Where the Buffalo Roam | TheUnion.com

Where the Buffalo Roam

Submitted photo/Vonda WhiteMount Rushmore is always a ?must see? for travelers to the Black Hills of South Dakota. A nearby 3,000-seat amphitheater, museum and gift shop cater to the large number of visitors every year.
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You wouldn’t believe 25 members of the Over-the-Hill Gang could travel in eight states and see as much of our wonderful West as we did in 14 days.

With the careful planning of leader Lucille McCrea of Sierra Travelers, we covered 4,657 miles and saw nine national parks, six state parks, several national forests and countless majestic scenic spectacles and other interesting attractions. This report will in no way transmit the immensity, grandeur and beauty we experienced.

Day 1’s destination was Elko, Nev., ho-hum territory to some, but if one looks, there is a particular beauty in this vastness. Elko was the “start and end” of the trip, but the AmeriTel Motel there was memorable for the biggest, fluffiest towels ever and great “free” breakfasts.

Day 2, we saw vast stretches of the same “nothing” countryside until the landscape changed in Idaho. Shoshone Falls near Twin Falls was picnic time. Surprisingly, we had to prowl a bit to find this poorly publicized beautiful setting.

It features an unexpected and hidden carving that is worth seeing, even though the Snake River waterfalls are diminished due to agricultural use. Idaho Falls was a quiet and beautiful setting for our night’s stay.

The next day, we began to see “Ooh-ahh, look-at-that!” country when we followed the Snake River into the Grand Tetons Mountains through Swan Valley. Beautiful mountains on one side of the river and rolling, green foothills against spectacular mountains made for postcard scenery.

We climbed through the mountains to Jackson Hole and our motel in the heart of town. Some wanted to shop; others took advantage of a ski lift close by to ride to the top. What a ride! Weather was perfect, wildflowers were blooming, and the view from the top was endless. Even a couple of acrophobes who braved the ride enjoyed it. The evening’s plan was a barbecue dinner at the Bar J Ranch with dinner for 750 served in 20 minutes, followed by a terrific cowboy show.

We saw much much more of the Tetons the next day. Then we entered Yellowstone Park from the south. We circled to see lots of wildlife, Yellowstone Lake, Bridge Bay, Mud Flats, Inspiration Point, Yellowstone Grand Canyon and Falls, Old Faithful and more. Weather and scenery couldn’t have been better with so many wildflowers in bloom.

Recovery from the Yellowstone fire has been slow, and there is much devastation still evident. Summer travelers were everywhere. We retraced some of the Yellowstone drive to reach the western exit and stayed in West Yellowstone that night.

Day 5, we followed the Gallatin National Forest past Dayton Lake, Bozeman, Butte and Missoula to reach Kalispell, where we stopped for the night. Weather was HOT for this long day of travel.

Day 6 was a marvelous day at Glacier National Park, passing Lake MacDonald (500 feet deep) to the lodge. Then we boarded a Red Jammer, a vehicle specially designed for the park. Mountains were awesome as seen from the two open-top Jammers. Buses the size of our coach were not allowed to cross the Going to the Sun Highway, so our driver drove around the base of the park to pick us up at the east side exit.

Waterfalls are everywhere, and more wildflowers and wildlife. The day ended at Great Falls in Montana.

The next day began with 70 degrees at 6 a.m., part of the heat wave all over the West. This was a day of travel through Montana to Wyoming, stopping at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument – a very somber setting of a tragic historic event. The countryside is no longer green, but looks much like California countryside in the dry summer Sierra foothills.

The heat wave continued the next day, but with our cool bus and dwellings, who cared? Approaching the Black Hills of South Dakota, we were able to get good pictures of the Devils Tower National Monument before proceeding farther into this mountainous, conifer-covered land, misnamed in my mind because trees are green, not black.

We lunched, shopped, and prowled in Deadwood, despite the heat.

There was much evidence of the town’s narrow escape from a recent disastrous forest fire. (We saw smoke daily from many forest fires as we traveled.) On to Keystone, where we would stay two nights in another great motel.

After dinner, we attended the very crowded 3,000-seat amphitheater program at the base of Mount Rushmore, world famous for its sculptures of four presidents.

Day 9, the morning sun was just right to see the presidents’ faces for good picture taking. The museum, gift store, movie and more here are handsomely done. The setting is most impressive.

Next was a visit to the Crazy Horse monument. This marvelous sculpture being dynamited and carved from a mountaintop is being created as a symbol of the Indian nations, with all funding from private sources.

Construction of an informational center, restaurant, gift shop, future Indian-culture school and housing are well under way.

Near Rapid City, we stopped at Bear Country U.S.A., an outdoor private zoo park seen from inside our touring bus. Many native animals were roaming about, and we were entertained watching the wolves and bears being fed.

To leave the Black Hills, our bus driver negotiated the most twisty, turny, up-and-around road ever and squeezed the 12-foot-wide bus through three narrow tunnels with nary a scratch. We drove through still-wooded Custer State Park, then dropped to lower altitudes into red-colored dry lands. Cheyenne was the stop for the night. Roads are excellent in Wyoming, Montana and Dakotas; they put California to shame.

Day 11, we drove into the stupendous Rocky Mountains: Estes Park then Rocky Mountain National Park. What spectacular views as we climbed excellent highways to 12,183 feet ? over two miles up. There were many elk herds along the way. Dropping to lower levels, we followed the Colorado River out of the Rockies to Grand Junction, Colo. There?s not enough space to describe what a wonderful day this was.

Our first stop the next day was Dead Horse Point State Park. Satiated with views? Absolutely not! Far beneath our feet was the convoluting Green River. Then more brilliantly colored spectacles at Arches National Park: weather-carved cliffs, arches, pillars – you name it. It was Moab for lunch and Provo for the night.

Day 13, we arrived back at Elko after spending the day at Salt Lake City and the Mormon Center, driving past the Great Salt Lake to Wendover, then on to our favored motel in Elko.

We were home by mid-afternoon the last day. So much was unsaid here, but what a tour!

Audine Smith lives in Nevada City.

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