It might have seemed like our trip would never end. Yet, before we knew it, there it was. We considered not coming home but the semester was starting and freelance work was piling up. Glacier National Park is just about 30 hours from Athens, GA. Does that sound close or far? Either way, I think you’d be right. We can drive more than 10 hours a day but we don’t prefer it. And two 15 hour days in a row would be pretty impossible. So we took three nights to get from northern Montana to northern Georgia.
We originally had planned to do some dispersion camping in the Black Hills National Forest for the first night of our drive home. But choosing to hike to Cracker Lake on our last morning in Glacier delayed our departure and we wouldn’t make enough distance to get to a campsite before dark. We used hotels.com rewards points to book a room in Gillette, WY. We ended up at a TownPlace suite by Marriott that was in amazing shape with a small kitchen, closets, and great work space. We like the simplicity of Fairfields when we travel but we enjoyed this room so much and could see ourselves spending a few nights at one when we have to get work done that we might book some for next summer’s trip.
The town of Gilette is just about an hour from Devils Tower National Monument. Whenever people find out we are doing road trips through Wyoming, they ask us if we have visited that monument. It’s always a little awkward to say we had never made it there. So we figured why not. We got to the park after morning light but still in the cool morning weather and walked the 1.3 mostly paved trail around the tower. We then drove down to Wind Cave National Park. The elevator into the caves has been down this summer but we wanted to explore above ground anyway. We did a quick 2.5 miles on the Cold Brook Canyon trail. Wind Cave is not a terribly exciting place to hike with regard to views but it has a few perks: low crowds and open views. After chatting with a few people we ran into at the end of the hike, we got a late lunch in Rapid City, South Dakota and made our way to Badlands on a dirt road access.
We were hoping for both a sunrise and sunset in Badlands but both got thwarted. Sunset by a herd of 500 or so bison stopping us in the car. It wasn’t the sunset we expected but it was still pretty darn cool. We spent the night in our car at the free backcountry site in the park. Our alarm was set for 4:45 to get up and to an overlook for sunrise. We were woken up at 4:30 by rain coming in our screen window and thunder. From where we were, we couldn’t tell which way the storm was coming from, or was heading, or how long it would linger. We went on up to the overlook but had no luck. With a whole day of driving ahead of us, we reluctantly decided to head out. Our only rainout of the summer.
Two long days of driving lay ahead of us. We drove from Badlands to Columbia, Missouri, and then the next day from Columbia back to Athens. The long driving days are not our favorite but they’re a necessary evil for the chance to get to linger in the western parks longer. This year we got our car set up as a WiFi hot spot so when we are driving, we can use it to upload files, send e-mails, and other internet things. The connection speed isn’t always great but it makes the otherwise useless time a bit more productive.
And so that’s a wrap. We spent 39 days and 38 days on the road visiting ten National Parks and two National Monuments. We’re over two weeks in to regular life and already planning for next year. Maybe all good things have to come to an end, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get started on the next one as soon as possible.