formations. There’s hardly a cloud in sight and we continue to see wildlife all around us. As we make our way along the winding roads, we are met with road construction. Every car is at a complete standstill and it looks like we will be waiting for a while. We roll down the windows and settle in for the wait. IMG_0264 copy for WPAll of a sudden, we notice a fawn and her mother standing just a few yards away from our car. It’s always so exciting to see wildlife up close and the fawn begins to nurse from its mother. Brian gets his camera out and snaps a few shots and then we realize that traffic is moving once more. Our journey of the Badlands ends shortly after we make our way through the road construction and drive through to the exit of the park.

IMG_0274 copy for WPThe road we are on now, will take us to Mt. Rushmore and we are excited for the opportunity to be able to spend part of the day there. It’s been a long day already, but we are finally nearing Mt. Rushmore. We passed Rapid City and are now entering the bustling city of Keystone, SD. Up ahead we spot the turn off for Mt. Rushmore and we are happy to almost be there. Once we arrive, we pay the parking fee and head up to the parking ramp. It’s extremely crowded and there’s hardly any place to park. We finally find a spot and make our way up to the beginning of the memorial. The place is really built up now and looks completely different from the last time I was here. IMG_0278 copy for WPI notice various shops, a museum, and pathway that leads up closer to the actual site. There are rows of flags lining the concrete platform that leads up to the national memorial. We look for our state flag and find it near the middle. After taking several photographs, stopping in for some ice cream, and looking through the museum, we head out onto the path that leads to the viewing sites. A wooden structure has been built to allow visitors a comfortable walk up to the base of Mt. Rushmore. IMG_0292 copy for WPBefore long, we are close enough to look up the nose of George Washington. It’s beautiful here, walking through the pine forest, and gazing up at the sculpted presidents. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln are all depicted here. The sculpture is 60 feet high, and I feel so small in comparison.

IMG_0304 copy for WPOnce we have had our fill of Mt. Rushmore, we head out once more. This time we are headed for Buffalo, WY where we will stay for the night. We spot an old pioneer town along the way and stop to have a look. The place is old and run down and I am second guessing my decision to stop here. They hand us an old tape recorder that tells us the history of this place as we walk from one building to the next. I start to feel my energy dwindle from all that we have done today and also because the temperature is now over 100 degrees. After patiently going through the small town, we say goodbye and continue on our way.

Photo Credit: www.sheridanmedia.com
Photo Credit: http://www.sheridanmedia.com

We finally make it to Buffalo and it’s close to 6:00 p.m. now. We check in at our hotel and I feel disappointed because I realize that I have made a mistake when booking our room. I wanted to stay in Cody, WY and I have mixed up the towns somehow and realize that we are not in the same town that I wanted to be in. There is nothing left to do, except to find some place to eat. We notice that most of the restaurants are closed down and so we drive farther down the road to see if there is anything open.  After driving down several different roads, searching for a place to go, we finally discover a small downtown area that has a few shops located along a small river.  We decide to eat at the “Busy Bee Cafe.” It’s a cute little restaurant with old world charm.

Photo Credit: jensbookthoughts.com
Photo Credit: jensbookthoughts.com

As we enter, we are greeted by a young girl who leads us to a table by the front window. We are the only customers in the restaurant. I order the French dip sandwich and we enjoy the scenic view from our table as we wait. There is a horse and carriage taking people for rides right outside the restaurant, and looking out the opposite window we can see the river down below us. The food turns out to be pretty good and we end the day with an after dinner walk amidst the quaint downtown shops.