What started as us helping our son Tommy and his new wife navigate across the country to their new home in Oregon over a year ago, ultimately unfolded into what would become our own next big adventure.
The plan was pretty simple… Blast across Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, and half of South Dakota before slowing our pace to explore and visit several National Parks, Monuments, and Forests. We would be visiting The Badlands National Park, Black Hills National Forest, Mount Rushmore, Devil’s Tower, Bighorn National Forest, Shoshone National Forest, Grand Teton National Park, Bridger-Teton National Forest, Yellowstone National Park, Caribou-Targhee National Forest, Custer-Gallatin National Forest, and the Theodore Roosevelt National Park…. and we tried our best to connect them with extremely remote roads and trails.
Now, if you’re more of a video person, check out the video below which is our best synopsis of this epic journey. If you’re looking for a little more detail and more pictures read on!
Almost from the get-go there were some “bumps in the road”. While the initial travel was going fine, it became clear that Mother Nature was planning to throw some curve balls at us, at least for the first couple of days. Nowhere was this made more clear than part way through Illinois where we found ourselves on the leading edge of a nasty storm that was trying to stir up some small twisters. Luckily, it was still pretty light out and we were able to keep moving forward. We were actually moving across the country so well, that it looked as though we might be able to make it into the Badlands National Park just after sunrise instead of late morning as planned.
Once Kegan and I settled into our uncomfortable sleeps, Jay must’ve put the hammer down a bit. He has a way of getting laser focused so this really didn’t surprise me, I could tell that he was crunching numbers and was going to make a run for sunrise as I settled in. By the time he woke me just after 3am for my turn at the wheel, a Badlands sunrise was a real possibility.
Almost like a kid on Christmas morning, Jay was excitedly back up within a couple of hours to push the final distance into the park for the sunrise!
The sunrise light Jay so desperately sought after only lasts minutes and, before long, we were back in Klondike and exploring the park. As with so many of the locations on this trip, words nor pictures can really do the beauty to be experienced justice.
By late morning, our explorations had strayed from the pavement and were on some of the area’s back-country roads and trails. It was along one of these routes that we found a pretty epic stop for our lunch. We were all alone and on top of the world!
It was after lunch and as we made our way toward our planned campsite that Mother Nature smacked us into reality again. It was amazing how quickly storms brew up here and, before we knew it, we were getting wet.
For much of this time, we decided to stay parked and take in a little nap to recover from the long previous night. Eventually, however, we decided we needed to finish our push to a suitable camping spot and this is where things got VERY interesting.
We’ve experienced our fair share of mud… Even clay based types which are prevalent in our southern Ohio area. This said, The Badlands’ bentonite clay and small volcanic rock deposits had a new lesson for us in what became some of the stickiest mud we have ever seen!
Soon, we were getting bogged and having trouble moving forward, or so we thought… What we thought was just normal loss of traction from mud later turned out to not be slipping at all, but rather us dragging our trailer with jammed up tires from the mud that had clogged them. It wasn’t only the trailer that this had happened to, but also the Jeep.
It would be after a fair amount of digging, scraping, and checking before we were rolling again. Thankfully, the weather cleared as quickly as it had turned and almost within moments there was no evidence at all the rain had even happened.
After this experience, we decided we needed to check the weather forecast. This isn’t something we wanted to relive! Unfortunately, it revealed that more storms were on their way and it was at this point we decided to ditch our super remote camp and make a run for the Sage Creek camping area where hopefully the soil was more forgiving when wet.
This was a wise choice as we barely got set up before getting hit with another storm that dwarfed the predecessor.
The following morning we were headed into the Black Hills and towards Mount Rushmore. It was here that all the “open range cattle” signs were first spotted and for good reason! Multiple times we had to wait/nudge cattle from a road or trail. It wasn’t just while moving. Cows were also our biggest camp nemesis throughout the trip and these interaction are what founded the name of this adventure.
Before long we were pulling into Mount Rushmore. While it is an amazing spot that really should be visited by everyone, we kind of enjoyed the journey there more than the destination itself. To this point, we honestly didn’t hang out there long before moving on to camp.
This next leg through the Black Hills and to our planned campsite got a little interesting. The forestry road we had selected gradually went from a wide and well-maintained gravel road to a very narrow 2-track lane, so much so that we checked the MVUM map several times as we thought we were on an ATV route. The picture below doesn’t show it well, but this clearing for a downed tree was barely wide enough to wiggle the Jeep and trailer through, especially considering the shear drop that the log is clinging to.
The track did eventually widen and the remaining trek to camp was largely uneventful. The site we had scouted was pretty nice other than the cow patties that sprinkled the area. Since most of them looked to be fairly old, we went ahead and set-up.
Other than some VERY near coyotes early in the evening, sleep here was great…. right up until we woke to a rather loud Moooooo!
Yep! We were surrounded by cows… Big-ins, little-ins, and all those in between. Most were pretty responsive to the shooing Jay gave them. However, there has to be one in every crowd and this one had a heifer that was hell bent on staying. The Mexican standoff was intense for a bit, but Jay eventually won. 😛
Once packed, we had more backroads and beauty to enjoy as we worked over and through the Black Hills and to Devil’s Tower.
By lunchtime we were at the base of the tower. There really isn’t much to do here unless you are planning to hike or climb so after a quick lunch and taking in the sights, we were on the move again. We had a fair amount of ground to cover to reach our evening stop (hotel).
With a much needed shower and nice meal in our bellies we worked our way along Bighorn before making our way up and over. While much of this route was on pavement, it was still a wonderful drive that was full of vista views.
The landscape on the other side of the summit was very different from the eastern side. What was once green had turned to brown. Not only was the vegetation different, but the rock was more brown over the greys and reds we saw earlier.
We still had a bunch of ground to cover once over Bighorn. The goal was to get into the southeastern part of the Shoshone National Forest for camp, but when we passed through Thermopolis, WY we had to stop at what they claim to be the “World’s Largest Mineral Hot Springs”.
Trust me… the pictures are better than real life as one of the prevalent minerals is sulfur… 🙄
We ended up rolling into camp a bit early, and while it wasn’t the exact spot we has scouted, it turned out to be one of the best sites of the trip. The only real negative to it at all was the mosquitoes.
It was at 9634 ft! We had clear views of snow covered mountains that later we learned were nearly 40 miles away. Heck, our own site had a 20×10 pile of snow that had yet to melt.
While this was our favorite site, we didn’t sleep the best here… Neither Jay or I could turn our brains off in the quiet. We live pretty rural and thought we knew quiet, but we were wrong. We could literally hear mosquitoes bounce off the tent, in between Kegan’s snores that is…
After cooking some breakfast and packing up, we headed for Grand Teton.
At one of the first overlooks, Jay stopped to try his hand at rock stacking. The one on the left is his so I guess he is alright at it!
There really isn’t a lot to say about the Grand Teton area. It’s amazingly beautiful, no matter where you look you are in a post card.
….and of course we made a stop at Old Faithful. I mean a trip here just isn’t complete without seeing this notable geyser. This said, we almost missed it twice. Once due to the crazy traffic throughout the park and the second because we were cleaning up from dinner that we decided to make in the parking lot.
After driving and visiting just a bit more, we made our way to West Yellowstone (Montana) where we would make camp in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest.
Beyond a solo coyote, this site was pretty tranquil and offered a nice night’s rest.
As nice as the Grand Teton area was to see and visit, a few things had become clear that after a quick discussion, prompted us to once again change our plans and cover most of Yellowstone in the following day.
The traffic and people were just too much for us to ever really relax enough to enjoy the area. With us always wanting to “get out of places” we were covering ground far faster than we anticipated and we just couldn’t see how to fill three more days. So, we got up early and planned to make a full day of exploring Yellowstone with an exit out the northeast corner on the Beartooth Highway (US-212).
I was happy this plan seemed to excite Kegan and he seemed much more engaged with taking pictures and being a part of the action and views.
As I mentioned, we decided to leave the park on the Beartooth highway (US-212). This trip offered a mountain climb to nearly 11,000 feet and had spectacular view after view along the entire route! …and where else can you have a snow-ball fight in early August? 😛
After another hotel stay, we decided to stop by the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. This is a really nice park, but I must admit it was a little less appreciated by us having already experienced so much natural beauty over the last several days.
It did seem fitting to say farewell to the adventure here though… What began in the Badlands National Park would end in the Badlands of the park honoring the president that worked to protect so many of the areas we’d just ventured through.
If you’re interested in seeing more pictures that Jay and Kegan took while on this adventure, feel free to check out the Google Album HERE