North Central USA


By the first days end, we wound up at the Haystack Reservoir campground in Oregon. This was a delightful local park where we took a pleasant hike to the rivers mouth that feeds the lake. This makes for a nice 7 or so hour trip from the bay area for campers. The next day we spotted the small interesting looking town of Shaniko, where we spent an intriguing half hour exploring this old nearly abandoned town before it revitalized itself as a mecca for summer holiday revilers.  


We hadn't been to Spokane for years, but their Riverfront Park is now apparently fully developed. You can easily spend an hour mesmerized by the volume of water that flowed under the bridges and over the dams, especially in spring or early summer.

The Post Falls in Idaho was another such gem, smaller, yet charming.


Cataldo on Hwy 90 was a little decaying mission until rescued and turned into a small but bucolic little park. Our next destination was Wallace. We knew it was noted as a historic town, but were un prepared for the wealth of historical buildings, museums and interesting shops. Best of all, it had a campsite within a block of the downtown. We set up camp and then leisurely toured the town. The following day we hike the lush Pulaski wooded trail and afterwards took a delightful little mine tour, all within a mile of Wallace. The Lewis and Clark Caverns about 20 miles west of Three Fork are well worth the money if you're in the area.


One surprise was the Old Prison and car museum in Deer Lodge Montana. We were captivated for over an hour looking over all those forgotten vehicles that ranged from electric cars to trailers.  Next was the ghost mining town of Bannack set in prairie isolation about 70 miles south of Butte, Mt. where we camped close to a small meandering river surrounded by cottonwoods. The following day we spent the better part of the morning exploring Bannack and it's dozens of preserved buildings catching a glimpse of mining town life 150 years ago. It was fascinating in it's eerie silence as we practically had the town to ourselves. The ghost town of Nevada City about 50 miles away was smaller, right along the highway, and more commercialized, but was still worth a half hours stroll through. Virginia City was the third noted ghost town in this area and perhaps the most popular. While it was an interesting two block town, you can immediately see the effects the Chamber of Commerce (and perhaps even Disneyland) had on it's revitalization. We took a quick half hour tour of this over commercialized town and headed east. 


While Bighorn National Monument can't boast any architectural edifices, it's story is fascinating. The museum and drive posts the chronological events of this pivotal moment in history. Poor Custers life was lost to a tactical mistake. And the poor Indians were just trying to defend their home land against the onslaught of immigrants.


We had a delightful little tour of the Trails End Mansion in Sheridan, Wy. We were hoping to see an open pit mine near Gillette, but neither time or weather cooperated. Our first glimpse of Devils Tower was in the rain through fogged windshields. As it was near 5, we headed for another cottonwood riparian campground next to the tower. The 1.3 mile trail around the tower was so fascinating that we opted for the 3 mile perimeter trail. Big mistake. It was muddy, much had recently burned, that which hadn't was scrubby, and half way round it started to pour. Oh well.  The 115 year old historic little general store at Allidin was a kick being charmingly filled with junktiques and groceries. It and much of the town is for sale if you want to buy a part of history. Walls Drug was a carnival filled with kitch and people if you like that sort of thing. The South Dakota Badlands are definitely worth a visit. Curious mudstone formations isolated from everything else seems like it would be more at home in Utah. They had several nice trails, many of them board walked. Mt. Rushmore was another zoo. The site itself was tastefully presented and designed to rush hoards through which you'll find even in off season and inclement weather. The small town of Keystone next to it designed to host the hoards could be mistaken for Las Vegas.  We took a short drive through the Custer State Park and it was pretty. This may be worth exploring more, but unfortunately we were running out of time.  We understand the Wind Cave NP and Jewel Cave NM in this area are also good but we were caved out after Lewis and Clark.


We really enjoyed the low key Wyoming Territorial Prison in Laramie. They let us out after only a few days due to good behavior with only a small fine (entrance fee). Not only was prison life interesting (from a visitors point of view at least), but the grounds had lots of small historical cottages with furnishings to see life as it was early last century


We drove east on 80 to Green River and then down the supposedly scenic route along the Flaming Gorge. Unfortunately it wound up looking more like a brown prairie depression than a flaming gorge. Towards the end in Utah it began to live up to it's name though. We also had reservations about Dinosaur National Monument, but it exceeded our expectations. They had a very modern glass and steel building covering a whole hillside of partially excavated dinosaur bones, many of which you were encouraged to touch. After that we took the Fossil Trail in beautiful 70 degree sunny weather (you may not be so lucky) among colorful desert formations and wildflowers. On another whim we drove to Josie Morris Ranch. This lady divorced her husband after her children were grown, moved out to this isolated desert canyon and spent the next 50 years there by herself running a successful ranch. What an amazing place! Her cabin wasn't much, but the ranch was set in a fertile valley of perhaps  a few hundred acres at the end of a box canyon. She had year round water that supported trees, grasses, and rich enough soil for gardening and grazing. We took a hike up the first box canyon and it was like being in Bryce. The second canyon a mile away was even more spectacular with wildflowers and trees lining the bottom of an immense mile long slot canyon. Unfortunately we only had time to go in a little ways.


We visited Great Basin Nv. again, but while the hike was alpine and scenic, we were a bit jaded just having come from Dinosaur. We expected the worst coming home at the end of Memorial Day and got it, with 20 mile backups from accidents... mostly from people not slowing down in the rain.


Overall we had a great time, but won't be going back to Wyoming or the Dakotas. We've seen most of what interested us, and there are too many other places in the world yet to be explored.

Where we will go back to is Dinosaur NM, but the eastern side along the Green River. We understand that area is fascinating and will combine it with more of the unexplored Southwest on our next camping trip.