Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Traveling the West in a Week

By Stephanie Hansen, Director of Operations

I recently took a full week off from work. While that may not seem remarkable to most people, it is a rare occurrence for me. I recognize the importance of a vacation, but I have to admit I really like to come to the office and I like to work. While I had originally planned on taking nearly three weeks off to go to Europe, the plan kept changing until I had one week of vacation marked on the calendar.

The vacation turned out to be a nearly 2,000 mile, 7 day road trip starting from my home in Hailey, Idaho, through Wyoming, into Montana, back to Wyoming, into South Dakota, back through Wyoming and ending back in Hailey. I spent nearly three months planning the trip and researching the history of the places we wanted to see. Excited at taking on what felt like a part-time night and weekend job, I was busy mapping the route, booking places to stay and making note of entrance fees to the many points of interest we planned on seeing. 

When a friend heard we were planning on going to Billings, Montana the first night he suggested we go through Yellowstone and drive the Beartooth Scenic Byway. Also known as the Beartooth Highway, the road opened in June 1936 and is the highest elevation road in the Northern Rockies, with the tallest point being 10,947 feet high at the Beartooth Pass in Wyoming. It was like winter all over again with frozen lakes and some snow banks higher than the roof of the car. Every hairpin turn provided yet another awe inspiring view of the Beartooth Mountains and at times all we could do is shake our heads as we viewed this absolutely stunning landscape.

The iconic Devil's Tower, Wyoming. Photo ©Stephanie Hansen

Over the next few days we made our way to the Little Bighorn Battlefield (a.k.a. Custer’s Last Stand), to the northeast corner of Wyoming to see Devils Tower which was established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 as America’s first national monument (and looked nothing like what I remember from watching the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind when I was 10), and to Deadwood, South Dakota.  I admit I was addicted to the HBO series “Deadwood” and looked forward to exploring the town and visiting Mount Moriah Cemetery where Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane and Seth Bullock are buried.

Rugged peaks off the Needles Highway, South Dakota. Photo ©Stephanie Hansen

Next up was the Badlands National Park, then Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway, Needles Highway in Custer State Park and the Black Hills National Forest. The last day in South Dakota included a much anticipated visit to Jewel Cave National Monument. Jewel Cave was declared a national monument in 1908 and is currently the third longest cave in the world, with over 166 miles of mapped and surveyed passages. We learned many interesting things during our 90 minute tour of the cave including air volume studies that indicate 95% of the cave has yet to be discovered.

Exploring the Jewel Cave in South Dakota's Black Hills. Photo ©Stephanie Hansen

The last night on the road was spent in Lander, Wyoming and then an early morning rise to make the final trek through Grand Teton National Park with a stop in Jackson Hole for lunch. After being on the road for so many days we were oddly not in any crazy rush to get home and simply took in the sites and beautiful scenery. We agreed that each and every day had brought yet another spectacular view of something we had never seen before or something we never seemed to get tired of seeing.  And while it was not three weeks away from work, or even two, it was one really good week of vacation.

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