Mileage Today: 400 miles Total Mileage 586 miles.
An amazing day today! Well.… we didn’t wake up at 4am…. oh no…. we were wide awake at 3am !!!!! We tried to sleep again but finally gave up the ghost at about 5 and got up and started to get our stuff ready. We have arranged our packing, now that airline weight is not a consideration for a long while, so that everything we need is in one large case and the cabin case. The other case has our colder weather clothes in and can remain shut for now.
I made our first packed lunch, we loaded the cooler box with gallon Ziploc bags of ice from the ice machine and all the food that needed to stay frozen or cold. We put our packed lunch stuff into the small chiller bag we brought with us together with a small Ziploc of ice. This all worked really well and everything stayed frozen all day. We need to double bag the ice though as there was a bit of wet in the bottom of the cooler box by the end of the day.
Had breakfast downstairs – another free one. Nowhere near as good as Residence Inn but it was hot food, and …. free…. so…..
We were on the road by 7am!!! Headed north up I25, back across the endlessly rolling grass prairies of eastern Wyoming. It’s just stunning to people from the UK and I suspect most of Europe, that such vast areas of empty land actually exists. Theyre not totally empty – there are sparse herds of cows every now and then but even that is low density to what we see at home. These cows have the total luxury of miles and miles and miles of grass which they are just sharing with a few others. We saw more deer too today.
Our first stop was near Guernsey, about 90 miles north of Cheyenne, at Register Cliff National Monument. Register Cliff is a site beside the Platte River which was important to pioneer settlers on the Oregon and California Trails in the mid to late 1800s. It was a waypoint where they would camp beside the Platte. It’s reason for preservation is that those settlers would carve their name into the sandstone cliff and there are literally thousands of such names with their dates making a fascinating historical record of those brave people. We had a good wander – we were on our own except for another couple who were driving the California Trail and we had a nice chat with them.
After that we headed about a mile to another site in Guernsey – Trail Ruts State Park. This is again a monument to the settlers who passed this way. The wheels of their wagons have made ruts and trackways deep into the sandstone rock. I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t see it. So many thousands of people came this way, thousands of miles with just a few belongings in their ox wagon and a lot of hope. We walked the park loop and nearly jumped out of our skin when a very large Bull snake slithered right in front of us, about 2 feet away!!!! We didn’t know what it was at that point (a ranger later identified it for us). They bite but are not venomous. Well…. that’s a relief!
Then, 10 miles east along route 26 to Fort Laramie, one of the most important forts in the United States during the mid to late 1800s. It was literally at the centre of much of the region and attracted settlers and Indians alike who came to the fort to trade or to rest from the trail. The soldiers had the difficult job of enforcing the treaties concerning land use ie protecting Indian land from goldrush pioneers and settlers and protecting the said pioneers from angry Indians when they trespassed and trying overall to keep the peace. Inevitably those efforts failed and ended in many tragedies such as the Battle of the Little Bighorn and finally at Wounded Knee. It was very interesting to visit the fort and soak up some of that history.
Back in the car we began the longhaul part of our day north east across the state line and into South Dakota to Badlands National park, a journey of about 300 miles from Guernsey. It was extremely scenic. The grass plains extended nearly all the way, just mindblowing. Barely a tree. Just grass.
It only changed as we approached the lower edge of the Black Hills of South Dakota, when the landscape became sharply hilly with pines and trickling streams at the bottom of almost alpine valleys. We will be back to explore the Black Hills for several days tomorrow. As we skirted the edge of them we had our first sighting of a herd of buffalo!!!! Too fast to take a picture but enough to whet our whistles
We arrived at Badlands National Park just before 4pm. It’s a spectacular place. Suddenly, the grass prairie gives way to a strange landscape of deep ravines, red segmented cliffs, white upcrops, buttes, flat topped tables, covering some 244,000 acres. It was all formed 500,000 years ago by erosion and then deposition. Some of the exposed rock goes back 59 – 75 million years!!!! Tomorrow we will drive around the loop road and get out and explore some of the canyons further. There are several fossil trails to try as this area is full of fossils including mammoths and a sabre tooth tiger!!
Today we were glad to get to our cabin inside the park at Cedar Pass Lodge. I was pleasantly surprised by it – spacious and rather charming. Very comfy beds and nice bathroom. We have a fridge/freezer and a microwave. There are two decks front and back with Adirondack chairs to sit and watch the light change on the cliffs around us.
We had dinner in the restaurant attached to the lodge. It was very, very average. I ordered the buffalo burger with onion rings. It was ok, a bit overdone. The onion rings were excellent. Bob wanted the country fried chicken steak. “Is it good?” he asked the waitress (very nice). “No”, came the immediate reply “choose something else!”. So… he had the ordinary burger with fries. He had a local SD beer which was lovely and I had a very nice glass of local red wine.
After dinner we went to the amphitheatre and listened to a talk on the bison (American buffalo) given by a ranger and then a presentation on the night sky. They had the most amazing telescopes for us to look through. We saw the 4 moons of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn. The most amazing show though was just with our own two eyes. The stars overhead were extraordinary. So many… so many. Living with ambient light – and it really isn’t bad around our home – you forget there are trillions up there twinkling down on us. We could see the Milky Way clearly and so many constellations. A stunning sight and I’m so glad we battled through our tiredness to do it. We will get the chance again in a few places and will definitely be out there. I just regret my camera is not equipped to capture the sky. Or maybe I just dont understand how to manipulate the settings enough and I don’t have a tripod. You’ll just have to take my word for it or come and see it for yourself.