August 14, 2016

Roadtrip!! National Park Touring

Sometime last year I proposed a two week roadtrip to K. The catch? It was mostly a mountain biking getaway, drive to/from North Dakota to race in the Maah Daah Hey 100 mountain bike race with some riding along the way. We'd mix things up by stopping by the National Parks/Monuments and sights along the way.

I put together a very ambitious plan for our 16 days on the road, leaving some wiggle room to drop/add things as we went. We would try and camp out a few nights and perhaps crash at a friend's place or two, then fill in the rest with hotels. We only had two stops pre-determined: Two nights camping in Yellowstone heading north and we had to be near the race start the Friday after we departed Arizona. Everything else would be done on the fly. *I ended up with over 1800 photos from this trip, I'll keep it light here, but there's a link at the bottom if you want to see more, not 1800 more, just more. Our favorites.*

Day 1:

Friday morning arrived and we still had some final packing to do. We were determined to not get stressed out by our departure time, this was a vacation!! We backed out of the driveway sometime mid-morning and pointed the loaded Juke north towards Flagstaff. We were hoping to put the 100ยบ days behind us for a couple of weeks.
Fully loaded.
Our first stop of the trip was at Horseshoe Bend just south of Page, AZ. It's an iconic overlook of the Colorado River that neither one of us had ever been to. Such a cool sight to see even if the wind almost knocked me into the chasm.
A good luck horseshoe perhaps?
As the day unfolded our destination for the night became clear: Red Rock Canyon CG. The only catch was it is a first-come, first-serve campground and we were arriving late on a Friday. Our luck held out and we found an empty site up on the hill. Perfect. It was a long day, but we were in Utah enjoying the cool night air.

Day 2:

The next morning I woke early and knocked out a ride on the Thunder Mtn. trail before we packed up and made our way over to Bryce Canyon Nat'l Park. We had our freshly purchased Annual Park Pass ready to go, $80 for the year and we were about to pay it off twofold on this trip.
Bryce Canyon is absolutely spectacular.
Panoramic view.
Nature's work of art.
Dove into the canyon for a short hike.
Thor's Hammer.
The weather was starting to get nasty and it was time for lunch. We did our best throughout the trip to avoid chain restaurants, opting for local flavor when possible. Ruby's was a good start in Bryce.

Our next stop was over at Cedar Breaks National Monument. It's a smaller overall footprint than Bryce Canyon, but still just as spectacular even more so under tumultuous skies.

Very colorful cliffs.
We pushed north towards Provo for the night. We wanted to be close to Park City so I could do another ride early in the day.

Day 3:

My ride in Park City ended up being much longer than anticipated and we only made it up to Brigham City the following day.

Day 4:

We had only planned on one stop this morning, the Golden Spike Historic Site where the east & west railroads met forming a transcontinental route back in the 1800's.
Choo, choo!!
Looking west with the ceremonial tie.
East met west here in 1869.
We arrived a few minutes before the visitor center opened. We learned that two restored locomotives would re-enact the joining of the rails at 10:30 that morning. We then were told about an odd artist creation on the north shore of the Great Salt Lake, the Spiral Jetty. We opted to check that out and see the locomotives upon our return to the north.
X marks the spot.
View from the parking area.
I scrambled up a hillside trail for a better vantage point.
By the time we returned, the locomotives were staged.
On our way up to I-84 we stopped at the Orbital ATK roadside rocket display. Cool stuff.

ATK also happens to be the abbreviation for our old BMX Freestyle group!! Activ Tranzpo Kidz!!
Apparently the Middle of Nowhere is in Idaho.
Idaho is full of surprises, not just famous for potatoes, you can drive from the Middle of Nowhere to the Craters of the Moon in a couple hours!!
Great place to hike & look at lava rock.
Except for the trees, it had a very lunar feel.
This cinder cone offered great views from the summit.
A lone tree occupies the top.
Smaller cones along the scenic park drive.
We were thoroughly impressed by the park, it would be a really cool place to camp, but we had more miles to cover. We called it a night in Idaho Falls finding a really nice reasonably priced hotel on the banks of the Snake River.
Idaho Falls.
Day 5:

Today was going to be a big day as we were set to arrive in Yellowstone National Park for the first of two nights camping. But first, it was another ride day. I spent the morning riding the trails at Grand Targhee Resort, had some bike issues that were taken care of and we headed south towards Teton Pass.
Even through the haze, it is quite a sight.
Someday I'll ski here.
We didn't have tons of daylight, so we mostly did a driving tour through the park.
I'm sure this is even more stunning in the early morning hours.
Grand Teton.
Incredible lighting at Jenny Lake.
We were excited to make the Yellowstone boundary before nightfall.
We still had 50 miles or so of driving into the park to reach our campsite at Canyon Village. We arrived just in time to talk to staff there about amenities before we were considered a late arrival. We found our site, set up camp and crashed out in the chilly night air excited to see what Yellowstone was all about.

Day 6:

We wanted to get an early start knowing full well we'd be in competition with all the other tourists in the park. As we ate breakfast a couple of deer walked right through our campsite, first wildlife encounter in the park was a close one!

Our first stop of the day were the overlooks along the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
A must-see area in Yellowstone.
A short, but steep, hike brought me down to the Brink of the Lower Falls.
Looking back up the canyon towards the Lower Falls. Incredible.
We spent a fair amount of time at the Grand Canyon, ate lunch and got moving once again. Our goal for the day was to make the inner park loop including Old Faithful. We'd have most of the following day to see sights still on our list.
Dragon's Mouth Spring
A herd of bison came into the parking area while we tried to exit.
 The park rangers were directing people still out on the area trails to stay clear of the herd. Most people listened, but there's always a few who have to get 'the shot'. Not smart. There had to be at least 50 bison roaming through the parking lot, it was super cool to see up close. A couple of the larger males came right up next to our car, then one bumped into the rear of the car rocking us pretty good. Whoa!! I suddenly realized my bike was back there and just took a hit from a rather large creature! I barely got out of my Grand Targhee ride, now a strike to my Voodoo from a bison!! Jeez. What's next? I was able to check my bike soon thereafter, and all was ok.
This was the guy who rammed us when he turned around!! Big fella.
Next up was Geyser Basin. We weren't sure what to fully expect, but I can say we were absolutely blown away.
Stay on the boardwalk!!
A window into the Earth's core.
The clarity was stunning.
The colorful algae only enhanced the experience.
Nature is remarkable.
Pouring into Yellowstone Lake.

It was so bizarre to see the random hot springs in the forest, sure made me think twice about roaming around in the woods!
Heading towards Old Faithful.
We arrived at Yellowstone's main attraction just as it was erupting, so parking was a challenge. We did locate a spot and now had over an hour to kill. So, we checked out the visitor center and did a short loop around the surrounding geysers. Very cool stuff.
Check that off the bucket list.
Constant plume of steam at Old Faithful.
The Earth does a lot of bubbling here.
There's at least a 1/2 dozen nearby geysers that are also on a time schedule.
Bacterial closeup.
The crowd fills in for the show.
As advertised Old Faithful delivers. Pretty impressive sight, in spite of the crowds, I'm glad we saw it.
Our next stop was the Grand Prismatic Spring. This one was high on my list to see. It didn't disappoint, but damn that is some hot water!!
It was a good hike to get up to the spring.
The spectrum of color was on full display.
Panoramic shot was the only way to fit it in the frame.
So vibrant it doesn't look real.
It took a few shots to really capture the lower Excelsior Geyser, so much steam!!
We took a few more scenic off-shoots as we headed north. The park road follows the aptly named Firehole River.
No eruption at White Dome geyser.

Gibbon Falls provided a nice roadside stop.
Our day wound down, we showered then relaxed at camp for a bit before calling it a day.

Day 7:

We rose early, checked out of Canyon Village and headed straight for Lamar Valley in hopes of catching some morning wildlife.
Lamar Valley.
Hello there!!
A couple of bison dusting themselves.
Traffic jam.
Plenty of bison near and far on this morning.
We turned around when we reached the NE entrance station. My first time in Montana, state No. 49.
Soda Butte.
Coming back through Lamar Valley.
The morning wildlife excursion was a huge success.
Tower Falls.
There are no shortage of views & waterfalls in Yellowstone.
The hike up to the Petrified Tree was a bit longer than we had hoped. Cool to see, but probably not worth it if you're on a time schedule. We have plenty of petrified trees in AZ!!
Our next main attraction was over at Mammoth Hot Springs. We were getting hungry for lunch, but had arrived a little early as the restaurant wasn't open yet. We only had 15 minutes or so to kill, so we rested our legs for a bit.

We really lucked out with parking, both in town and up at the spring. Timing is everything!
Fort Yellowstone.
Mammoth Hot Springs lived up to its name. Huge!!

It was remarkable to me how close the buildings were to the base of the spring.

Near the center of the upper & lower terraces.
 K's knee was beginning to bug her, so I did all the hiking around the springs. After I made the full loop I convinced her to hike down to the center area to check out the best view IMO. It was only one set of stairs... I guess I failed to mention the ten landings or so on those stairs, but it was still one set of stairs!! She didn't let me forget that one for a while. But I think she thought it was worth it. The pic above was our destination.

Reminds me of a Pink Floyd album cover.

We had one more stop before making our way out of the park and on to Bozeman, MT. On our way down to the Norris Geyser Basin we were stopped for a few minutes by road construction. The delays could be up to 30 minutes, so we aimed to time our return well.
I took a solo speed walk through the basin of geysers & hot springs.

Such a remarkably bizarre landscape.

One second you're in a normal looking forest, the next the ground opens up and could swallow you.
Yellowstone swamplands.
We left the Norris Geyser Basin and concluded our almost 48 hour whirlwind tour of Yellowstone. It was fantastic and we're already looking forward to another visit to explore more and do some hiking into the less crowded areas.
The Roosevelt Arch built in 1872 marks the NW entrance to Yellowstone from Gardiner, MT.
We were now on our way to Bozeman,MT to meet a riding friend, Dylan, who was kind enough to let us stay at his place on our way through.
Great recommendation from Dylan.
Day 8:

The morning was spent riding with Dylan along the Bangtail Divide. Of course, being mountain bikers our time estimates were a tad off. K met us at the end and we grabbed lunch before hitting the freeway across Montana towards North Dakota. The next day was race day, Maah Daah Hey 100, and the whole purpose of this crazy roadtrip. I was only now beginning to feel a little anxious about what lie ahead.
North Dakota state line, completing my 50 state run.
Picked up my race packet here in Medora, ND. Site of the race finish.
It was getting late and we still had to drive north to the race start. instead of rolling the dice for a camping spot, we opted for a room in nearby Watford City. What we ended with was perfect.
Plenty of room to get all my stuff situated.
Full kitchen was nice as well.
We made sure our alarms were set correctly as we had now crossed over to Central time, but the race was in Mountain time!!

Day 9:

Race day!! For the full recap of the Maah Daah Hey 100 click the link.

Day 10:

Needless to say, I needed a recovery day. Good thing I had one planned into the schedule!! We checked out of our cozy Medora hotel, said some goodbyes to fellow racers and hit the road south.

We were back in tourist mode, car loaded down, snacks within arms reach..
The Maah Daah Hey trail essentially connects the North & South units of the Theodore Roosevelt Nat'l Park. We didn't have to drive around much in the park, we covered most of it the day before.
Chimney Park in Medora.
As we drove south out onto the prairie I saw a few signs for the extended portions of the Maah Daah Hey trail. It's full length is now approaching 150 miles as a recent extension was added a few years ago.
Lunch stop in Buffalo, SD.
We made our third entry into Wyoming on our way over to Devil's Tower. We weren't too far from the Black Hills of South Dakota and the Sturgis bike rally was going on. Motorcycles of all form were now everywhere. K had never heard of Sturgis, so she was really surprised at the sheer number of cyclists out on the road. Every couple of minutes we were passed by groups of 10, 20+.
Devil's Tower from the Visitor Center.
I liked this view from off the beaten path.
Prairie Dog Town!!
A few miles outside the National Monument.
We made it to Custer, SD for the night, setting up an early visit to Crazy Horse & Mt. Rushmore.

Day 11:

I was really curious to see the progress on Crazy Horse. I'd had seen it years ago on my first cross-country roadtrip circa '92 and there wasn't a whole lot of detail back then. We also heard that you could get a good look from the main road, so we opted to simply do a drive-by on this one.
The facial detail is remarkable on Crazy Horse.
It was shaping up to be a beautiful day as I really wanted deep blue skies for our visit to Mt. Rushmore. Mission accomplished.
Up close & personal from the Presidential Trail.
Arizona flag front & center.
The motorcyclists were in full force at Rushmore. I kept teasing K to pick up a Sturgis bike rally t-shirt, but she wouldn't do it.

We left the crowds behind at Mt. Rushmore and started towards Rapid City. I wanted to go for a ride in the Black Hills. There were a few choices that I had found online while doing research. I opted for a spin on the Storm Mountain trails.

We then did some house cleaning of the car and resupply in Rapid City then hopped on the freeway east towards the more famous Badlands of South Dakota.

Of course anyone who has ever traveled on I-90 through South Dakota knows of the many billboards enticing you to stop at Wall Drug. We had to do it!
A jigsaw puzzle showcasing the famous Wall Drug billboard signs.
You could spend all day in this place!! We scooted in & out in 15 minutes.
It was getting late in the afternoon when we reached the Badlands Nat'l Park. We had planned on camping out this night, but hadn't really narrowed down a location. Storm clouds had been gathering to the west over the Black Hills all afternoon, but didn't look to be threatening. We caught a really good light window as we entered the park.

Just like North Dakota's version, the prairie simply drops away.
South Dakota's version was more rugged and less grassy.
The colors were just as amazing.
I was reminded of the striated hoodoos of northern Arizona.
I love the contrast in terrain here.
Dinnertime on the valley floor.
The skies were looking ominous as we sat down for dinner. Camping wasn't looking too good. I inquired about a room, there was one left, but a bit pricey. K did some Googling and found a co-owned hotel just outside the park boundary. They had rooms available and met our travel budget. Score! As soon as we checked in, the wind picked up and the rains came down!! Glad we weren't camping, it was getting fierce.
Midwest skies that look like this don't often end well.
The storm packed a punch, but moved quickly & looked really cool!!
Day 12:

We made our way through the remainder of the Badlands in the morning, drove through the hopping town of Scenic on our way to Wounded Knee.
Not much going on in Scenic, SD.
Roadside pullout and some history of the area.
Sobering scene as we departed South Dakota.
Pretty much what we expected driving into Nebraska.
But then stereotypes are meant to be broken, this was looking promising.
We grabbed lunch in Chadron, NE before I went exploring for singletrack down at Chadron State Park. It didn't quite go as I had hoped, but it was still fun.

We backtracked into town to take a short detour over to the Agate Fossil Beds Nat'l Monument. That was a nice surprise.
A small valley tucked in the vastness of NW Nebraska.
View from the Visitor Center, we didn't have time to hike the few miles out to the buttes where the majority of the fossils were located.
Impressive display of creatures found in the area.
We then cruised down to Scottsbluff to see the Nat'l Monument there. Tons of history from the pioneer days, forging their way west. Talk about tough people.
We didn't know you could drive to the top of the bluff.
Rising to almost 5000' above sea level, it was a huge landmark for weary travelers.
The Oregon Trail went over Mitchell Pass here.
Luxury travel.
Remarkable landscape for a 'flat' state.
The old wagon ruts are still visible in spots.
You could see the Earth's curvature from up here.
A grim tale tells how Scotts Bluff got its name.
We had planned to camp out this night, but as we traveled west on I-80 towards Cheyenne, WY the clouds gathered and grew darker by the minute. Once again, we opted for a cheap motel.
Lightning strikes and a gorgeous sunset greeted us into Wyoming.
Day 13:

We left Cheyenne fairly early and headed west to Curt Gowdy State Park where I'd go for a super fun ride. I kept things on-time and we were back through Cheyenne pointing the car south towards Colorado.

I had been in touch with a longtime buddy, Trav, about possibly meeting up on our way through the area. Our timing worked out with his schedule and we met for lunch in Lafayette. We had to go to plan B when our first choice was still closed for the day, but whatevs. It was so good to see him and hear about what life has been like since he moved to CO, got married and had a baby!! Talk about busy!! Trav was my main riding cohort back in PA during our BMX Freestyle Flatland days, such good times. If you want to know more about that time in my life, check out Rad Roots.
Time passes, but we're still the same 'ol buds from Allentown, PA. 
We were originally going to drive through Rocky Mountain Nat'l Park, but I called an audible and we skipped it in favor of getting farther south, aiming for Salida. We would've gone through the park had we not already been there some years ago.

The rest of the day was spent snarled in metro Denver's traffic in the foothills near Golden. We eventually popped out onto I-70 and entered the Rocky Mountains.
Dillon Reservoir in Silverthorne.
I'll take the mountains over the beach any day of the week.
It was a long day, but we made it to Salida for the night. I had plans the following day to meet up with my seasonally nomadic friends, Scott & Eszter, for a ride that Scott twisted my arm to do. *wink, wink
Leadville, CO. Not at all what I remembered from my first pass through.
Day 14:

We had some chores to do before meeting up with Scott & Eszter around noon. Laundry & a good breakfast later, we hit the road and drove over Monarch Pass to meet up for the Canyon Creek Loop.
The start/finish of the ride was here.
I think I mentioned earlier how mountain bikers are terrible at estimating ride times. We overshot this one by 1 1/2 hours!! K took it in stride...mostly. I'll blame Scott, it was his route!! I quickly picked Eszter's brain about good eats in Gunnison & Crested Butte and as always she came through with flying colors.

We spent the night in Gunnison, primed for a 1/2 day in Crested Butte.

Day 15:

It was a brisk morning as we drove up the valley to Crested Butte. I had tried to get in touch with Neil to do some riding while we were in town, but we couldn't match up our schedules this go-round. Next time Neil, better yet, come on down to AZ when the snow starts flyin'.
Downtown Crested Butte, CO.
Niky's Mini Donuts for breakfast FTW!!
The ride on tap for the day was to be the iconic CB trail 401. I had heard all the stories, seen all the pics, now I was finally going to put the Voodoo on it. Cool. 401 or Four-oh-fun did not disappoint.

After the ride we snagged some burritos at Teocali Tamale, then followed that up with homemade ice cream at Third Bowl. Again, major hat-tip to Eszter for the foodie info, she's a pro ya know.
Mt. Crested Butte.
Serious bike bling.
Cool town with great food!!
We continued our breathtaking drive through Colorado over towards Montrose, then south on US550, the Million Dollar Highway, towards Durango. I thought we may spend the night here, but we arrived early enough in the evening to push on to Cortez.
Looking south on US550 towards the San Juan Mtns.
We were a bit late to take advantage of the hot spring swimming pool in Ouray.
Good thing there were plenty of pullouts. I could stare at these mountains all day.
Remnants of the past are everywhere through here.

I think the San Juan's are my favorite range in CO. They are also the closest to AZ!! Bonus.
Day 16:

After a few days of riding being the primary objective, we were back in tourist mode and made the short backtrack to Mesa Verde Nat'l Park. We took full advantage of our annual park pass on this trip, more than covering its cost twofold!!
Sleeping Ute Mtn. from Park Point, highest spot in Mesa Verde at 8572'.
Looking NE towards the San Juan Mtns.
Spruce Tree House.
Cliff Palace close-up. Next time we're doing the guided tour as we didn't have time to wait for the next opening.
Cliff Palace overview, stunning. The tour group gives a good sense of scale.
Cedar Tree Tower.
Pipe Spring House.
Kiva at Pipe Spring House.
Mesa Verde is huge, lots of driving, but well worth the visit. We went through fairly quick to get a lay of the land and we still spent a few hours there.

It was around noon as we made our way back towards Cortez. I convinced K to let me do one more spin over at Phil's World with the caveat that I must be done in 1 hour. Deal.

After lunch we still had two more stops to make before reaching home. First up was the Four Corners Monument. The place has really been built up over the years. There was a long line of people waiting for their Four Corners photo op, I snuck in between for a couple sniper shots, somehow missing all the people while they decided who was taking their picture.
1992 happens to be the first time I stopped by here.
Back in '92 this area was all done in mosaic tile.
A quick jaunt through New Mexico and we were back home!! Well, almost. Still 6-7 hours to go.
We were now in a race against sunset to reach the Painted Desert & Petrified Forest. I had never driven on US191 through the Navajo Nation, the north reaches were extremely beautiful reminding us of southern Utah topography.
Four Corners overview from the Arizona welcome sign.
Navajo Nation from US191.
We arrived at the entrance gates in the midst of golden hour, perfect!! We had been here a few times before, but I was curious to see how Arizona's Painted Desert stacked up against the Badlands of both North & South Dakota since they were still fresh on our mind.
I think it stacks up quite well!!
The 16th and final sunset of our trip.
We pushed on after exiting the park arriving back home shortly after midnight. It was good to be home and in our own bed.

We ended up traveling through 9 states over 4840 miles and visited 17 National Parks/Monuments/Historic sites. My rides alone were in 7 states, 266 miles & 36,300' of gain. There wasn't much down time. I'd do it again in a heartbeat, K probably would, but with less riding by me!!

This trip re-enforced one thing: It's a big world, get out there and explore it!! Take advantage of our National Park system. Don't get stuck in a rut by going to the same vacation spot year after year, see new places!!
 A ton of patches for our coffee table collection. *We need another table!!*
Legendary indeed.
 Photo Albums:

There are two albums here, one is from our DSLR camera & the other is from my cellphone. Similar shots, but the DSLR album has more variety.

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