Traveling to Yellowstone Park and beyond has always been on the bucket list for my wife, Cindy, and last month, we made that reality. Our adventure began in Yankton, South Dakota, where we boarded the Navigator bus for the nine-day, four state Yellowstone-Teton National Park tour.
Our group consisted of 26 passengers from South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska, our excellent tour guide, Valerie, and our outstanding bus driver, Robert.
We hadn’t gone far down the road before we knew that this was going to be a great trip, as it didn’t take long for us to become acquainted with our tour group.
With the sun at our backs, we made our way westward toward Mitchell’s Corn Palace and Chamberlain’s Scenic Overlook into South Dakota’s celebrated Badlands, an experience not easily forgotten. Arriving in the Badlands, the first thing that came into our minds was what the early settlers must have thought when they came into this area. It had to be a mixture of both dread and fascination.
Conservation writer Freeman Tilden described the rough region as “peaks and valleys of delicately banded colors, colors that shift in the sunshine and thousands of tints that color charts do not show.”
This country was once covered by a shallow sea with the shifting continental plates creating the Rocky Mountains. The land underneath rose, draining away the water and, because of climate changes, eventually became what we see today.
As we proceeded throughout the tour, we could only imagine the dread and hopeless thoughts that went through those settlers’ minds as they traveled farther into the mountainous regions.
In our group was Tracy Manning, an educator who gave us insight on how the numerous different colors of soil and rock had formed in the eroded hills and valleys. Tracy and her two sisters, all former Hartington girls, were on the bus tour, with their mother, Marcia.
Once through the Badlands, after a stop at Wall Drug, we made our way into the amazing Black Hills of South Dakota.
The following day, our first stop was a visit to breathtaking Mount Rushmore, where the four great presidents’ faces were carved on the huge granite mountainside, using dynamite, jack and air hammer drills, along with back-breaking manpower to create this wonderful monument.
Then it was on to crystal-clear Sylvan Lake, where anglers were plying the water, angling, trying to catch the numerous fish that call Sylvan Lake home.
From there, we visited historic Deadwood, South Dakota, where much of the town remains the same as it was years ago. In 1961 the entire town was designated a national historic landmark.
Deadwood is where Jack McCall walked into the Nuttal and Mann’s Saloon No. 10 in 1876 and at point blank range shot Wild Bill Hickok in the back of the head while Hickok was playing poker. McCall claimed he killed Hickock to avenge his brother’s death and after being captured in Montana, McCall went on trial and was hanged in the territorial capital of Yankton, South Dakota.
While in Deadwood, I had the opportunity to record one of my radio shows with good friend Lee Harstad, the executive director for the Deadwood Chamber of Commerce. We talked about its abundant historical past and great outdoor opportunities.
Heading west the following morning into Wyoming, we explored Devil’s Tower, an unbelievable formation rising 867 feet from its base, 1,267 feet above the river, 5,112 feet above sea level with a tear-shaped top of 1.5 acres with a base 1,000 feet.
Then it would be a visit to alluring Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, site of Custer’s Last Stand in Montana.
At dawn of June 25, 1876, the 7th Calvary, which included 700 soldiers, located the Native American camp, but unfortunately it underestimated the size and the fighting power of the Native Americans.
The Army intelligence had estimated Sitting Bull’s force at 800 fighting men; in fact, as many as 2,000 Sioux and Cheyenne warriors took part in the battle.
On June 25 to 26, 1876, Lt. Col. George A. Custer, his entire command and attached personnel of the U.S. Army, died fighting the Lakota and Cheyenne’s warriors.
Custer foolishly split the command into three smaller troops of 200 to 300 men, five companies, remaining under Custer’s command, with Maj. Reno and Capt. Benteen in charge of the other battalions.
When Custer made the decision to lead a troop of less than 300 to the Little Bighorn River, he sealed his and his soldiers’ fate as every member of his command and attached personnel met defeat and death at the hands of Cheyenne’s chiefs, American Horse and Two Moons, and Lakota chiefs Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and Gall.
The 7th was outgunned, as it was armed with what was considered by many to be the finest military sidearm revolver in the world — the Colt single-action army pistol.
This superb six-shooter was accurate and rugged and chambered the .45 Colt cartridge, probably the most powerful handgun round of the time, along with the single-shot Springfield Model 1873 carbines, while the Indians were armed with Henry and Spencer repeating rifles, which provided a higher rate of fire than those of the 7th.
We entered scenic Beartooth Pass on the following day, where numerous fly fishermen were fishing the crystal-clear streams after the numerous species of trout found there.
Our driver handily maneuvered our bus through the numerous switchbacks, with its serpentine curves, making our way upward through the pass.
We then were guided through all the beauty and wonder of Yellowstone National Park, where we observed Mother Nature’s handiwork, including Norris Geyser, beautiful Gibbon Falls and the Roosevelt Arch.
One of our stops was in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, were Cindy and I had an opportunity to stop by the Silver Dollar Bar, where you’ll find 2,032 uncirculated 1921 Morgan Silver Dollars in the bar, along with western artist Paul Clowes’ 13 original leather murals that adorn the cornice above the bar.
As we made our way through Yellowstone, we had splendid opportunities to observe the wildlife in the park and, at times up close and personal, the antelope, buffalo and bears.
The following day, we were back in Yellowstone, giving us the wonderful opportunity to observe world-famous Old Faithful, one of nearly 500 breathtaking geysers in Yellowstone.
Its eruption started slowly, with more pressure building each time, but before it really came to life, another geyser just off to the left, Honey Bee, erupted, sending water and steam into the air around 80 feet or so.
As that geyser erupted, Old Faithful joined in and, between the two, gave us quite an opportunity for photos and video. Our journey continued as we experienced the numerous splendid falls, amazing geysers and mud pots.
Then we made our way into the Tetons, a beautiful trip with picturesque terrain, including lodgepoles, trees reaching skyward to unbelievable heights.
The quick trip home through Nebraska bought us back to our starting point, where we said goodbye to our new friends, packed and headed for home.
Thanks to WNAX Radio, Valerie our tour guide and Robert, our Navigator bus driver, as they made our 2,400-mile tour so enjoyable, with information on the area and stops that gave us ample opportunities to view all of the wonder that these areas had to offer.
If you’re into wild scenic, the national parks and history, we’d recommend this excursion, as it exceeded all of our hopes and dreams, giving us the opportunity to enjoy all these wonders of this great land of ours. God bless the USA.