The rv shop in Whitewood, Northern Homes, fixed our warranty work. The people there were friendly and helpful. While it was being fixed we did some exploring and went to Tinton and Iron Creek Lake. Both places were new to us, even though we have visited the Black Hills for thirty years. We picked up the house and spent the night at Spearfish City Park. That night we got hit by the most violent storm we have experienced since we went full time. Thunder crashed round us as strokes us lightening lit up the inside. Molly, our dog, spent the whole time shaking and cuddled next to us for protection. The rain poured throughout the storm’s calliophy! Hail pelted the house, reminding us of the hailstorms we have sat through and watched as thousands of dollars of damage happened to our old stick and brick house and cars,(In one of my better moves I let a friend talk me into raising our deductibles only to have all four cars hit one week later costing me for thousand dollars). The next morning we awoke to find no damage! Equally great we discovered that the floor was dry and the leaks had been fixed! We lazily packed up and left after saying our goodbyes to two new friends, Don and Linda from New York,(they are volunteers at the fish hatchery, she is a retired junior high teacher and he is a fishing nut, like me). The hook up went without incident and we drove the 50 miles, back to Keyhole State Park. Now the reason we went back was because our daughter Jenny, was one of the choreographers for the PAWS,(Performing Arts Workshop), in Gillette. This year they were performing , “Anything Goes”. As we always try to make her performances and her choreography, it was a must to do for us. It was such a joy. The show was performed by kids, divided into three groups: the children’s academy, the junior group, and the senior group. It was so much fun to watch the little ones tap their way through two numbers! They were great and in step! Amazing really, as Jenny told us none of them had ever tapped before. As the play unfolded, we were treated to the best performance by a high school student, Kat Nowack, that we have ever witnessed. This girl gave a talented performance and sang extremely well, and was as good as the performers we have seen in many professional productions. After the performance we met Jenny and then went out to The Prime Rib, for appetizers and to visit with Gary Abbot,(the director), and meet the other stage people. Such a joy. We left late and got home at midnight! Of course the day wasn’t over, it was time to walk Molly and the quickly off to bed. Clear skies.
We have had some sporadic leaks on the floors of two of the sides, so we made an appointment at Northern Hills Rv and drove to Spearfish, South Dakota. If you have never been to Spearfish it is a beautiful town on the western edge of the Black Hills. There we set up our home at Spearfish City Park.
The park itself is a quiet, beautiful place with large cottonwoods and pines and is nestled along a trout filled creek, Spearfish Creek. Bike and hiking trails emanate from the park. A great bakery is only a few blocks away! Sand creek always beckons and is just across the border only ten miles away and Deadwood and its casinos are always open,(We rarely gamble as its boring, but do like the food).
We tried to take a drive up Spearfish Canyon, only to find it was closed due to road construction. Thirty years of field trips up the canyon and now its closed. Anyway, we drove up to Deadwood on 385 and ate at the buffet at a casino. WE didn't gamble, just walked the streets and looked at the tourists. Afterwards we took another road to Sturgis and then back home.
The next day we went to the bakery and what a treat! Renita had a creme filled puff pastry and I had the biggest apple fritter I have ever seen. It took us three days to finish them because of their size!
Yesterday we drove to Sand Creek. The creek winds its way through a small valley, lined by limestone cliffs reminding us of northeast Iowa. The stream is a clear and cold spring fed water. Light green water cress lines its channels and brown trout swim in every pocket, daring you to try and fool them. We picnicked during a brief shower and then fished and walked along the stream side.
Three brown trout refused my offerings time and again. They would turn and almost nuzzle the flies before refusing and swimming back to their ambush site, Dynamite might have worked......
The next pool down was below two small waterfalls that cascaded into a large deep pool. The fish there were more friendly and I caught and released two browns, while Renita watched and took photographs,(I did catch her smirking when I caught a tree on a back cast).
We returned home barely avoiding a large dark thunderstorm, filled with mammaltis clouds,(these clouds look like pendulous breasts hanging from the storm and indicate strong upper winds and dangerous storm conditions). We walked Molly and grilled hot dogs just before the storm finally caught up. Dinner was served with crashing peals of thunder. We prefer clear skies!
The trip from Worland to Keyhole was a hard, long, and windy drive. Add to everything else, we even encountered snow across the Bighorns. From Buffalo on, sheets of rain pummeled us as we drove east across the prairie. As trucks passed us their plume of water blinded the windshield as the wipers struggled to keep up. The weather didn't relent as we drove through Gillette and on to Keyhole.
At Keyhole we were greeted by Sue, a longtime friend who is working at the entrance booth to the state park,( Sue and Geno had a spot next to us when we were in the Keyhole boat club). We caught up on the news, bought our state stickers, fifty five dollars for all state parks including camping, and found a huge and beautiful spot in Arch Rock Campground.
We had forgotten how pretty a state park Keyhole is. From our front door we were greeted with the sight of Cottonwood Bay. Surrounded by ponderosa pines the spot was ideal and there was no one else in the campground! All day we watched the white pelicans form their jay shaped formation as they surrounded bait fish and then dunked their heads in unison. An amazing example of teamwork!
For the next few days we enjoyed the solitude by walking and birding. We did go into Gillette on business, Dog and I both visited the vet and doctors for routine checkups and shots. Renita attended the dance recital to watch her friends perform their jazz and tap routines. Renita shopped for our provisions as I golfed with some old retired friends. The golf course was as green as a pictures of a fairway in Ireland. The amount of rain and snow here has been way above the average and has in fact busted the drought. Bob, Nancy, and Gene stopped by and gave us updates on school.
Gillette itself is still booming and is a mess as the main street is torn up and jammed with traffic. Both of us were glad we retired and left for our journey.
The rest of the time was filled with bike rides, canoeing and walks. Renita spotted a huge bull snake in the road. Unfortunately the snake was injured by a driver who probably thought it was a rattler, a common and fatal occurrence for snakes out here. I fished at the Marine point and caught a walleye.
For Fathers day weekend Jenny, our daughter, drove out and camped with us. She is working in Gillette as a choreographer in the Paws Performing Arts workshop. We canoed, grilled salmon and lake trout, and had a wonderful day as Michelle stopped by for a visit, whiling away the afternoon. It actually warmed up and turned into a pleasant day. Matt called and made our day complete as he talked with Renita and wished me a happy fathers day. My best fathers day ever! Clear skies.
The original plan was to backtrack the route, going to Moran Junction and then taking Togotee Pass. However as we were filling our truck with diesel we met a couple that had crossed into Yellowstone taking Sylvan Pass from Cody. They said the road was good. Returning to camp we asked the campground hosts who told us that the road was brand new, slow, but new.
We decided to go for it and headed to fishing bridge and then east. A little past the bridge we encountered a......... yup bear jamb. This was a sow black bear and two cubs. Man the park is full of bears! !7 total for the trip! Anyway the road was new and not very steep as we climbed the pass. The views were spectacular as we made good time up the mountains.
The pass is 8600 feet in elevation so we crossed it and began to descend the steepest and longest road yet. Putting the flashers on, shifting down to first gear, and engaging four wheel drive allowed us to crawl down the hill. It was a long crawl at 20 miles per hour! What a spectacular pass and not heavily traveled. We only had to pull over three times to let people pass.
It was a little unnerving to see where someone had crashed over the barrier and to see dents in the guard rail. There was also a lot of water flowing down the road side,(We later found out that there was a rock fall warning for the pass)!
When we reached the bottom a trio of bighorn rams were grazing serenely next to the road. Again, what a beautiful drive. We stopped at the firefighters memorial where fourteen died in 1937 and it made us think again of all the lives fought fighting fires that should have been left to burn.....And thinking how Mike and Phil had been forest firefighters.
The rest of the trip was uneventful to Worland, where we spent the night in a full hookup with long hot showers!
The next day we woke to a rainy morning with the mountains obscured from view. The forecast was for snow above 8000 feet but we decided to press on and headed east on US 16. AS we drove through Tensleep we saw a beautiful campground with huge spots and big trees. We should have stayed there.
The trip up the Bighorns was beautiful as we drove up Tensleep Canyon past the many caves of the Madision Formation. Along the south side of the valley you could see the old road where we cross county skied. Memories filled our hearts as we passed Deer Haven then Meadowlark lodge. Renita asked if if that were the hill where I was injured while sledding on a Christmas tree expedition, (She didn't have to remind me).
Crossing the pass we finally encountered snow but it wasn't bad so we downshifted and made it to Buffalo. All the creeks were flooding and most of the roads into the mountains were closed due to the hard winter!
The rest of the trip to Keyhole Lake was a grunt as high winds buffeted us sideways and heavy rain forced us to slow down. Luckily a great campsite awaited us as we pulled in and set up. What a day for our 37th anniversary! The drive was a celebration of our thirty years in Wyoming. We had a simple meal and celebrated with a rootbeer. Clear skies.
The next day was a day of rest and boy did we need it! We lazed around the house until Jenny showed up and then took her up to see the sow and cub grizzly, in the Hayden Valley. They were still there entertaining the crowds.
On Tuesday, we got up early and headed to the Lamar Valley as Jenny and us both wanted to look for bears and the mythical wolves. Yeah the sow and cub were still in the Hayden Valley, but this time closer to the road.
Stopping at the Upper and Lower falls we were disappointed to not see any More grizzles, but as we neared Antelope Creek Renita spotted a black bear along the road. Once again it was blocked by people,(as we returned back that evening we saw it part te crowd and cross the road).
As we passed Tower Falls another bear jamb, but this one was a sow black bear and two cubs. We were able to find a parking spot a little ways past the bears, only to have them feed to a spot right above us. If that wasn't neat enough they then came down the hill until we were way to close! 30 yards at the most! We then were surrounded by other people and actually blocked in, The bear got closer still and the ranger than had us all evacuate the area. What a sight!
As we were watching the bears a bighorn ewe approached the bears nervously watching the sow, before turning and running away. Renita and Jenny started talking with an older man who told them where the wolves were.
Sure enough we drove to the Hayden Valley, found Slough Creek and found a small group of people watching the slough creek pack, at their den site. Napping a bit, as nothing was happening, we suddenly were greeted to the view of the Alpha female, as Jenny learned later, climbing from the den. We saw a total of three wolves as they waited for the pack to return. When the pack didn't return we called it a day and headed back. The total for the day: four black bears, two grizzly, three wolves, and a bonus trumpeter swan. Another great day to be alive! Clear skies.
The next morning we woke up and headed for the Lamar Valley. The Lamar valley is the natural winter exodus route for elk, moose and buffalo as they retreat from the high country as winter nears. In the spring they return to Yellowstone, following retreating snow and being followed, in turn, by every predator.
The female grizzly was till in the Hayden River valley so we watched her for a while, before continuing up the road to Canyon and then Tower Junctions. AS we crossed Dunraven Pass a huge jam of cars blocked us. Bear jamb The idiots had actually blocked the down hill path to a grizzly sow and her cub. She ran along the side of the road looking for an escape! Nearing our car she roared and the people started to run! Luckily for them she then crossed in the opening she created, followed by her small frightened cub,(it is amazing how many people lose what little rational thought they have and approach bears by jumping out of cars in the middle of the road. They will park their cars blocking everyone).
As e passed Antelope creek we came to another mass of cars! Yup, bear jamb! Another grizzly was feeding in a small valley along the road. This was a male grizzly, almost cinnamon in color. We weren't able to stop and continued to Canyon Junction where we took a restroom break before heading east up the Lamar Valley.
Renita and I were both amazed at the numbers of elk and buffalo. On buffalo heard was as large as the herd south of Gillette. Glassing them, we parked and searched for bears and wolfs. While wed didn't see any wolves Tara, Matt's new sister in law spotted a black bear sow and cub. This brought the days total to five grizzly and two black bears.
WE retraced our route west down the Lamar and drove to Mammoth. The hot springs had dried up since our last visit and we were disappointed at the few remaining colored terraces. Most were dry ugly terraces, a mere shadow of their former glory. The rest of the drive was uneventful and we arrived back at camp, ate dinner and made it another early night. Matt, Patty, and their party had to head south so we sadly bid them farewell. Clear skies.
We left for Yellowstone and had to stop at Colter Bay to pick up the rv as we had left it there during the wedding. The drive to Yellowstone was short and uneventful. The first stretch of road was pretty bad and narrow, but once we got to Yellowstone Lake, still frozen, the road widened and was relatively new. We were both surprised at the amount of snow.
When we arrived at the campground we found that the assigned sites were so uneven that we couldn't level our fifth wheel. The road back to the office went through trees and narrowed and as we threaded our way through we almost hit a hidden rock. It would have destroyed our house! As Renita was watching and giving me directions a campground host walked up. She offered to help and said that a lot of motor homes and fifthwheel had been destroyed on that rock. Thanks for not warning us in advance! For the next four days the hosts still were talking about that huge Bighorn. If you ever camp in loop a of Bridge Bay campground look out!
Matt, Patty, and her family showed up in their rented motorhome and pitched camp. While the cost of renting one was quite steep. we thought it was a good way to try one out before you buy. The depreciation on a motor home is huge!
After setting up camp and eating lunch we all piled into the motor home to explore the southern loop of Yellowstone roads. Not ten miles from the camp we crossed the Hayden Valley, which is a high sagebrush covered plain. The were a lot of cars parked at one spot and as we neared we reaized it was a bear jam! A sow grizzly and a large cub were sleeping on a hillside! What a sight! After a while they woke up and started to graze. The mother bear did try to stalk some geese but gave up quickly.
We continued driving along the Gibbon and Firehole rivers seeing lots on buffalo and elk. We arrived at Old Faithful just in time as it erupted a few minutes later. While it was its usual self, it paled after watching the bears. Tired, Matt drove us the rest of the way to Bridge Bay. Bedtime sang its siren call and we called it a night. Clear skies.