A river runs through it; that can be said of all of our favorite places. In Durango, it’s the Animas, in Missoula, the Clark Fork meanders through town, the Deschutes River in Bend is a playground for the locals, and in Grand Junction, it’s the mighty Colorado River. Of course in Tucson we have the Rillito and the Santa Cruz, but I’m thinking more in terms of a river with water.
We reluctantly left Durango and headed over Coal Bank Pass, Molas Divide and Red Mountain, down the million dollar highway, through Ouray, Ridgeway, Montrose and into Grand Junction. Since there was a significant amount of climbing up and down we didn’t bother to connect the car, Daisy and I white knuckled our way through the mountains, lamenting the lack of guard rails on the incredibly steep terrain. Monty, enjoyed the panoramic views from the drivers seat in the motorhome. Frankly, watching the motorhome through the corners, I thought it looked pretty scary, I guess it is better to be on the inside riding than on the outside watching.
Colorado had record snow last winter and we saw a lot of areas that looked like God had been playing pick-up-sticks. The avalanches bring down trees and anything else in the path and stack everything at the bottom of the ravine. Trees, devoid of branches, are scattered like toothpicks. Some of the back roads are still impassable because of mud and rock slides. The fire near Durango last year did a lot of damage but the worst damage was caused by the mud slides due to the lack of vegetation on the hills when the rains came.
Monty grew up in Grand Junction so he enjoys seeing all his old haunts. Starving Arvin’s is a local hang out with pictures laminated on the tables. Monty, on his dirt bike, wearing full riding gear, was on the first table on the right. His nephew discovered it a few years ago. Monty has many stories to tell about riding up in the book cliffs, fishing on Grand Mesa and the mischief young boys get into growing up in the outdoors.
The morning spent with Monty’s sister brought us up to date with the nieces and nephews. The rest of the time we spent with Monty’s daughter, Noel, and her family. Will (6) was so excited to see grandpa and show him his new lego robot. Max (2) enjoyed meeting grandpa again although he’s kind of sketchy about the first visit. Noel, Paul, and the boys are heading out for vacation in California this week. They are an outdoor family, their cars are nestled into the garage surrounded by bicycles of every size and camping gear ready to go.
Starting our nostalgia tour to the Black Hills of South Dakota, we headed out of town, up through, Rifle, Parachute, Craig and Meeker. Several years ago we went to the sheep dog trials in Meeker. An amazing weekend watching world class border collies, herding sheep through narrow gates in wide open meadows. The dogs and handlers come from all over the world to participate in this event. The handlers use whistles and hand signals to guide the dogs herding the sheepthrough scattered gates to the final penning. The dogs are amazing, they know just when to chase or lay down by the sheep.
In 2003 we made a trip to the Black Hills, spoiler alert – see pictures of bison, Kevin Costner, amazing sculpture.
(if the link above isn’t hot – just copy and paste it into your browser OR stop now and go to the blog Travel section and select Black Hills South Dakota from the Table of Contents, it’s OK, I’ll wait)
Are you back?
We enjoyed the trip enough to want to return and see what it looks like after sixteen years. The first part of the trip along the Cache la Poudre River was even more beautiful than we remembered. We love the landscape, the river meanders through the canyon, the rock formations are interesting and everything is vibrant green. This trip came with a bonus, standing just about twenty feet off the road was the most magnificent moose we’ve ever seen. We’ve seen several moose in our travels but never one that took our breath away. He was jet black, even his antlers were black and looked like velvet. Bullwinkle and his girlfriend were munching down on the bushes and didn’t seem to have any interest in us at all. We watched for quite awhile and they just ignored us. (probably a good thing)
We stopped in Cheyenne for the night, the park had only one night available before the start of Frontier Days festivities. That’s a big deal in this part of the country, entertainment included,Lady Antebellum, Josh Turner and Maranda Lambert, quite a line up for the Fairgrounds. We’d like to see Lady Antebellum but we are a few days early.As Monty would say in his best Get Smart voice,’Missed, it by this much’.
We moved on to Custer State Park and it is everything we remembered. This is a beautiful park, definitely on the scale of a National Park. The grassland is dotted with rock out-croppings and nice trees. There are antelope, deer, and of course, lots of buffalo or bison. Camping at the park is highly sought after and we missed the boat this time. (I could write a whole post on how the camping experience has changed in the last 15 years) We are at an RV park in the town of Custer and although we are enjoying the little town we would have preferred being in the park.
Last trip we missed the Cave of the Wind and this year we intended to correct that oversight but, the elevators in the cave are out of commission so there are no tours being offered. The Jewel Cave is also in the area but our neighbors told us the tours are booked because the Wind Cave is closed. On a quick count Monty and I have visited seven caverns or caves so missing a cave tour won’t put a damper on our trip.It gives us a reason to come back.
We spent the morning at the Mammoth site in the little town of Hot Springs. The tour was very interesting, in 1974 a developer was going to knock down an unsightly hill to develop his property when he discovered a bunch of bones. After calling in experts to examine the site it was determined to be a sinkhole. Apparently the sinkhole filled with spring water and animals came to drink and many stumbled into the hole and died there. They have discovered hundreds of bones, both of wooly mammoths, pigmy mammoths and the largest, Columbia mammoths. There is an informative movie and guided tour of the digging site and a museum with replicas of mammoths and artifacts. We enjoyed the tour and learned a lot. Hot Springs is a small town with interesting architecture, almost all of the buildings were made out of large pink rock.
We stopped in Deadwood to look around but about two blocks from the car it started pouring and we didn’t really get to see much. It appears the town has really developed since we were here last. Still a lot of casinos but many small shops and lots of tourists.
Rapid City, The City of Presidents, has forty-three presidental sculpturesgracing a very attractive Main Street Square.The Square is lined with outdoor cafes and shops, generating a lot of foot traffic. This is part of the whole Black Hills area and there are a lot of family activities, mini golf, and ice cream parlors. We were pleasantlysurprised to see the parking area at the Reptile Garden was packed. We enjoyed the day we spent there many years ago and apparently it is still a popular attraction. In keeping with the president theme we passed the Museum of our Forefathers. (plenty of parking in this lot) We saw Chief Crazy Horse from the highway and he didn’t look much more finished than he did sixteen years ago. Certainly a major undertaking, but if they finish it I guess the family is out of a job.
It’s about time to head home, although with the temperature at home reaching 108 degrees we aren’t sure why, but you know, it’s home.We stayed at a nice KOA in Craig, CO.Our spot was next to a meadow with five beautiful horses.The temperature was about 80 degrees and the horses were playing tag in the tall grass next to a pond.Colorado horses just look a lot happier than Arizona horses.I think it is the tall grass tickling their belly all the time.
We stopped to see Bearizona in Williams, Arizona .They do have a lot of bears and some other nice wild things. It is drive through entertainment to get close to bison, wolves, bears and such (keep the windows closed). Daisy rode on my lap but didn’t have much interest in the bears or critters.She was just happy with the whole lap deal.There is an area called the Fort, that houses other animals, similar to a zoo,but since we had Daisy with us we didn’t get to spend much time looking for critters there.The area looked really nice though, live music, refreshments, and of course t-shirts.
We’re home, it is 106 degrees. We mumbled something about Hell. We love Arizona, but we admit, it is easier to love in January than in July.