My girlfriend Cathy and I decided we wanted to take a long road trip for
our summer vacation this year. We planned an ambitious route from the
Bay Area to visit some of the country's most spectacular national parks
and monuments in Oregon, Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota. This included
places such as Crater Lake, Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, Devil's
Tower, Mt. Rushmore, Badlands National Park and Pine Ridge Indian
Reservation. The trip took us 16 days and 5000 miles through 9 states. We
stayed in a variety of accommodations such as our tent, cabins, bed and
breakfasts, motels, and hotels listed on the national historic register.
We left Sunnyvale on Saturday morning July 19th in my 1996 Pontiac Grand Am
with a full trunk and a large luggage compartment on the roof. We drove on
I-5 towards the Oregon border.
We passed over beautiful Lake Shasta and then passed Mt. Shasta. There were some clouds around the summit and I thought I saw King Shasta sitting in a throne of clouds.
When we got to Crater Lake we had some time before dark so we decided to
drive around the lake. This was my second time to the lake. I went cross-
country skiing there in December 93. There was quite a bit of snow then
but I didn't expect it this time. We drove around the lake and watched the
sun begin to set. During sunset we stopped at an overlook and had our
dinner - a nice salad and garden burger fresh off our grill.
When we awoke in the morning the lake was completely calm. There were perfect
reflections of the surrounding steep alpine terrain in the deep blue water.
It was difficult to tell when you were looking at the sky,
the water or the mountain.
Crater Lake was created by the tremendous eruption of Mt. Mazama on this spot.
It left a caldera that is almost 2000 feet deep. The water in the lake comes
from snow and rainwater and is one of the clearest in the world. It is this
combination of clarity and depth that give Crater Lake that incredible shade
of blue. Sunlight penetrates much deeper than in other bodies of water and
the light reflected back is a purer blue.
It is easy to see why the Native Americans used this area as a spiritual sancturary.
The only boats allowed on the lake are operated by the National Park Service or research scientists. We went on one of the NPS boat tours. In order to get down to the boat dock you have to follow the Cleetwood Cove trail from the edge of the Caldera. It drops over 700 feet to the water. Climbing back up is equivalent to walking up 150 staircases in a 75 floor building. It was definitely worth the hike. The view from the surface of the lake is truly awe inspiring.
We left Crater Lake with our sights on Glacier National Park. That night we
got as far as Spokane, WA. Before we left town in the morning I wanted to
stop by Cliff Park. I had heard that there was a nice view of the whole city
from there - but no one warned us about the sprinklers. The highest point
in the park is a grassy area on top of an old volcanic cone. As we started
to get close we noticed that the ground was pretty wet...just then a thick
stream of water circled our way. We watched and figured out the frequency
of the sprinklers and then went for it. We got to the top and were able to
see the view but we kept on having to move around in a circle so that we
wouldn't get soaked. So much for pictures.
The next day we went for a hike in the Many Glacier Area of the park. We hiked
under blue skies with big puffy clouds slowly passing over magnificent
mountain valleys filled with snowfields, forests of fir trees, rocks
covered with lichen and cool waterfalls. We went as far as we could until we
got to a spot where "the snow bridge was out". We hiked back to the Many
Glaciers Hotel and had a wonderful dinner. Next time I would like to stay
at the hotel for a few days.
Glacier National Park, MT
We left Glacier and drove south through Montana to Yellowstone - which is
about 450 miles away. At the entrance the ranger told us that there was
construction and one of the roads was closing in 15 minutes - if we didn't
make it we would have to drive an extra 75 miles. Well, we didn't want to
do any more driving that day than we had to...so we were trying to hurry.
A few miles down the road the van in front of us started to slow down
quickly. At first we couldn't see why but then Cathy said "There is a
large hairy mammal in the road". The van sped up and pulled away and we
saw a very healthy full size bison with a large beard. He appeared to be
running along the side of the road. I slowly approached, drove parallel with
the bison for a minute and then accelerated down the road - we still had to
make it past the construction before the road closed. The bison pulled out
into the middle of the road behind us although I didn't see him signal. We
barely made it past the road closure.
Clear Lake, Yellowstone
We went on our biggest hike in Yellowstone at the canyon area. In the
distance of three miles we encountered a forest, a beautiful alpine lake,
a bed of hot geothermal pools, a swamp and then the rim of a huge gorge.
At the end of the canyon are two waterfalls - the upper falls is 109 feet
high and the lower falls is 308 feet. The canyon walls were made up of these
unbelievable pastel colors.
We left Yellowstone and drove east through Wyoming. The first major town you reach is Cody - named after Buffalo Bill Cody. At one time he was a very wealthy man in Wyoming. We ate lunch at the Irma Hotel which he owned. He died in Denver almost broke and was buried there. I visited his grave on top of Lookout Mountain when I lived in Boulder.
Devil's Tower is the mountain peak that was made famous by the movie "Close
Encounters of the Third Kind" by Steven Spielberg. The formation is the
remains of a volcano that stood on the spot. We stayed at a KOA Kampground
that is literally 100 yards from the entrance to the monument. A violent
thunderstorm rolled in that night and lit up the sky with lightning. The
sight of the monument illuminated by the blue-white flashes was pretty
Devil's Tower, WY
The campground actually shows the Spielberg movie every night right
in the shadow of the tower. They have a movie screen hanging on the side
of a building. During parts of the movie the wind was blowing so hard that
the bottom of the screen was lifting off the wall. The combination of the
wind, lightning and the movie itself made some scenes extra dramatic.
Crazy Horse Monument, SD
It is a couple hours drive from Devil's Tower to the Badlands/Mt. Rushmore
area in South Dakota. It was a rainy overcast day when we got to the monument.
The scuplture of the presidents is impressive but it was hard to appreciate
after the incredible natural beauty we had just seen. We also drove down
the road to see the
Crazy Horse monument.
The project is completely funded
by private donations and will be the largest sculpture in the world when
it is completed in 2050. So far they have the head mostly done.
The next day was another rainy day. We decided to drive into Rapid City and
see a movie. We went to see Airforce One at Rushmore 7. After the movie we
drove to the KOA Kampground in Badlands National Park. We checked into our
kabin, relaxed, read and listened to the rain against the roof.
We were fast asleep in our KOA Kamping Kabin when we heard some rustling on
the porch. It sounded like a wild animal was clomping around and pushig
against the door. We cautiously approached the front window to peek outside
and saw a little girl (maybe 6) trying to open the door. When I openned the
front door she turned around to her mother and yelled "I'm sorry Mom"
(actually it sounded like I'm sowwwy Mom). They were staying in the next
Kabin and she got confused. It was the closest encounter we had with a medium
That day we drove through the Badlands. Millions of years ago this land was
covered by a shallow sea. Pressure from the continental plates caused the land
to rise and the sea was drained away. This was followed by years of erosion
by several rivers. The result is a landscape filled with irregular ravines,
fantastic ridges, low hills and cliffs that looked liked they were painted
with soft brush strokes of red, brown, grey and white.
Badlands National Park, SD
We drove south from the park and entered the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation
and stopped at Wounded Knee. Wounded Knee is the site where in 1890, US
soldiers massacred 150 men, women and children. Perhaps 100 more people froze
to death in the bitter winter when they fled from the army. The army
considered the "battle" to be the end of the Plains Indian Wars and eighteen
congressional medals of honor were awarded to the participating soldiers.
Sioux leaders have remarked that they will not rest until those "Medals of
Honor" are revoked.
It is a sobering experience to drive around the reservation. It is like a third world nation in the middle of the US. Most people are unemployed and are very poor. They are subsisting from welfare which is in the process of being cut (welfare reform). I think there could be some successful community development programs but the leadership would have to come from the federal government - and this has not traditionally been a good relationship. The native Oglala Sioux that we did speak with were very friendly. We bought a "dream catcher" from a 16 year old girl. The description of the souvenir was hand written on a scrap of paper. She didn't have an extra copy for me. We drove through the rest of the reservation and then to nearby Hot Springs, SD.
In Hot Springs there is a public pool built on top of a natural spring called
Evans Plunge. Water from the springs filters up through pebbles on the bottom
of the pool. Five thousand gallons of water an hour flow into the pool and
overflow into the river. There are three large water slides that empty into
the pool. One is called "free fall" and is particularly steep. We had a lot
of fun going on the slides and playing in the pool.