Day 8 – Friday, August 2, 2019 –Gardiner, MT to Gillette, WY
We had a wonderful week, despite the lack of treasure finding. We are all kind of wrecked at this point, with Sarah and Zoe covered in small itchy bumps that could be some kind of pox, insect bites, or signs of meth use. We really fit in in rural Montana. Zoe is covered in no less than 10 bandaids due to various injuries she has sustained. Everyone in the family is a deeply golden brown except Sarah who is sunburned. Sunburn doesn’t hide the pox.
We sadly said goodbye to the shiny box on the side of the Yellowstone River (or as Matt called it, garbage), said goodbye to Devil’s Slide, said goodbye to our little cabin. We drove into Gardiner (after less glamourously hitting the dump with our trash), and stopped at the Wonderland Café for delicious blackberry and huckleberry scones (such tender crumb!) and coffee.
The original plan had been to drive through the park and exit the East Entrance and go through Cody, WY, and end up in Sheridan, WY. It would take 6-7 hours and we would go through the Bighorn Mountains. Matt tentatively approached Sarah (who was the biggest proponent of this plan) and proposed a new plan – driving back up and north of the Bighorn Mountains and driving further into Wyoming and staying at a better hotel, thus cutting the drive time down, going further mileage wise, and making Saturday less horrible, AND we would have time to go to Devil’s Tower on Saturday. Sarah was too enticed by Devil’s Tower to say no.
So off we went up highway 89 in Paradise Valley (SO pretty!) along the Yellowstone River, scanning the cliffs for signs of the treasure. We hit Livingston and then went east on the interstate through Billings, then down to Wyoming. The car fairy brought Sarah a book called “A Trapper’s Journal” written by an early beaver trapper in the Rocky Mountains. It was fantastic and Sarah read parts of it aloud to Matt, who regretted that gift choice immensely all day.
We ate lunch at a rest stop, in our usual fashion. Our cooler is looking pretty sad at this point, and we are counting down the minutes until someone gets food poisoning from our own food.
We made our way down to Gillette, Wyoming. This was a “cosmopolitan” town in Wyoming that featured two separate Japanese restaurants! And a drive through liquor/coffee house. We hit the pool and relaxed. We all watched the Princess Diaries together while the kids ate A and W and we ate Bento boxes from one of the two Japanese steakhouses. It was about what you would picture. We all went to bed early, with many unanswered questions about Princess Diaries as we only saw the last half.
Miles driven: 416.8 miles
Beer drank: Out of Order Porter, Wind River Brewing Company, Pinedale, WY (yep, the same brewery we had last year July 4th when we stayed in Pinedale!)
Day 9 – Saturday, August 3, 2019 – Gillette, WY to Sioux Falls, SD
We were out of bed early and excited for the day! Matt was excited for Devil’s Tower and the National Park stamp that comes with it, and Sarah was excited for a donut from Wall Drug. The kids are dead inside their souls at this point and have stopped caring, only asking when they would get their iPads. We piled in and stopped for coffee at the liquor store across the street.
Off we we went – we motored down to the turn off (right around where Wyoming turns into South Dakota) for Devil’s Tower. We have never been here, and thought, hey. With the Sturgis motorcycle rally just starting an hour down the road, maybe today would be the perfect day to hit Devil’s Tower! As did hundreds of motorcycle riders. It was a special day, that’s for sure.
The Tower was pretty cool – they have a “hiking trail” (paved path that even someone in a wheelchair could probably navigate) around the base of this enormous rock structure. We think the family unanimously would agree that watching the climbers on the side of the tower was the best part – there was just less than a dozen climbers along two of the faces and it was neat to watch them rapelling. There were beautiful views of grasslands and overall it was very cool. Would highly recommend a visit, even though it is a bit off the interstate. A lot off the interstate (but not as far as Scottsbluff was last year, lesson learned).
We got back on the road and immediately were surrounded by thousands of motorcycles. Matt will tell you that we are not exaggerating to say that we saw probably a thousand or more motorcycles today. All kinds, old and young people, trikes and Harleys, singular and in groups. It was so cool! (Yes, there were a lot of retired upper middle class people who thought they were pretty cool on their bikes, probably parents of millenials (damn millenials)).
Following motorcyclists was way better than following RVs (we are very very sick of those), we will tell you that. When we drove by the town of Sturgis, we were super excited and could see ZIP from the interstate. Don’t know what we were expecting (half a million bikers visible in some kind of rally from the highway?) but we didn’t see it. There was a sign that said if we were thru traffic we had to stay in the left lane for 10 miles. So we got passed on the right for ten miles by bikers.
Anyway, we picked up Culvers in Spearfish, SD and continued on. We were hungry and figured if we picked up trashy food there, it would give us 1-2 hours to digest it and make room for our delicious Wall Drug donuts!
We motored on to Wall Drug, which is on Sarah’s ranked list of worst places in the world:
- Old Faithful
- Billings, Montana
- Wyoming (excluding Yellowstone NP)
- Wall Drug
Well, well. It was overrun by bikers! This is a Wall Drug we can get on board with. We obtained our dozen donuts, and let everyone buy something there – mysteriously everything was $9.99. Earrings? $9.99. Small stuffed bison with lollipop? $9.99. And so on it went. We procured our goods, amongst bikers dressed in leather who were checking out a fake tree covered in necklaces.
On our way out of Wall, we saw a sign in National Park brown that talked about Grasslands or something. Looks like a stamp, and honestly, after surviving a Wall Drug visit, we deserved a stamp. So Matt ran in and stamped all our books. Whatever, we could see the grasslands from the interstate. It counts.
On we went, occasionally stopping at random rest stops. On and on. So boring. At least the speed limit is 80 mph, unlike Wyoming which lowers it to 75 mph because they suck. On and on we went. We lost an hour between 4:30 and 5:30 pm, which is the worst part about heading east home. We hit Sioux Falls pretty late (for us anyway) at 7 pm, and quickly rushed everyone in so we could go swimming. The desk clerk took one look at us, with Zoe and Sarah scratching their pox, chocolate all over B’s face, Noah’s backwards shirt and Matt’s unshaven face and somehow guessed we were heading back home from an out west trip. Very sleuth, desk clerk!
We frolicked in the pool area and then ate take out Chevy’s food – our favorite trashy Tex-Mex chain from Tacoma (note: Tacoma location has gone out of business in the past decade since we moved). We all fell asleep quickly – what a long day. And home tomorrow! (Zoe: “I want to spend more nights in the hotel. No home! No home!”)
Miles driven: 521.8 miles
Beers drank: Shy Giant IPA, Fernson Brewing Company, Sioux Falls, SD
Day 10 – Sunday, August 4, 2019 – Sioux Falls, SD to Waupaca, WI
Won’t lie, we are typing this like a week later because when we got home (spoiler – we made it home) we were exhausted and not motivated. (Kids: “we have soccer tomorrow? NO!” Sarah: “I have work tomorrow? NO!”) Anyway, so to the best of our recollection, we woke up and went down to the confusing breakfast room, where some kind of bizarre elderly class reunion slash adoptive family reunion was going on. It was the same food we have eaten a million times at other places.
We did leave and hit up a Caribou Coffee (sniff sniff, we miss you Caribou!) which we had with our leftover Wall Drug donuts and then drove to the much sought after Sioux Falls park in town. We had been told by many people that they were in disbelief that we weren’t considering going there and hadn’t been there before. Who ARE these people? Anyway, we went and saw the falls. It was a pretty park, not worth driving hundreds of miles too. It would be cool if we lived there, but we don’t. Sooo….
Off we went. Southern Minnesota has actually surpassed Wyoming as the most boring place to drive ever. Lots of bad smelling farm fields, pontoon boats, RVs (JESUS), and slow cars and construction. We stopped for Jimmy John’s in Albert Lea, and made our way through LaCrosse and stopped at Starbucks. We made our way slowly across central Wisconsin. Okay, so no cell phone service in Waushara County and even in south Waupaca on the way home (NO 3G is not service) yet middle of nowhere South Dakota has service good enough to stream pirated movies which we assure you we did not do?
We made it home and the cats were both alive and we still had power (let’s just say both of things have not always been true in prior trips; we have low expectations).
Total miles today: 434.6 miles
Total miles driven for the trip: 3159.8 miles
Drinks? We don’t remember because we passed out immediately upon coming home. (Martinis, lots and lots of martinis…)
Oh Yellowstone, you may be the trashy Vegas of National Parks, with cars everywhere, fake appearing animals easily visible from said cars, and the worst tourists we have ever seen. We will be back. But maybe back to Glacier next year for a slightly different experience? We will see!