Yellowstone (or should that be Jellystone) via Badlands and Sturgis Part One

First stop on this 5 day trip round trip from Denver was Mt Rushmore with an overnight stop at Rapid City. Our plan was not to leave Denver too early, however, Ty woke early and at 3.30 woke me to say let’s get up and go….I’m wide awake. ‘No’ was my reply, “I’m not getting up at 3.30 am go back to sleep”. At 4.00 am Ty nudged me again…”I’m still awake, we may as well get going”. I resisted till 4.30 am but by then I was also awake. I dragged myself out of bed, showered and packed my bag. We left the hotel at 5.20am.

By 6.30am we were very hungry and decided we’d stop for breakfast when we see a billboard with Denny’s listed. At least we would get a good breakfast for a reasonable price at Denny’s. Around 7 am, at exit 7, we were in luck and pulled into Denny’s car park in Cheyenne. Our breakfast of bacon, eggs, 2 pancakes and toast plus tea and coffee cost $25.57 including taxes! Have to say including taxes because everywhere in the US no matter what you purchase has tax added on to the advertised price. I prefer our model with the taxes included in the price you see…..much easier to budget.

Our stomachs now full it was time to get back on the road. The scenery varied from very flat lands with very few trees to forests of pine trees and other assorted trees.

Part way through our drive Ty needed a break from driving so he pulled off onto what we thought was a layby but was, in fact, another way back to the motorway. Just outside a place called Edgemont. We were far enough off the road so as not to cause any issues with other traffic. Ty took a wander up the road and I stayed by the car. Several cars went by us and then a motorcyclist on a red Harley flying the American Flag came our way and pulled up behind our car. Ty was still on his walk when the motorcyclist asked ‘Are you ok, do you need any help’. ‘No’ I replied and explained why we were parked here. He asked where we were going and I said ‘Rapid City, a look at the rally in Sturgis and Yellowstone before returning to Denver’. At that point Ty came back. The motorcyclist introduced himself as Brian and said he was from Colorado Springs. Further conversation around bikes had him mention he was a riding instructor in Colorado Springs. We said ‘One of our friends is also a riding instructor in Denver’.

We chatted a little more about Australia and our trip. Eventually it was time for both of us to move on. Before we parted company Brian told us to make sure we visit the The Badlands…..this was on my list however wasn’t sure we would fit it in. He said we must!!

We arrived at Mt Rushmore in the Black Hills of Sth Dakota mid morning, glad we did, it was already very busy although we managed to park in the underground car park in the cool.

A couple of flights of stairs and a short walk found us facing the massive rock carving that is Mt Rushmore. We were disappointed to find fencing with black plastic stretched across the closer viewing area for Abraham, George, Thomas and Teddy. This made it a little difficult to take selfies….well for some..namely us. We haven’t managed to master that ‘art’ yet and should probably give up trying! As happens when we visit most monuments or places of interest there is always someone who offers to take a photo or we take theirs and they reciprocate……no need for selfies really. On selfies, I’m always amazed how our millennials manage to take their selfies with brilliant smiles or trying to look seductively at their phone – I have enough trouble positioning the camera or phone on us and the background subject to even think about smiling, as for looking seductive……….. I’m happy to stay behind the camera or, if I have to, have someone else take a very unflattering photo of me.

Sturgis bike rally was on during our visit to this area, needless to say, the majority of visitors to the monument this morning were bikers. An interesting mix of individuals. The town of Keystone was on the way to Mt Rushmore and it looked like a beautiful little town with colourful buildings and old saloons but absolutely no parking available so we had to keep going.

After photographing the presidents from all angles it was time to visit the gift shop and make our usual purchases….fridge magnets, baseball cap, depending on price, and a patch. Don’t even ask what we do with them, the fact I’ve told you we purchase these items is more than enough information. Years ago the purchases from my travels were shot glasses…..not just one for me from the places I visited but one for several close friends as well. No wonder my luggage was always over the limit!! I gave up shot glass souvenirs when it became onerous trying to ensure they were packed securely for their trip back to Aus.

Arrived at our hotel in Rapid City to find we had been given an accessible room. I certainly didn’t book an accessible room but, well I’m sure I didn’t. When I checked in the man at the desk said ‘Ah yes, the accessible room’. He was talking to himself as he shuffled through the guest room documents so I didn’t reply. Ty was quite happy to have it when it looked like there was no lift in the 3 storey hotel. The room was very large and, as you’d expect, so was the bathroom. Although the bathroom was lacking shelf space but for one night perfectly adequate for us.

Took a drive to Sturgis this afternoon. The 79th Sturgis Bike Rally is on at the moment. The rally runs for 2 weeks in July/August each year. We had never seen so many bikes in one place in all our lives. There were also hundreds of bikers on the roads around the other towns we visited and the national monuments. I remarked to Ty ‘At least they’re out and about visiting other places not just sitting around drinking from morning till night’. Although I’m sure there would be many that go to catch up with mates and drink from morning to night…….whatever leads the masses of bikers to Sturgis it looks like a lot of fun. No colours are allowed which makes it even better for the casual motorbike enthusiast.

So many different types and colours of bikes, bikes with trailers attached, bikes packed up with luggage and the US flag flying on top. There was a multitude of trikes, ones with 2 front wheels such as can am spyder and the Harley with 2 back wheels. Ty commented that he had never seen so many trikes. We see an occasional one at home but nothing like the numbers in and around Sturgis

Homeowners had signs up renting rooms in their houses so we saw bikers sitting around in homeowners yards drink in hand having a good time. We were amused at other homeowners and family who had set up their camp chairs on their front lawns to watch the constant parade of bikes go through.

We found a parking spot and walked back to the main streets where the tents of food, bars, souvenirs, rally t shirts and leather goods were set up. The bars were teaming with people hanging over balconies, lots of rock music flowing from all the venues. A very interesting spectacle.

We also made an observation that the majority of bikers we saw or met along the way were in their 50’s or older!

We went out for dinner and on the way back I remembered we could need aeroguard for our visit to Yellowstone so we called into Walmart…..worker told us ‘aisle 5…if there’s any left’. Went to aisle 5….shelf was empty! I started to laugh at the thought of bikers buying up all the insect repellent to rub, spray or dab it in their face, around their nose and on their lips. Told Ty what I was thinking, he laughed as well. Bikers in US do not have to wear helmets, full face or just the helmet. Many of them also don’t have a bandana covering their mouth and nose. So the idea they would buy up all the repellent had me thinking about those pesky bugs that crash into our windscreen or attach themselves to the front fender. The movie Wild Hogs came to mind. If the insects are flying at a bikers’ face and he’s wearing insect repellent do the bugs scream/swear, put their brakes on and try to do a rapid back pedal mid air to fly around the bikers face? Would they have time or would they continue to fly into one or other orifice? The bugs hit the windscreen at speed and the thought of one splattering onto my face, in my mouth, up my nose or in an ear is cause enough for me not to be on a bike without a full helmet and visor on the bike… fact I’d also prefer a canopy on my bike as well! Better still I’ll stick to a car…


With The Badlands now factored in we had a long day ahead of us tomorrow before we’d reach Billings.

We were up early so, after breakfast we packed the car and bid farewell to Rapid City and headed for the Badlands National Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Black Hills are so called because of the thickness of the tree population covering the hills making the hillside look black.

The Badlands or ‘mako spica’ meaning ‘land bad’ was named by the Lakota people. The land was deemed bad because of the lack of water, extreme temperatures in summer and winter and the rugged terrain. The 240,000 or so acres of desolation makes for a very beautiful, eerie landscape. No civilisation within the park at all….except for the visitors who are surprised by the different landscapes within the park. Amazing what volcanos have produced for our enjoyment!

The first section we visited was similar to the Grand Canyon except with mostly an ash coloured rock with some interesting rock formations. So I thought at this point ‘yes, it is striking for the consistent colours but I wasn’t in awe of the scene. We walked back to the car and drive further around and passed through high rock formations of either side of the car. These formations were a more rounded shape and had a little more ochre colour in them then the road climbed a little and we saw rock formations below us appeared to be multicoloured …. like a rainbow. I’ve not seen anything like this before. We stopped in several places to view this stunning scenery – so hard to drag our eyes away or to stop taking photos. At first you think your eyes are playing tricks or it’s the sun shining on the rocks changing the colours but they weren’t and it wasn’t.

Thank you Brian for being adamant we must not miss this park….so pleased we took your advice and we spent way too much time here because areas of the park were so different. However it’s not a place I’d like to find myself in the dead of night. They do have a camping ground for those RV travellers and other avid campers who fancy being totally off the grid when camping.

If you get a chance to visit this beautiful place you’ll be pleased you did.


Sections of Badlands National Park

On the way back from The Badlands we decided to stop for lunch at Wall…..we didn’t need to think too much about where we should stop couldn’t miss this town! There were billboards advertising Wall drug store for miles before we got anywhere near the Badlands. Wall had everything, according to the billboards, from pharmacy products to food, shakes, souvenirs….you name it they had it! And they did…..Wall drug store was originally a drug store a hundred or so years ago but over time it had transformed into a number of different shops under ‘one roof’ owned by one family. This drug store stretched along one side of the Main Street….the ‘drugstore’ was so big and obviously so popular in this little town they needed a large car park at the back of the Main Street.

Wall was flooded with bikers, families on school holidays and RV travellers so there was no point looking for parking in the Main Street…..we went straight to the massive parking area behind the Main Street. This small town overflowed with people.

The eatery inside the ‘drug store’ was huge, it seated 530 people, with a wide range of food choices. We chose basic sandwiches, due to this options having no line up!

We needed to move on towards Billings and we still had Devils Tower to detour to. We didn’t spend too much time over lunch…places to be!

Devil’s Tower is America’s first national monument established in 1906 and stands at 265 metres from bottom to top. Some of the names the Native Americans call it are Bear’s Tipi or Home of the Bears or Tree Rock depending on the tribe.

Arriving at the Devil’s Tower Wyoming we came across more bike riders heading back towards Sturgis. We read the historical information about the rock formation then proceeded to cross the road to take photos. As we crossed a couple on a white Harley three wheeler, nice looking trike, pulled up to have a cigarette and take photos. We had a conversation with them and Ty explained I don’t like motor bikes and she said ‘ hop on and sit in my seat and see how comfortable it is’. ‘It’s easier being a passenger on a three wheeler than a motorbike plus we have lots more storage room” she continued. I dutifully sat in the passenger seat and I agreed it was comfortable to a degree…’not keen on the arms being back so far’ I commented. I get fidgety and uncomfortable in a car on a long trip so I couldn’t imagine taking a long ride on the back of one of these….perhaps a half hour or an hour would be ok. Plus I’d have helmet hair and my hair is thin enough without pressing it to my head.

Time to move on…..we pulled out of the layby and drove down the road – I put my camera away and looked up – a white bus was coming straight at us. Panic stations….Ty had turned immediate left instead of across the lane and left. Neither of us noticed until I saw the bus….there was no time to move to the right side of the road. Ty could only pull over to the left shoulder giving the bus room to go around us. This was an unusual mistake for Ty who has managed for years to drive on the opposite side of the road when we’re in US or Europe. Just one of those brief lapses we can have but I saw the bus and alerted Ty (loudly) and incident averted.

As we reached the Montana/Wyoming State Line there were more and more bikes zipping past us…..’where have they been’ I wondered aloud. A few miles after the state line we made a right turn and there were flashing lights – police cars – I turned to Ty to check the speed we were doing when I saw why the police were in the area. Across from the police cars was a bar Stoneville Saloon….a true Wild West saloon teeming with bikers and bikes…..damn worrying about our speed I missed a perfect photo opportunity. Isn’t that always the way? We couldn’t exactly make a u turn and go back with 6 or more police cars and sheriffs cars sitting around waiting for something to happen.

After an overnight stop in Billings we commenced the drive to our final destination on this little round trip from Denver – Yellowstone National Park.

End of Part One! Why? Because getting to the destination and the destination itself deserves it’s own part…..

Likes and dislikes for this trip will likely be on a special blog as part one and part two of this trip are lengthy!!