Solo Road Trip
by Tammie Dooley
1- a celebration of the adventurer in all of us; 2- discovery of the lost art of solitude; 3- to pry oneself from the easy chair and move one step out of our comfort zone; 4- traveling alone exploring the unknown for at least two nights away from home preferably via foot or a 4 wheel drive vehicle.
“One waffle, please”, I croaked. Just two steps from the door to the counter, the guy running tiny Corbet’s Cabin barely looked up when I trudged in. Ruddy skin, chapped lips and wild eyes topped off by a black stocking hat, a bright orange bulky backpack and beat up hiking boots, he saw my type several times a day.
Scott McGee, my Exum guide during the preparatory mountaineering course, recommended for the two days prior to the start of the Grand climb I take the tram to the top of Rendezvous Mountain, do some light hiking, take a book, and breathe the air that was noticeably absent at 10,500 feet,,, for 4 hours each day. “No one ever does what I tell them, but trust me, it’ll help when you get above 13,000 feet.” “Oh, and, load up on carbs. It’ll be easy to do. Corbet’s has this waffle thing.”
This climb was at the upper end of my physical abilities and I had, and would continue, to do whatever the experts suggested would help. Loading up on carbs would be the easy part.
“What topping?” the gentleman asked. He didn’t wait, “there’s Nutella, strawberry preserves, and brown sugar butter.” Darn. Only two days but 3 toppings. “I’ll have Nutella today. Tomorrow I’ll try the strawberry preserves.” He turned to the blackened, blistering waffle iron behind him. I took another step, swung off the backpack and submitted onto a wooden bench.
I expected a waffle. Flat. And a plastic fork. What I got was this brown edged, crunchy on the outside, dense but light and moist cake-like on the inside, slathered with Nutella and folded over,, waffle sandwich. The slight saltiness from the oiled crust, the mild sweetness of the soft interior, the hazelnut and chocolate sublimity of the Nutella all collided, then burst on my energy bar deadened tongue.
Wrapped in parchment paper, its heft involuntarily lowered my arm from chest high to waist high when the hand off was made. It was hard to eat with a smile that big.
The best thing about this culinary experience? It can easily be duplicated at home. Trust me.
Photography Tip: strawberry preserves photograph better than Nutella.
If you liked this post, some of my previous Travel & Taste Buds’ posts might be equally entertaining:
For more delectable photographs and discussions of food around the world (and not necessarily at the top of it), check out Wanderfood Wednesday at Wanderlust and Lipstick.
Standing in the breezeway of the settler’s dog-trot cabin, the sod roof sheds sandy sparks when the wind rises. Moisture from the dirt floor has been trawled by a broom so many times, it’s glossy in spots. And cold and hard as concrete.
The single window of the home lopsidedly frames the massive Tetons. To enjoy the view straight-on it’s necessary to kneel beneath the low ceiling. On my knees to photograph the scene, the cold seeps through my jeans. The sharp, snow covered crags cause my eyes to glance away for the softer bits of stray light coming through the gaps in the lodgepole pine logs. A powerful stroke of wind puffs the heavy snow into swirls covering the upper peaks of the mountains. It quickly chases down the cabin. Pulling my coat tighter around me, a few steps land me back in the warmth of the May sun.
Standing at the back of the cabin, the ancient panoptic beauty of these mountains rivets my attention and the discomfort of the chill is momentarily forgotten. The next blast of air turns my head back to the cabin. There, in between the pioneer’s only separation from the elements and the view of which I can never get enough, their struggle comes to life.
The truth is one of the most photographed, most photogenic scenes in America was of little consolation in the isolation of the brutal environment.
According to the Homestead Act of 1862, five years of residence on the property along with cultivation of the land was required to call it your own. The problem was, well, there were a lot of problems.
The ability to cultivate had to be arrived at. With only 60 days of a frost free growing season, limited access to water, and land choked with willows and aspen brush, many pioneers managed to clear less than 20 acres during the 5 year term.
From a final testimony of proof:
1911 2 acres veg. cattle got it.
1912 3 acres ½ acre veg. 1 ton.
1913 No crop
1914 No crop too dry.
1915 3 acres cattle got it.
1916 3 acres 1 a.veg. ¼ ton veg.
Six years of body battering labor shared in a cursive 30 word preemption document, entitled a settler to 160 acres in Jackson Hole, Wyoming in 1918.
His work had just begun.
With July 4th right around the corner, this post was begging for a re-run. They do it on TV all the time.
The grandeur of granite rising from the cliffs of Mt. Rushmore will in one upward glance sweep away any countryman’s negative sentiments. And impress the hell out of everyone else. Mt. Rushmore is but one impressive sight however among many packed into the Southwestern corner of South Dakota.
Anchored by Rapid City (airport code RAP), the Black Hills area still echoes with the report of Wild West Colt pistols. You can wander through Native American Indian Reservations as you contemplate what to take in first — the sights of Mt. Rushmore featured on the big screen in National Treasure: Book of Secrets, the cavernous limestone formations of Badlands National Park, Sturgis or the frontier town of Deadwood. Throw in the Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park, the 1880 Train, Buffalo Gap National Grassland, the Geographic Center of the U.S., or the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, and a week’s vacation can be easily spent in one of the most scenic and pivotally historic areas of the lower 48 states. And that’s before you even cross into Wyoming. Forget the guidebook, you’ll need only your Atlas and a penchant for discovery.
The Route: starting in Rapid City
Interstate 90 East of Rapid City will deliver you to Wall, South Dakota. If you’re already parched or ready for a stop, the Wall Drug Store offers refreshment, take in the National Grasslands Visitor Center, or search for the Minuteman Missile Silo. From there 240 South will take you directly to the scenic drive around the North Unit of Badlands National Park. The loop ends at Interior. To continue into the South Unit’s 2.7 million acres of sprawling erosion of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, proceed past Imlay to Scenic, turning South at the first/only turnoff. You’ll need to stop at the White River Visitor Center to get permission to proceed into the Reservation. West on Highway 2, then North on Highway 40 to Redshirt will complete the South Unit. “Highway” 2 is a misnomer. The road is gravel, albeit wide and well maintained. Continuing past Redshirt on Highway 40 to Hermosa presents the choice of turning North on Highway 79 and back to Rapid City, or west on Highway 36 to 87 South to Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park. From Wind Cave National Park you can easily hit 385 North taking you to Custer, the Crazy Horse Memorial, Mt. Rushmore, and the ‘1880 Train’ in Hill, as you progress northward.
The area is deceptively compact. While distances aren’t great between any point (from Rapid City to Hot Springs on 79 is only 57 miles) you will not desire to cover any of it quickly. And the twists and turns of the roads preclude speed. While limited lodging is available in the smaller towns and in Badlands National Park, the high season summer months make day trips to and from your pre-reserved lodging in centrally located Rapid City conducive to combing the area.
Once you’ve exhausted the sights south of Rapid City, 385 will take you to Lead (as in lead a horse to water), Deadwood, the Geographic Center of the U.S. in Belle Fourche, and Sturgis to the East just off Highway 90. Either of these towns is worthy of securing lodging if you’re ready to venture past the Rapid City anchor. Summer is high season though and Sturgis along with towns in the area are choked with bikers for the annual Bike Week Rally usually the first week in August.
Deadwood is a personal favorite. Wild Bill and Calamity Jane are buried in the Mt. Moriah cemetery. Saloon 10 is where Wild Bill made famous the Dead Man’s poker hand of Aces & Eights when shot from behind by Jack McCall (hanged for his crime). The town, while a haven for gambling is replete with history and the nostalgic charm of false storefronts.
Regarding FOOD, if you’ve got a nose for chocolate on the road, stop by The Chubby Chipmunk for a fix. For lunch, try the Deadwood Thymes Bistro. The last time there I had the White Bean & Chicken Chili, a Three-Cheese grilled sandwich with bell peppers and a slice of apple all melted together between perfectly browned, thick sliced bread, and a large, cold, creamy slab of their Peanut Butter & Chocolate Pie. I was hungry; the meal memorable. I’d like a repeat, please. For dinner I sat one night on a perch over downtown Deadwood in the 2nd story location of Kevin Costner’s Sports Bar & Grill (above the Midnight Star casino on Main Street). While I don’t recall the food in the same longing manner as the lunch from Deadood Thymes Bistro, I do fondly remember the view and the numerous photos/posters of Kevin Costner in his Western movie roles.
A Wyoming Detour
Since you’re on the border and you could add another state-notch to your holster belt, or you’ve got another day or two to burn, why not venture into Wyoming? Devil’s Tower National Monument is a quick drive and well worth the time. Take Highway 90 to Sundance, Wyoming. From there head north on 14 for a few miles. Or if you’re sticking to the backroads, Highway 34 west out of Belle Fourche (turns into 24 at the Wyoming border) will get you there as well. Should you venturing here during the off-season, don’t count on lodging nearby. There IS lodging, but…
President Theodore Roosevelt Proclaimed Devil’s Tower the first National Monument in 1906. Many Plains Indians have legends associated with “Bear’s Lodge” and consider it a sacred site. The Kiowas legend goes like this: Kiowas were camped by a stream where there were lots of bears. Seven little girls were playing away from their village and bears took chase. The girls ran and just as the bears were about to catch them, they jumped on a low rock. One of the girls began to pray. The rock began to push itself out of the ground raising the children higher and higher. The deep grooves running down the sides are said to be made by the bears attempting to claw their way to the top. The rock continued to push the children upward into the sky so far they reside in the sky today as the pleiades star cluster.
This Great American Drive will compel you to sing the Stars & Stripes and purchase a long, black duster. Be prepared.
WARNING LABEL: If you decide to venture out of Belle Fourche to locate the original Geographic Center of the U.S. or anywhere in the above discussed areas, BEWARE of Rattlesnakes.
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Yellowstone’s original entrance in Gardiner, Montana, and the only one open year-round, is framed by the Roosevelt Arch. While all the literature points out this entrance is the only one open all year, few state why. The annual snowfall in Gardiner approximates 30 inches, while the rest of the Park averages 150 to 400 inches, depending on elevation. And once entering the Park from Gardiner you’ll be met with closed roads during the winter over much of the Park. So schedule a Snowcoach tour and do your homework if you’re planning to see Yellowstone during the winter (a highly recommended journey).
The arch was erected as the formal entrance to the Park in 1903 since most visitors arrived via the Northern Pacific Railroad’s nearby stop in Cinnabar, Montana. Stagecoaches made the remaining short trek to Gardiner. I cannot imagine arriving there by railroad. I cannot imagine arriving there by any means of transportation of the day. The ground boils beneath you while the mountains always coddle snow on top. Were it not for modern climate control’s tempering of these extremes, conditions would be brutal most anytime of the year.
While the arch may be Gardiner’s claim to fame and really the only thing of note to see there, it’s worth a stroll to see some of the older parts of town. The Flying Pig Camp Store has internet access and bear pepper spray, an important combination you’ll see frequently in these parts. There’s plenty of lodging, restaurants, and outfitters so it’s a well stocked and not overrun base with which to explore Yellowstone. Gardiner is 53 miles south of Livingston. Bozeman is 26 miles west of Livingston on Highway 90, providing the only airport in the area serviced by major airlines (most seasonal). Billings’ Logan International Airport (BIL) is 117 miles east of Livingston on Highway 90 and offers a much broader array of scheduled flights on major airlines.
Mammoth Hot Springs, 5 miles south of Gardiner is the Park’s headquarters and an eye opening welcome to the ancient, wild world of Yellowstone. From mid-April to early June, bison new-borns dot the ground. Bison is the correct scientific term for the North American species, but “buffalo” has become an accepted synonym. In the seventeenth century, French explorers in North America referred to the new species they encountered as “les boeufs”, meaning oxen or beeves. The English arriving later, changed the pronunciation to “la buff”. The name grew distorted as “buffle”, “buffler”, “buffillo”, and, eventually, “buffalo”.
Yellowstone has the largest free-roaming bison herd in the world, estimated at 3,500 head.
No discussion of Mammoth Hot Springs/Gardiner would be complete without a reference to the Elk that migrate in early fall when the weather cools off and they re-emerge from the coolness of higher elevations. If you stay at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, your day will begin and end with the eerie, wild sounds of male Elk bugling for the rut and a change of seasons. It’s a sound I recommend everyone hear once; it’s unforgettable.
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About SRT... I’m a traveler, writer and photographer for whom the open road frequently summons. Adventurous solo road trips are a staple for me, and a curiosity. So I created this website to share them and inspire you to step out and give them a try. Welcome!
A soul that sees beauty may sometimes walk alone – Wolfgang Von Goethe
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