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Travels with Grama

Mount Rushmore

Road Trip -2001

The first time Doreen and I got together to plan our trip, it somehow came up that she had never been to Mt. Rushmore. After calculating mileage and available time frame, we determined this would be our initial goal for the trip. We plotted our maps, discussed what we'd need and who would bring what. We were both thinking "what did I get myself into" as we made our plans.

The fateful day arrived and she pulled up in front of my house in this tiny little red car that already looked packed to the hilt. My husband just shook his head as we unloaded and repacked it, again, to include my stuff - wondering if the poor vehicle would withstand the strain. It took inventive organizing but it all fit and with hugs goodbye, we were on the road. We had once, jokingly, said our theme song would be Willie Nelson's "On the Road Again" and Doreen threw in a disc and as we cruised out of town, old Willie was wailing in the background.

Less than 4 hours later, as we crossed the border into Montana, I mentioned there was a pretty little road - Hwy 89 - south of Great Falls. It was winding, hilly and very scenic but wouldn't be as fast as I-15 although would still bring us to I-90. I had barely gotten the words out of my mouth when she said "Let's take it." At that moment, our fears about being teamed up with an itinerary "freak" went out the window and we knew this was going to be a good trip.

We stopped in White Sulphur Springs, MT the first night, had supper and played a couple games of pool at a local pub. Back in the room we were looking at the map again and she realized how close we were to Yellowstone National Park. What is that saying....the best laid plans of mice and men ???? The next morning we got up, left town in the wrong direction thanks to me, turned around and headed for Yellowstone. Our new "plan" was not to have one.

2001 Mount Rushmore Photo Album

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park, established in 1872, was America's first national park. It it located in three states - Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.

Two roads in Yellowstone were still closed from winter but the main road through was open.  We entered Yellowstone at Gardiner and exited on the east side via hwy 20/14/16!!! Seems they couldn't decide what highway it was. We were now going to include Cody on our route.

A Strange Weather Pattern

At the west entrance into the park after we had taken photos, we turned back to the car and saw the strange weather patterns behind us. Within the scope of one picture, the sky goes from bright and sunny to thunderstorms.

Old Faithful

It wouldn't be right to visit Yellowstone and not experience Old Faithful so we took a breather, had lunch, and waited and waited for Old Faithful - who, by the way is not totally predictable.  The average interval between eruptions varies from 65 - 92 minutes. An eruption lasts 1 1/2 to 5 minutes. She erupted (it lasted about 1 min) and we were on our way.

Cody, Wyoming
We headed east towards Cody, Wyoming and hit a snow storm at the top of the mountain in the Shoshone National Forest. This road had only opened four days earlier and it was here that I learned Doreen does not like to brake on curves unless death is imminent. It became clear I was going to have to adapt to a few things.
We stumbled upon Buffalo Bill's Guest Ranch and inquired about room rates. They have a trail ride at dusk and another in the morning. It was still too early to stop for the night, so we kept this in mind for another trip and continued on to Cody.
This area was our first sighting of the pink/red rocks that look like sandstone with huge crevices splitting the cliffs. It was also the beginning of our rock collecting, which we subsequently learned could be illegal if taken from the wrong areas.

Jewel Cave, Wyoming

At the Wyoming/South Dakota border area we came across the aftermath of a recent forest fire.  It wasn't until many miles later, when we reached Jewel Cave National Monument information center, that we discovered the explanation for the devastation. It was caused intentionally by human hand.

In August 2000, an 83,508 acre forest fire burned 90% of the Monument and surrounding area from Newcastle, Wyoming to Custer, South Dakota. The visitor center and historic buildings at Jewel Cave, however, were saved.

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Custer State Park is a wildlife reserve in the Black Hills of southwestern South Dakota, USA. The park, named after General George Armstrong Custer, was South Dakota's first state park. The area originally started out as sixteen sections, but was later changed into one block of land.

The park is famous for its scenery, its scenic drives (Needles Highway and the wildlife loop). It is home to 1500 free roaming bison, elk, mule deer, white tailed deer, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, mountain lions, and feral burros. It is also recommended that caution is used when driving at dusk. We rounded a bend and found ourselves staring into the eyes of the biggest elk I have ever seen. Fortunately, he was a vegetarian.


Corkscrews/Pig Tail Hwy

Part of the Scenic Byway is highway 16A Iron Mountain Road also know as the Pig Tail Highway because of the circular "pig tail" bridges and "switch backs" to get you up and down.

Mount Rushmore, South Dakota
"Mount Rushmore is a memorial that symbolizes America, and Americans should never lose sight of their cultural beginnings."
Gerard Baker, Superintendent.


George Washington, (1st president) led the early colonists in the American Revolutionary War to win independence from Great Britain. He was the father of the new country and laid the foundation of American democracy. Because of his importance, Washington is the most prominent figure on the mountain.

Thomas Jefferson, (3rd president) he was the author of the Declaration of Independence, a document which inspires democracies around the world. He also purchased the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803 which doubled the size of the United States.

Theodore Roosevelt, (26th president) provided leadership when America experienced rapid economic growth as it entered the 20th Century. He was instrumental in negotiating the construction of the Panama Canal, linking the east and the west. He was known as the "trust buster" for his work to end large corporate monopolies and ensure the rights of the common working man.

Abraham Lincoln, (16th president) held the nation together during its greatest trial, the Civil War. Lincoln believed his most sacred duty was the preservation of the union. It was his firm conviction that slavery must be abolished.

Crazy Horse Memorial, South Dakota

Crazy Horse Memorial

The Crazy Horse Memorial is at Thunderhead Mountain approximately 8 miles from Mount Rushmore. It is the form of Crazy Horse (an Oglala Lakota warrior) riding a horse and pointing into the distance. Thunderhead Mountain is on land considered sacred by Native Americans.

The memorial consists of the mountain carving, the Indian Museum of North America, and the Native American Cultural center. The monument has been in progress since 1948 and is still far from completion. If it ever gets finished, at 87 feet high, it will be the world's largest sculpture.

Buffalo Bill Cody

William Frederick Cody (1846-1917), known as Buffalo Bill, was a buffalo hunter, U.S. army scout, and an Indian fighter. But he is probably best known as the man who gave the Wild West its name. He produced a colorful show called Buffalo Bill's Wild West.

There is a small museum and gift shop at the site that provides a closer look at Buffalo Bill's colourful life. Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave

Glenwood Springs, Colorado

Glenwood Springs sits on the western slope of Colorado in a beautiful mountainous valley. We stopped here for a rest and picnic lunch. After being cooped up in the car for a long time the rest area we found for our picnic was a welcome relief.

We were on a "push it" day so the picnic in this peaceful valley was just what we needed to rejuvenate us.

Highway 261 & Moab, Utah

It was necessary for us to put some miles behind us as we had a hot date with a Pool Tournament in Vegas. We passed through Grand Junction early evening and decided to continue on to Moab before stopping for the night.  At some point I (as a self proclaimed expert map reader) had us turn onto (what I described as a four lane highway) Highway 128. It was nearly dark but we only had another 60 miles to go.

Ya right - well, the mileage was right anyway !! We soon determined that we were definitely NOT on a four lane highway; it was barely a two lane. The winding, up and down highway seemed to hang precariously on the side of a mountain.

And then it was dark - pitch black. The tops of the trees disappeared from the side of the road into what we imagined to be a huge black abyss, the asphalt at the edge of the road was crumbling away and we realized there were no guardrails. The squeals and expletives from the passenger side (me) had Doreen laughing so hard she could hardly drive. As I tried to climb as far away from my side of the car as possible, Doreen had to point out there just wasn't room for both of us in her bucket seat - not to mention that there was a gear shift between us. She literally had to stop the car in the middle of the road until her tears of laughter subsided. She kept saying "this is not a good time for me not to be able to see". At least in the dark we could see lights if another vehicle was coming.

When we finally reached Moab and checked into the motel, the clerk said she'd lived there all her life and there were two places she would never go - one was Hwy 261 and the other was Hwy 128.  Never heard of Hwy 261.

For two years, it was left to our imaginations what was out there in that big black abyss and we have very good imaginations. It was 2003 before we were able to drive Hwy 128 again - but we did come across Hwy 261 the following year.

Valley of the Gods, Utah

When researching online to find out the location and name of the big red rock area, I had come across an place called "Valley of the Gods". So, of course, when we saw the road signs, it was hit the brakes and hang a right. It is an eerie, desolate, magnificent landscape and immediately one understood it's name.

The map showed a road - unpaved over the sand. Being on a time budget and not knowing where it led, we did not venture too far in - just far enough to know it was somewhere we wanted to come back and explore. Valley of the Gods Page

Monument Valley
My goal on this trip was to see Monument Valley. (once I found out where it was)   After all, what could Doreen say - she wanted to include Mount Rushmore which was 1000 miles out of our way.  It was just a matter of logistics to connect from South Dakota thru the Valley to Vegas. My knowledge of Monument Valley was that John Wayne dusters had been filmed there and all Doreen could think of was advertisements with jeeps on the top of huge cliffs. Other than that we knew absolutely nothing about the area.

I don't know what the "draw" was for me to get to this territory, but my first sighting of it was a feeling I will never forget.  We stopped several time on the approach to Monument Pass to take pictures but there is not a camera in the world that can capture the emotion and awe I felt.  It was like coming home.

There is only one main road through Monument Valley. The stretch approaching the Arizona/Utah border from the north gives the most famous image of the valley, a long straight empty road across flat desert heading toward huge stark red cliffs on the horizon. The highway cuts through the mesas at Monument Pass. Monument Valley Page

Goulding Lodge

Goulding Lodge is in the heart of Monument Valley.  The backyard to this lodge is a towering red wall that protects the buildings. It looks like pieces of it could crumble at any moment and crush what lies beneath. A museum is housed in the original Trading Post and home of Harry and 'Mike" Goulding. Mr. and Mrs. Goulding made lifelong friends of the Navajo people.

Harry invited movie director John Ford to Monument Valley to view the landscape and the rest is movie making history. Parts of the original set from "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" are on display and the John Wayne cabin is still intact. There is a museum of movie making memorabilia and indian artifacts that can compete with any national museum. Monument Valley is still used today for movie and commercial filming.

Over the years, Monument Valley has been the setting for more Western movies than any other site in the United States. Many movies have footage in Monument Valley, including, just to name a few Thelma & Louise, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Easy Rider, Back to the Future III, Forrest Gump, and Mission Impossible.

We were unable to spend a lot of time in the Valley but resolved to return and explore - as Doreen put it "up close and personal". It was starting to look like we needed several more years of traveling together just to accomplish the "plans" we made on this first trip.

Grand Canyon, Arizona

For my first trip through Grand Canyon, I can only say it was impressive but having just driven through Valley of the Gods and Monument Valley, the first sighting of the Grand Canyon did not take my breath away. Perhaps because it is so well known and publicized I knew what to expect.

I tried to imagine what the settlers thought when they came upon this part of the country. The impossibility of continuing west would have been overwhelming.

Seligman, Arizona

Just outside Seligman there are signs that say Route 66 turn here - so we did and found the quaintest little store that I'm sure the original beach boy still operates. It has 50's cars, ladies of the evening mannequins on the balcony and old pioneer graves along side the outhouse.

We stepped back in time for a couple of hours in this little store, buying memorabilia, listening to old 45's and laughing.

Seligman, established in 1886, is a small, unincorporated town situated in the beautiful Upland Mountains of Northern Arizona. In November 1987 Arizona officially deemed old US Route 66 from Seligman to Kingman as Historic Route 66. Seligman marks the beginning of the longest continuous stretch of Route 66 still in existence. (Note to self: map out existing Route 66 and plan for future trip)

Laughlin, Nevada
We pulled into Laughlin with about 2 hours to spare before heading for Vegas. We went into the Colorado Belle hotel and took the River Taxi on the Colorado River for a round trip tour. Smart idea to stay in the spray of the water as the temperature was 120 degrees. We were afraid the car would be melted into the asphalt if we stayed too long. A quick tour of the river and off again.
Laughlin's current location was established in the 1940's and was called South Pointe due to its proximity to Nevada's southern tip. The settlement consisted of a motel and bar that catered to gold and silver miners and to the many construction workers who built Davis Dam.
In 1964 Don Laughlin, owner of Las Vegas' 101 Club, flew over Laughlin and offered to buy the property. In less than two years there were all-you-can-eat chicken dinners for 98 cents, 12 slot machines and two live gaming tables. Guest accommodations were available.
South Pointe was renamed Laughlin when the U.S. Postal Service inspector insisted Don Laughlin give the town a name-any-name in order to receive mail. Mr. Laughlin recommended the name Riverside or Casino, but the postal inspector used Laughlin instead.

Las Vegas, Nevada

We arrived in Vegas none the worse for wear totally enthused and full of stories about our trip. It was time to buckle down and get to the task at hand. Both Doreen and I were playing in the Pool Tournament and refereeing when not playing - in between making plans for next year's road trip.

I drove home with hubby Steve that year. I pre-planned that just in case we were in "kill" mode by the time we got to Vegas. However, we ended up following each other home on the highway.  We stayed at Jackpot, Nevada the first night and Great Falls, Montana the final night.

Craters of the Moon, Idaho

One final quick stop on the way through Idaho was at Craters of the Moon National Monument, located 160 miles east of Boise.

It doesn't actually resemble the moon. Rather, it's a vast expanse of cinder cones, 2,000-year-old lava beds and an extremely large crater. Something else to put on an agenda for another time is to take the 7 mile tour through the whole area.

It was a great holiday, a fantastic road trip, and not at all like I feared. I had found a true travel mate and with any luck, the best is still to come.

Next - 2002 Desert Ghost Towns