We Head East

We have spent the last two weeks making our way pretty quickly across the Country, with the goal post of eastern Canada. Our time has been filled with driving (for David, napping for me), visiting friends and family, scenic stops, and of course seeking out breweries, bike rides, and trail runs. This hasn’t left too much time for blogging as I’ve been using coffee shop stops for trip planning as we continue to make things up as we go. So as not to be endlessly behind on the blog, I’ll give a quick run down on the last couple weeks.

Bozeman, MT

We have developed a thing for western ski towns, and Bozeman is no exception. I love the multitude of outdoor activities, walkable downtown, breweries, and relaxed atmosphere of Bozeman. We spent a couple days here to recoup after a spree in the outdoors (and wait for an Amazon package). We didn’t have any problems finding things to do, including an unexpected computer and robotics museum, sour beer and kombucha festival, delicious pizza, and a fun bike trail through farm fields to an overlook.


Our time in Wyoming was defined by amazing skies. David was delighted to stumble upon some storms, which brought some pretty crazy clouds. We also made a detour to Devils Tower. The National Park Service says this about the tower:

The Tower is an astounding geologic feature that protrudes out of the prairie surrounding the Black Hills. It is considered sacred by Northern Plains Indians and indigenous people. Hundreds of parallel cracks make it one of the finest crack climbing areas in North America.

National Park Service Website

There are a few theories on how the Tower was formed, but most agree that the Tower originally formed below the Earth’s surface and was exposed as the surrounding area eroded. The columns of the Tower are hexagonal, with lots of straight lines and sheer surfaces. We saw one climber on the Tower and heard one Ranger tell of the awesome experience of climbing to the top. We were content to do the paved trail around the Tower.

South Dakota

I’ll admit South Dakota wasn’t high on my list of must-see destinations when planning the trip, and I assumed we’d drive through as quickly as possible. However, we ended up spending a couple days here and it was certainly a highlight of the trip. We paid an evening visit to Mt. Rushmore, which was both more touristy and impressive than I expected. We learned it was carved for the explicit purpose of promoting tourism in South Dakota, and nearly a century later I can say it is successful. This is the first National Monument or Park where we have had to pay for parking ($10) and Keystone is certainly the most touristy place we’ve seen yet (featuring adventure parks, mini golf, gold mines, a wax museum, and similar establishments). Despite the cheesiness of the area, I had to admit Mount Rushmore itself was pretty neat, even in its unfinished state. I enjoyed looking at photos of the carving work on this site.

After spending the night in national forest near Mt. Rushmore, we spent the morning in Custer State Park. David was attracted by a couple scenic drives in the area while I was hopeful of seeing some more wildlife. Neither of us were disappointed. We saw hundreds of bison on the Wildlife Loop Road and I enjoyed petting a few burros (although we seemed to be the only ones that hadn’t brought carrots, so it was hard to compete for the burros’ attention). While in the Park and texting with my parents, my dad mentioned that he had hiked to Black Elk Peak while there a few years ago, which is the highest natural point in South Dakota. Once I knew about this hike, I didn’t think I could leave without doing it so I ran up to the peak while David enjoyed some time by the beautiful Sylvan Lake. The highlight of the Park (at least for David) was probably the Needles Highway scenic drive, which involves navigating a few tight tunnels. Luckily the tunnels proved no problem for David and the Gnar Wagon.

We ended our time in South Dakota with an evening drive through the Badlands. We’d paid a quick visit here back in 2014 when David moved across the country to Portland. Then we had a moving truck that was towing the Saabaru, so the van seemed small and nimble in comparison. Of course we had to stop at Wall Drug first, as you can only ignore so many road signs before the appeal of 5 cent coffee, fresh donuts, or ice cream gets you. The Badlands were just as wild as we remembered, with sunset further adding to their beauty. I especially enjoyed this quote from the National Park brochure:

Fancy yourself on the hottest day in summer in the hottest spot of such a place without water — without an animal and scarce an insect astir — without a single flower to speak pleasant things to you and you will have some idea of the utter loneliness of the Bad Lands.

Thaddeus Culbertson

Clearly my attempt to keep this quick was unsuccessful. I find that I don’t want to skip over anything because each part of the trip feels significant and special. Therefore, to be continued with our time in Minnesota, Chicago, Indiana, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh!

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