Midsummer Monuments, Memorials and Parks in the North

Summertime is the best time to visit the Northern States. We are always torn about whether to explore our home state of Oregon or travel to see other places on the list. Since we were already signed up for a rally in Wyoming in July, our decision was made.  We traveled from Oregon to Wyoming and the Dakotas and returned through Washington to Oregon to be back in time for Labor Day open house at Styring Vineyards.  Click to see the post about the rally in Gillette Wyoming

Little Big Horn Battlefield National Monument

Sculpture at Indian Memorial

Little Bighorn gravestones

Ranger Adelson (with permission)

Custer’s Last Stand at the Battle of Little Big Horn in Montana included a lot of history and animated storytelling by the best park ranger I have ever heard.  Seated on the patio facing the battlefield, our Epic Ranger, Steve Adelson acted out the events that led to the battle known as Custer’s last stand.  A somber story that came alive with his dramatic voice and depictions.  The monuments were much more meaningful after our history lesson from Ranger Adelson.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

From the historic entrance

At first, I was feeling compassion for Native Americans about the modification of the natural and sacred mountainside. Then, my inner artist got curious about how the monuments were made.  It’s spectacular! Along the way, I noticed every shiny rock in the gravel parking lot! haha.

This unique National Monument features the granite faces of four historic American Presidents: George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson. This masterpiece of a sculpture is over 5,500 feet above sea level and resides mountainside in the lush forests of the Black Hills. Mount Rushmore National Monument is toured by over 3 million people yearly (and I think they were all there the day we visited!).

Crazy Horse Memorial

Silhouette of Crazy Horse model with sculpture in the background

This outstanding Black Hills attraction is a mountain side sculpture of Chief Crazy Horse on his spirited warhorse. Crazy Horse Monument is still being created and is the world’s largest sculpture. At night, light shows perform showcasing the future end results of this mighty Black Hills attraction. Ours was only a trip to the visitor’s center to see the Native American artifacts and gift shop and it was was worth the stop.  People were taking pictures from the gates to avoid the hefty entrance fees but we were happy to help fund the project. It’s impressive.

The Jeep Damage Oops

Between South Dakota and North Dakota, road workers were spreading super-fine ground gravel (maybe chip seal?) right next to our lane and sweeping the gravel into our lane directly onto the car and the RV. Our lane and the oncoming lane had freshly sprayed chip seal and it was flying up onto the back of the RV and onto the car from oncoming traffic as well as some kicking up from the RV. There was no option for detours and no way to avoid damage, even at the very low construction speeds. Our 2016 Jeep had over $11,000 damage! Everything from the lights, grill, molded plastic, entire front end, sides and windshield had to be replaced and/or repaired and repainted.  It looked like someone took a weed whacker to the car.  We had to delay getting it repaired until we were in once place long enough for a full paint job and repair. Our insurance doesn’t cover rental car so that complicated things and affected the timing too.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Map: National Park Service

Located in Western North Dakota and broken into three units, South, North and Elkhorn Ranch, the Theodore Roosevelt National Park was home to the former president for many years. Medora, a quaint town bustling with tourist traffic, is located at the popular South entrance to the park. Eighty miles away, the North entrance to the park has completely different landscape and is miles away from the nearest town.

From grassy prairie and rolling hills to the majestic bluffs of the badlands, the scenery is spectacular but in a completely different way than other National Parks. Connecting the park with colorful canyons is the Little Missouri River.

Bison are plentiful, especially in the North unit. The first night in the North unit, I went out on “safari” drive and was rewarded with a herd of bison right outside the campground. The dominate male bison is the only one that seems to make much noise.  Sounding like a cross between Chewbacca from Starwars and Gollum from Lord of the Rings, the grunts are loud and forceful. Sometimes begging for attention of the females and other times barking commands. Mr. Bison, was guarding the herd near the campground as they leisurely crossed the road without a care in the world for the traffic jam that was left in their wake.  This traffic jam was only a few cars, not like the more popular Yellowstone where the back-up can be substantial. Next, Mr. sauntered over to the prime dust pit and grunted, scattering all the young males out of the way. He rolled around in the dust until he was set, then headed over to harass some others. All of the bison move very quickly out of his way except the babies who seem to ignore his gruff gestures while the females scurry over to lead them away.  Just when we thought they were finished crossing the road, the male growls as if to say, “That’s enough, time to go”.  There they go, BACK across the road between the vehicles and they are all business, moving quickly, no stopping for snacks on the sweet grass.  Some of the drivers tried to rush the process and gun their engines which annoyed the big daddy bison.  I wouldn’t make him mad people!

Watching the babies nursing was humorous and horrifying. They would butt their heads into the mom’s udder so hard that both of her back legs would come off the ground! No baby bison near me, no thank you!  Those bison are huge and I can’t imagine the strength required to lift mom off the ground.

Views of deer and wild horses were a special treat on that first safari drive. I was so excited and wished Bruce had felt well enough to join me, he couldn’t resist the next drive and fought off whatever bug he had to come along.  Actually, he was my driver which helps around bison when I stand up on my seat and put my head and body through the sun roof.

Prairie Dogs entertained us on multiple hikes. There are hundreds of them staking out their dens and chirping warnings while jumping up in the air on their hind legs. It’s so funny to watch.  You cannot sneak up on these guys, it is like a rolling wave of chirping, warning each other of our approach.  On the other hand, the young ones are so brave that they just hang out and wrestle around with each other or ignore you altogether.

After the Dakotas, we headed back to Oregon to Styring Vineyards to help out during the Labor Day Open House.

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