Grand Teton National Park is one of the jewels of the great American western parks. It is located a few miles north of Jackson Hole, Wyoming and is a beautiful place to visit. The gorgeous Teton Mountains are an awesome backdrop to a great park, filled with lakes, animals and killer landscapes. The pictures I am posting cannot do it justice as to how gorgeous it actually is. The park itself is a great place to do some biking, hiking or running and many people were doing just that. Unfortunately for me and my timeframe, I had to view from afar but the views were breathtaking and I am thrilled to have had the chance to see the park.
The park itself is pretty small as far as national parks go or at least compared to its northerly neighbor. As you drive out the north exit of the park you immediately enter the famous Yellowstone National Park. As far as I am concerned it is the most famous of all the great western parks and also the basis for the amazing cartoon that was Yogi Bear in his beloved Jellystone Park! I was very excited to explore this great park.
I must say that the park is massive, much bigger than any of the other parks we visited. It was also gorgeous as the others were but for some reason I was a little disappointed in the park itself. Maybe disappointed is a bad word to use but I was just expecting more than what it was. I think this was one of those times where I over built something in my head which is something I try to never do but obviously it happens.
Old Faithful, the world famous geyser was a little bit of a letdown. First, we had to wait over an hour for it to erupt. I know that’s not the biggest deal but at the same time, just seemed like a waste of time and then when it finally did go off, it was cool for sure, but not exactly what you imagined it to be. Maybe I’m a bit jaded at times. That said, I am glad I saw it but that wasn’t the best part of the park.
I believe the best thing to see in the park is the gorgeous Artist Point view (above) of the lower Yellowstone Falls. It was really an awesome sight to see. Not in the same way that Victoria or Iguassu is amazing but because of the setting and the way the colors and the canyon made it look so cool. The photos look fake as many of my friends have told me but trust me they are real. I really enjoyed seeing the falls from Artist Point, even if it was raining!
As we drove north to exit at the northeast exit into Montana, we drove through the area where there are many bison and other animals. Not to mention some awesome landscapes and hill covered in colorful flowers. It was a great drive but it got a lot better when we exited the park and continued driving north toward Billings, Montana.
As you take the 212 out of the park and into Cooke City, Montana where it then dips back into Wyoming for an amazing drive, you are floored by the views that pictures cannot possibly do justice. These views get up about 12,000 feet in the air into the still snow covered peaks and hills. It was an awesome drive. It made me feel like I was in another country, maybe in the Himalayas or the Alps or somewhere in Africa. It was special and around every turn we would stop and just say wow.
Eventually we made our way up to Billings, Montana where we thought about staying for the night. After eating dinner at the outdoor Rex Hotel patio, we decided to drive a few more hours to get closer to South Dakota. I wasn’t tired, well that’s not true I was exhausted, but I wanted to ensure we got to do everything the next day so I volunteered to drive as far as I could that night. We ended up getting all the way to a place called Buffalo, Wyoming which is essentially a road with a Super 8 Hotel on it and a gas station. It was lovely but we were really glad we made it all that way.
After waking up early in Buffalo, we drove straight east on I-90 to Deadwood, South Dakota. You may recognize the name Deadwood from the old HBO series. It is one of the best preserved old west towns I have seen with an awesome little downtown with old style buildings and gambling halls and tons of souvenir shops. The town was very cool to see but it seems as if the modern day Deadwood is really encroaching on the old city as it seems to be a bit of an identity crisis. From Deadwood, we drove about 10 miles over to Sturgis; home of the annual bike rally.
I didn’t know what to expect from Sturgis as I just heard of it from seeing those bike rally clips on TV each year. The rally for those that don’t know, is the largest gathering of motorcycles in the country and if a statistic I heard is correct, it’s the single largest gathering of people in one place in the country.
The town has a population of about 6000 people and it really isn’t much. It’s in a beautiful location in the Black Hills and has some cool little old style buildings and big biker bars everywhere that seemed to be empty except during the rally. The only things really open were some souvenir shops and of course the Harley Davidson store. I didn’t get a tee shirt! I am glad I saw Sturgis though even if just for lunch and a quick look around. From Sturgis it was a 70 mile ride or so through Rapid City to the entrance to Badlands National Park.
Badlands National Park is another place I had been dying to see. First, I love the name Badlands, it just sounds cool but I didn’t actually know what that meant or what Badlands was. The name came from the original French and also native settlers who each independently named it Badlands in their native tongues. When the Americans moved west and effectively stole the land of our country we kept the name. It has also been in a Red Hot Chili Peppers song too which is also always cool in my book.
Badlands is essentially two areas of the park, an upper and lower. I focused on the upper region which is the most popular and where the famous loop is. When you leave I-90, you can enter the park at either exit 110 or 131 and do the loop and exit at the other. You will see some awesome landscapes that seemingly look like they don’t belong. Also, they did a great job in setting up the drives through the Badlands because you feel at times like you’re on another planet. The rock formations are multi-colored and the wide open spaces make for great views and again, a feeling of where am I?!
From Badlands, it was about an hour and a half to get to the famed Mount Rushmore near Keystone, South Dakota. Keystone itself was a crappy little tourist trap that I spent about 5 minutes in just trying to find where Mount Rushmore was. It looked like a crappy Vegas strip selling all kinds of useless crap with way too many people and not enough space. That aside, once you get through and see Mount Rushmore, you are very happy.
Mount Rushmore is of course the iconic American mountain sculpture of four famous past Presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln (from left to right). It is truly an awesome sight to see. The setting in the Black Hills is great and except for a bad sun glare when I was there it was actually much better than I thought it’d be. I had heard you could barely see it because you were only allowed to be far away. I didn’t feel that way. I felt like I got pretty close and had a nice view. The only thing I wish they had more of was a museum kind of thing that detailed the history of how it was built etc. After some photos and some great ice cream from the café, we headed 17 miles south to see the Crazy Horse Memorial.
Many people have never even heard of Crazy Horse, let alone the fact that the worlds largest ever sculpture is being built and has been built over the past several decades. Still largely unfinished because of a lack of funding, Crazy Horse is an icon to the native American people and will be an incredible sight if it ever gets finished.
Upon arrival you watch a 20 minute video that is excellent and really explains in detail about Crazy Horse and about the project in general and how it has taken shape over the past few decades. It is a totally private project and the natives have said no twice to $10 million in federal funding because they don’t want the Government to have any price of getting it done. Talk about principles. Crazy Horse was one of my favorite parts of the road trip and I swear that whenever it is completed or certainly in 30-40 years I will go back and see how it has proceeded. The pictures show what it will look like when it is completed below.
From Crazy Horse it was a long drive through the prairies down to Cheyenne, Wyoming which is a pretty lame old west town and the modern day capital of Wyoming. I was expecting more I guess but not terribly surprised that it was that good a place. The downtown near the capitol building has a very small old western historic district which isn’t that good. From there we headed south on the I-25 to Fort Collins to check out Colorado State University and the awesome little downtown and then ultimately to Denver where I caught a flight out.
This trip was awesome. Not just because I saw some of the awesome American sights I’ve always wanted to see but because it just made me realize again how great a country I live in. America the Beautiful isn’t just the name of a song. I also realized several other things.
There are a lot of bikers out there. I saw so many. Also, there are a ton of people who travel around the country in RV’s, campers and trailer hitches. I have never seen so many and I have never seen so many RV Parks. I always kind of thought it was a big joke but it’s no joke, people really do that stuff and do it in droves. Plus, I realized just how damn big the United States is, especially the old west where the States are massive. In the northeast we think everything is so close, you can drive anywhere in no more than 3-4 hours tops. Out west, that’s a short trip. Finally, Americans are such nice people. Again, living in New York City, sometimes we forget how nice and different people in the rest of the country are. It was a great trip and I look forward to doing it again someday when I have kids because I feel like kids would love that kind of thing with all the parks, animals and fun gimmicks all out west.