Monday, July 9, 2012

Dinosaurs, Presidents, and Nuclear missiles

My last night in Yellowstone was spent around the campfire again and reading a book. It was a lovely mellow night with a clear sky and stars everywhere. I woke early again the next day though and decided to get up, pack the tent and hit the road.

I did stop on the way out of Yellowstone, to see one of the thermal sites which is located next to the lake. The drive to Cody was lovely – a picturesque 50 mile long valley with forests, lakes and red sandstone peaks all around. I also came across a strange tree, which as some point in its life had been struck and stopped a falling boulder. The boulder is still there and the tree now grows at a crooked angle around it – cool as anything!

Thermals by the lake

The tree and rock

The Irma Hotel

The plan for today was to spend the afternoon in Cody and wait for 6pm, when there is a Gunfight staged in the street outside the Irma Hotel. This is the original hotel that Buffalo Bill Cody built and the town has grown around it. The town is nice enough and has a couple of things to look at – such as the hotel itself, which I did. But apart from that and the Buffalo Bill Museum centre – which is a sprawling 5 museums in one and not what I wanted to do on such a nice day – there isn’t much there. There is definitely not enough to merit hanging around for 6 hours in order to see a 10 minute gunfight. So I had a spot of lunch and hit the road.

I was heading for a place called Buffalo – about 3 hours drive away and didn’t know what to expect on the way – all I know is that the campsite has a pool and it’s a very hot day. However, the drive took a lot longer than the 3 hours I expected.

As I headed away from Cody I passed through a few tiny places - one with a sign claiming a population of just 10 people. I wonder how often that changes? The surroundings quickly changed into the full Wild West experience – with mile after mile of desert and the kind of jagged red and yellow peaks you would expect to see in any good old western movie. I loved it as I passed an old airport with hulking remains of old planes on display at the edge of one town.

Then the town was gone and I was back in the 1800’s once again riding my horse towards the oasis on the horizon – only I was in a car. My horse needed a drink and I thought it was going to collapse on me, but luckily I came across a filling station and 12 gallons of unleaded later we were off again, riding through the haze. I came across a sign saying ‘ Dinosaur footprints’ and immediately pulled the reigns and ushered ‘Old Blue’, (It's a blue car) away from the track and over the hills, following an old back country trail about 5 miles to where some dinosaur tracks were discovered about 15 years ago  - the sight of an ancient sea shore. I found the tracks and had a good look around before driving, sorry – riding – further into the unknown for a few pictures.

It was so hot out here my horse was panting for air, so I turned around and headed back to the relative safety of the road. Soon after we were rewarded by finding a little town called simply ‘Shell’. This was followed by a stunning drive through Shell creek, where I stopped for break, clambered down a sheer cliff and sat for half an hour with my feet cooling in the ice cold river. For the simple reason that I had just driven for 3 hours through the desert, it was a boiling hot day and there was nobody around – I loved my time there and decided it was one of my favourite places!  

Under my hand..... a dinosaur footprint

The Shell creek Oasis!!


In the Wild West

Back in the saddle, me and old blue continued onwards, stopping to see some sights such as Shell falls and a strange place called ‘Fallen city’, which is actually where some rocks have slipped down a hillside, but resemble, well, a fallen city.

My horse - Old Blue, in the desert.

I arrived at the campsite and discovered to my horror that the pool was closed – there is some kind of problem with the filter – but it was after 6pm and it had begun to cool down and I had aircon in my cabin – which is identical to the one from Miles City – so I settled in and had a well deserved rest. Tomorrow is another 500mile driving day – but with a couple of planned stops on the way – so it’s a 6am start again....

Well, that was the plan... I actually woke up at 4.13am and decided that sleep was no longer important, so after a quick pack up I hit the road just after 4.30am. My timing was perfect as after a 3 hour drive, I arrived at Mount Rushmore just 4 minutes before it opened at 8am. I really enjoyed my hour long visit as I managed a jump shot, watched by a bemused crowd of tourists before looking around the Presidential loop that passes right below the 4 heads.

4.30am in Wyoming

5 world leaders!

Close up


Then it was off again and to my next stop – just 7 miles up the road to the world’s largest sculpture – The Crazy Horse Memorial. This is a Colossal project(Colossal is the biggest word I could use and still doesn’t do the thing justice) and was started in 1948 – but still has decades of work to be completed. In fact only the head is showing on what will be a 563foot high mountainous sized sculpture of the Indian Chief, sat on horseback pointing to his lands saying ‘ My lands are where my dead lie buried’. I have already promised myself, that I will come back again in 20-30 years to see how much has been completed. It’s an amazing project.

50+ years of work

what it will be like when complete

Its going to be very very big.

The next stop of the day was a little different – A weird and wonderful place called ‘Cosmos, Mystery area’. This is an attraction based on a back road near Mount Rushmore, where you are taken on a tour that boggles the mind. You are shown a level platform which 2 people stand on. When they swap places the tallest person suddenly shrinks in size and the short person becomes taller. I tested the spirit level used to prove the ground and it worked properly. This is some weird shit. Next, we saw water flow uphill, people stood on walls and fell upwards towards the floor and a kid was sat in a chair which fell backwards upwards towards the wall instead of downwards to the floor. The ground sloped first on way and then another, making everyone a little unsteady on their feet and a couple of people, including myself felt a little nauseous. It was a fun half hour, led by a tour guide straight from the book of strange people – someone really good at their strange, but fun job.

Its weird!

The same two people.....

...but they change size!!

The ground is level.

Strange outside

Stranger inside!!

I hit the road again and drove an hour east to find my final destination of a long day – This one was again completely different from the usual tourist haunts and somewhere that gives you a shudder through your bones when you see it. Believe it or not, just a 200metre drive from the Interstate 90 is a small fenced area with a strange deep pit in one corner. The top of the pit has a glass structure on top of it, allowing you to look down to see the interior of the structure. But what is inside? Well, it’s a Minuteman Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) silo, left over from the cold war and just one of 150 such silos that used to be based in South Dakota and the surrounding areas. This is the only one left and is open to the public, with just a chain across an open gate to stop wildlife getting in. The missile isn’t the real thing, but a training missile, looking exactly like the real thing, but harmless. It’s scary looking down at something just 57 feet high that carries enough explosive power to match more than 60% of all the bombs dropped during WWII. A scary, scary thought and very sobering. It’s brilliant that this is open to look at. They also do tours of the control facility just a few miles away, but the tours are very busy and full for today, so I had a look around the outside and then moved on to the campsite for the night.

The campsite is just 50 miles along the I90 and after arriving and spending a well earned hour in the cold swimming pool, I enjoyed a gorgeous steak sandwich and a chat with the owner Greg, before hitting my cabin for a well earned nights rest.

A quiet field....

...with a simple gate....

...and a strange building....

...housing a dark secret. A Nuclear Missile.

Another stunning day – I’m so glad I got up early and saw everything I have seen. How many days in your life can you see two stunning, massive sculptures, a weird wonderland of strange happenings and a full sized nuclear missile all before dinner? Well, today was the day I did just that.

As normal - there are many many more photos on Picasa and videos on Youtube.

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