On Sat Jun 5, 2010, we boarded out Sunrise Tour bus, which was huge and very red. It was a 50 passenger, comfortable bus. We had a great driver by the name of Nick and the tour guide was Pat Greene. She was also great. We took off and drove 545 miles the first day and stopped only for lunch and restroom stops. During the afternoon of this long, very first day of driving, we watched the movie “The Blind Side” on our little overhead TV screens. The weather was great and we stopped at Sioux City, IA, which is located across the Missouri river from Sioux City, NE. We stayed the first night at Marina Inn Hotel located right on the Missouri river in Sioux City, NE. We stopped that day for lunch at Burger King but that first night for dinner we had steaks at the Marina Inn, a beautiful hotel overlooking the river. Our rooms were super as was the food. We had a choice of either steaks or salmon. We sat with two ladies from St Louis who were big Cardinal fans. One has 10 grandchildren and the other had 20. We had great conversation and a lot of laughs. Both enjoyed having a little wine, even though they probably were in their late 70’s. One lady was named Bobbie and the other Gail. .
On Sunday, we were up at 6AM and ready for the breakfast buffet at 7AM. Again the food at the hotel was excellent and we were on the road at 8AM for a total of 350 miles to be covered on this day. The first stop on this day was in Mitchell, South Dakota at the Corn Palace. This is a huge building with the center like a sports arena for basketball etc. This day it was filled with several displays of jewelry and souvenirs. The outside of the building is where the name (Corn Palace) makes sense. The outside of the building is surrounded with art designs such as Indians, horses, cowboys and western scenes all done in different colored corn cobs or kernels of corn. We had lunch in town at the Star Restaurant. This place was right out of the 50’s including Formica counter tops and chrome leg chairs. After lunch we were back on the road heading for the Badlands of South Dakota.
The Badlands are an area of about 60 miles long and probably 200 feet tall at the highest point, which appear suddenly after mile after mile of prairie land. They are mountains of rock and earth and hundreds of them display different colored strata. They are named “The Badlands” because the terrain was such a “bad land to travel” by the early settlers and trappers, after traveling through the relatively peaceful, calm and less treacherous prairie.
Then back on the road again heading for Wall City and Wall Drug Store for dinner. As the story goes, this man bought a drug store in Wall City but had little business. His wife noticed they had a lot of traffic going by on the highway and the people were heading out west for various reasons so she thought of offering then free water as a relief from the heat. She put signs on the highway and soon lots of people were stopping for, if nothing else, but to get some free water. Demands grew and grew until food and ice cream and other foods were offered. Today, on a good day, the Wall Drug Store serves 20,000 people. Next stop, Rapid City, South Dakota, which is surrounded by 300 miles of no major cities. In other words, you can drive north, south, east or west, and not come to another city for 300 miles. We stayed in Rapid City for two nights. Again the trip to get there was beautiful. There had been a lot of rain in the area so the fields were green and lush. The streams were full and the water falls flowing plentifully.
Monday Jun 7th we left Rapid City at 8:30 AM after a light breakfast for a bus tour through Rapid City. Today we had what is called a step-on area guide. This man talked to us as we drove thru town and visited several sites including Crazy Horse monument and Mount Rushmore. Crazy Horse was interesting because this monument was in progress and has been in progress for 60 years. The fellow that started it has since passed on but his wife and seven of their ten children have continued the dream. Only the head and face have been completed. It will be a long time before the entire horse and rider are completed. After Crazy Horse, we went to Mount Rushmore which is complete and was completed in 14 years at an approx. cost of one million dollars. The faces of the presidents are 60 feet tall and the sight is very impressive. There is a visitor’s center including a series of square pillars on each side of an outdoor hall way with the view of the monument in the background. There are several of these pillars and on each side of each pillar is a state flag and the name of the state carved in the granite stone. Naturally there is a restaurant there and shops just like every other place of interest. The ice cream cones at the restaurant were the best – butter pecan praline – yummy! We left the Mount Rushmore area and went to Custer National Park where we were going to have dinner. However, before dinner we went on a jeep ride right smack into a Bison herd for a very close look at the Bison cows and the newborn calves. Our driver Dan explained that the females all hang together and take care of the calves while the males go drifting off every which way and are solitary animals. The jeep was covered but there were no windows and of course it rained and the weather turned cold instantly so we covered with blankets until we were back to the restaurant, where we enjoyed another great dinner.
Tuesday Jun 8th we left Rapid City, South Dakota, heading to Cody, WY. On the way we stopped to see Devil’s Tower which is a huge rock formation approx 500 feet tall just sticking up out of the ground. It was the first National Monument in the US. Later that day in downtown Cody we saw a re-enactment of a western gunfight. We had dinner in downtown at Irma’s Hotel and returned to our hotel in Cody. Down the street from our hotel there was a rodeo but by now we were very tired and just sat outside and watched the sun go down before retiring. Just a footnote that we tried to buy a bottle of wine at the local Walmart however we were told there was no liquor sold in any WY Walmart. So one of us took a very long hike to a liquor store to get wine as a surprise for Gail and Bobbie. We also saw Shell Falls and took a few pictures of the beautiful cascading waterfalls.
Wednesday Jun 9th we left Cody,WY and went to the Buffalo Bill Museum. This was fantastic. The museum had several different specific themes. There was a section specific to firearms and another devoted to western lifestyle but the most interesting to us was the Great Plains exhibit. There we saw in great detail the carvings and many displays highlighting the life of Buffalo Bill. It was a very, very nice display and very interesting. It helped us understand the dramatic change for the Indians and buffalo, as they were almost driven to extinction by the earlier settlers. On this day, we went to Pahaska Tepee for lunch before we entered Yellowstone National Park. We also saw lots of wildlife including a black bear and cubs playing about fifty yards off the road. On the way into Yellowstone, we saw a lot of the forest trees that had been attacked by a particular beetle which was killing many trees. We also saw some areas of forest that had been destroyed by fire. We thought this was bad and we asked what was being done about the beetles and why the fires were allowed to burn. We were told that in that area they allow the forest to regenerate itself and that fallen trees eventually rotted and provided nutrients to the soil so that new trees would thrive on these nutrients. Our guide showed us several areas where a fire had occurred and new growth had returned. The majority of the trees were called Lodge pole pines and of course there were millions. The very straight lodge trees were used by the Indians to build their lodges. We checked in to Yellowstone Snow Lodge and had dinner there. It was walking distance to Old Faithful Geyser.
Thursday Jun 10th we were up at 6:30 AM to go out and see Old Faithful which erupts every 93 minutes. It’s an awesome sight to see the steaming water shoot up from the center of the Earth. After breakfast we left to tour the lower loop of Yellowstone and again had a step-on guide to explain everything. He was with us from 9AM to 5PM. We did the entire lower loop and visited the famous paint pods, mammoth village and an area called the Little Grand Canyon, which was alive with cascading waterfalls and beautiful canyons. Again we saw wild life all over. Bison by the hundreds, fox, black bears, eagles, meadowlarks, bear cubs, long horn cattle, both male and female elk and prong horn antelope as well as many more. In some elevations we were so high it began to snow and the temp dropped to 41 degrees. The Yellowstone National Park is 2.2 million acres and the wildlife roams all over without fences. We stayed there a second night but had dinner in the Old Faithful dining room in a different building and experienced another great meal. To say the least, Yellowstone was awesome.
Friday Jun 11th we left Yellowstone for Moose, WY at 8AM. We were supposed to float the Snake River but the water was too rough so we went to Jenny Lake which is a crater lake formed below the Grand Tetons mountain range. We took an hour boat ride on the lake to view the Tetons. After the boat ride we went to Dornans Chuck Wagon for lunch then headed to Jackson Hole WY. We shopped and walked the downtown area of Jackson Hole and then went to the hotel called the Wyoming Inn. After we checked in to the hotel, we left for dinner going to the Bar J Chuck Wagon. This was a large place with eight hundred people in attendance. We had dinner (retrieved by 800 customers in about 15 minutes) and listened to western music until about 9:30 PM. There were five men on stage playing guitars for the whole three hours. It was a very good show. We went back to the hotel for the night and had to get ready because the next morning we were going to Utah at 8AM.
Saturday Jun 12th we left Jackson Hole on the way to Utah. On the way we stopped at the National Museum of Wild Life Art. We had breakfast there while one of the directors of the museum talked about the galleries. We were given a tour of the different galleries and the art work was beautiful. This art gallery overlooked huge plains and the setting was perfect. After the gallery we headed for Salt Lake City, Utah. On the way we saw Idaho Falls and also watched a movie on the bus called “Memory Keepers Daughter”. We also had happy hour on the bus, which was welcomed after the very sad movie!! As a matter of fact. our tour guide served drinks and snacks and candy every day of the trip. We arrived in Salt Lake City Utah by 3 PM and toured the Mormon Properties and beautiful grounds. We then went across the street to the conference building and had dinner on the 10th floor overlooking the city. The Garden Restaurant was very pretty and at one point, the atrium ceiling retracted and opened but was then closed because it was too chilly. After dinner we returned to the hotel for the evening.
Sunday Jun 13th we were up at 6:30 AM and our bags were packed and in the hall by 7:30AM then downstairs for breakfast. After breakfast we headed to the airport and flew to Denver, changed planes and on to St. Louis. Much to our surprise, Leigh (Grogan) and her husband, Billy, were on the flight from Denver to St. Louis and slipped us complimentary drink tickets, passed to us by the flight attendant, so we toasted our great trip and settled back, remembering all the beautiful places in this great land of ours – “America the Beautiful” – indeed!!