10/21/2016 - 10/25/2016 70 °F
Between October 21 thru October 24 I went on a quick impromptu trip to Denver Colorado to see Rocky Mountain National Park and then head north to South Dakota to see the Badlands National Park and Mount Rushmore. This year is the National Park Services 100th birthday and unknown to me until right before this trip it is also Mount Rushmore's 75th birthday, so I guess this is a little birthday trip to see a couple more sites on my wish list.
Once I have completed this trip, I will have driven over 1,250 miles to see all the sites I wanted to accomplish on my quick "road trip".
My first stop after landing in Denver was Rocky Mountain National Park which is located approx 70 miles northwest of Denver. During planning for the trip I was aware that due to the timing of this trip there was a very good possibility that there would be some sites I would not be able to see due to road closures that accompany the early snow storms that happen in Rocky Mountain National Park. Once I arrived at the park, this was indeed the case and would actually cut the amount of the park that was accessible by more than half, but I was aware of this during planning and knew there was plenty of other things to see so I was not deterred.
Entering the park you can get much better views of the mountains and see some of the snow that has already fallen on them.
As I travel thru the park the roads wind up and around the mountains which give you great views both up towards the peaks and down towards the lower valleys from which you have begun your travels.
After driving for a while I decided to pull off the road and take a short hike on one of the trails. While I was taking a break from being in the car I could hear a bird of some sort making all kinds of noise and realized that it was trying to persuade me to share my Funyuns with him, which of course is a HUGE "I dont think so" mister bird.....not really because of the "No feeding wildlife" park rule, but because I DO NOT share my Funyuns with anyone...human or other life form. He was not amused and I had to hear about it for the next 30 mins..........
Due to the road closures in the park from the snow, the areas that were accessible were overloaded with people which was the exact opposite of what I was looking for so since I had so many other sites to see, I decided it was time to hit the road and head to Cheyenne Wyoming for the night on my way to Badlands National Park in South Dakota.
Saturday morning has me driving from Cheyenne Wyoming to Badlands National Park in South Dakota. Its about 300 miles to the Park and I will travel thru Wyoming, Nebraska and South Dakota on mostly rural non-interstate highways that will take me thru the heart of all 3 states.
GPS navigation....check, road music....check, and last but not least, lots of Funyuns.....CHECK!!!
After completing the final 10 miles of the drive to the park on a dirt road (yes....it was the main road too!) I arrived at Badlands National Park and everything I read about it was true. It was some of the most bizarre landscape I had ever seen. Think of the surface of the moon meets the Grand Canyon maybe??
Only pictures can do it justice and I am not about to even try to describe what it looked like because I don't know any words that would do that.
The name Badlands came from the Lakota people and refers to the extreme temps, exposed rugged terrain and the lack of water. I think they over reacted if you ask me.......
Luckily, there are a few forms of wildlife that do survive and actually thrive in the badlands. The most common are Bison, Bighorn Sheep and the ones I had a blast watching the most, Prairie Dogs!
The park is well known for its super large population of Prairie Dogs. There were thousands of them all over the park and there is even a place in the park named for them....hence the name Prairie Dog Town. I stopped here and got out of the car and just watched them for a while. They were everywhere and they would come right up to you and make all kinds of noises and then take off like a rocket. They would chase each other around, tackle each other and follow each other down one of the holes in the ground and pop up a different hole a few feet away. If you were to walk out of the parking lot into the actual grounds, you would step on way more Prairie Dogs then grass, and no, I am not exaggerating one bit!
While researching Badlands National Park I found that located just a few miles away is the Minuteman Missile Museum Complex. This includes a free museum, a free missile silo complex that displays a Minuteman Nuclear ICBM in its missile Silo and a Minuteman Missile Launch Control Facility that you can tour underground. Of course I am going to see that!!!
If you purchased in advance a ticket for $6, you could take a guided tour of a actual underground Launch Control Facility for a Delta Minuteman ICBM. The guide for my tour actually worked in the same facility for 20 years and was a wealth of information and made you feel like you were actually there on a normal working day during their "watch".
The final portion of the Minuteman Missile Tour was a stop off the Interstate to the Missile Silo that contained an actual non-working (so they say) Minuteman ICBM. The facility is the exact setup of any of the current "Live" minuteman silos that still exist today in North and South Dakota.
Back on the highway and enroute to Mount Rushmore about 90 mins away..........
My final day in Denver took me to Pikes Peak about 70 miles south of Denver. Pikes Peak is 14,100 feet above sea level and you can actually drive all the way up to the summit so I decided that would be my final stop for this trip.
The drive up to the summit is approx 18 miles and you know you are in for a ride when they tell you at the entrance that you MUST use your lowest gear and NO air conditioning on the way up or your car will most likely overheat. The drive started out easy enough, but as you drove towards the summit you started hitting the tight curves and switchbacks as you progress up the mountain. There were many times the rental car struggled to make it to 15 mph in the lowest gear with no a/c at all turned on.
I finally made it to the top of Pikes Peak but noticed something seemed off when looking off the summit. Everything looked hazy or smokey to me. I know its 14,000 feet above sea level and I am in a state where marijuana is legal, but I can guarantee you that neither of those items were in play with me. As I looked at a mountain beside Pikes peak it all made sense. Coming off from several areas of the neighboring mountain was large plumes of white smoke from what I am guessing were either controlled or uncontrolled forest fires and the wind was blowing the smoke around and this was the haze that was surrounding me and the summit. Just my luck....
Even with the disappointing end to my visit at Pikes Peak, I got to see everything on my list as well as a couple of things that were not actually planned and researched. I saw lots of the countryside in Denver, Wyoming, Nebraska and South Dakota as well as I can now cross off several more National Parks from my list of must visits. Time back from this trip will be short as I leave in just over a week or so for a week long adventure to more National Parks including Grand Canyon North Rim, Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park and Painted Desert. I will also see Monument Valley as well as several areas of historic Route 66. Stay tuned for pics and updates from that trip and I hope you enjoyed some of the adventures I had on this quick little road trip using Denver as my "Base Camp".