A pictorial diary of our trip.
A pictorial diary of our trip.
Our 2015 trip out west was ambitious. We were always on the move and didn’t have many rest days to explore. However, we did manage to include a few fun side trips into our itinerary.
Little Devil’s Tower; Custer State Park, SD:
The trail head for this hike in Custer State Park (see trail map) originates at Sylvan Lake. We did not finish this hike because of time constraints – we had to make sure we got back to our campsite before dark. We really enjoyed the hike and wish we had planned our time better. Multiple trails leave the confines of Custer State Park and enter the Black Elk Wilderness. What was really unusual compared to other parks is that pets were allowed on the trails, but had to be leashed. It was a nice experience being able to take Penny and Chewie with us. We also had Ergo as Alex’s carrier; he was getting to heavy to be able to hike long distances comfortably in this carrier.
Mount Rushmore, SD:
Conceived by South Dakota historian Doane Robinson, carving likenesses of famous people in the Black Hills region was done to increase tourism. The sculptures were done by Danish-American Gutzon Borglum and his son, Lincoln Borglum. The elder Borglum was instrumental in the selection of Mount Rushmore (the original site, the Needles, had poor quality granite and was opposed by Native Americans) as well as selecting the presidents (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln) to be carved in the mountain.
Initially, the presidents were supposed to be depicted from head to waist, but poor quality rock and a lack of funding resulted in the monument we are familiar with today. Construction began in 1927 and ended in 1941, notably with no fatalities.
We walked the trail with Alex, starting down the Presidential Trail towards the Sculptor’s studio. This path wound around and took us under the sculptures. This route had numerous steps, which tired Alex out quite nicely. We completed our loop and returned to the Avenue of Flags; the remainder of the trail after the sculptures was handicap accessible. We ended our visit with vanilla ice cream made following Thomas Jefferson’s recipe.
Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad; Durango, CO
Built starting in the fall of 1881, the line was constructed to haul silver and gold ore from the San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado by the Denver & Rio Grande Railway. The line was completed by July of 1882 and began to haul passengers and freight. The narrow gauge was selected by William Jackson Palmer, a former Union General and experienced railroad man, as it would be well suited to the mountainous country and would have lower construction costs.
We took the bus from Durango to Silverton and rode the train back. We kenneled the dogs at Durango Pet Resort. Parking the RV was a bit tricky and we were very lucky to make the bus up to Silverton. Our tour guide was knowledgeable and the bus ride flew by. We ate lunch at Handlebars Restaurant & Saloon; their burgers were pretty good. If our memory serves, they brewed their own beer and it was meh.
The ride back became more of an adventure than we expected. One of the engines broke down bringing a train up to Silverton and the 12:30 train was delayed so the engine could take the 2:30 train back to Durango as well. Needless to say, the double length train did not move very quickly (train ride back took 5 hours). We were not prepared for the extended trip and had not packed enough diapers or food for Alex. Additionally, the train still made all the stops at various trail heads to drop off and pick people up. A really neat option, but it was frustrating after a long day. We didn’t get back to Durango until after the kennel closed, but they had an after hours pick up option and we were able to retrieve Penny, Chewie, and Buster.
It was a beautiful trip.
Garden of the Gods; Colorado Springs, CO
Our timing for this visit was poor. We arrived soon after Alex fell asleep. He was not in the mood to go on a long walk through the Garden of the Gods. It was also a hot, sunny day, so we took the dogs with us (allowed); they did not make the circus easier to manage.
We took a short hike and then returned to Abby for lunch and to push on North.
Carousel of Happiness; Nederland, CO
The Carousel of Happiness was built by a Marine Vietnam veteran, Scott Harrison. The frame was from the Saltair Park carousel that had its animals removed. Over the course of 26 years, Mr. Harrison hand carved 50 animals for the carousel, of which, 35 can be ridden.
Alex seemed a bit uncertain about his first ride on the carousel. The carousel is beautiful and is worth the visit.
We had the pleasure of traveling through Yellowstone on the Fourth of July weekend, 2o15. This was one of the most disappointing stops of the trip. Being a holiday weekend, the park was extremely crowded. We would visit Yellowstone again, but during the shoulder season when crowds would be less teeming.
We had a reservation for a single night, July 3, at the Bridge Bay campground. This campground is essentially and open field with tightly spaced spots and no hook-ups. Most spots are relatively level. Firewood was available for purchase at check-in. As state in our summary post, the bathrooms were atrocious. Overall, the vendor running the campgrounds and amenities was less than impressive.
Perhaps the single most frustrating things were the tourists. What do we mean by tourists? People who ignore the signs and rules stated to protect them (selfies with bison, straying from boardwalks around the hot springs) and generally oblivious behavior. A prime example, we
stopped to stopped at Dragon’s Mouth Spring as we were driving across the park. There was a bison laying next to the restroom building. People were walking within feet of the animal to take a selfie. The bison eventually had enough of the paparazzi, got up, and ran through the parking lot. The panic was capped by a woman screaming (imagine this in a New Jersey accent), ‘Larry, LAARRRYYY!! The bison! Look out for the bison!!”. Larry, clearly no where near the bison’s path of travel, waved at his hysterical wife. Panicking and further startling a wild animal, not the wisest plan.
Traveling across the park was also slow going. The speed limit is 35 and in some of the more popular areas it drops to 25 mph. This is made even worse by the people ignoring posted signs and stopping in the middle of the road (rather than pulling off on a pull out as advised) to take a picture of some animal that caught their attention. Again, a fantastic example of oblivious tourist behavior.
The negatives were frustrating and took away from the beauty of Yellowstone. There were some very nice handicap accessible paths to a variety of features that we were able to take Alex to in either his wagon or stroller. As with most national parks, dogs were not allowed on trails. Which is frustrating and limits what we can see. However, these are limitations we accept when traveling with Penny, Chewie, and Buster. And seeing how most people can’t follow simple rules, allowing dogs on trails would be an utter disaster.
Sylvan Lake Campground at Custer State Park, SD: Sites were well spaced, secluded, grounds were well taken care of. Site was level. Our campsite was tucked away among trees. The campground was not on the lake, but was a quick hike to the lake and there was access several trail heads. Scenery was gorgeous.
This campground has sites that are a stone’s throw away from the rim of the gorge. Visitors center is a short hike away. Some hiking trails along the gorge rim. Gorgeous scenery. Sites are well spaced and level. We wouldn’t camp here again until Alex is older and listens better. Jess would become instantaneously grey making sure Alex didn’t fall into the gorge. Or he will need one of those child leashes.
Biggest Pleasant Surprise
Great River Bluffs State Park, MN: The geological features of this park are the result of minimal glacial drift from any of the four major glaciers. Sites were well spaced and wooded. Some are not level, so check the reservation site, it should provide information. Nice hiking trails with views of the Mississippi River Valley. And there were little chipmunks for Penny to watch from Abby’s window.
We started our first long RV adventure on June 27, 2015. We had made the decision just three weeks prior to move to California so Jess could enroll in the UC Davis Extension Master Brewers Program; we knew that when we returned we would have to kick things into high gear to prepare the house for sale (we had our floors refinished while we were gone). Looking back, it is hard to believe we got it all done. And it is still rather surreal that a year later we are packing up our California rental to move to Colorado.
Since it has been so long since our trip, the format for posts will be different from our California move. This summary post will be followed by posts focusing on our favorite/least favorite campgrounds, side trips made along the way, and anything else that may require a stand alone post. These stand alone posts will likely be due excessive length as a result of our poor self-editing skills. Some of our notes (including total gallons of diesel and mileage) have been misplaced in a cross-country move.
The trip was approximately 5200 miles, including side trips. We used about 345 gallons of diesel, averaging right around 15 miles per gallon.
We started our trip on June 27, 2015 and were back July 16, 2015. Just shy of 3 full weeks and resulting in an average of 273 miles traveled per day.
The trip started out on a rainy, mechanical break down note with Abby’s turbo resonator failing, but after our first day hiccup, it was smooth sailing. We had a great time visiting family and friends along our route. And they were always very kind in giving us a place to park, do laundry, and shower in a full size bathroom!
The whirlwind trip took us to four national parks, a national monument, a national recreation area, two national forests, and seven state parks. We definitely erred in wedged too many sights into our trip schedule; we learned from our errors on this trip and corrected them for future trips.