[Note- This is the first of five posts covering my 2010 Road Trip]
My longtime friend and outdoor adventure companion, Jon H., joined me for most of this adventure. We headed west into South Dakota in mid- August, 2010. Arriving at our first destination,Badlands National Park, we found darkened skies overhead. We headed south on 240 to the NE Entrance to the Park, driving about ten miles further to the Park Headquarters and Visitor Center.
Stretching our legs a bit, we talked with Rangers and got a Park map. There was a crowded campground not far from the Visitor Center, but not of much interest to us. The Rangers mentioned Sage Creek Campground, where Jon had visited years ago, but warned there was no water there –that sounded like the place for us! We filled our water bottles and headed NW on the Loop Road, stopping several times for pictures.
Driving about 25-30 mi., we turned left onto Sage Creek Rim Road as the Loop Road went N. back to the Interstate. We continued about 15 mi. to the South Fork (Sage Creek) cutoff and the Sage Creek Campground. It wasn’t crowded, and was situated overlooking the Badlands Wilderness Area. After setting up our tents, we cooked some dinner, and enjoyed the sunset.
Early next morning we headed out to explore the area. We took a drive and stumbled upon the deserted town of Scenic, SD – which was for sale! Then we drove up to the Interstate and visited Wall Drug where we had lunch, before returning to Sage Creek Campsite for some hiking and afternoon photos.
When hiking, be sure to carry a map and compass; it’s easy to lose your way if you get off the trail- and this area is very different from the forested areas I usually hike. Give the big animals their space, they can be dangerous. There are lots of bison throughout the Park and pronghorn antelope are also fairly common. Less common are the bighorn sheep, and yes, there are plenty of rattlesnakes.
The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is located just south of the Park, and some of the Park is located within the Reservation. The Cheyenne River lies to the west of the Park and the White River is to the south. The Black Hills are located about 50 miles west as the crow flies. And the town of Pine Ridge is about 50 miles south of the Park, near the Nebraska border.
Our next destinations were Rapid City and the small town of Nemo up in the Hills, where we were to pick up my friend Jack M. We took the back road around Mt. Rushmore and found our way to Jack’s place up in the Hills. We said hi to his wife and assured her we’d take good care of him, threw his gear in the back-end, and headed for Wyoming!
Heading west on I90 we passed Sturgis and Spearfish, before taking a turn north near Sundance, WY to visit Devils Tower.
Back on I90, we headed west to Buffalo, Wyoming, located just 30 mi. east of the Bighorn Mountains. We had identified a few campgrounds of interest in the area and were soon pitching out tents in the Doyle Campground, part of the Buffalo Ranger District, in the Bighorn National Forest. The campground was located at the end of a dead-end road which made it remote from other campgrounds in the area. Although the campground was listed as having no water, we found Doyle Creek flowing just across a large nearby meadow. The Park was surrounded by an attractive, yet very functional log fence designed to keep any private livestock out of the campground. We spent two nights at Doyle Campground.
Our next stop was in Sheridan, WY about 30 mi. north of Buffalo. We had lunch, including a cold brew, then headed about 70 mi. west to the Bald Mountain Campground, just off Hwy 14A. Now we were in the Medicine Wheel Ranger District, right in the middle of the Bighorns at about 9,000′. The peak of Bald Mountain was a short climb to 10,000′.
The view from the Campground is deceiving, with such a short hike to the top. But once on top, the view is pretty spectacular as you look out across the landscape of the valley floor below.
After two nights at Bald Mountain, we continued the journey to Cody, Wyoming — the next stop about 75 mi. west on Hwy 14.
We grabbed a quick lunch in Cody and headed directly for the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, or as I like to call it– the Buffalo Bill Museum! Jack had turned me on to the Buffalo Bill Museum a couple of years before, and my wife and I visited it a year or so earlier.
The Buffalo Bill Museum is actually comprised of five museums and a library: the Buffalo Bill Museum, the Whitney Gallery of Western Art, the Plains Indian Museum, the Cody Firearms Museum, the Draper Museum of Natural History and the McCracken Research Library. The three of us spent a few hours looking around, and then we had to get Jack to the Cody airport for his return flight home via Denver back to Rapid City. I had convinced Jack that a short trip would be better than no trip, and he definitely agreed!
John and I had reservations at a local motel within walking distance of the Buffalo Bill Museum, so we checked in and cleaned up, before heading out on the town. There’s always lots of action in Cody. Plenty of art stores full of fantastic western art and photographs, plenty of western wear shops, jewelry stores, cowboy bars, good restaurants, you name it. We strolled the main drag, stopping in various interesting shops, before stopping at the Proud Cut Saloon, a great little cowboy bar, where we sat at the bar, talking and drinking with the locals while enjoying a great meal. After a couple of hours we walked back to our room and got a good night’s rest in a real bed.
Bright and early, we rise for a big breakfast, before returning to the Buffalo Bill Museum for a few more hours. I purchased a few nice looking western prints (Charlie Russell art) and had them shipped back home. Then Jon and I bid farewell to Cody, and hit the road west on Hwy 14 again, on our way to Yellowstone National Park… about a two hour drive.
We traveled parallel with the Shoshone River along Hwy 14. The area is replete with deep, fast water, big cutthroat trout and plenty of big Grizzly Bears. We pulled off at one wayside rest area, passed a big sign warning folks of the Grizzlies, and found a couple of guys fishing. And they were catching some of the nicest, and biggest cutthroat trout I’d ever seen. I asked if they weren’t worried about the Grizzlies, given all the fresh fish they were sitting on. They replied, “no, not really’ brandishing the large caliber revolvers on their hip. That’s Wyoming for you. It’s gotta be one of my favorite places! Grizzly bears represent my top critical measure for defining wilderness. There are not many places they can be found anymore, but Wyoming has plenty!
Westward Ho… on to Yellowstone!
Stay tuned –Part 2 of this 2010 Road Trip series of posts will cover our visit to Yellowstone, Grand Teton National Park and the Jackson area. Part 3 will cover our travels in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho, the Lemhi Pass, Salmon, ID and Stanley areas. Part 4 brings us through Reno, headed for Yosemite and Kings Canyon where we successfully hike the Rae Lakes Loop after being snowed out, on a similar trip a few years earlier. Part 5 brings us to the National Parks of southern Utah, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and the Mogallon Mountains and Gila Wilderness of New Mexico.
Related information: Camping Wyoming and the Black Hills, Kenneth L. Graham