Can you believe they charged twelve bucks for this place? All we wanted was some nice snapshots, and as soon as we turned the corner there was a toll booth, accompanied by numerous signs all saying “NO U-TURN”. As a very smart man-squid hybrid once said, “It’s a trap!” There is not much to say about this place, it was pretty much what you would expect from the pictures of it. The funny thing is that Rushmore did little to appease us, but as soon as we turned around to walk towards the car, we faced a ginormous mountain with pine stands all around. We now understand why they built the presidents facing in that direction. Also, it was humorous to us that everyone was taking pictures of the stone structure, yet nobody stopped to admire the actual natural beauty of the trees. Not everyone is a nature nut like us I suppose.
Heading out of South Dakota, steep inclines formed the Black Hills territory, with gorgeous mountain lakes and sheer cliff sides surrounding us the entire way. At some point numerous sections of trees became barren. We played detective and tried to figure out the cause of all this. Was it logging? Fire? Some sort of mutant beaver? Although we could never truly rule out the beaver, we decided the bark showed signs of being scorched. It was quite a spectacle to see just how many miles of trees were now gone. Barren wastelands took the place of what used to be forest. But this led to more questions, what caused the fire? Was it natural, since we are in the middle of a heatwave? Or was it a control burn, perhaps an accident? Who knows. But we do understand the huge importance fire plays in the ecosystem, recycling the nutrients into the soil and keeping the land fertile.
This state is full of many different landscapes. Initially, it was comprised of mountainous terrain with beautiful pine forests along the hills every twist of the way. It seemed almost unreal, how places like this could exist, being touched by mankind so minimally. As we drove on we noticed a large and intriguing cloud in the distance. It was lower than all of the other ones, but it was still white. It was more like a column than an actual cloud. Since we had been seeing stands of barren trees we assumed it was a fire. The highway we were on interestingly enough was headed straight for this mystery cloud. The more we drove, the bigger it got, and soon we knew for sure that this was a signature forest fire. Eventually we rounded a bend and on a far Hillside we could see the roaring fire in action. Well it wasn’t necessarily roaring but it felt intense, sending smoke into the air that could be seen for miles. We pulled over to take some photos and I noticed an odd mix of circumstances. There was this fire in the distance, completely obliterating a large tract of land, but where I stood, horses were grazing and birds resumed chirping as normal. Continuing on, the mountains disappeared and were traded for flatter turf. Unlike previous states, this flat land was somewhat homogenous, which led to boredom. Wyoming broke our rule of each new state being cooler than the last. I suppose we were wrong in assuming the entire state would interest us, as were driving through the whole thing.
After staying over in a motor lodge, we were on the road to Grand Teton. Flat roads again became beautiful mountains, this time with new rock formations we hadn’t seen before. Rich browns, reds, grays and blacks filled these stone structures with beauty. The trees were also of different colors, not just green but also orange and grey. The Wind River flowed beside our highway and some beautiful cabins were built right beside it. We agreed that we were quite jealous of the residents in those homes. Some roadwork was being done in the area so we had to sit idle for a while. I got out and snapped some shots of wildflowers. Soon enough we were granted passage and we continued on. All of a sudden we were blessed with a glorious image of the Rocky Mountains in the background. They were incredibly picturesque, dark brown with snow capped peaks, and even some trees resided on the slopes. The more we drove the bigger the mountains got, and the pictures we took sincerely do not do them justice. They look so small and minor in the photographs but truly they encompassed it all. We ended up reaching Grand Teton National Park and this place was beautiful.
As we drove around some absolutely stunning mountain lakes, Nat King Cole’s Unforgettable was playing in the car and it was the perfect pick for the scene. We stopped a few times along the road to soak in everything. I noticed that there were fifty thoughts running through my head all at once, and I couldn’t give one more than three seconds before switching to another thought. Finding a campsite was no arduous task as it gave us an excuse to look at the mountains, lakes, forests, grasslands, or flowers. I even think I saw a bison herd in the background, but I am not sure. After setting up camp, Dan and I geared up and hit the Lupine Trail. We had no idea what we were in store for. For starters, we began the trail at 3pm and didn’t return until 8:30pm. The entire trail, the whole thing, was swarmed with mosquitoes, and in our infinite wisdom we did not spray ourselves nor bring any bug spray. Needless to say, the bugs definitely drove our pace up the mountain. The entire trail was a steep incline. With each little jump in elevation, the ecosystem definitely had a change. Forests lined the bottom, even being somewhat swampy. Next up vast patches of wildflowers, yellow, purple, red, and green ones grew as far as the eye could see. From that point on the landscape alternated between forest and field. In the pines we came across some grey little fowl, a little larger than a chicken. It curiously watched us until it climbed into the brush. As temperatures dropped the path became covered in snow. Trekking through the snow was slippery but doable. I noted that coming down would be a different story, as the snow mounds were quite steep, easy to climb up but not down. After about a mile in the snow we reached the endpoint, a beautifully frozen over mountain lake right adjacent to Grand Teton. It was quite, serene, even the mosquitoes understood not to bother us for the time being. By this time it was getting late, the sun was already not visible, and both of us were achy from the hike. Not wanting to encounter any bears becoming active during sundown, we were now in a race against the clock to get back to the car, joy. Rushing down the snow was not an easy task by any means. Steep declines provided some interesting antics for Dan and I. He preferred the one foot slide method using the other one for stability. I enjoyed the skiing method, not as safe but definitely twice as fun. Once we cleared the snowy parts the path became very rocky, which I think did wonders for my knees -_- Along our travels a cute little martin paced our way. It was intriguing, it wasn’t rushing but it wasn’t casually coming to us. It may have sniffed us, or just passed on by, but we clapped it away so no harm was done. After many, many bug bites, we finally reached the car, and man oh man were we glad to see it. Rushing in so no nagging bugs followed suit, we drove back to camp. Along the way the sunset cast awesome rays from behind the mountain. Dan got out to take pictures and I stayed in the car, just staring at the magnificent site. The song Hallelujah came on and it took me away to a spiritual realm where all was well. We grabbed a bite to eat at the Trapper, a grill residing by Signal Mountain. I had their signature Trapper sandwich, which was yummy yummy. It had alfalfa on it which intrigued me. Dan ate an Angus beef burger along with elk chili delight. His review was “delicious”, with a smile no less. Afterwards we did some housekeeping back at camp, and promptly passed out for the night. But not before Dan went to the loo, staring at the starry night and having a mindgasm. He wants to really stress how gorgeous the stars looked, every single one of them glowed exceptionally well.
Now knowing much better, we decided it to be a bright idea to be as prepared for today’s hike as possible. It was called Death Canyon after all. Dan made a hearty meal consisting of sautéed onions and potatoes, baconnn (mmm bacon) and scrambled eggs. Delicioso! The only annoyance about cooking our own meals is that it takes a while to make, and cleaning dishes is a hassle. But it is much cheaper in the long run. With all of this out of the way, we headed for the trailhead. Beginning the hike, we started out in a lowland forest. An abundance of water derived from the ice melt. We saw all of the plant species from yesterday, and a whole variety more. This ecosystem must not be as harshly specialized as the Lupine area. This may have to do with elevation differences, positioning, etc. As we hiked onward I was formulating that this terrain would be ideal for moose habitat. Lo and behold, not fifteen minutes from the trailhead, a female moose was resting in the marshy shade, not twenty feet from us. She just remained there the whole time, probably very much conditioned to hikers coming through daily. As we climbed in elevation, the diversity shifted to somewhat drier microclimate. There was still a lot of plant diversity, just different species this time. The thing we greatly enjoyed about this section was the abundance of shade, and breezes occurred frequently to please our souls. Next up we enjoyed a wonderful mountain lake view, more beautiful than the ones from yesterday. Every time there is a clearing it is so serene. There were so many crazy trees that grew right out of the side of a mountain, reshaping their trunk to suit them. They looked to defy gravity. One of the trees even used a rock as a support to grow higher. What kind of mountain hike would it be without the wildflowers? At this point, a lot of the turf was sunny wildflower fields. To our right, in the distance was an old school looking waterfall. Ahead were two mountains, and we were going to hike the valley in between them. As we continued we heard what we thought was howling wind. Further up the valley we saw very brief glimpses of rapids. We got pretty excited and quickened our pace. Soon enough we were treated to the site of gushing torrents, the result of the year round melting snow. It truly was a spectacle to behold. The pictures won’t do it justice. They lack the feeling of the mist, and the sound of the falling water. The higher we hiked the more intense the rapids became. Every fifteen minutes the water would do something more incredible. Seeing as how we decided we did not want to race the sun again, we decided to head down at this point. Along the way we noticed a couple varieties of animal scat. Some were really fibrous, kind of like horse manure, but horses weren’t anywhere nearby. I ruled out elk poop because my experience working at Safari provided me with the knowledge that elk poo looks like raisinettes. We also found some pebbly scat, possible belonging to bighorn sheep. We didn’t see any but who knows right? Personally, the size didn’t really match up with what I knew to be elk scat. Maybe the difference in diet or general lifestyle had an impact of fecal appearance. Maybe it was moose crap. Again, who knows? Trucking through the path once again, this time in reverse, we came across the same female elk, this time a couple hundred feet higher. One thing to note was that the mosquitoes were a very minimal nuisance at best. It could have been due to the fact that we actually used bug spray, or the change in ecosystem made all the difference. We were grateful for this regardless.
Now we are heading back to embrace the facility’s shower. We probably smell but frankly neither of us gives a damn. Maybe when we are in public, but that hasn’t happened too often. Then we shall cook us a meal, and sleepy sleep. We’re trying to sort out the photos (we have over 1000), we really want to post them as soon as we can. It’s just a lot of effort so bare with us. Adios!
In the morning we headed for good ole Yellowstone National Park. It was a pretty short drive, and that’s not just because we were used to 4-8 hour drives. The 2 parks are really close to each other, but they are veeeeery different once you get to know them. For starters, Yellowstone is big, very big. Extremely big! New Jersey is 8722 sq. miles, and Yellowstone is 3472 sq. miles. That means you can almost fit 3 Yellowstones into our Garden State, craziness! Regrettably we tried to find camping on a Friday, which meant every place was booked. After a while driving around we decided to book a campsite outside the park. We stopped a bunch of times along the way to check out the natural sites. Initially, the forests were much more of a monoculture, consisting of lodge pole pines. This gave off a much more open feeling, with little to no understory. We read some article explaining how these trees are very susceptible to diseases and a certain type of beetle, and I believe we saw evidence of this out in the wilderness, with many trees barren or dead brown. This made us sad. Once we got further into the park, the terrain shifted into hilly meadows containing sagebrush and numerous colors of wildflowers. Blue skies, white fluffy clouds, a really cleansing breeze, plus these beautiful meadows were all that we needed for a good cleansing. We passed a few bison herds just chilling by the river. Thanks to Safari I had become jaded to the site of buffalo, but Dan was eager to snap many photographs of the creatures. As we continued on there was a coyote strolling along the road, in no real hurry. We slowed down to snap a shot and just at that moment it decided to take a load off, literally. It was pure form I’ll tell you that much. The photo will tell it all. Following the river from high up on a mountain road, it turned into some pretty intense rapids. Wonderful site indeed. The rock formations were again something we had never seen before. Some of the rocks had crevices causing them to appear like a picket fence deep within the side of a cliff. We passed a little town which had an extremely odd quality. It was riddled with elk everywhere. Most of the individuals laid down not more than 5 feet from cars and or pedestrians. They seemed completely complacent in this location, Dan and I laughed at the circumstances and shrugged. Unfortunately, the weather was really shotty, thunderstorms expected to rain until early next morning. We raced against the clock to set up our tent in harrowing winds. Unsure whether we would see our lovely tent again, we decided to book it to a safe shelter. We ended up staying at a nice little local bookstore and café, waiting out the storm and/or enjoying some quiet time. And this is where I am currently, now let me drink my huckleberry tea!