Northern Explorer's Summer 2011 Trip

Better late than never.

Date: June 17th – July 4th
Mission: Visit every National park, State Park, National Monument and Memorial that we had time for in the area of South Dakota and Wyoming.

Yellowstone National Park

After taking a long detour to drop our dog off in lower Michigan, we made our way to Yellowstone National park. As we approached Yellowstone we called ahead to make a reservation at the Canyon Village Campground because we had picked out several hiking trails in that area.
It was late June and many of the animals we encountered had young. This picture was taken about 50 miles outside of the park.

Mother moose and calves

We entered the park from the east end. There was still a lot of snow on the ground in this area.

A little farther into the park we saw something that I have never seen in the wild before. A grizzly bear was digging for food along the side of the road and acting very comfortable as cars drove by. On the hikes that we later took it seemed like I was the only one out there carrying bear mace and I was wondering how necessary it was to do so. After reading this news when we got back home I guess it had been the right thing to do.

Bad picture of grizzly along the side of the road

On our way to our campground we stopped at a few hot springs to take some pictures. This is where we saw our first very friendly bison. It came down from a hill and casually strolled between a hot spring and several dozen people on a board walk. No wonder some people think they can just walk right up to them.

We then drove to our campground to check in and take a look at our site before we took our first hike. Under the campground sign was another sign that read FULL. We were glad we called ahead.

Pictures from our first hike

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

Upper falls Yellowstone River

Lower Falls
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After our hike, we drove back to the campground to make dinner and settle in for the night. When we got there I noticed a car was parked at our spot and several tents had been set up. I talked to the lady next to the car and found out that her group had also been assigned to the same campsite. Since they had tents and I had a truck camper I volunteered to go to the office and to be put in a different spot since the move would be much easier for me. To make a long story short, because the campground was full their only option was to put me in a spot that they keep open in case one of the rangers needed a place to camp. This spot turned out to be better than our original location so there were no complaints from me. In addition, the loop that they put me in was truck camper heaven. I had to take a walk to check them all out. There was an older FWC Fleet, a full size Lance, a newer FWC Hawk, a Hallmark Guanella, and a couple of others. I saw more truck campers on this trip then I have on any other trip.

Our campsite

As you can see there was a lot of snow left on the ground. One of the reasons the campground was so full was because with the late season snow some of the campgrounds hadn't yet opened so everybody was condensed into the campgrounds that were open. In fact, the two campgrounds that were recommended to me by fellow ExPo member kcowyo (Slough Creek and Pebble Creek) were not open yet. At this campground some of the campers were checking out shovels so they could try to find the fire pit since fires are only allowed in the fire pits.

The next day we were up and ready for our next hike. We decided to hike to Osprey Falls. For some reason this one does not show up on the park map which we were given as we entered the park. For those that are interested, the trail head is a few miles south of Mammoth Hot Springs. Look for Bunsen Peak Trail parking area. On our way there we encountered our first bison road block.

Video of Bison Roadblock

We were thinking how amazing it was to see these magnificent animals up close. By the third bison road block later in the trip we were thinking somebody needs to shoo these things off the road.

The hike to Osprey Falls started out very mild on an old two rut road that has been closed to vehicle traffic.

A couple of elk that we encountered just off of the two rut road

A saber toothed wolf bone that we found along the side of the road…or it was from a bison.
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The trail follows this road for a few miles and then cuts off down to the river on a series of steep switchbacks.

At the end of the trail we were rewarded with the best waterfall in the park

And there wasn't a single other person there.

We definitely picked the right time of the year to view waterfalls. With all of the snow runoff the rivers were raging.
Video of Waterfall

We ended up staying three nights in the park to make sure we got our share of waterfall and hot spring hikes in.

Video of one of the better hot springs

No trip to Yellowstone would be complete without a picture of Old Faithfull
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We were then off to Grand Teton National Park.

After booking a night at one of the campgrounds we decided to get off the beaten path and take a drive on River Road which parallels the Snake River for several miles. The scenery was great and the best thing was that we had the whole road to ourselves.

Observing elk in the distance

Grand Teton in the background

There were several spots along the way where we could watch the wildlife without there being a traffic jam. At this location we parked along a bluff where we were able to watch some bison go about their daily business of rubbing their winter coat off on a fallen tree and making their way along the side of a watering hole.

On another stop, overlooking the Snake River, we caught a view of some pelicans taking flight.

A few miles farther down the road we found the Bar B C Dude Ranch. It looked like they had made some effort to preserve this historic site but for the most part it was falling in on itself.

Video of a not very steep hill climb near the end of the road.

We were rained out the next day for our planned hike so we decided that we would make Grand Tetons a stop on a future trip. For now we were heading back east. We had to double back through Yellowstone and on our way we spotted some bighorn sheep.

Devils Tower National Monument

The main parking lot at the base was nearly full. We found a gravel road that lead us to the best view around and there wasn't a single other person within sight.

We hiked the short 1.3 mile (paved) Tower Trail that circles around the base of the monument. From one vantage point we were able to see the Tower Ladder. We didn't see any modern day climbers because of the voluntary climbing ban during the month of June.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

A quick stop at Mount Rushmore

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We were then off to Custer State Park.

Going to Custer State Park is almost like visiting two parks at one time. In one area there are open grassy fields where the bison roam and in another area it is rocky which is great for hiking. We decided to hike the Cathedral Spires trail and some of the other connecting trails in this area.

Some of the views

Rock climbing is popular here

We then hiked up to Harney Peak

This was a very animal friendly state park. Besides a lot of dogs, on our way up to Harney Peak we passed four horse riders making their way down the steep trail. I was a little surprised to see these horses on such rough terrain. When we got back to the truck we read in the brochure that a tour company used to have burros carry people up to the top. After the tour company stopped doing business they released the burros into the park which have become a bit of an attraction themselves. As we approached the area where the burros hung out, one of the older ones stuck its head into each and every vehicle that passed by as if it were collecting a toll.

We then took a drive on one of the interior dirt roads.

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Wind Cave National Park

Wind Cave National Park is just south of Custer Sate Park. We took the Fairgrounds Cave Tour.

We were then off to see Badlands National Park.

Some of the most interesting terrain I have ever seen.

We hiked the short 1.5 mile Notch Trail.

We camped for one night and the next morning headed to the southern section and took a drive up Sheep Mountain Table road. The first section of the road is smooth gravel. The smooth gravel ends at a parking area and the road continues on as a high clearance two rut trail.

near the top

view from the top

On the way back down on the gravel section of the road.

Overall this was a great trip. Next year I'm thinking of going back to Colorado to visit Rocky Mountain National park and maybe head north to Glacier National Park. We'll see.
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