Wildlife and Wilder highways

LOCATION:  Wind Cave National Park in SW South Dakota
CAMPGROUND:  2nd night at Elk Mountain Campground, inside Wind Cave
WEATHER:  Perfect!  Sunny.  Clear skies.  High 75

We started the day with a hike near the campground on a nature trail.  The second hike was a steep climb up to the park’s fire tower, the highest point in the park.

Then, we started our scenic highway trips around Custer State Park. 

We saw quite a bit of wildlife again today:  lots and lots of prairie dogs, several bison, another coyote and deer.

The highlight was a small herd of big-horned sheep…

We stopped for a picnic lunch at the visitor center.  Lovely fall colors…

Hike #3 was around this beautiful lake…

Then, our scenic highway adventures began.  First was Iron Mountain Road.  It is a 14-mile “road” that includes 360 curves (we counted them!), 32 switchbacks and two tunnels.  At several points, I had to stop to allow oncoming cars to pass.  I had to put our side mirrors in to avoid hitting others’.  We barely squeezed through some…

If that weren’t enough, we then drove Needles Highway.  I think the two highways vie for the scariest stats – 17 miles with 314 curves, 3 tunnels, 3 pigtails (when the road does a corkscrew and turns over itself on a bridge), and views of 4 Presidents!

We saw Mount Rushmore from afar, on a peak along Needles…

Finally, we actually drove right by the monument

We did hike #4 around another pristine lake.  At points, it was a bit rocky.

To celebrate the fact that we survived both highways and that we hiked a total of 6 miles, we stopped at Mount Rushmore Brewery at the end of the day.  It is in the town of Custer, a very touristy place, but the brewery was nice.

DINNER:  Back at the campsite, George built another great fire.  We grilled hamburgers.  I baked some TakeNBake buns in the oven.  (These are great for traveling as I can keep them in the freezer and pull them out when we need them.)  The meat was from one of the Harvest Host farms where we stayed a few weeks ago.  Excellent.  One side was fried potatoes.  A few days ago when we had electricity, I baked some potatoes in the microwave and wrapped them in aluminum foil.  Tonight, I thickly sliced them and  lightly cooked them in a little oil on a skillet over the campfire.  They are so much easier to saute when they have already been baked.  Another side was cucumbers and tomatoes with a pesto dressing. 

Wildlife!

LOCATION:  Wind Cave National Park, in southwestern South Dakota
CAMPGROUND:  Elk Mountain Campground, in Wind Cave.  Like most national park campgrounds, it is rustic.  Spaces far apart.  Water available.  Clean flush toilets.  No dump station or electricity.  Firepit and picnic table.  $9/night with senior pass.  5 stars out of 5
WEATHER:  Very nice.  Less smokey.  High 78
DRIVE:  4 hours

We got an early start at the Pine Bluffs Distillery, as we wanted to get to Wind Cave early enough to snag a first-come, first-served campsite.  George was a bit excited…

We drove four hours straight north, slicing the state of Nebraska from its southern to northern points.  The landscape was very bleak with grasslands and a lot of stone and sand bluffs.  Kind of like the Badlands. 

After setting up, we took off to explore Wind Cave and the adjacent Custer State Park.  Both are known for their wildlife.  We took a circular scenic route around the 2 parks. 

We were lucky to see quite a lot.  First, lots of prairie dogs…

Then, YAY – bison!  We saw a lot farther away, then these next to the road.

Next up were wild burros.  They have become habituated and tourists were petting and feeding them (right next to signs saying not to feed wildlife)….

An unexpected surprise was this lone coyote loping along the side of the road…

We also saw some pronghorns but they are too fast to photograph.  The trees are really starting to turn.  It was very pretty.

South Dakota does not have a fire ban, so George made a nice fire.  He was happy!

DINNER:  In the iron skillet on top of the campfire, he sauteed a mix of shrimp, onions, and mushrooms for me.  Meanwhile, I made some pasta.  I added the saute mix in with the pasta, then for flavor added cream cheese, horseradish, and some pizza peppers.  The horseradish made it pop!  The side was a nice lettuce/cucumber/tomato salad. 

Right before bed, George went outside to ……(you know what).  As he was standing there, an elk came right up to him.  He said it was like a ghost.  Cool! 

Camping at a distillery!

LOCATION:  Pine Bluffs, Wyoming in far SW corner of state
CAMPGROUND:  Pine Bluffs Distillery, another Harvest Host site.  Terrific!  5 stars out of 5
WEATHER:  Very hazy/smokey.  High 85
DRIVE:  3 hours

Here is Joy savoring her last morning at Carter Lake.  It has been a good 5-day stay here, seeing the Rocky Mountain National State Park, doing a pontoon boat ride, and exploring the beer towns nearby. 

These 20 or so wild turkeys came right up to our site to bid us farewell…

As we left town, we stopped and gave Joy a much-needed wash..

Today’s destination was fairly close by, if we had taken the interstates, but we chose to do the backroads.  We passed through a lot of agricultural areas in Colorado, then desolate oil fields.  The only really interesting thing we saw were the many pronghorns frolicking in the fields.  We had the GPS set for ‘no highways” and boy was that the case!  It took us on a terrible, wash- board gravel road for 15 miles.  At some points, we could only manage 15 MPH.  It really shook us up – a door even fell off one of our cabinets.  Finally, a stretch of paved road.  Then, the GPS wanted us to turn again.  I ignored the turn as it was another gravel road.  After a lot of backtracking, we finally made it here.

Our road…..

This is a great Harvest Host location.  We are set up right next to a row of grain bins, providing some nice shade.

And – we hit the jackpot!  Tonight they are having a special release party for their new peach bourbon whiskey with a live band and a food truck.

We went in the distillery and tasted some of their whiskeys…

George went on a distillery tour while I chatted with another Harvest Host couple.  They are living in their RV full-time and are “road-schooling” their 12-year-old daughter. Interesting.

Then, the music started on the patio…

We were amazed at the number of people who came, since this is a small, remote area.

We ordered some Texas-style BBQ – a platter of brisket, and took it back to Joy to eat outside.

As we went to sleep, the coyotes started whooping it up.  Lovely!

Doing Fort Collins

LOCATION:  Near Loveland, Colorado
CAMPGROUND:  Last night at Carter Lake
WEATHER:  Very pleasant.  High 85.  Very hazy/smokey

Our goal today was to check out Fort Collins.  We have been here before, and really liked it.  It is considered one of America’s top craft beer cities, along with Grand Rapids and Asheville.  It has more than 20 breweries here, some of them large – like Fat Tire, New Belgium, and Coopersmiths.

First we went to their library, located in Old Town.  It is a very quaint area.  Good vibe.  As with most libraries, they are closed due to Covid, but we were welcomed to sit outside and use their wifi.

We strolled around the residential area, then to the main part of Old Town.  Interesting factoid:  This Main Street in Fort Collins was used as a model for the Main Street, USA section of DisneyLand.

There are many outdoor cafes, brewpubs, cute shops, and coffee shops all around. 

It has a European feel.  Almost everyone rides bikes. Most of the streets are pedestrian only.  The flower pots are huge and beautiful. 

We picked up the truck and went in search of a brewpub for lunch.  The first one was pretty nice, but had no food.  George tried their double IPA. 

They are serious about masks here – even the elk horns on the wall are wearing them…

The second brewpub was a real winner.  We shared a delicious pastrami sandwich.  The hostess wasn’t busy so chatted with us a long time.  George had a stout aged in bourbon barrels. 

After a stop at the grocery store to stock up, we headed back.  We are always looking for that perfect town/city to retire to one day.  I had hoped Fort Collins might be it.  We really liked the Old Town, but the city has really been affected by urban sprawl, so I think we have to take it off our list.

George fired up the propane grill to make our last dinner here.  We hope this fire ban will be over soon.  This propane hose connected to Joy’s propane tanks is handy….we don’t have to carry a separate propane tank for the grill.

DINNER:  One leftover lamb patty cooked up with mushrooms and onions.  I stuffed that mix in a pita pocket and added bits of kalamata olives and the last of the goat cheese.  The side was a nice salad with a feta salad dressing I found today.

Rocky Mountain high….

LOCATION:  Near Loveland, Colorado
CAMPGROUND:  Another night at Carter Lake
WEATHER:  Perfect.  High 75 (50s in mountains).  Low 50

We drove through the back roads toward Estes Park, the east entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, passing fabulous mountain homes and horse ranches. 

I had griped and groaned about the process for  “timed-entry” limited tickets to the park, but it really makes a difference – no line to get in and not crowded like what we have experienced in Yellowstone and Glacier. 

We immediately started ascending.  There are lots of places to stop and hike – some easy strolls as well as serious hiking trails.  Our first stop was called Hidden Valley.  It was good to stretch our legs.

The scenery is so dramatic.  It didn’t take long to start spotting a lot of snow – some glacier left over from previous years, and some fresh stuff from last week.

Notice how there is no shoulder!  That is a steep drop-off!

As we got higher and higher, we lost the trees and were above the tree line.  The highest point we traveled was 12,200 elevation.  We stopped here at the highest visitor center

It is a bit hazy from the smoke from a forest fire in Wyoming.  The ranger said that part of the highway was closed last week due to the fire. 

Then, we started descending.  We went through a lot of hairpin curves.  George drove (thank goodness!)   This was a narrow, interesting cut called Rock Cut in the mountain…

We stopped at another little trailhead and had a picnic and another walk.  This is the headwaters of the Colorado River.  From there, the highway follows the river.

On the western side of the park, we started seeing beautiful autumn foliage.

We stopped at a town on the western entrance to the park.   Lovely, tourist village.  This is the view from one of the old hotels above the town

Then, we had to retrace our steps – ascend back to the 12,200 point, and then down again.  I did a lot of gasping….

Whew!  We made it.  I had to get out and stretch as my body was stiff as a board from being so tensed up during the drive!

We stopped at Estes Park at one of their breweries – Rock Cut – named after the cut we drove under in the Park.   George could relax as I would drive the rest of the way.  He tried their black Imperial IPA.  Good, he reports!

Then, on our way home, we stopped in cute Loveland, home of 10+ breweries, including the famous Rock Bottom original one.  We stopped at a small mom-and-pop one and George had an unusual but very tasty Chipotle Porter. 

Colorado takes Covid-19 precautions seriously…

What a nice, but long day!

DINNER:  I had George saute on the propane grill some bay scallops with diced onion and garlic.  I made some rice as a side as well as some stir-fried broccoli and mushrooms.  Very nice! 

Checking out Colorado breweries…someone has to do it! :-)

LOCATION:  Near Loveland, Colorado in NE part of state
CAMPGROUND: Another night at Carter Lake
WEATHER:  Very pleasant – high 74, but very smoky (due to fires)

Joy likes it here and is basking here in the morning sunrise…

Feeling energetic this morning, we took a 6-mile hike along Carter Lake.  It was a perfect temperature (low 70s) for a hike. 

Today was Brewery Town #1 day.  The small cities around here are full of breweries, many famous.  Today we drove about 10 miles to Longmont, home of O’Dells Brewery and Left Hand Brewery,  as well as several lesser-known microbreweries.  First we went to Collision Brewery where we had a yummy lunch out on their patio.  Normally, their patio offers some of the best views around of the Rockies, but today it was just haze.  We shared a wild mushroom cheese melt, something I’d like to try to make one day.  George tried several of their beers – an IPA, Oktoberfest, and a stout.  He is very happy that I am the designated driver!  (He does order the 4 or 5-ounce glasses so he doesn’t overdo.)

Next up was a small microbrewery in a warehouse area.  We drove around and around looking for it.  It is Grossen Bart – meaning “big beard” in German.  There he had their imperial stout.

We remember Longmont fondly from a visit several years ago.  Alas, it has grown a lot and we were happy to return to Berthoud, the town closest to our campground, which is much smaller.  We stopped at their local microbrewery.  There,  George had a Begian Triple Ale.  H20 was my libation most of the day. 

DINNER:  Back at the campground, George fired up the propane grill.  We grilled brats and I served them with a salad and some of the homemade saurkraut from the Harvest Host farm.  Skol!

A beautiful day on the lake…

LOCATION:  Near Loveland, Colorado in NE part of state
CAMPGROUND:  Another night at Lake Carter Campground
WEATHER:  Beautiful!  High 89.  Warmer at  night – 50

Since we don’t have any cell service or internet here at the campground, we drove into town bright and early to use the library’s wifi.  We were trying to get a ticket to allow us into the Rocky National Park.  In an effort to control crowds, the park issues a certain number of “timed entry” tickets for every 2-hour block during the day.  I had looked previously for a day this week when we could go, but there weren’t any available.  Someone told me that they issue 200 additional slots right at 8:00 each morning.  If you log on exactly at 8:00, you can sometimes get one of these additional tickets.  So, sitting in our pickup in front of the library at 8:00, we went to the government website.  There were indeed 200 slots for the 10:00 – 12:00 time frame for one day this week.  We experienced a snag trying to log in and by the time we were logged in (about 2 minutes later), there were only 3 tickets left!  We managed to get a ticket for Thursday, even though in my nervousness I goofed up the payment, and overpaid.  We will just consider it a government donation.

We packed a picnic lunch and went off to the marina to spend the day on Lake Carter.  We rented a pontoon for a half-day.  George bought a fishing license and some worms, and Ship Ahoy!    It was a beautiful day to be on the lake.  It is hard to imagine that we were in sub-freezing temperatures, snow, and ice just a few days ago! 

George cannot sit idly so decided to repair the ladder that hooks on to the side of the pontoon.

Then, he tried it out, giving himself a little bath…

The water is COLD!

He fished all day, but didn’t catch anything.  This is my idea of fishing…..(reading a book)…

Back at the campground, we sat outside enjoying the late afternoon with a margarita. This is the view from our site…

DINNER:  Salmon burgers.  This is a nice recipe to make when you don’t have any fresh or frozen seafood on hand…..1 can salmon (I buy the cheapest kind), some breadcrumbs, a bit of mayonnaise, 1 egg, dill, salt and pepper.  This makes 3 patties which George grilled on the propane grill.  There is a fire ban throughout Colorado so we cannot cook over the fire.  I baked some TakeNBake buns in the oven.  Side was the remaining corn on the cob from the farmers’ market the other day.

BOOK:  “The Winemaker’s Wife” by Kristin  Harmel.  This historial fiction book tells the story of 3 couples intertwined during the German invasion of France in WWII, taking place in a well-known chateau in the  Champagne region.  4 stars out of 5

Gateway to the Rockies

LOCATION:  Near Loveland, Colorado  – in NE corner of state
CAMPGROUND:  Lake Carter County Park.  Located on a pretty lake near the Rocky Mountains.  Popular for boaters.  Electricity.  Pit toilets.  Water  and dump station.  Level, gravel pull-through site.  Picnic table and fire pit, but the state-wide fire ban prevents all fires.  All good except the price – $44/night is way too much.  Showers ($2 for  6 minutes) available at the adjacent campground. Due to the price – 3 stars out of 5.
WEATHER:  Beautiful!  High 88.  Cool overnight.  Sunny, but smokey from fire
DRIVE:  5 hours

We got an early start since there wasn’t too much to do, and it was cold (30s) up in the mountains!  George did the driving today – first through the mountains.  We stopped in a town and picked up cell service to check to see if any slots had opened up to go to our destination via Rocky Mountain National Park.  Still nothing, so our only option was to go south to Denver, then loop around north again.

The Denver traffic was appalling and the road conditions terrible.  Lots and lots of semis.  I closed my eyes (no, I wasn’t driving!) most of the time.  George did well.

Once off the interstate, we found lovely scenery.  We will stay here for 5 nights as a base.  We want to spend a day or two in Fort Collins (beer Nirvana) and some other cute towns.  We also hope to be able to get a day pass to get into the national park. 

After getting set up, we drove over to the marina on the lake to see about possibly renting a pontoon one day.  Since they didn’t have wifi either, we drove to the nearest little town and used the library’s internet to get caught up a bit.

A view of our lake…

DINNER:  Even though the days are warm, it starts to chill down around dinner time, so I made some soup.  Broccoli, cheese, and bean soup.  I added fresh broccoli to the packaged soup.  Side was some more of our sourdough bread. 

We don’t have any cell service here, but we do have some TV reception, so we watched a few cooking shows on PBS after dinner.

Colorado High!

LOCATION:  Outside of Steamboat Springs, in north central Colorado
CAMPGROUND:  Meadows Campground – a National Forest Service park.  Nice sites far apart from one another, picnic table, and firepit (although there is a burn ban in effect). Pit toilet.  No other services.  $5/night with senior pass.  4 stars out of 5.
WEATHER:  Cold in AM; warming to 80!
DRIVE:  5.5 hours

At Firehole Canyon, since we were very remote, the night skies were beautiful.  Last night, I got up in the night to gaze at the Milky Way.  So quiet.

We had heard that there might be a forest fire on the route we wanted to take today, but had no cell service or wifi.  So, we went east on Interstate 80, trying to pick up service.  Still no luck.  The Interstate was full of big semi-trucks which always makes me nervous.  We got off after about two hours, thinking that we would ask someone about the route as we got closer.

We drove south through desolate Wyoming which turned into desolate Colorado.  The only thing of interest was the sagebrush and natural gas machinery.  We did see several pronghorn and a few wild horses. 

As we neared Steamboat Springs, the landscape changed to tree-covered mountains.  Steamboat Springs is a ski resort town, and seemed quite fancy.  We asked about our possible road closure at a gas station, and no one seemed to know.  So, onward we went.

Sure  enough, outside of Steamboat Springs, we saw the road closed sign.  Now to Plan B, which is through Rocky National Park, to get to our next location in the Loveland/Fort Collins area. 

We stumbled upon this campground, pulled in, and had practically the whole place to ourselves.  We are nestled under some nice pines. 

We took a stroll around the campground.  We discovered we are at 9000+ elevation, so strolling was about all we could do!  No jogging up here!

We struck up a conversation with some Colorado campers and told them where we are going tomorrow.    They told us we are out of luck.  Rocky Mountain National Park has a quota system to keep crowds under control.  They release only a certain number of passes for each two-hour slot.  There are no slots available tomorrow.  So, now to Plan C – we will have to go down to Denver, then circle back north.  I am not looking forward to Denver traffic which I have heard is terrible.

We sat around the picnic table, nibbling on some olives for happy hour.  We spit out the pits on the table and grey jays swooped down to grab them.  They are very tame.

DINNER:  Very gourmet.  I belong to a Facebook group called Gourmet Camping.  Someone had posted a recipe something like this, and I made it with a twist.  It is lamb/cheese filled portebello mushrooms.  First I removed the gils from the mushrooms and poured a bit of olive oil on them.  I baked them for 25 minutes.  Meanwhile, I made up a filling with goat cheese, 1 leftover grilled lamb burger, some pesto (as I am out of basil), chopped baby spinach, and sun-dried tomatoes.  I placed a slice of tomato at the bottom of the cooked portebello, added the fillling, and cooked another 15 minutes.  Our side was a cucumber/tomato/baby spinach salad and a toasted pita filled with a Greek yogurt/cucumber mix. 

Coincidentally, we listened to a Jacques Peppin podcast over dinner.  Cool!

A trip around Flaming Gorge

LOCATION:  Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area.  SW Wyoming
CAMPGROUND:  2nd night at Firehole Canyon
WEATHER:  Cold during the night – 40s, warming to 78

At the recommendation of our camp host, we took a long road-trip all around the Flaming Gorge Reservoir – about 200 miles.  The scenery is truly breathtaking.

We followed it south into Utah where the dam is.

Then, west through a high dessert – about 8000 feet.  The landscape changed from sagebrush to pine trees, then back to sagebrush.  Millions of years ago this was all underwater and you can see striations on the sides of the mountains.  They have found a lot of dinosaur bones here.  This reminded us a lot of the Grand Canyon, and indeed on the Wyoming side they call it Wyoming’s Grand Canyon

Then, we turned (via several hairpin curves) north and continued to follow the reservoir.  Passing back to Wyoming, the scenery became very bleak. 

Needing some wifi and gas, we stopped in the town of Green River.  We happened upon a street festival there.  Their “castle rock” looms over the city.  I wouldn’t want to live right under it.

We stopped at their very nice library and used their internet.  Very friendly.  This is the view outside the front door of the library.

Then, we finished the loop going a bit south, back to our campground.  Our campground is just under this ridge…

George made a great campfire with the branches we had cuta yesterday.  First, to get the fire really roaring, he cooked some bacon.  He does this every so often, then keeps the cooked bacon in the refrig, and warms it up when he wants a BLT for lunch or bacon for breakfast.

Then, he grilled a HUGE shirt steak that we had purchased from one of the Harvest Host farms where we spent last week..  We will have leftovers for months!  Side was sauteed summer squash from the farmers’ market.