National Treasures

After a couple of weeks on the road, generally trying to get far enough west to make Tadd smile… we made it to our first National Park…. Yellowstone!! We have been really excited about checking out some the amazing natural areas of the U.S.

We drove in through the east gate, and luckily something triggered Tadd’s memory and he got us hooked up with an interagency pass getting us into all the National Parks and more for just $80USD for a whole year… SCORE!!!

We climbed up and over the Sylvan Pass and finally got our first glimpse of what lay ahead.


The View West into the Heart of Yellowstone
The View West into the Heart of Yellowstone
Sylvan Lake
Continued Good Luck with the Weather!

Having passed a crowd on the main road (apparently there a mother brown bear and her cub had been spotted…. but no sign of them by the time we got there), we stopped off a few miles into the park for our first hike of the day at Indian Pond, along Storm Point trail.

Our First Sight of the Immense Yellowstone Lake

Happily this was not a popular spot, so we had the whole trail to ourselves… or so we thought!


This Guy Took Little Notice of Us


Just Stunning

After a quick stop at the visitors center, and lunch on the side of the road, we set off to bike the trail to Natural Bridge… finally an actual bike trail!

A Bit More of a Trek Than We Thought, but Worth the Effort


Of course, no trip to Yellowstone would be complete without a visit to Old Faithful (well, at least when it’s your first visit!)


Actually Rather Impressive

We stopped in to the Lodge and the Inn to explore the classic hotels

The Hallway Lights Were Cool

And then a little further north we reached the Grand Prismatic…

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA --- Grand Prismatic Spring --- Image by © Pete Saloutos/CORBIS
Image by © Pete Saloutos/CORBIS
I Like the Closeup Colors and Patterns for Change

As we wound our way back over the Continental Divide for the 5th time… we fit in a quick stop for a waterfall.

Kepler Cascade

From here it was time to head south out of the park, on another whirlwind taster of U.S. and out into the spectacular Grand Tetons.

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Finally A Little More Than Just Yellow

And then we turned the corner…

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Grand Teton National Park

I had found us another free campsite in the Bridger-Teton National Forest just off the main road a few miles to the east…

They Said The View Was Good...
They Said The View Was Good…

Free Camping!

Given the amazing location and the fact that Tadd owns an original print taken somewhere just below us in the valley, we renamed the spot “The Ansel Adams Campsite,” Moran, WY.


Certainly Not An Adams

Getting Backcountry

Our journey took us through Cody, WY, but we decided to only stop for lunch and then head back out to nature for a hike, rather than spend the afternoon inside a museum.

The town is named for for the famous Buffalo Bill Cody, an impressive man, who among other stuff he’s probably more famous for, he worked on Native Indian rights and protecting the native buffalo!

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Buffalo Bill Reservoir
North Fork of the Shoshone River
North Fork of the Shoshone River

We went for a hike that turned out being a horse trail, but we made the most of it and scrambled up the hillside and enjoyed the views.

Almost All The Way West to Yellowstone
Almost All The Way West to Yellowstone
View Back East Down the Valley
View Back East Down the Valley
Winnie Down Below
Winnie Down Below
Trying Some Artistic Stuff Again!
Trying Some Artistic Stuff Again!

Unfortunately, when we got back down to the camper, we’d been left a note by a ranger, letting us know that we weren’t allowed to stay at that campground below (unless we had horses or stock animals!) and would have to drive back 15 miles along the valley to Elk Creek Campground (our second of the same name on this trip!). But when we arrived, we were very happy with the spot, and finally we had arrived earlier in the day at our site for the night, so we got to enjoy the area a bit.

Elk Creek
Elk Creek
"My first time mountain biking in the mountains," commented Tadd, although we didn't get very far before the trail went up and turned into another backcountry horse trail.
“My first time mountain biking in the mountains,” commented Tadd, although we didn’t get very far before the trail went up and turned into another backcountry horse trail.

So we went back to camp for cocktails and …..

Dusk Light
Dusk Light

sm_Shoshone Elk Creek Camp_0345

Another Amazing Camp
Another Amazing Camp

Head For The Hills

After a long day of touristy fun, we found a great little RV park in Custer, SD, where we were one of the very few travelers at this time of year. It was wonderfully quiet location, among the pines – the perfect place to watch the blood moon eclipse!

Sadly Not My Picture
Sadly Not My Picture

The next morning we cruised into town… sadly to go see a mechanic…. gotta love that check-engine light. They were too busy to really help, but one nice guy agreed to check the diagnostics to see what was going on. So we had a moment to enjoy the local wildlife…

One of the Many Delightfully Painted Bison in Custer, SD
One of the Many Delightfully Painted Bison in Custer, SD

Luckily we found someone willing to take a look at the electrics in the delightful town of Gillette, WY, and pretty speedily diagnose the issues, replace some stuff and get us back on the road ready to head off into the mountains and the national parks.

Can't Stop Taking Pictures of the Landscape Along the Road
Can’t Stop Taking Pictures of the Incredible Landscapes Along the Road

Finally able to escape from the interstate, we launched ourselves up into the Bighorn Mountains and the National Forest. As we rapidly gained altitude after leaving Buffalo, WY, we were assaulted by the beauty of White Birch trees turning yellow against the backdrop of all the pine trees.


 We were headed to Meadlowlark Lake campground, but unfortunately it was closed, like most of the others, so as the sun was close to setting, we decided to make our own campground. We drove off the main road onto the old one, and found the perfect spot.

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The View from our First “Boondocking” Site

There were a few cows around, but they didn’t seem too bothered by us, so we weren’t either. We were just a short ways from the road, but out of site. And as the sun set, we realized we’d found the perfect spot up at 8,199 ft (2,499 m)!

The Sun Set in the Valley
The Sun Set in the Valley

It was almost a full moon so the light show after sunset was almost amazing.

The ridge above the camper glowed in the moonlight
The ridge above the camper glowed in the moonlight

And I got carried away playing with my camera and tripod again….

Night Sky In Bighorn
Night Sky In Bighorn

It was our first really cold night, but thanks to the handy furnace in the camper, we stayed toasty all night long.

sm_Bighorn Night shots_0307

We were greeted by the dawn and mooing cows!

Curious Cows
Curious Cows

Then it was off on the road down into the valley and on to Cody, WY.

Descending the Windy Roads of Bighorn
Descending the Windy Roads of Bighorn

Badlands, Black Hills and Buffalo

Leaving behind the home comforts of Estherville, it was time to head out West… as fast as possible. Well, that just meant flinging ourselves along I-90, where the speed limit quickly rose to a whopping 80mph when we crossed into South Dakota! Not that we could keep up with all the big rigs, but the whole 80mph were on offer.

Our boxy RV was buffeted by blustery crosswinds as we headed across the plains. The sidewinds of overtaking semi trucks added to the white-knuckle steering task of keeping it between the painted lines.


Badlands, SD Arriving 2

Finally, by late afternoon, we arrived at The Badlands of South Dakota.

Badlands Lindsay Taking sunset

We stopped at a scenic overlook at I finally broke out the “good camera.”

Badlands, SD Moonrise 2

The moonrise over the first peaks, as the sun set on our backs, was just too amazing to miss.

Badlands, SD Campground sunset 2

After we got settled into our campground, the sun was really setting, so it was time to play some more

Badlands, SD Campground sunset 3

The wind was picking up to about 20 mph and it was getting cooler outside

Badlands, SD Campground sunset WINNIE

But I couldn’t resist capturing yet another shot of our RV and it’s scenery.

Badlands, SD Tadd Wide

The next morning we were off and running early, driving through the”les mauvais terres pour traverse,” or “bad lands to travel through,” as this land was known by the early 1900’s, French-Canadian fur trappers.

But long before they even ventured into the area, the Lakota people were the first to call this place “mako sica” or “land bad.” Extreme temperatures, lack of water, and the exposed rugged terrain led to this name.

Badlands, SD

Today, the term badlands has a more geologic definition. Badlands form when soft sedimentary rock is extensively eroded in a dry climate. The park’s typical scenery of sharp spires, gullies, and ridges is a premier example of Badlands geological formations.


Badlands, SD 2



Badlands, SD 3

The land surrounding this area of erosion is relatively flat and has some grasses growing, just like the rest of South Dakota.

As we passed all the others visitors entering the park from the northwest, we headed for an obligatory stop at the famous Wall Drug.


In 1931, Ted & Dorothy Hustead bought the only drugstore in a town called Wall on the edge of the South Dakota Badlands. Business was bad… well, really bad… until Dorothy came up with the idea to offer free ice water to the passing visitors as they drove through the parched local landscape…. and the rest is history!

Many of the people driving through the are coming or going to check out one of the coolest National Monuments in the U.S. – Mount Rushmore. And as much as we like to generally avoid the super touristy spots on our travels, sometimes it’s just important to suck it up and enjoy the view!

Rushmore, SD 3

Not much to say…  George, Tommy, Teddy and Abraham!

Rushmore, SD 5

So many amazing views of the carvings as you explore the area!

Rushmore, SD George 2

Rushmore, SD Abe 2

The incredible feat it was to sculpt these mammoth heads was a wonderful piece of American history alone.

Did You Know?

Black and white photograph showing the original position of the figure of Thomas Jefferson on George Washington's right side (our left when viewing the mountain).

The figure of Thomas Jefferson was originally started on Washington’s right side. After 18 months of carving the figure of Jefferson had to be blasted off the mountain, as the type of rock they found over there just wasn’t hard enough to complete the task, and restarted on Washington’s left side.

We learned lots at the Mt. Rushmore Memorial!

Leaving the presidents behind, we drove up through the twisty mountain roads into the national forest and on through the Custer State Park.

Blackhills Natl Forest, SD FALL

Blackhills Natl Forest, SD 2

Blackhills Natl Forest, SD Curves

Blackhills Natl Forest, SD Tunnel #2

Blackhills Natl Forest, SD

Blackhills Natl Forest, SD Tunnel #1

Custer SP, SD Plateau 2

The amazing view across the high plains

Custer SP, SD Lake

Now, the yearly roundup had just taken place in the Custer SP, where they drive all the bison south to different pastures in order to decide which members of the herd will be sold off to reduce numbers. So, we had decided not to spend too much time in the park, as I though my first chance to see the American Buffalo wouldn’t happen….

But then we found this guy (?) who had evaded the cowboys, and was just hanging out grazing at the side of the road!!! Spectacular!

Custer SP, SD Buffalo 1

Custer SP, SD Buffalo 3

Custer SP, SD Buffalo 4

One hell of a day!


The Pilgrimage for the Virgin of Guadalupe


The Patron Saint of Mexico is the Virgin of Guadalupe. It is an incredibly important part of the country’s culture, and there are churches and shrines in her name all over the country. Every year, for the week or so leading up to December 12, they are in every corner of Mexico.

The text “Nican Mopohua” tells us about the appearances of the Virgin of Guadalupe to San Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin in December 1531, on the hill of Tepeyac (a hill located north of Mexico City, belonging to the mountain range of the Sierra de Guadalupe, which defines the northern edge of the Valley of Mexico). The appearances of Our Lady The Virgin of Guadalupe to Juan Diego, the miraculous imprint of her Holy Image on his humble cloak, and her message of love, has the singular purpose of announcing her beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, to the people who inhabit the “new world”.


Throughout Mexico and crisscrossing the entire Yucatan Peninsula, during the first 2 weeks of Decemeber, kids (and some not so young) are running or bicycling as a promesa (promise) that they have made to la Virgen sometime during the year. These promises are personal and private, but the worship and sacrifice in the form of pilgrimage are performed in groups.  As we drove around, we saw groups running from Tekit to Sisal in Yucatan, and from home in Puerto Morelos across the state line to Progreso and Sisal to Izamal. Some of them were wearing team-like uniforms, and all of them wore at least a t-shirt that indicated where they were running to and from, and bore an image of la Virgen. Many of them carry lit torches like Olympic runners and are called antorchistas.


What’s the story?

When the Spanish conquistador Cortés arrived, many of the Aztecs and Native Americans from other tribes saw him as Quetzalcoátl, the god of the ancient Nahual traditions, who had returned as predicted. Through a series of misunderstandings and strange luck, Cortés was able to subjugate the tribes who lived in the central valley of Mexico. After a few years of rampant slaughter of their people and of seeing their beliefs and rituals destroyed or proven false, the indians who survived were discouraged and despairing. As Carla puts it, they felt that their gods had abandoned them. After all, they were no longer able to offer sacrifices, yet the sun continued to rise each morning.

They had lost their faith and they needed a miracle to rekindle it. In 1531 there was a solar eclipse. Then Haley’s comet appeared in the sky. And last but not least, a woman appeared who stands “in front of the Sun, steps on the Moon and dresses with the Stars”. She presented herself as an agent of the true God, with a face that had mixed European and Indian features. And not only did she appear in that fateful year, but she asked that her church be built in the same place that Tonantzin, the Native American Goddess Mother – the Earth Goddess – had been worshipped and venerated for years.

There are those who believe that Guadalupe and Tonantzin are one deity… the mother goddess of all the Americas. There are others who think the Catholic Church appropriated Tonantzin in order to bring the indigenous population into the fold.