Day 4 - Gillette, WY
|Monday, November 21, 2016: Mileage: 1272; departure time: 7:20 AM.
|We finished another DVD the night before, so we dropped it in the mail to send back to Netflix.
|The sun was coming up as we drove through the Black Hills.
|We were headed to Custer State Park via the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway, a fun little drive that involves cool stuff like this: a road that loops back over itself.
|Here's the view from the looping road above.
|Mount Rushmore was regularly visible from various viewpoints along the way.
|There were several single-lane tunnels along the way.
|There were also several places where the road split into two separate one-way roads like this one.
|Eventually, they'd come together again.
|This was the very best tunnel of all.
|Not only did it have a skylight halfway through, ...
|... but it ended with a view straight through the trees of Mt. Rushmore. Bravo, road designer, bravo!
|We stopped at Norbeck Overlook in the Black Hills National Forest, ...
|... and climbed a hill for a good view of the Black Hills to the left.
|Of course, Mount Rushmore was still visible as well to the right.
|We drove back down the mountain, ...
|... through the country side, ...
|... and into Custer State Park. No one was at the entrance station, so we deposited our state park entrance fee in an envelope.
|We were barely in the park five minutes when we saw our first bison.
|We arrived at the Visitor Center 10 minutes before it opened, and decided we didn't want to wait around for it to open.
|While we were there, a flock of turkeys was grazing along the edge of the parking lot. How very appropriate for a Thanksgiving week vacation!
|We saw fewer than a half dozen cars as we drove the wildlife loop, but we still encountered the occasional traffic jam, such as this herd of pronghorns licking salt off of the road.
|They were completely unafraid of us, but were gracious enough to eventually move out of our way.
|We passed another bison, ...
|... then realized that he was heading to join the rest of his buddies across the field.
|Tom does the driving and Debbie does the photographing. It's a good system. But sometimes Tom takes a photo from the driver's seat.
|There are bison in the distance in this lovely Black Hills vista.
|We stopped at a small rest area with lots of bison all around.
|They were slowly meandering past and didn't seem to be concerned about our presence at all.
|Still, bison can be dangerous so we were glad to have a fence between us.
|It's hard to tell, but this entire field was filled with prairie dogs. We stopped and listened to their chirps and whistles for a while.
|These bison were having a nice afternoon rest in the sunshine.
|Oh, dang, another traffic jam.
|This mother and her babies eyed us warily as our car drove slowly past.
|We reached the small town of Custer, ...
|... then it was a short distance to the Crazy Horse Memorial, visible from the highway.
|We paid our entrance fee and snapped a photo of the sculpture from the parking lot.
|In the visitor center is a large museum. There are many more attractions, most of which were closed or inaccessible in the winter.
|We were most disappointed to not be able to access the larger scale model representation of the finished sculpture, so this juxtaposition with a small version will have to do.
|This model showed the very lofty goals that the foundation has for the site, but after seeing almost no progress in the sculpture over many decades, it's hard to believe that any of these plans will come to pass either.
|En route to our next stop, we drove past Pactola Reservoir and got out to take a look.
|Tom was in charge of spotting large birds and he did his job well when he noticed a bald eagle in the tree on this tiny island. With a US flag on the other side, it's hard to imagine a more patriotic island anywhere.
|Here's the handsome eagle.
|The route to our next stop took us on this dirt road. The alternative was a paved route that would have taken seven minutes longer, but we trusted Waze and took this route.
|Fourteen very tense minutes later, we were back in civilization once again. The Marriage has a new rule: if there's a paved alternative, we'll take it.
|It was time to see more scenery as we followed the Spearfish Canyon National Forest Scenic Byway.
|We were forced to drive on a dirt road once again because there wasn't a paved way to get to ...
|... Roughlock Falls.
|Here's Little Spearfish Creek, ...
|... and here it is flowing over Roughlock Falls.
|Further up in the hills is the filming location of the final winter scene in "Dances With Wolves."
|We didn't go up that far, but this trail scene just down the stream could have come right out of the film.
|We stopped at Bridal Veil Falls, but it was looking pretty anemic this time of year. It must be beautiful in the spring.
|This shot looking back up the canyon from Bridal Veil Falls is a good representation of the scenery along most of the drive.
|We emerged from the canyon in the small town of Spearfish, where we vowed to eat at the first fast food location we saw that had a drive-through. Dairy Queen was the winner, and we were happy to chow down on some Brazier burgers.
|Right across the street was a car wash, which our beautiful new van really needed.
|From Spearfish, it was a short drive to the Wyoming border. Welcome to Wyoming!
|Oh, yeah, the speed limit is 80 here too, and we had clear roads to match. However, we rarely actually went any faster than 75 because we are sane people.
|The Sinclair dinosaur had a message for us.
|We stopped at a beautiful new welcome station and talked to the nice woman there about the different options for driving to Devil's Tower, plus we picked up a map and some brochures for the Wyoming cities we'd be visiting.
|We opted for the route that didn't go primarily through the Black Hills. Within a half hour, Devil's Tower was visible in the distance.
|This turnoff was designed specifically for getting a great shot of it.
|Here it is after we entered the park and paid our admission fee.
|We passed a large prairie dog colony and learned that the prairie dog population is only 2% of what it was two hundred years ago due to eradication programs that limit their range to specific preserves.
|The prairie dogs were out, active, and adorable.
|There were only a half dozen cars in the parking lot, so once again we were very happy that we had decided to visit during the offseason.
|We headed off on the Tower Trail, a 1.3 mile paved trail around the base of the tower.
|Aside from the fairly steep first part, it was a very easy walk and it was fully accessible.
|Even Debbie can walk it.
|Here is the quintessential shot of Devil's Tower. Sure, there are many more on this page, but this is the prettiest.
|This opening in the trees offered a pretty view of the surrounding area.
|Benches all around the walk offered a rest and a view of the tower.
|Like this one, approximately a quarter of the way around the tower.
|Here's a closeup of one of the columns just waiting to fall sometime in the next couple hundred years.
|At this stop, viewing tubes were aimed at the tower so you'd know where to look to see a historic wooden stake ladder. It's barely visible in this photo in the lower left quarter as a narrow wooden railing in the shadow of one of the columns.
|This is the view overlooking the prairie dog habitat.
|After visiting Giant's Causeway the previous year, we still didn't understand how the distinctive hexagon-shaped columns of both that location and this were created. This sign explained it very well. To summarize: Devil's Tower is composed of symmetrical columns that are 4-, 5-, 6-, and 7-sided. As the magma that created the tower cooled and solidified, it shrunk and formed stress points. To relieve the stress, the rock began to crack. These cracks grew outward from a central point in three directions at 120-degree anges. The cracks continued to grow outward and downward, eventually intersecting with other cracks to form columns. The cracks tended to create six-sided columns -- nature's tightest and strongest fit.
|Thirty minutes after we started, we were at the halfway point.
|We were in the shade at this point, so our photo of the tower from this side was badly lit. Sorry. Look how skinny it appears from this angle.
|We had the trail almost completely to ourselves so the only sounds we heard were of the forest and the eerie sound the wind makes as it rushes through.
|At points along the trail, prayer cloths had been left.
|This small one was tucked on a branch.
|There was a nice overlook about 3/4 of the way around the trail, so Tom got a rare photo of Debbie posing with the monument.
|We heard a woodpecker and looked around at a forest full of trees trying to figure out where he was.
|Tom's sharp eyes spotted him and Debbie's steady hand photographed him way up in a tree with all of the zoom capabilities our camera possessed.
|Soon enough, we were done.
|We stopped by the tiny visitor center then were on our way.
|When we passed the prairie dog town, we were amused to find that not a single one of them was out. None. Apparently they all have a curfew.
|This trailer was in a field right by the turn to Devil's Tower. It says: You'll "Enjoy" Gutzon Borglum Historical Center. Whoever designed this has a "great" understanding of how to use quotes in a sentence.
|For the first hour after leaving the tower, we passed dozens and dozens of deer or pronghorn in every field we passed. Since it was near dusk, we didn't get any good photos but trust us on this.
|As we approached Gillette, we spotted colorful lights in the distance, so we followed them. We were delighted to find this light display representing the Twelve Days of Christmas.
|On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me a partridge in a pear tree.
|Two turtle doves.
|Three French hens.
|Four calling birds.
|Five golden rings.
|Six geese a-laying.
|Seven swans a-swimming.
|Eight maids a-milking.
|Nine ladies dancing.
|Ten lords a-leaping.
|Eleven pipers piping.
|Twelve drummers drumming.
|That display led us to a nearby park entrance, where we discovered the reason for all of the lights: the Campbell County Festival of Lights.
|This tunnel featured snowflakes blinking on and off.
|This adorable display featured penguins sliding down the hill toward the igloo. This photo is a combination of several photos, each of which captured the penguin in different stages of sliding.
|Here are some Christmas ornaments, each sponsored by a different Gillette business.
|Ooh, this one was very cool. It was a tunnel that displayed a variety of moving patterns. With no cars behind us for several minutes, we were able to sit here and enjoy it for a while.
|When we were done enjoying all the light displays, we checked into the Quality Inn and then headed to the Coop Rotisserie House.
|Debbie had chicken tacos with incredibly delicious corn on the cob, ...
|... while Tom had macaroni and cheese with shredded chicken and broccoli. Both were very delicious, and we brought servings of chocolate and regular tres leches cake back to the hotel with us.
|As we were leaving the Coop, we spotted the Mobil Oil Pegasus across the street at the Frontier Car Museum.
We got back to the hotel and enjoyed our tres leches cake.
Copyright © Deborah Schilling/Thomas Bundy