30. Crossing Wyoming

“Beautiful things don’t ask for attention.”

― James Thurber

We drove out of the Black Hills after several days at Bear’s Lodge (Devil’s Tower) and only meant to cover a couple hundred miles. This day turned into a series of “We could stop, but… what is over the *next* hill?” and so we wound up arriving in the Grand Tetons that evening. Longest driving day of the trip thus far, but absolutely the most amazing as an adventure of constantly changing and incredibly diverse environments.

A distant mountain range, a switchback high country pass, up and down grades we had never seen. We miss our Astro Van, but we’re very glad to be driving the Tundra this day. Dropped a thousand feet in altitude in a bit less than two miles… Whew!

Turns out, the Togwotee Mountain Lodge is a very convenient fuel and rest stop, and we’ve used it now a few times. The first trip through these mountains was in late June and we were struck by the casual inventory of high performance snow gear by the side of any little shop or gas station in the area.

29. Bear’s Lodge Sunrise

We tried to explore at least one new thing about the park each day. One morning we set our alarms for 30 min before dawn and drove up to a trailhead on the other side of the tower.

The park is gated to the outside for regular park hours. However, one of the amazing things about being there is, for anyone staying at the campground *inside* the park, access is 24/7.

There are distinct micro-climates in the park. One of the main reasons we wanted to do this particular hike is that the loop circles through prairie and forest and ravine. Very different plant and animal life are evident in each section.

Really interesting and so beautiful !

The Black Hills are a small and isolated mountain range rising from the Great Plains of North America in western South Dakota and extending into Wyoming. We couldn’t see Black Elk Peak (7,244 feet, the range’s highest summit) but we’ll go back for it.

Bear’s Lodge has a different personality to share throughout the day.

28. Bear’s Lodge

Devil’s Tower was the first United States national monument, established on September 24, 1906, by President Theodore Roosevelt.

The name Devil’s Tower originated in 1875 during an expedition led by Colonel Richard Irving Dodge, when his interpreter reportedly misinterpreted a native name to mean “Bad God’s Tower”.

Native American names for the monolith include “Bear’s House” or “Bear’s Lodge”; Cheyenne, Lakota Matȟó Thípila, Crow Daxpitcheeaasáao “Home of Bears”), “Aloft on a Rock” (Kiowa), “Tree Rock”, “Great Gray Horn”, and “Brown Buffalo Horn” (Lakota Ptehé Ǧí).

We always called it Bear’s Lodge.

We wound up moving to the edge of the campground and spent several days waking up to this beautiful space.

Everyone thinks that the dominant ecological feature of the park is the tower, but it is really the Belle Fourche river that shaped all of what is now the visible landscape.
We couldn’t believe how lucky we were. Definitely show up on a Monday or Tuesday and stay for the week. It seems like a quick stop at first, but there is so much to see!
When we moved on day two, this was the view from our new camp site’s picnic table. Wow!

The igneous material that forms the Bear’s Lodge is a phonolite porphyry intruded about 40.5 million years ago. The tower did not visibly protrude out of the landscape until the overlying sedimentary rocks eroded away. As the elements wore down the softer sandstones and shales, the more resistant igneous rock making up the tower survived the erosional forces. As a result, the gray columns began to appear as an isolated mass above the landscape.

As rain and snow continue to erode the sedimentary rocks surrounding the Tower’s base, more of Bear’s Lodge will be exposed. Nonetheless, the exposed portions of the Tower still experience certain amounts of erosion.

Wolf-Dreaming at dawn beneath Bear’s Lodge ~ River Dog

27. From CO to WY

Driving North from Longmont, CO

After an amazing visit with family in Colorado, selling our Astro, and pulling away with our Tundra, we picked Bear’s Lodge as our first destination in the Big Sky West.

Wyoming was a big change from the Flat Irons!

Our first stop in Wyoming was Chugwater. No cars, no people. Solitude is an amazing thing after being in town for a few weeks!

As much as we loved our visit to Colorado, it’s exciting to see something new. Neither of us had ever been to Wyoming!

26. Packing in More Fun

Only a few days left in Colorado, but a lot more fun…

Wonderful lunch with my Sister and her family on the rooftop deck at The Rio in downtown Boulder!

Turns out that the inside-brewer from a pizza joint near my parent’s house launched a standalone craft brewery and restaurant at Collision in Longmont. We liked the guy when he was just working at the pizza place, and it was so much fun to see him doing such a great job. They have one of the best views of the Flatirons, a terrific beer menu, vegan lunch options, and a real local success story. Yum-tastic!

We loved the open air farmer’s market at Boulder County Fairgrounds in Longmont! The band playing Jimmy Buffett and Neil Young was a lot of fun, and we left with an armload of picked-that-day veggies. Awesome!

25. We Sold Our Van!

Nice guy in Estes Park was interested, so we drove up there and made the deal. (Back over the hill to Estes!) We enjoyed meeting him and his girlfriend and finding a surprising array of intersections between the four of us. Connections to Cornell, to Virginia, to Florida, to the project we our bound to undertake in the PNW. It was good closure to wrap up our time with our Astro with such a nice couple.

Then we went to The Barrel to celebrate Vanny getting a new custodian. May she ride another 100,000 miles for them as she did for us!

24. Solving the Power Problem

After about 3000 successful miles – including up and down 6% grade roads in West Virginia – real mountains were more than we could reasonably expect our friendly neighborhood Chevy Astro to handle.

We considered many upgrades to the van but finally decided that there wasn’t anything wrong with it that replacement wouldn’t fix.

Besides, it seemed sensible to have four-wheel drive for the work we plan to do in WA.

Getting inspections required for sale in Colorado

After shopping a variety of 4×4 trucks, we chose the Toyota Tundra SR5 double cab longbox as the best option for us to tow and road trip comfortably and still use to do work when we get to Washington.

381 horsepower
401 lb-ft torque
Tow capacity 10,200 lbs

Oh. Yeah.

First time hooking up the new truck to our rig!

Our first test ride was to get coffee, of course! (Thanks Red Frog!)

23. Finding our Limits

Driving through Nebraska to Wray, CO took us to 3566 feet, and arriving in Longmont was a climb to 4984 feet. In Wray we knew there was a problem, but by Longmont it was clear we couldn’t put off addressing it.

We considered several options to bolster the horsepower the van could deliver, but couldn’t really know our limit before driving it.

The final test for the van was driving up to Estes Park, CO (7522 feet). We did make it up – barely. Some steep grades were 55mph where the max the Astro could drive was 35mph.

Not safe. Had to make some choices

The last hurrah of our time with the Astro Van.

We love going back to Estes Park

Although the ride up did not give us any good news about our tow vehicle, it is 45 minutes of sharp cliffs and beautiful views. The town was busy with tourist traffic, but we know a little back lot to park which was almost empty and allowed us to park up and enjoy the afternoon.

Had a beautiful vegan takeout lunch, too, from Himalayan Curry and Kabob on W. Elkhorn. Thanks #happycow !

22. The Front Range

And there in the blue air I saw for the first time, far off, the great snowy tops of the Rocky Mountains.

Jack Kerouac

One of the joys of an extended family visit is being able to pal along with the normal activities of the day. We have sought and found “Americana” all through our trip, but you just can’t beat watching the local kids play baseball.

Below is a shot from my nephew’s baseball game. So glad I was there to make that memory.

Sitting in camp chairs with my Mom and Sister, chatting and having snacks, was such a perfect moment.

We’ve always enjoyed Longmont. It is historic and offers a lot of unique home-grown flavor.

Having been so many times, we don’t feel the urgency to spend our visit doing tourist stuff, and can just relax and enjoy being in a lovely place with family.

One of the don’t-miss stops is Long’s Peak Pub. Lunch with Mom means saying hello to my old friend Teddy.

Thanks @longspeakpub !

21. Colorado changes

Arriving in Wray, Colorado after driving through Nebraska found us in a suddenly and dramatically different environment.

After threading the needle past tornadoes through Missouri and Kansas and Nebraska, we crossed our second time change (Mountain Time! Exciting!) and arrived safely at the Hitch’n Post in Wray, Colorado.

The Wray Hitch’n Post was a perfect spot to stop and set up for a nice easy ride into Longmont the next day.

The view out the trailer window… Not in Florida anymore!

The Hitch’n Post is a gravel lot, but there is a little patch of trees like a garden space. Power, water, and pets allowed – so nice.

Crossing Colorado from Wray to Longmont was an easy ride although we’ve noticed reduced horsepower in the van over 4000ft above sea level. We pulled into my sister’s neighborhood on a crystal clear day that started a wonderful visit.

A week at her house and two weeks at my parent’s house was another unexpected highpoint of the trip. When we began, the planned route didn’t even touch Colorado!

We did some work-work, some maintenance/repairs on our rig, and eventually dealt with our power problem, but mostly we enjoyed a rare extended visit.

The pictured balloon greeted us on our first morning in CO, just as we stepped out my sister’s front door. Amazing.