We left Happy Dance July 1st, and on the northbound leg of our 3 month road trip we traveled about 3,500 miles from the Mexican border in Tijuana all the way to northern Canada. It’s been quite a trek and it’s not over yet! Here’s a rundown on the first leg of our summer road trip on our way from Ventura, California to Slave Lake, Alberta.
Our eight-state northern trek began with a two week stopover in California so that I could add a second new hip to my collection of titanium body parts. After another successful surgery and a quick start to my recovery we jumped (only a figure of speech) in the car and headed north. We drove the back roads when we could and made plenty of stops to read historical plaques and enjoy the beautiful sights along the way. Unfortunately we were on a bit of a tight schedule as we had a house sitting gig to get to, so we fast tracked our way to South Dakota where we planned on spending a few days in the Black Hills area while we also established residency. We are now South Dakotans (who live in Mexico, and don’t own a home…go figure)!
A few of the fun stops along the way through Wyoming included a stop at Independence Rock and a visit to Fort Bridger. We were traveling along the Oregon Trail and it was pretty wild to look out the window and imagine hundreds of wagons slowly rolling along the rough terrain while we’re doing 80 mph along the same route.
Our first stop was a huge granite rock rising out of the prairie that reminded us a bit of Ayers Rock in Australia. It became known as Independence Rock because it was a goal for the emigrants on the Oregon Trail to get to this point by the 4th of July so that they would make it to the Oregon Territory before winter. We took a stroll in the heat to walk around the rock and find the names of some of the emigrants’ graffiti carved into the rock.
Fort Bridger is an old trading post that was established in 1843 to provide supplies to emigrants on the Oregon Trail. It went through many changes over the years, but there are still some original buildings and the history of the place is well presented. We bought our tickets in the general store, surrounded by 1850’s supplies and talking to a knowledgeable young lady dressed in period clothing…nice!
From Wyoming we continued north to Rapid City, South Dakota. Our first stop was Wind Cave National Park, where Marty got to buy his lifetime senior pass to the National Parks (I’m too young..ha!). With pass in hand we made plans to return the following morning for a tour through the caves. Since I was still a bit wobbly and using a cane we opted for the easiest hike (there were still 150 stairs). It was a beautiful tour, winding up and down through the caves, seeing fancy formations in the rock and getting lots of info from our Ranger. We also made sure to get the first stamp in our National Parks Passport!
While driving around the area we saw bison, antelope, prairie dogs, and lots of cool birds that I don’t know the names of. The southeastern corner of South Dakota is a beautiful area with constantly changing topography and many types of trees, grasses, cacti and flowers. We stayed in Rapid City for 4 nights, so we drove a different direction each day to take in the various sights.
Our next stops were to look at big rocks; Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial. First stop Mount Rushmore, where even with the major crowds on a blustery day, it was stunning to walk up the gallery of state flags and see those colossal carvings jutting out from the mountain. We spent some time just sitting and staring, then decided to brave the melee inside the visitor center to see the exhibits and learn a bit more. It was a great stop and my only regret is that we didn’t go back that night to see the light show, which we hear is really well done.
We also stopped at the privately owned and operated Crazy Horse Memorial, which was pretty amazing as well. There is a large museum type display, a video explaining how one family has been continuing the work on the memorial since their father, Korczak Ziolkowski, began the project back in 1948, and lots of beautiful Indian artwork. I’d love to go back and see it when the memorial is complete, as it really will be beautiful.
Our next day was spent on a driving tour of the Badlands. If you’re ever in this part of the country, be sure to spend a day here as it’s gorgeous in an eerie sort of way. We spent the day hopping in and out of the car to see the views, the mountain goats, to get our passport stamp, and of course to snap a few (gazillion) photos!
From Rapid City we continued north through Montana and into Alberta. We stopped to walk through the Little Bighorn, and around Devil’s Tower, and also spent an extra night in Calgary so that we could spend a whole day exploring Lake Louise; sights that were stunning in very different ways.
The walk through Little Bighorn Battlefield evokes many emotions. The beauty of the area combined with the mental images that play through your mind make for a very powerful day. It was as if we could hear the shouts and gunshots carried on the wind as we gazed over the hills and valleys.
Lake Louise was stunning simply because of it’s beauty. Anyone who’s been there knows the beautiful turquoise color of the glacier fed lake, the feel of the chilly wind blowing down from the ice fields and the mesmerizing sound of busloads of tourists in their kayaks yelling across the lake at each other. Ahh, the sweet sounds of nature.
We finally left the scenic road stops behind and spent our last day driving through monotonous terrain consisting of miles and miles and miles of boreal forest to Slave Lake Alberta, our stop for a couple of weeks of house sitting. I’ll leave you with a factoid of the day;
The Boreal Forest is visible in satellite imagery as a broad green band stretching from coast to coast between the northern tundra and southern temperate forests and grasslands. Boreal Forests occur in the more southern parts of the Taiga ecoregion that spreads across the northern parts of the world. Taiga is a biome characterized by coniferous forests consisting mostly of pines, spruces and larches. The taiga is the world’s largest biome apart from the oceans.