Big Sky Country

June 28 – July 7

I can’t tell you how enthralled I’ve been with just the IDEA of being in Montana.  As a native Florida girl, this seems like such an exotic locale, at least in my mind.  I’ve been dying to write about it since we’ve been in this great state for a few weeks now, but alas, with big sky country comes little cell service country.  I still can’t use my phone at our campsite, but fortunately our current RV park has decent wi-fi.  So here’s the first of my Montana posts.  I’m combining a few stops to catch up a bit.

First Stop – Tongue River State Park

Our first Montana state park is Tongue River and quite the boating mecca.  The sites are right by the water, and those with boats & jet skis pull them right up to the shoreline by their campsites.  Since we have no boat, our site that doesn’t have good access works just fine.


The first night I saw my first super cell cloud.  You’d think I would have seen one in my days in the South, but I’ve never spied a cloud quite like this one.  Perfect round edges resembling a huge mushroom in the sky.  We had wicked weather that first night and were listening hard to the local weather in case we needed to hoof it to the marina building.  I seriously thought we might have to with the winds thrashing us.  Picture one is the grumpy day and picture two is sunset the next night.


My favorite – purple skies with mountains in the far distance.

Rosebud Battlefield State Park

We talked to the ranger and he gave us a lead on some hiking nearby at Rosebud Battlefield State Park.  Sounded just right to get the feel of the area.


Wildflowers, trees, hills, and of course, sky.  Pretty much what we’ve seen during our whole visit.


I couldn’t get enough of the views.

This state park is one of the many battle sites from the Plains Indian War that raged from 1854 to 1890.  Lots of history here, but I must confess it’s not a subject we’re particularly interested in, so we just enjoyed the site for the views.


I marvel when we’re in a place where we can turn 360 degrees and see no sign of civilization.  Not a house, road, or power line in sight.  Just wide open spaces as far as we can see.  Well, ok, there was the one rustic fence line.


And the littles with lots of texture.  They look like huge dandelions about the size of a fist.


Flora and fauna from the hike.  I’m counting orange lichen in that mix.



Another long view.  We enjoyed watching the shadows playing over the hills as the clouds lazily moved along.

Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park

Yes, another site with caverns.  This time we’re not compelled to visit since we are officially cavern-ed out.  Fortunately just the place itself was good enough for day trips and hiking.


Waiting for mom.


Hiking back to camp.  Those are tiny little RVs in the distance.


I’ll let this one speak for itself.  Hopefully you can read around the bullet holes.  Made it seem that much more authentic.


Our top of the rock view.

Missouri River Headwaters State Park

In this area it’s all about Lewis & Clark and their famous journey commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson.  The goal of their 28 month journey from St. Louis to the Pacific coast was to find “the most direct and practicable water communication across this continent, for the purposes of commerce”.  Practicable?  No.  But they mapped uncharted territory in the Louisiana Purchase, returned Sacajawea to her home area, and made scientific discoveries as well.  DSC00808

This spot is the convergence where the Jefferson, Madison and Gallitin Rivers come together.  Actually, only the Jefferson and Madison have joined at this point.  A little bit farther the Gallitin comes in.  In between is sort of a no man’s land.  Locals don’t consider it the Missouri until all three rivers meet up even though “official” documentation calls it a done deal here.  I tend to think the locals have it right.  How can the mighty ‘Mo’ be formed by the joining of 3 rivers if one hasn’t made it to the party yet?


Here’s the Gallitin from a higher vantage point.


Pat surveying the scene and a historic grave site.  This rough little patch of ground marks the spot where children were buried who died from black diphtheria.  Made me shudder.  And that’s Lewis’ Rock in the background.  On a happier note, the mighty Missouri is the longest river in North America and if you get on a inner tube right now, you can make it to the Gulf of Mexico in two and a half months.  That’s floating down the Mo and then emptying into the Mississippi, which is not the longest river as I had thought.

Virginia City “Ghost Town”


Every drive is a scenic drive it seems.  One of the overlooks complete with cabins and mountain ranges.  And those cabins look like something from a life-sized Lincoln Log set.  This particular spot was on the way to the ghost towns we read about.


Virginia City was founded by prospectors in 1863 during the gold rush and as you can tell, lawlessness was the order of the day.  I wonder about the High-handed Outrages.  Just what do you suppose those were?  Well as the story goes, a vigilance committee was formed and hangings commenced.


This town has at least 150 buildings original from the vigilance days, including the wagon shop & ox shoeing place.  A fun little town, but a ghost town no more.  People do live here again, and it’s a bustling tourist town.


From a garden on main street.


I’ll leave you with one more photo from our scenic drive.

Cecil and Eloise (Mom & Dad) just loved Montana, and Pat commented that he could understand why.  In fact, they threatened to move here when we became “those meddling kids” in their later years.  Glad we have the whole month to soak it in and follow in their footsteps.

Next Up: More Montana State Parks.  See you on the way!

Devils Tower

June 26 – 27

We hated to leave South Dakota, but we had a reservation back in Wyoming.  A quick stop to see the famous Devils Tower.

Getting There

The reservation for this stop was at Keyhole State Park.  Our chosen site was by boat trailer parking with zero shade, and we suspect that the previous camper spilled diesel fuel additive at the site.  So, we’re out in the blazing sun (95+ degrees), and it stunk.  Like what I won’t say.  This is our second Wyo state park and we’re just not impressed.  Maybe just two poor choices, but that’s the way it goes sometimes despite all our research.

Since the campground was nothing to write home about, we focused on the reason for this stop – Devils Tower.  Turns out we picked poorly with that in mind, too.  Google gave us a pretty good route that wasn’t too far, 25 miles or so, but what we didn’t realize is that this route would be another installment of “where the pavement ends”.  Over half that drive was on a gravel road with more cattle guards than I could count.  It was scenic though.

Devils Tower

Enough said about the accommodations and on to the main event.  Devils Tower is the nation’s first national monument designated by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906.  It’s sacred ground for many Native American tribes, but made most famous by the 1977 flick ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’.  Can you believe that was over 40 years ago?  Of course I was just a mere babe.


It’s no wonder this geologic formation is so popular.  It rises up out of the surrounding countryside and looks so imposing.  Grey-green columns like something extruded from a play-doh machine and chopped off with the little plastic knife.


The best look-alike was this tree stump on the trail.  The native tree bark mimics the rock formation towering above.  Even some of the Native American descriptions liken it to a tree so it’s not just me.

Since it was blistering hot, we decided to visit later in the afternoon and packed PB&Js for dinner at the monument.  There’s a trail all the way around with benches periodically, all facing the rock.


Dinner at the base of the tower was quiet.  Most people were gone for the day and we just stared up at it.  Golden Eagles were swooping around at the top screeching to break the silence.  We hoped to see some climbers, but in June there’s a voluntary ban on climbing out of respect for sacred summer solstice ceremonies conducted by the local Native Americans.


Dinner in the shadow.

Looking out from the tower is the lovely Belle Fourche River Valley (pronounced bell foosh).  According to the NPS brochure, “French fur trappers named it the ‘pretty fork river’.”


The thistles were in abundance in the shade of the fir trees.  I leaned over to take a few pictures of this one, not realizing how much bug action was going on.


Saw this little cutie as we waited for the ranger presentation to begin.


We saved a seat for you in case you want to pack your lunch.

What’s In A Name

Native American names for the rock include Bear’s Tipi, Home of the Bear, Tree Rock and Great Gray Horn.  The name Devils Tower came from a scientific expedition in 1875, when Colonel Richard Dodge named it.  He thought the Native Americans were calling it “Bad God’s Tower”, so he changed it a bit to Devil’s Tower.  According to the ranger presentation, the apostrophe got lost somewhere in the government paperwork when it was declared a monument.  Thus Devils Tower.

How Was It Formed?

Well, the experts don’t agree on how this rock formed.  There are actually four theories outlined in the NPS paperwork.  I’m not a geologist, so I don’t profess to know all the right lingo, but here’s the list of formation theories and my simpleton summary:

  1. Volcanic Plug Remnant
  2. Igneous Stock
  3. Laccolith Remnant
  4. Remnant of a Diatreme/Lava Coulee

That’s a lot of geologic terminology essentially meaning that magma came up from below and formed some sort of shape.  No matter what theory of formation you believe, it seems all can agree that it appeared when erosion wore away the overlying sedimentary rock.  Erosion is still working on the tower today wearing away the honeycomb columns that make up the entire rock.

Of course there are Native American explanations for it’s origin.  The ranger told us one story, his favorite, and I rather liked it, too.  The Kiowa tell it like this:  “Before the Kiowa came south they were camped on a stream in the far north where there are a great many bears….One day, seven little girls were playing at a distance from the village and were chased by some bears.  The girls ran toward the village and the bears were just about to catch them when the girls jumped on a low rock, about three feet high.  One of the girls prayed to the rock, ‘Rock take pity on us, rock save us!’  The rock heard them and began to grow upwards, pushing the girls higher and higher.  When the bears jumped to reach the girls, they scratched the rock, broke their claws, and fell to the ground…the bears still jumped at the girls until they were pushed up into the sky, where they now are, seven little stars in a group (The Pleiades).”  See?  So much better than blah-blah igneous and blah-blah sedimentary, and explains the formation perfectly.


A close-up of the side columns (from the bear claws) with an eagle flying by.


Pat on the trail for scale.


Parting shot of Devils Tower at sunset with the moon rising behind us.

Next up:  Montana!  See you on the way.

Rush No More

June 19 – 25

This stop is about Pat’s family gathering.  The plan is for his siblings and mom to converge on Sturgis, South Dakota for a long weekend.  We’re here early to get the lay of the land and rest up for the fun and mayhem.

Rush No More

Everyone loves the name of this campground and it is pretty peaceful even being close to the interstate and the train tracks.  Fortunately we didn’t hear much of either one.  Unfortunately our first day here is day three of the non-stop rain.  Well, it didn’t actively rain while we traveled which was good, but we did have to set up in the “liquid sunshine”.  By day four we are cranky and everything is squishy.


But the rain finally stopped and we got a very green meadow in place of the mud puddles.


After the first day or so, this guy would come right over when I called.  I’d scratch his ears and he’d give me a little snort.  By the last day, I got a nuzzle, too.  (I told him it was my last day.)

The deer came out at dusk and two of them literally bounced on all four legs.  Picture Pepé Le Pew hopping along after the cat.  Then there’s Jackson and the horse both grazing together on opposite sides of the fence.  Blissfully uncaring about the other.  And finally the roses just like the ones we saw in Alaska last year.

Rapid City

Rapid City was our go-to big city for dinner and shopping.  I finally found a replacement pair of shoes for the ones that had rocks filling in the holes I’d worn in the soles.  Pat scored a new jacket to replace the embarrassing grey jersey one he’s been sporting in all  our pictures for the last year and a half.  Jackson had an appointment for a vaccination and got some medication prescribed for his stiff joints.  We’ll see if that pill, salmon oil, and glucosamine chondroitin help him out.  Heck, since that last one is a people pill, I’m trying it out, too.

But that best thing in Rapid City? Our outing to the actual movie theater to see Incredibles 2!  We just loved the original and watched it first to get ready for the sequel.  “Pish posh dahling!”.  Finally some new Edna quotes.

The Reunion

It’s two days until the rest of the clan joins us here and guess what?  The well has an issue and there’s no water in the campground.  I desperately need to do laundry, but that’s a no go.  Fortunately we have water in our tank so we can shower, flush, and wash dishes.  Texts go out to everyone to arrive clean and prepared with bottled water.  We chatted up the well guy and he explained that this is an 800 foot well.  They pulled up pipe for over 600 feet to get to the heart of the problem.  Good news, though.  It was all fixed up by Friday and I was able to wash clothes before everyone else arrived.


We did lots of eating – Grandma’s buttermilk pancakes & bacon, grilled chicken, burgers & brats – visiting around the campfire, and corralling the dogs.

Also rousing games of Mexican train dominoes and dice.


Momma needs a new pair of shoes.  No, wait, already got those.  Momma needs some laundry money.  Pat is the big winner in the ‘Left, Right, Center’ dice game.  They say he cheated.  (Photo credit goes to sister-in-law Paula)

Roughlock Falls

One day we formed a family caravan and drove the twisty roads to Roughlock Falls.  It’s touted as one of the most beautiful spots in the Black Hills.


On the short hike to the falls.  (Photo credit goes to Chantel)

Roughlock Falls, cliff side, and crazy cousins.


The whole family caravan in front of the Falls.  Back row l to r: Paula, Brandon, Rob, Mom, Terri, Dean, Pat.  Front row l to r: Matt, Rachel, Chantel, Andy, me.  Photo credit goes to a random stranger.  Fortunately they always come along just when you need them.

It was such fun to have a crowd with us this time.  In fact, at one point we had three dogs and at least eight people inside the motorhome.  I think everyone enjoyed themselves and we’re already talking about next year.

Sturgis & Deadwood (Again)

Of course Sturgis is best known for the yearly motorcycle rally and everything seems to revolve around that event.  The campgrounds all have biker names like Kickstands and Hog Heaven, and the saloons abound.  We did some sightseeing and souvenir shopping to get a feel for the place.

Downtown sign and the sculpture at the Full Throttle Saloon.

After the rest of the family headed home, it was just Rob, Paula and us.  We took a day trip to Deadwood to browse around and grab lunch.

Bloody nose, beer & bling.  That about sums it up on main street.


And the favorite sign of the day.


Deadwood gets in on the motorcycle craze, too.  And they have wood carvings for sale.  The motorcycle dragon was the biggest and most unique one, but you can own a bear or something smaller for a mere $600.  That was the “cheap” end of the spectrum.

This is our last stop in South Dakota for this year.  The state touts a Great 8 of must-see sights.  We managed to do a Fab 5 – Mount Rushmore, Wind Cave National Park, Badlands, Custer State Park, and Deadwood.  We missed Jewel Cave, Crazy Horse, and the Missouri River, but the family time more than made up for those.  The Black Hills area really grabbed hold of us, so we’ll most definitely be back this way again.

Next up – A brief stop in Wyoming to see Devils Tower.  See you on the way!