Great American Road Trip – Part One

It’s been a while since I last posted, but I figured I would document what I’ve been up to since leaving Utah. I took my family on a massive road trip around the West, planned for two weeks in a generally counter-clockwise fashion, hitting a number of national parks.

An overview of the route
Night 1 – Rapid City, SD
Night 2 – Cody, WY
Nights 3-4 – West Yellowstone, MT
Night 5 – Salt Lake City, UT
Night 6 – Springdale, UT
Night 7 – Grand Canyon North Rim, AZ
Nights 8-9 – Moab, UT
Night 10 – Frisco, CO
Nights 11-12 – Estes Park, CO
Night 13 – Harlan, IA

Day 1: Iowa to Rapid City, SD

This part of the trip involves getting a lot of the East-West travel out of the way. South Dakota is a big place, no doubt about it. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t things to do.

Mitchell, SD – Best food stop between Sioux City and Rapid City. The “World’s Only Corn Palace” is forgettable.

Badlands National Park – Great intro to the geology of the area, since it’s all cut away for you! Decent wildlife spotting opportunities (prairie dogs, birds). We appreciated the chance to get out of the car and climb around on the mud hills for a while. There is a gas station on the turn off to the park where you can see a colony of white prairie dogs.

White prairie dog
Driving in Badlands
Badlands overlook

Wall, SDWall Drug dominates this tiny town. You will see signs for Wall Drug every half mile after you leave Sioux City, and it is worth the few minutes it takes to stop and look around.

This was taken more than 200 miles from the store.

Sturgis, SD – The Sturgis Rally was ongoing while we passed through the area, and it was amazing to see so many Harley motorcycles in one place! Definitely adds character to the region.

Rapid City, SD – A military base absolutely drives the local economy here, which looks like it has seen better days. Good lodging options here (better than Mt. Rushmore at least!)

Day 2: Rapid City, SD to Cody, WY

This was one of our most ambitious days in terms of sightseeing. Wyoming is a BIG state and we had a lot on the list.

Mt. Rushmore – Definitely worth seeing since we were in the area. We saw a mountain goat, which I thought was highly unusual. The park service didn’t seem to think so.

Mountain goat near the visitors center (!)
It’s amazing once you see how they carved it out. Get up close or it doesn’t look that impressive.

Black Hills – Challenging driving because of all the campers. Don’t forget to look for Crazy Horse on your way out of town! We didn’t pay to get close but it will be amazing once completed.

Devil’s Tower – This was a last-minute decision, but we are all so glad we visited. The loop hike around the tower doesn’t take long but exposes you to this surreal natural feature. We saw many climbers on different routes in the afternoon shade.

It’s cool to consider how this formed
Doesn’t get more “Western” that that

Big Horn Mountains / Tensleep Canyon – We made it back to I-90 but I highly suggest turning off at Buffalo, WY and heading over the Big Horn mountains on Highway 16 if weather conditions are good. The highway goes over Powder River Pass at 9,666′ and descends down the gorgeous Tensleep Canyon to Worland. It got a little grey and rainy, but we all still enjoyed the scenery on this part.

Big Horn mountains from near Buffalo, WY (east of the range)
Ten Sleep Canyon

Worland / Greybull – The Central plains of Wyoming are a strange place. Worland is a small town but has a surprising number of acceptable chain restaurants. It is probably your last chance to get food before Cody. Greybull is even smaller. Soon we had arrived in Cody, just outside Yellowstone, for our second night’s accommodations.

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