Visiting Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak

In this post, I highlight our visit to Garden of the Gods, Pikes Peak and other locations around Colorado Springs!

 

The Trekkers’ enjoyed another lovely, anniversary trip to Colorado!  This time we visited the Front Range, the one part of the state we haven’t spent much time in.  We also knocked several long-held items off our bucket list:  the National Museum of World War II Aviation, Garden of the Gods, and Pikes Peak!

I find I have a love-hate relationship with Colorado.  I LOVE visiting there! If I had to pick one state in the entire nation to vacation the rest of my life it would be Colorado, hand’s down. It’s just SO beautiful and there are so many things to do!

That being said though, to actually live in Colorado, you have to either choose a crowded big city or live isolated, in the middle of nowhere, with weather that can be incredibly harsh for much of the year. *sigh*

We’ve spent extensive time in the northern, western, southwestern, and southeastern portions of this awesome state.  The only place we hadn’t really visited was the Front Range.  So, as Mr. Trekker had a work meeting there on our anniversary weekend we thought we’d make use of the opportunity! (I’m very blessed that, as long as I have internet access, my flexible job allows me to work from hotel rooms in random states. 😉)

On the drive down to Colorado Springs we opted for the “Nebraska Route” from the Black Hills.  This is a great drive to avoid traffic but it includes a unique trip through the nuclear missile fields of far southwest Nebraska and far northeast Colorado.  The dichotomy between these weapons of death and destruction that sit just off the road and the relatively benign, green energy, wind turbines that watch over them from the nearby hills is enough to leave a chill down your spine. 😮  

The Colorado Front Range

For those who don’t know, the Front Range is essentially a conglomeration of cities and towns that run for almost 200 miles, north-to-south, along I-25 and the “front range”–hence the name–or eastern border, of the Colorado Rockies.  This region basically runs from Fort Collins to Pueblo and includes the other highly populated areas of Boulder, Colorado Springs, and, of course, Denver.

I get why people like to live on the Front Range. It’s got many cultural opportunities, easy access to shopping (basically anything you could want), and easy access to incredible sites and all the outdoor activities you can think of at any time of the year.

Now for the bad news…THERE ARE SO MANY DAMN PEOPLE!!! 😝  This region is one of the fastest-growing areas of the country (not to mention one of the most expensive places to live) and it keeps expanding!  This equates to it being incredibly busy and hectic. 🤯  Sorry kids, there is nothing tranquil about the Front Range. 😂  The Trekkers have spent too much time living in small-town America to handle all that craziness.  Plus, you’re talking to the girl who grew up in rural Indiana and liked it!  FAR too many curses emit from my lips when trying to navigate Front Range traffic! 😂  

So, Colorado, while I love you and will forever enjoy vacationing there, I don’t EVER see myself living there! 😇

Pikes Peak

The summit of Pikes Peak sits at over 14,000 feet of elevation. This is VERY high!  The air is much thinner up here and the oxygen level is much lower. Do not be surprised if you feel short of breath, dizzy, and lightheaded with even the most minimal exertion. Also, if it is summertime know that you can get sunburned FAST at this altitude. 

Altitude sickness can occur at this height (though it is rare if you are only visiting for a short time and is a larger concern if you are heavily exerting yourself.)  Symptoms to watch for include nausea, dizziness, and shortness of breath.  In most cases, these will subside once you return to a lower elevation. 

How do I visit Pikes Peak?

There are multiple ways to visit Pikes Peak!  You can drive your car, ride a shuttle bus, hike up or take a train!   Details on each option are below:

Drive the Pikes Peak Toll Road

You will find the entrance to the Pikes Peak Toll Road off of US 24, about 10 miles west of Colorado Springs.  There is a fee to reach Pikes Peak using this route.  Please note:  this mountain is VERY popular.  So much so that during the summer season (Memorial Day through the end of September) you must have a reservation to drive all the way to the summit. (You can purchase tickets online here.)   There are also guided tours during the summer months that allow you to let someone else drive. 

Black, stone sign that reads, "14,115 feet (4302.31 meters) Pikes Peak Summit"
This picture speaks for itself 😁
Click here for a video of our drive UP Pikes Peak and here for a video of our drive down the mountain (complete with police escort! 😮
Ride Bikes up Pikes Peak Highway

You can also ride a bike to the top of the mountain via the Pikes Peak Highway.  Fees and reservations still apply.

This wouldn’t be my preferred method as you’re sharing this winding, narrow road with about a million of your closest friends (mostly tourists who are trying to navigate large machines that could easily kill you while they’re looking around at the amazing views)…but you do you. 😉

Panoramic view of rocky slopes of a mountain in the foreground. Lower mountains and plains are in the background with puffy, white clouds and blue sky overhead.
A panorama, 14,000 feet up from the top of Pikes Peak!
Hike Pikes Peak

If you’re the ambitious type, you can hike the Barr Trail up Pikes Peak.  This would be an incredibly scenic way to see the mountain although I’ve heard the hike is not for the faint of heart.  We didn’t do it but I know some people who have, successfully. For a first-hand account of the hike up Pikes Peak please see the blog of a friend of mine!

This hike is no joke!  The trail is 13.5 miles long (one-way) and gains more than 7000 feet in elevation!  It also reaches heights of over 14,000 feet and much of it is incredibly exposed both to sun and thunderstorms that can easily pop up. 

Many people like to hike up the mountain and then take the Pikes Peak Cog Railway on the return trip (see below)!

Hazy view of tree and grass-covered hills. A city and red rocks rising from the green are in the distance and far below.
Garden of the Gods as seen from Pikes Peak!
Pikes Peak Cog Railway

One of the more popular ways to reach the summit is via the cog railway. This way someone else gets to “drive” (while you enjoy the views!) and you don’t have to deal with the crowded roadway on the way up!  Click here for information on getting tickets for the cog railway!

Smoky view of slightly snow-covered mountains in the far distance
This hazy pic is of the east side of the Sangre de Cristos mountains as seen from Pikes Peak.  We visited the west side for the Festival of the Cranes earlier in the year!

Police escort off Pikes Peak (not a joke!)

We had quite the adventure as we left the summit of Pikes Peak.  The story starts when we initially arrived at the gated entrance to the attraction around 2 in the afternoon. (That gave us a good four hours to enjoy the views and get down before dark.)  When we paid our entrance fee the “gatekeeper” told us THE MOST IMPORTANT THING to know is to keep the vehicle in low gear on the return trip to save the car’s breaks.  Note: he stressed the importance of this tip and this is the ONLY THING he told us.

We reached the summit and went to check out the summit building when I realized this was the place that had the awesome donuts I had heard so much about! (They ran out WHILE we were standing in line! 😝)  We also saw some signs that said the summit building closes at 4:00 pm.

That’s fine, we’re used to buildings in our local national parks closing around that time, it just means you need to find an outhouse if you need a bathroom after that time…or so we thought.  Note again, this is the ONLY thing the signs or the brochure said–stay with me, this is important for later in the story…

A short while after leaving the summit we stopped at a pull-off where a number of people had stopped and were hiking around.  We wandered down the trail and around the corner of some rocks for about 20 minutes.  We were upwards of 14,000 feet in altitude so we weren’t moving very fast 😇 but it was a nice day and we were enjoying our walk.

Mountans stretching to the horizon under blue sky and puffy clouds

As we were returning to the car we noted the pull-off was now completely devoid of other vehicles save the ranger truck with flashing lights sitting next to our car (and another police truck sitting on the road just before the pull-off.)  We talked to a VERY friendly, older-gentlemen ranger who said they close the summit at 4 in hopes everyone will be off the mountain by 5-ish–ok, we were heading down anyway.  Note: Again, this is ALL he said…

So we left the pull-off and got back onto the road with a friendly wave to the police truck who then…basically escorted us, with flashing lights, off the mountain.  We thought, “wow, they aren’t kidding about closing the summit!” (That’s way more intense than we’re used to but whatever, we were on our way down anyway.)

View from a car's sunroof looking behind the car at a police truck following behind.
I wasn’t kidding about the police! 😂

About halfway down the mountain, we came to another pull-off where several vehicles and people were still milling about.  As we slowed down for the curve we were finally able to make out the muffled noise coming from the police truck behind us…”I told you all once before, if you’re not off the mountain by 5 pm it’s a $1000 fine!” (For the record, he was talking to the people still parked, not us.)

I should also note, it was currently about 4:55 and there was NO WAY we were going to make it off the mountain in the next five minutes!  Fortunately, he was busy with those people and ignored us and we merrily continued our way down the mountain with no further problems.

Two police cruisers round a curve in the road
Really…not kidding! 😂

With the rise in van life and “stealth camping,” not to mention the winding road, steep dropoffs, and large wildlife (and close proximity to a large, metro area) I can understand their desire to keep people off the mountain in the dark.  However a few suggestions come to mind…

–Maybe…when a park gate employee tells you “THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO REMEMBER…” three hours from park closing time, he should actually mention that there is a closing time? (Especially if there is a monetary fine involved?…)

–Maybe…on the brochures for the park (not to mention the signs on actual park buildings) they note this closing time as well?…

…these are just suggestions, of course. 😝

***I should also note we visited the park in mid-October, during the summer I believe it closes at 8…JUST MAKE SURE YOU’RE OFF THE ROAD BY THEN! 😝***

Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods has to be one of the more famous “city parks” in the country!  The main entrance is off 30th street on the west side of Colorado Springs (though there is another entrance on the south side from US 24.)  Also of note, this park is open till around 9 each night, and there were signs ALL OVER clearly stating this…*ahem* 😝

Green, scrub brush with a large rock rising out of it in the foreground, much taller mountains in the background including one that rises above tree line.
Garden of the Gods with Pikes Peak looming overhead (to the right)

This is a great attraction! It’s found right in town so it’s easy to access for Out-of-Towners or Locals wanting a nice place to exercise or walk the dog.  Rock climbing is also available at certain places within the park.  Another cool thing about Garden of the Gods…admission is completely FREE! 

Black sign against red rock that reads, "The Garden of the Gods given to the city of Colorado Springs in 1909 by the children of Charles Eliott Perkins in fulfilment of his wish that it be kept forever free to the public."
Sign at the front of the park

This locale is characterized by a number of red rock formations rising from the dry, green scrubland that is common in this part of Colorado.

Red rock shapes rise above green scrubland. Two shapes that resemble camels with their heads touching sit on the top of one of the red rocks.
This formation is called the “kissing camels” (though from this distance it looks more like a sea turtle. 😝)
Red rock wall. Two shapes on top resemble the head of a cow and a bird with its wings back sit facing each other with their heads touching.
Up-close view of the “kissing camels”. We thought they looked more like a calf laying down, kissing a vulture with its wings folded…but whatever. 😝

Tall, narrow, red rocks rise from a scrub brush, desert landscape on a blue sky, white, puffy cloud day. One rock has a hole through the middle. Red rocks rise from green, scrub brush. A tree-covered mountain in the background has a taller, rocky mountain rising behind it.
The Twins!

Two tall, narrow, red rock formation rise off a flatter rock formation

Dark, mountain silhouettes viewed through a whole between two tall, narrow rock formations. The mountains in the background tower over the green, desert landscape in the foreground.
View from “the window” between the Twins!

National Museum of World War II Aviation

While in Colorado Springs we also checked out the National Museum of World War II Aviation which is located just north of the Colorado Springs Airport, just off Aviation Way (which you can reach from US 24).  This was a nice museum!  As Mr. Trekker is a history nerd with a special fondness for WWII airplanes, he especially enjoyed it. 😉  We had enjoyed the Pikes Peak Regional Air Show earlier that fall and many of the warbirds from the museum were featured there.

Places to Eat near Colorado Springs

As usual, we found MANY good places to eat on our trip:

Paninos Restaurant–this is a cute, casual, family-owned, Italian restaurant.  We enjoyed a lovely anniversary dinner there!

Louies Pizza –a tasty, casual place for pizza  in a convenient, downtown location

Sandy’s restaurant –Sandy’s has one of the best breakfasts in Colorado Springs!  This place has HUGE portions! (I’m not kidding. However much you think you should order…halve that!)  You usually need reservations on weekends but the hostess liked us when she found out we were from South Dakota (a certain blogger may have noticed her Mt. Rushmore shirt and casually mentioned we live near there. 😇)  She convinced some friendly locals to let us sit with them at their long table.

This is one thing I LOVE about traveling, road trips, and taking the scenic route.  It often means you get the privilege of visiting local places.  You never know when an opportunity will arise to get to know a complete stranger in a comfortable environment.  I LOVE interacting with Locals like this!  You never know what you’ll learn from their experiences! 

Josh & Johns –this was a yummy  place for a sweet, ice cream treat

Uncle Sam’s Pancake House, Manitou Springs —nothing fancy here but the staff were friendly and attentive and the breakfast was DELICIOUS!

Hoosier Pass, Colorado

After our weekend in Colorado Springs, we needed to get to Boulder as Mr. Trekker had some work meetings there.  Normal people would have driven straight up I-25 from “the Springs” to Boulder…but who wants to be normal?!

Instead, the Trekkers opted for the VERY scenic route!  We took US 24 west to Hartsel, then took Route 9 across one of our favorite parts of Colorado, South Park (click here for a video of another drive through South Park!)  We even got to check out the ghost town of Alma and the skiing area of Breckenridge on this jaunt!

Leave it to the Trekkers to willfully and eagerly turn what could have been a simple, 90-minute drive into an incredibly beautiful, 8-HOUR tour of central Colorado on a GORGEOUS fall day…ALWAYS take the scenic route!

As part of our scenic drive, we randomly stumbled upon a place I’ve had on my list to visit…that’s right, the Hoosier finally found Hoosier Pass! 😁 😁 😁 (Not sure why the two signs differ by three feet in their claim of how high it is? 😮)

Metal sign set into a tall, narrow rock reads, "Hoosier Pass across Continental Divide between South Park and the Blue River. Altitude 11,542 feet. Named for Hoosier Gulch discovered and worked as a placer (gold) camp by Indiana men 1880".

Informational sign on a rock at a gravel parking area reads, "Hoosier Pass elevation 11,539 feet. Continental Divide Left: Atlantic Ocean Pike National Forest Right: Pacific Ocean White River National Forest

Golden Gate Canyon State Park

As part of our scenic drive, we also stumbled upon Golden Gate Canyon State Park, before ending our day in Boulder.

This is a great little park situated in north-central Colorado, around 15 miles west of Golden and about 17 miles north of I-70.  It’s got a number of trailheads that can be accessed from various areas, but the main entrance/ Visitor Center can be found on Route 46 about five miles east of the t-intersection with Route 119.

Golden Gate Canyon State Park offers around 35 miles of trails in addition to other activities (like camping) and it’s dog friendly!  If you want to know how the park gets its name, visit in late September/early October, it was beautiful!

Bright yellow aspen trees surround a dunn-colored, grassy meadow under a blue sky with puffy, white clouds.
Can you see why they call it “Golden Gate”?

Bright yellow aspen trees surround a dunn-colored, grassy meadow under a blue sky with puffy, white clouds.

Bright yellow aspen trees (and a green pine tree) surround a dunn-colored, grassy meadow under a blue sky with puffy, white clouds.

There are places in the park that also offer incredible views of the surrounding Rockies, including some of Rocky Mountain National Park’s most notable peaks (the national park sits only about 60 miles to the north).

Green pine trees and leafless brances in the foreground Tree covered hills behine lead to tall, tree-covered and rocky mountains in the background
The tall peak to the right is the infamous Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park!

Narrow aspen trees with yellow leaves in a meadow in the foreground. Green and yellow-tree covered mountains rise in the background under a blud sky with white clouds. View down a grass covered hill into a valley of pine trees with yellow-leafed trees running through it. Green, tree-covered mountains rise around the valley with taller mountains in the background. A gravel, forest road surrounded by green pine and yellow aspen trees with dark, mountain silhouettes rising in the background

Places to Eat in Boulder

We were only in Boulder a few days but we enjoyed a few yummy places to eat there, as well!

Sweet Cow –another yummy place for a sweet, ice cream treat!

Chez Thuy–this is a great, Vietnamese restaurant. I highly recommend their Pad Thai!

 

So if you’re visiting the Colorado Front Range, be sure to check out Garden of the Gods, Pikes Peak, Golden Gate Canyon State Park, and the National Museum for World War II Aviation!  You’ll be glad you did!

Have you visited any of these locales?  What did you enjoy most?  Tell me about it in the comments. 

 

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Lake Helen, Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming

In this post, I review the Misty Moon trail starting at the trailhead at West Ten Sleep Lake and continuing to Lake Helen.

 

Are you looking for a moderate hiking trail that really lets you enjoy the wilderness of the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming? Check out the Misty Moon trail from West Ten Sleep Lake to Lake Helen in the Cloud Peak Wilderness!

Where is the Misty Moon trail?

Trail #63, the Misty Moon trail, is one of the most accessible, main trails to access Cloud Peak and Bomber Mountain.  It starts at the trailhead behind West Ten Sleep Lake (this is also where the trail for Mirror Lake/Lost Twin Lakes begins.

To reach the trailhead take Forest Route 27 to where it terminates.  FR 27 is located off of US 16 in the southern Bighorn mountains.  You will turn at the sign for (and location of) the Deerhaven Lodge.  Boulder Campground, Island Park Campground, and West Ten Sleep Campground are also all located off of this road.

Hiking trail crossing a grassy meadow leads to trees with a rocky mountain behind

What is the trail to Lake Helen like?

The first few miles of the trail are LOVELY. You start by meandering on a flat trail through the woods around West Ten Sleep Lake.

We saw a momma moose and baby bedded down in the tall grass near the lake!  Be sure to give these animals PLENTY of space, especially with dogs. Most momma animals can be INCREDIBLY aggressive when they’re protecting babies, and moose have been known to kill dogs–we kept Puppers on a leash and she was too distracted by smells to be aware of our new friends. 

(As viewed from the back.) A woman and dog ascend a hiking trail through a grassy field. Trees and a rocky mountain can be seen in the background
Puppers and I on the Misty Moon Trail

Once past the lake, you start a gradual climb through several grassy meadows and forested areas, with great views of the mountains beckoning you along the way.

The trail undulates the whole way so while there are a few short, steep spots, there are no lengthy, spirit-crushing climbs–I think this contributed to the trail feeling easier than it actually was.

Circular, rough indentation in the rock
We saw a bunch of these indentations on the rocks, not sure if it’s some kind of fossil? Looks like a plant left them…🤔

About halfway to Lake Helen, the trail becomes steeper.  This is where you hit the rocky sections.  There are no large boulder fields to cross and no scree slopes to navigate (on this portion of the trail) but the rocks are big enough that they cause a lot of uneven terrain that you’ll need to manage.  Hiking boots are definitely recommended for this trek!

I think older kids could do this trail. It’s a longer one and they may need some help in the rocky areas, but overall I would say it is moderately difficult.

The hike didn’t actually seem that bad while we were doing it. Both Mr. Trekker and I were pleased at how good we felt throughout.  Especially considering we carried heavier packs than usual (we brought A LOT of water) and we hadn’t hiked much this summer as it’s been so warm.  Also, the trail STARTS at around 9000 feet (you gain around 1000 feet in elevation over its five-mile length.  Lake Helen sits at almost exactly 10,000 feet.)

Mr. Trekker and I were both pleased that we didn’t feel the altitude too much (it probably helped that we camped at 9000 feet the night before).  If you aren’t used to these altitudes though, you’ll definitely want to take it easy.

The Trekkers seem to be doing better with altitude in recent years. It used to be that just driving to Estes Park in Colorado (which sits at around 8000 feet) was enough to make me feel funny.  Now we’ve camped and hiked higher than that on multiple excursions in Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana and done quite well.  They claim your body “learns” how to adjust to the altitude better the more you experience it and I think that may be true. (Living at 3000+ feet for the last decade probably hasn’t hurt either. 😉)

Related posts:  A drive through Ten Sleep Canyon!Bighorn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming; 4 Don’t Miss Sites in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming; Camping in the Bighorns

We considered going all the way to Misty Moon Lake but that would have added several miles to our already 10-mile hike.  All three of us were feeling good when we arrived at Lake Helen so we figured we’d just spend a relaxing lunch at the lake and head back.

As it turned out it was good we did decide to turn back.  Even though she was raring to keep going when we reached the lake, by the time we got back to camp Puppers was hurting.  This was the first time she’s ever really had issues on the trail.  This is one of the longer trails we’ve ever done with her (though she’s done 10 miles with us before).  This trail is REALLY rocky, in parts, which means it’s probably also one of the toughest trails we’ve ever done with her.  We did LOTS of rock hopping on the way down and she was obviously aching by the time we got back.  She seemed to make a full recovery within a few days though! (In her defense, my hips were sore for several days afterward, as well.) 

Hiking trail crossing a grassy meadow leads to trees with a rocky mountain behind

Obviously, I can’t speak to the trail past Lake Helen (since we didn’t do it. 😉 I do know that Misty Moon Lake is only about 300 feet higher than Lake Helen but it takes two more miles of hiking (each way) to get there.

Also, my understanding is once you get past Misty Moon Lake the trail gets much tougher.  There are some scree slopes and boulder fields (namely on the way to the wreckage site at Bomber Mountain and to reach the actual Cloud Peak).  Also, once you get past Lake Helen you are basically above treeline the entire way.  This means there is NO SHADE at all so make sure you bring sun hats, LOTS of water, and sunscreen if you’re planning to go this route.  There is also NO PROTECTION if you’re caught out in a storm.

I cannot stress this enough:  if storms appear imminent PLEASE get below treeline as safely and quickly as possible.  It is INCREDIBLY dangerous to be above treeline during a lightning storm.  Safety should ALWAYS be your first priority!  

Small lake with a large rock in the middle, ringed by trees. Rocky mountains rise in the background.
Lake Helen! (Bomber Mountain is near the tall peak straight up from the rock in the water. Florence Pass is through the saddle even further to the right.)

Panoramic view of a blue, peaceful lake with rocky mountains and trees in the background

From Lake Helen you can see Bomber Mountain and the high-altitude, Florence Pass to the right.  What you cannot see is Cloud Peak (as often as we have visited the Bighorns we have yet to see that site. It’s VERY isolated. 😝)  From what I have heard from other hikers though, you CAN get views of Cloud Peak from Misty Moon Lake.

Let’s talk about Bomber Mountain and Cloud Peak

Cloud Peak and Bomber Mountain reach altitudes higher than 12,000 feet so altitude sickness starts to be a concern when you spend lengthy amounts of time at these altitudes.  Potential hikers should also be aware the snow can be quite deep on these trails through July!  Also, mosquitoes are said to be HORRIBLE in the summer (we had no problems at all on Labor Day weekend and we didn’t use any bug spray. 😁)

Bomber Mountain:  This used to be an unnamed mountain in the Bighorns.  That is until a World War II-era bomber crashed here while on a training mission in the early 1940s.  If you know where to look you can still view the wreckage. (Don’t ask me how to get there, I don’t know. 😉. For more info on this hike you can click here)

You can check with local forest offices for information on how to get to the site.  From what I’ve heard there are also rock cairns that help direct the way but you need an idea of where to look. 

Please be respectful if you visit this site as several soldiers did lose their lives in the crash.

Pine trees in a grassy valley with a spring running through it and mountains on all sides

There are no actual trails that go to Bomber Mountain or Cloud Peak. (This seems a little odd to me as Cloud Peak is the highest point in the Bighorns and is what the wilderness area is named for, but I digress. 😝)  There are some rock cairns to guide your way to Cloud Peak.  My understanding is for Bomber Mountain, you pretty much just have to know where you are going.

This being said, PLEASE be sure you have a good, topographical map and a compass with you if you are attempting these hikes.  Also, be aware there will likely be some bushwacking involved and you could easily become lost. These routes should only be attempted by EXPERIENCED, backcountry hikers! (Cell phone service is spotty at best in this area. DO NOT rely on it!)

Cloud Peak: “can” be done in one day but it would be a VERY long and VERY hard day (it’s around 24 miles total).  People have done it but most suggest doing a 2 – 3 day backpacking trip. (Lake Helen and Misty Moon Lake are popular places to camp for these.)  The last three miles to the summit are said to be a boulder field with “house-sized” boulders (per the reviews).  The “trail” isn’t super clear either.  Some people suggested this is actually a more difficult hike than the notorious Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park 😮 so PLEASE think hard and use incredible caution if you’re considering this trek.

West Ten Sleep Lake Campground

On other trips, we’ve stayed at the Island Park campground but since we were leaving from the trailhead at the lake we stayed at the West Ten Sleep campground on this trip.

A tent sits in the forest, sunlight streams through the trees and creates beams in the smoky air

It was LOVELY! Some sites had views of the lake, ours had forest views. But the sites were nicely shaded with lots of soft, pine fluff.  The campground was also relatively quiet and quite pretty.  It was also only a couple of hundred yards to the beauty of West Ten Sleep Lake!

Serene lake reflecting the trees and mountains that surround it
West Ten Sleep Lake!

James T. Saban Fire Lookout

The Trekkers have passed this lookout on every trip we’ve made to the Bighorns and we always say, “we should check that out!”…so, we did!

The trailhead for the James T. Saban Fire lookout is found off Route 16 in the Bighorn Mountains, around five miles east of Meadowlark Lake.  The turnoff is on the south side of the road.  I can’t remember if there are signs telling you to turn but you can see the lookout at the top of the hill from the road.  This is also the turnoff for the St. Christopher’s Chapel and there are signs for that site.

A wooden and shuttered fire tower sits on top of rocks. Trees grow out of the rocks.
The James T. Saban Fire Lookout!
Dog stands on a rocky ledge overlooking trees and a dropoff. A grassy field and mountains are in the background.
Puppers enjoying the view from the fire lookout!

This fire lookout is easy to reach and offers some amazing views of the surrounding area.  It requires a short drive on a narrow, dirt road to reach the trailhead.  You’ll want to take it slow and watch where you are driving. In good conditions, I would be comfortable taking almost any higher clearance car, SUV, or truck there.  In poor conditions (mud or snow) the road may be impassable.

Once you reach the trailhead, it is about a 15-minute walk (in each direction) to the tower at the top of the hill.  It isn’t a bad hike. It gets a little steep in spots but the trek is short enough almost anyone in good health should be able to handle it. (Note: you are at an altitude of around 8000 – 9000 feet in this area so take your time as you may feel short of breath.)

Mountain overlook, trees in the foreground, then a grassy field with mountains in the background

Mountain overlook, rock and trees in the foreground, then a lake and mountains in the background
That is Meadowlark Lake in the background

Mountain overlook, trees in the foreground, then a grassy field with a lake and mountains in the background

Though it is a bit long and strenuous, the Misty Moon Trail to Lake Helen is a great hike if you want to really get a taste of the Cloud Peak Wilderness area in the Bighorn Mountains!

Have you hiked to Lake Helen, Bomber Mountain, Cloud Peak, the James T. Saban Lookout Tower, or Misty Moon Lake? If so, tell me about your adventures in the comments!

 

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US Army Museum, Carlisle, PA

A post about a nifty museum we visited in south-central Pennsylvania.

 

If you’re in south-central Pennsylvania and you enjoy military museums, check out the US Army Museum (also called the Army Heritage and Education Center) in Carlisle!

To be honest, this type of attraction is much more up Mr. Trekker’s alley than mine.  I’m not really into war/military stuff all that much.  However, he enjoys learning about history and going to these types of museums so as the sweet, dutiful wife, I happily tag along. 😉  I will say, I was pleasantly surprised and impressed with how much I enjoyed this locale. 

Where is the US Army Heritage and Education Center?

This US Army Museum is located at 950 Soldiers Dr., in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.  I will warn you, it isn’t super easy to find.  The museum sits right along I-81 but there isn’t a good exit for it off that highway so, don’t rely on that landmark to find the attraction. 😝  There are a number of signs around town pointing to the Carlisle Army Barracks…but these are on an active Army base and aren’t where you want to go.

You can reach the museum off of Army Heritage Drive which is located off of East North Street/Claremont Road in town (which you can reach from Route 11).  My advice would be to ignore the blue signs around town (until you are almost to Army Heritage Road) or else they will just confuse you.

The good news is if you take a wrong turn and end up on base–which is surprisingly easy to do–the soldiers at the guard house are very friendly and willing to direct you where you need to go (I can speak from experience 😇).  You get the impression they’ve done this before. 😝 

Note to the US Army: maybe make your awesome museum less confusing to find?

Signed: a US taxpayer 😝

Outdoor Exhibits at the US Army Museum in Carlisle, PA

The outdoor exhibits at the museum are pretty cool! We didn’t have time for the “Global War on Terror” portion before the rain arrived, but the rest of the outdoor displays were great!  They include a walking path for the family to enjoy and you can even bring your furry friend along for this section of the museum.

An army truck with a small, American flag on the front sits near other army trucks in a woodlike setting.
Photo credit: Rik Schots

Two of the exhibits allow you to walk through both an American and German version of trenches from World War I.

I found myself feeling claustrophobic and panicky in these close quarters and we only had to worry about noise from I-81 nearby. I can’t imagine what it was like with bombs exploding around you while standing knee-deep in unnamable slop with death all around. 😮

We also got to see a Vietnam-era “hooch” and climb a tower camouflaged in the jungle foliage, then we were off to explore some Civil War and World War II-era cabins.

The outdoor portion of the museum is great, our only criticism of it was the order of exhibits was a little convoluted.  They start with the modern-day War on Terror, then jump to World War I trenches, then to Vietnam, then to the French and Indian War, then to the American Revolution, then to the Civil War, and then finally end with World War II. 😝 

Indoor Exhibits at the US Army Heritage and Education Center

We didn’t get to check out much of the indoor exhibits at the museum due to time (we’ll be back again!)  But we did note that for one of the exhibits, you are given dog tags for people who were actually in various wars (World War II, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, etc.)  This reminded us of the experience at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., where you “follow” a person throughout the whole experience.

Want more information on the US Army Museum in Carlisle, PA?

See below for more info on the US Army Heritage and Education Center:

      • You can check out the main website for the museum here.
      • This website gives information on the Army Heritage Trail –this is all the outdoor exhibits at the US Army Museum.
      • This is the website for the Soldier Experience Gallery  –this is all the indoor exhibits at the museum.

If you’re in south-central Pennsylvania and you’re looking for a fun activity the whole family can enjoy, check out the US Army Heritage and Education Center!

Have you ever been to this museum? If so, what did you think? Let me know in the comments!

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San Luis Valley: Aliens, Sand Dunes and Sandhill Cranes!

In this post, I detail a recent trip the Trekkers took to the San Luis Valley in south-central Colorado.

In early March Mr. Trekker and I enjoyed a quick, Spring Break trip! We traveled 600 miles to Monte Vista, in south-central Colorado, and got to enjoy the Monte Vista Crane Festival in the beautiful, San Luis Valley!

Our trip started with an interesting drive down I-25 in southeast Wyoming near Cheyenne. We got as far as Wheatland, Wyoming on the interstate, and then saw the flashing sign for “I-25 closed to Cheyenne”! (It had snowed the day before, and even though it was bright and sunny strong winds were causing blowing snow and bad enough winter conditions to close I-25 and I-80 for close to 12 hours!)  So, we had to turn around and drive in “a big f-ing circle”–per Mr. Trekker 😂–back to the nearest alternate route through Torrington.

Anyone who’s driven through MANY parts of Wyoming knows, alternate routes (or roads in general) can be hard to come by. 😝 

After navigating some black ice…in the dark…and some sketchy drivers (I’m looking at you reckless semi-truck! 😒) we finally made it safely to Cheyenne.  From there it was an easy trip to the hotel in Lakewood (with a quick stop at Chick-fil-A for dinner!)  This is the price we pay to live in the INCREDIBLE Mountain West and try to travel during the fickle, early spring. 😂

Snowy pastures with snow-covered Rocky Mountains in background

The next day we headed down the GORGEOUS Route 285 southwest of Denver.  I LOVE this drive, it is always SO PRETTY! It sweeps through mountain passes and across alpine valleys.  It was cool because we’ve never been to the Rockies when they had this much snow before! One of my favorite parts of the drive traverses South Park, an incredible valley in central Colorado. Click here for a video!

San Luis Valley, Colorado

Eventually, we arrived in the BEAU-tiful San Luis Valley!

The San Luis Valley, in southern Colorado, is an amazing place! It is the world’s largest high-altitude (alpine) valley that stretches over 100 miles north-to-south and is almost 75 miles in width.  It was once the bottom of a large lake and this is evident as the valley floor is flat as a pancake!  The valley is especially striking as it is lorded over on three sides by the Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ) mountains that reach higher than 14,000 feet!  The views here are truly incredible! (Click here for a short video of the drive into the valley.)

Looking down the road at the long San Luis Valley. Snow-covered Sangre de Cristo mountains on the left.
Driving into the incredible San Luis Valley!

Where is the San Luis Valley?

You will find this amazing valley hidden…in the middle of nowhere. 😉  The southern tip of the valley is only about 35 miles north of the state’s southern border with New Mexico.  The valley is also situated almost directly in the center of Colorado (going west-to-east).  It sits around 150 miles west of the mountain town of Durango and 120 miles from I-25 (nearest to the small town of Trinidad and the larger city of Pueblo.)

Pastureland backed by snow-covered mountains that are pink as they reflect the setting sun
Sangre de Cristo mountains living up to their name!

Fun Things to do in the San Luis Valley

The San Luis Valley is chock full of fun (and sometimes downright WEIRD) things to do! 

Great Sand Dunes National Park

This is the second time we’ve visited this park.  The first was several years ago in October (another lovely time to visit.)  We were able to hike higher on the dunes this time but we still haven’t made it to the top.  Those things are steep and they’re situated at like 8900 feet of elevation so you’re dealing with thinner air too!  It always seems to be windy at the Dunes (but I suppose that makes sense as wind is what created them. 😉)

Snow-covered pasture and sand dunes with snow-topped Sangre de Cristo mountains in background
Great Sand Dunes under the watchful eye of the Sangres!
Snow-covered sand dunes with a clear, blue sky
Snow-covered sand dunes
Snow-covered sand dunes with mountains in the background and a clear, blue sky.
Panorama of the Sand Dunes!
People seem tiny as they climb a sand dune
A view up one of the mid-sized dunes. (We made it to the top of this!)
Person with back to camera standing with arms-outstretched atop a sand dune.
Tranquil Trekker, Queen of the Sand Dune!

Snow-covered sand dunes with snow-covered mountains and a clear, blue sky in the background

Crestone, Colorado

The small town of Crestone, Colorado is found in the northeast corner of the valley. The town has a population of only a little over 100 people but at least eight different religions offer sites here.  They range from a co-ed Catholic monastery to Buddhist, Hindu, and New Age offerings.  You can see a Ziggurat–a monument commonly found to honor ancient, Mesopotamian gods.  There are also Buddhist and Hindu centers.  This tiny town even hosts the only open-air funeral pyre (used for open-air cremation) in the country!

Aliens in the San Luis Valley?

This valley is known for one very unique characteristic, a large amount of UFO sightings!  This has helped it earn the title of the “Bermuda Triangle of the West”.  There have been recorded UFO sightings in the valley since the Spanish Conquistadors first came here in the 1500s! (Before that time there are stories of “Star People” found in the ancient legends of the American Indian tribes who were here far earlier.)

No one knows exactly why there are so many UFO sightings here:

      • It could be due to the incredibly dark, night sky that is somewhat unique to this area.  This is provided by the towering mountains that surround the majority of the valley blocking out light pollution from larger towns in the local area.
      • This region is also very rural, some of the largest towns in the valley only boast populations of around 10,000 people.
      • Some also suggest these sightings may be related to covert operations occurring at Cheyenne Mountain, a military base located less than 200 miles to the northeast (not too far as the secret government plane flies. 😮 😉)
Alien figure surrounded by and covered in trinkets and figurines
Benevolent Guardian of the UFO Watchtower vortices?

Whatever the reason though, there are more UFO sightings here than at the infamous, Roswell, New Mexico.

UFO Watchtower!

Continuing with the “out-of-this-world” tradition of the San Luis Valley is the UFO Watchower!  We discovered this unique locale the first time we visited the valley.  We literally stumbled on it as we were driving down the road. 😂  We didn’t have time to stop then so Mr. Trekker promised we could return on the next trip!

A small, open tower with an uncovered deck on top
The UFO Watchtower!
Desert landscape with tower railings and trinkets in the foreground, snow-covered mountains far in the background
Panorama from the UFO Watchower

It takes a little imagination and a BIG open mind to fully appreciate the quirkiness of the site.  The story goes that two large, energy vortices are found here.  One spins clockwise, the other counterclockwise. (They are said to be connections to other dimensions/universes.  Supposedly, 25 different psychics have visited the site and have confirmed this.)  Several have also claimed that two large “beings” protect the vortices (they’re supposed to be friendly as long as you are respectful. 😇)

I’m not sure I believe any of this, but science has shown the earth has different magnetic fields, so maybe these could influence the area?  Neither of us sensed anything strange but maybe we’re just skeptics? 😝  

Desert landscape with trinkets in the foreground, snow-covered mountains far in the background
View from the UFO Watchtower

There is “The Garden” where people leave trinkets (I left a bobby pin, it’s all I had in my pocket. 😇)  Some of the psychics also claim there is a mile-long mothership buried in the ground underneath the watchtower. (Could this help explain all the UFO sightings? 👽🖖)

Desert landscape with trinkets in the foreground, snow-covered mountains far in the background
“The Garden”

Old satellite dish covered with stickers and surrounded by trinkets in the foreground, snow-covered mountains far in the background

Where is the UFO Watchtower?

The UFO Watchtower sits around three miles north of the tiny community of Hooper, Colorado.  You will find it on Route 17, a little more than halfway down the San Luis Valley.  It is situated around 25 miles north of one of the largest towns in the valley, Alamosa, and about 60 miles south of the town of Salida.

Desert landscape with space-like robots in the foreground, snow-covered mountains far in the background

The friendly proprietor of the site claims that since the destination opened in May of 2000 around 231 “tourists from outer space” have been spied in the night sky over the valley. (The owner claims she’s seen around 28 “things she can’t explain”.)

Sandhill Cranes!

The main reason we chose this weekend to visit the San Luis Valley is that it was the date of the annual, Sandhill Crane Festival (it occurs every year in early March.)  We always enjoy watching (and hearing!) the cranes fly over our area every fall and spring, their unique song echoing across the Hills as they fly high on the thermals.

We actually learned while we were down there that the Cranes that fly over the Black Hills are NOT the ones we were watching in the San Luis Valley. These are the greater Sandhill Cranes that migrate to the Yellowstone area for the summer.  The ones that fly over our house are the lesser Cranes who summer in Canada. 

You can view the cranes, feeding, flying, and “loafing” about all around Monte Vista.  We especially enjoyed visiting the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge where we saw a bunch of geese too!

Click here for a video of the cranes, their incredible song and their “flight ballet”…

Banner that says, "Monte Vista Crane Festival" in front of pastureland
Monte Vista Sandhill Crane Festival!
Pastureland covered in flocks of Sandhill Cranes in foreground, snow-covered mountain peaks in background
Feeding and “loafing” cranes

Places to Eat in the San Luis Valley

The Trekkers always find great places to eat on our adventures:

The Cow –a yummy place for breakfast (This locale is not actually in the San Luis Valley. It is located in Morrison, Colorado, not far from the Red Rocks Amphitheater.)
San Luis Valley Brewing Company–Alamosa, Colorado.  A good place for dinner and/or drinks
–Campus Cafe–Alamosa, Colorado.  Another great place for breakfast (and probably the best meal we had all weekend!)
Purple Pig Pizzeria–Another fun place for a post-adventure meal!

If you want to explore a lesser-known part of the incredible state of Colorado, check out all the amazing San Luis Valley has to offer!

Have you checked out any of these sites in the San Luis Valley?  Tell me about them in the comments! 

 

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Want to visit a beautiful and lesser known part of Colorado? Check out the San Luis Valley! Home to UFOs, sand dunes, sandhill cranes and much more!

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Palisades State Park & Good Earth State Park at Blood Run

In this post, I review these two, fun state parks in southeastern South Dakota!

After 10 years of living in the state, I finally have a park report from the eastern side of South Dakota (otherwise known as “East River”)!  Mr. Trekker had a hankering for orchard-fresh apples and cider this fall (those are hard to come by in the Black Hills) so we decided to explore the eastern half of our state for our anniversary this year.

Shallow creek with rocks back by trees, blue sky with clouds

The Trekkers visited Palisades State Park and Good Earth State Park at Blood Run.  Both of these locales were on the smaller side, especially compared to the larger parks that we’re used to on the western side of the state (let’s just be blunt, these are NOT Custer State Park! 😇)  We knew they would be more modest going in though, and we really enjoyed them. They were relaxing and the trails were not very strenuous at all. We also found both parks to be relatively easy to locate!

Palisades State Park

You will find Palisades State Park off of 485th Avenue, about 23 miles to the northeast of Sioux Falls and about 10 miles northeast of Brandon, South Dakota.  You can reach the park from Exit 400, off of I-90, for 476th Avenue, or from Exit 410, for 486th Avenue (you head north from both of these exits.)  Then follow the signs!

You will feel like you’re driving through farm country and there can’t possibly be a state park out there. (It’s kind of hidden in a gulley created by Split Rock Creek.)

This park is quite pretty.  It offers a number of trails, though my favorite was the South Wall trail.  It traverses the south wall (hence the name) of the canyon created by Split Rock Creek.  A portion of it reminded me of Raven Rock State Park that we used to frequent when we lived in North Carolina (I haven’t done a post on this one yet but don’t worry, it’s on my list!)

Split Rock Creek:

View down a creek with rocky and vegetation-covered walls on both sides, blue sky

View down a creek with rocky and vegetation-covered walls on both sides; grey, cloudy sky.

Creek running between a large break in a rock wall. Green vegetation tops the rocks and in foreground.

This park had some decent fall color when we were there in early October (though we were actually a little early for this).  It was surprising, in the Black Hills we were already almost done with fall color, and out east, they were just getting started (to be fair there are a couple of thousand feet of elevation change between the two. 😉 )

Large tree grows around a rock
Isn’t this tree cool, the way it grew around the rock? Nature is awesome!

Large tree grows around a rock. Boardwalk and hiking track are beneath the tree.

Several of the trails in this park did require a little bit of scrambling on some boulders.  This could be more difficult for smaller children or anyone who may have mobility difficulties.

View is from above. Creek is below with rock walls on the far side. Above the rocks sits a red barn on a nearby hill.
King and Queen Rocks (Yes, that is a farm field above the canyon. I told you this park was in a weird place. 😂 )

King Rock through the trees:

View through vegetation. Rock walls with creek running through them in background.

Towering rock formation.

Palisades was definitely the most scenic of the two parks.  Below are a few more pictures Mr. Trekker took:

Metal bridge spanning creek, vegetation-covered rock walls on both sides; cloudy, grey sky.
Old railroad bridge over the creek
Creek running under the bridge with vegetation on both sides.
View from the bridge
Towering rock formation, green vegetation and cloud-filled, blue sky in background.
Balancing Rock

Good Earth State Park at Blood Run

Good Earth State Park at Blood Run is located about 11 miles to the southeast of Sioux Falls off of 480th Avenue.  From Sioux Falls get on the Veterans Parkway on the east side of town.  Take it south until it meets up with 69th Street (Route 102).  Then take that road to 480th Avenue (follow the signs).

This park consists mostly just of hiking trails (which are really more walking paths).  There were a number of them, many of which connected and formed loops.  This would be a great place for some mild mountain biking, or cross-country skiing in the winter (if the typical South Dakota wind doesn’t scour the paths dry, that is! 😝)  While it was closed when we arrived late on a Sunday afternoon 😝 the park appeared to have a new, large and lovely Visitor’s Center.

Grass and trees in foreground, creek and farmland behind these in background.
In case you were wondering, that’s Iowa across the river. 😂

The trails had many maps spaced along them.  The only problem was almost all the maps were south-facing and had such terrible sun damage they were difficult to read. 😕  They had paper maps available, which would have been fine, but unfortunately, they didn’t mark the trails with the trail names which made the maps difficult to follow. 😕

The trails were wide, graded gravel, and mostly flat. They should accommodate an off-road stroller/wagon quite well, in dry conditions.  This locale isn’t far from town and would be a great place for a run or to walk the dog after work. It would also be perfect for a nice, Sunday afternoon stroll with the family.

Both of these parks were nice, though Palisades was my for-sure favorite.  I’d definitely consider going to both again.  As both of these have been on my “to-do” list it was fun to visit them and see more of our fair state.

Creek in foreground, vegetation-covered rock walls in background, grey, cloudy sky.

Have you visited either of these parks?  Tell me what you thought of them in the comments!

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Are you looking for some great places to hike in eastern South Dakota? Check out Palisades State Park and Good Earth State Park at Blood Run!

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4 Tips for Digital Mindfulness at Work

In this post, I outline some steps we can all take to be more mindful regarding the use of work laptops, phones, and messaging programs when we’re supposed to be enjoying some “downtime”.

 

I started a new (more normal) job recently after COVID pretty much killed my freelance career. 😝  I still work from home a lot but I also visit with clients out in the community.  Because of this, I now have two laptops and two phones (one each for work and personal use).  As you may imagine, this does not lend itself to tranquility, peace, or a dearth of technology in my life. 

I’ve felt like the old grandma at work, trying to figure out her grandkids new-fangled technology. 😝  I actually did this same job 10 years ago but back then all I had was a Word document, a flip phone, and a laptop. (It took real effort to locate a WiFi signal anywhere away from the office back then, and there were no hotspots on my flip phones!)  Today, almost everything is web-based.  While this makes things far more convenient (and saves trees, a definite plus!) it also means there are countless more assessments and paperwork items that are screaming for my attention at all times.

All of this runs completely counter to the mindfulness principles so many of us work so hard to maintain in our lives.  We want to be Present in the current moment…we strive to focus our mental energy on one task at a time…and then we’re slammed by multiple devices pinging and dinging with alerts like “you’ve got mail!”, “someone’s calling!”, or “your next meeting starts in 15 minutes!”  It’s EXHAUSTING!

So, how do we use these devices as tools to help make our work-life run efficiently, so we can focus our mental and physical energy on what is most important, thereby leaving LOTS of time to live life?  Read on for the Tranquil Trekker’s tips for digital mindfulness at work! 

Author’s Note:  My intent with this post is NOT to complain about my new job.  Having a work phone and laptop actually makes a lot of sense with the work I do.  My home IS my office.  Also, since my job is fairly mobile, it only makes sense that my work is mobile too.  I also VERY MUCH appreciate that my company has provided me with work devices as I DON’T want to have to use my own. 😝  

And bottom line, SO MANY people are in this same boat.  Having multiple devices is really just becoming the new normal (especially with the popularity of flexible work options and the rise in work-from-home due to COVID.)  My goal with this post is to encourage people to view these devices as necessary evils and to help them figure out how to use them as beneficial tools without allowing them to take over our lives.

Compartmentalize your Work Devices

Compartmentalize with your work laptop, phone, and any messaging apps if at all possible.  You can accomplish this by only having these work-related programs on your work devices.  Also, be sure to turn these off at the end of every day and on your days off if possible (I realize this isn’t always an option if you are on-call).

If you feel this isn’t an option in your case, my question would be, are you actually on-call?  If not, is there truly an expectation that you respond to calls, emails, or messages during off-hours?  To put it bluntly, are you actually jeopardizing your job (or future promotional opportunities) if you don’t respond promptly?  Or, is this a self-imposed prison?  Is it not actually necessary for you to be available at all times but do you feel like you should be?

Many people have their work email come to their personal phone (even though oftentimes this is voluntary, and is NOT required by their job).  I think they’re nuts, personally 😉, but I also can’t help but feel a bit sad for them.  They need (and deserve) a break and I just don’t see how this practice achieves that for them.

So my advice is to talk to your boss.  Get a clear understanding of what the expectations really are.  If the presumption is that you be readily available during off-hours, then you’ll have to decide for yourself if that’s the work environment you want.  Just know that studies show you’ll be a better employee if you have true downtime. (Don’t take my word for it, you can read about some of them below! 😉)  And if you’re the boss, check out the links and please, don’t be an a-hole! 😇)

Harvard Business Review–The Upside of Downtime  
Forbes–Downtime is Important!

Multitasking Makes you Less Productive

In addition to compartmentalizing your work devices, the studies linked below also show that contrary to popular office belief, multitasking DOES NOT work, and it actually DAMAGES your productivity! 😮

Forbes: Multitasking is Bad for You!
Cleveland Clinic:  Multitasking Doesn’t Work
Forbes:  Multitasking Hurts Productivity

Multitasking is almost NEVER a mindful practice, as mindfulness requires you to put your full mental energy and focus into ONE task at a time.  As an example, think about taking a work call while driving (we’re going to assume you’re using hand’s-free devices.)  If you’re paying attention to driving (which you should be) you CAN’T be putting all your mental energy and concentration toward the phone call you’re having.  And if you’re aren’t focusing on the phone call whatever/whomever you’re trying to serve with that call won’t be getting your best effort.  Also, you can’t take notes while driving, or look things up on your computer or phone as you may need to. (I would also ask, how do you pay close attention to driving if you’re distracted by a call?)  So all this multitasking scenario succeeds in is making you less of a safe driver while also providing lousier service to your job task at hand.  It’s a lose-lose situation!

Prioritize Downtime

Now that I’m back to working more like a normal person, there is nothing better than 5:00 on a Friday, when I log out of my work email, turn my work phone off, close my work laptop, and put all of them (screen down) in the office, not to be looked at for the next several days.  I think it’s important that we have that break whenever/wherever we can take it.

That break is important for our mental health and it makes us better workers.  It gives us a chance to recharge mentally and physically so we have more mental energy to face the challenges of the job when the next work week comes.  I worry this appreciation for the benefits of downtime is something that’s gotten lost in recent years, in our always-on society.

Find Unique Places to Work

This one may be difficult for some people.  Depending on the type of work you do you may need to be in front of a video monitor often.  Or you may do highly technical work that requires you to be tied down to some sort of office environment.  But for many of us, one of the joys of flexible work situations is that you can pick where you want to actually work.  So don’t limit yourself to being locked in your home office, the basement, the second bedroom, or wherever you usually work from.  If it’s a nice day and you have the internet access you need, work from the front porch or the back deck.  Go sit at a local park, beach, or other green/blue spaces.  If the Great Outdoors isn’t really your thing, go to a local coffee shop.

Obviously, make certain you are still ensuring all necessary confidentiality your job may require.  Use screen protectors so others can’t read your screen, talk quietly if you’re on the phone or seek out private places to talk, or use headphones if you’re in a meeting or a training session (anyone sitting within earshot will appreciate this anyway!)

To Conclude:

This is somewhat of a complex subject as our jobs all vary so greatly in terms of the circumstances that surround them, what our supervisors may require, the security necessary to protect the information we work with, and the practicality of how our jobs function.  I just want us all to “think outside the box” when it comes to flexible work options. 

One of the best things about these work options is they allow us to get out of the office and better fit our work into the lives we live.  So take advantage of this!  Set boundaries for when and how you use your work devices.  Recognize that while multitasking may make you FEEL more productive, in all likelihood it’s probably, actually hurting your productivity.  This isn’t good for your company or the clients you serve.

Also, remember to prioritize your self-care.  If you aren’t in a good place it will be almost impossible for you to put your best foot forward in terms of the work you do.  Part of this self-care means making your work environment the most pleasurable it can be (while staying within the confines of what is required for your job, of course). 

So, the next time you go to grab your work laptop or phone on your “off” hours ask yourself, “Is this really what’s best for me, my client, or my company?” If the answer is likely “no” go do something enjoyable instead!

Do you have any tips for keeping a healthy balance between work and home when your digital, work devices follow you home?  Tell me about them in the comments!

 

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Do you struggle to separate yourself from your work devices during your "off" hours? Read on for tips for digital mindfulness at work.

 

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Tips for Traveling with a Dog

In this post, I give some simple tips for making traveling with your four-legged family member a breeze!

 

What’s better than going on vacation with the family?  Going on vacation with the four-legged members of your family, of course!  Read on for the Tranquil Trekker’s tips to make traveling with a dog a relaxing and enjoyable experience!

Frequent Stops when Traveling with a Dog

We find it’s best to stop every couple of hours–and to be clear this means a stop where Doggo can get out and walk around some whenever possible (rest stops are preferable to gas stations, and parks or short hikes are most preferable of all!)  This isn’t as easy if you’re traveling through more urban environments.  But any time you can stop where there is at least a little grass where the pup can get out and run helps (it’s good for us to get out and stretch our legs too!)

Don’t forget the pups need stops to potty and for snacks and water too, just like us!

Dog running mid-stride in the grass, tennis ball and rope in mouth, earth flopping.
Puppers encourages you to search for green spaces to play!

We especially enjoy stopping at parks or other green areas to get all of us some exercise.  This also helps you experience the areas you are visiting (or just driving through) better.  This is a great part of road tripping, getting to actually experience the country rather than just flying over it on the way to your final destination.

We’ve had lots of fun stopping at little parks in small towns.  Sometimes they have memorials that help you learn about the local area, occasionally they may even have a small museum on-site.  We also strive to find waterfalls/dams/historical sites to hike out to whenever possible.  Many times this may be a simple walk of less than a mile to see a cool place.

Related post: Rest Areas: A Road Trip Necessity

It’s not only good exercise and relaxation for us, we always need to remember a good puppy is a tired puppy, and exercise is a great way to tucker our furry friends out (this is especially important if they tend to sleep in the car.  You don’t want to get some place and be tired and all your four-legged friend wants to do is run and play because they’ve been sleeping in the car the last several hours.).

When You Travel Pack Treats and Toys for the Dog

Bring chew toys or something the pup can play with on their own (in the back seat, their crate, the hatch, etc.)  Also, bring multiple toys to keep them entertained (a stick to chew on, a ball to chase, a rope.) Bring extra toys in case you lose one in a creek 😮 or you meet a friend who needs one!

Dog asleep on floor of room, tennis ball sits in open mouth.
Puppers recommends you bring SEVERAL balls on the trip!

Have an in-car bag with treats, water, toys for rest stops, poop bags, and an easy-to-pack bowl.  Don’t forget food too, if it’s going to be a long travel day.

Pack Luggage for the Dog When You Travel

Pack luggage for your friend, as well.  This keeps their food, treats, bedding, harnesses, water, jackets, toys, etc. all in one place that is easy to pack and easy to find.

Dog sitting in back seat of vehicle, suspicious look on face.
I’ve been locked in this back seat a long time Human, don’t you think it’s about time for a break?!

Practice PATIENCE when Traveling with a Dog

Have patience!!!  Remember your four-legged friend gets bored, antsy, hungry, cranky, carsick, needs to pee, etc, just like we do!  This can especially be true for younger dogs. (Our former dog got horribly car sick until she was around five years old.  The vet couldn’t even believe it.  He kept asking, “she’s STILL getting sick?!”)

Give Fido His Space in the Car!

Make sure your friend has their own space in the vehicle.  This could be a chunk of the back seat or hatch or their own crate in the back of the car.  It should be big enough that they can lie down.  Treat your furry friend as a passenger that you have to make room for.  Don’t pack the car to the gills and then expect the dog to just “fit” into a spot.  They are part of the family right?  We need to treat them as such in the car. 😀

Dog laying in back seat of vehicle, strapped in by seatbelt.
Puppers says, “I need my space!”

We enjoy traveling with Puppers!  Use these tips the next time you travel with a dog to help make your trip as memorable and free from difficulty as possible!  Now get out there and enjoy an adventure with both human and canine members of the family!

Dog looks out at mountain vista from a viewpoint

Do you travel with your dog?  Have you learned any additional tips or tricks?  Tell me about them in the comments!

Did you enjoy this post?  Pin it!

Want to travel with your dog without feeling like you need to rip your hair out? Read on for tips on how to do just that!

 

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Ghost Towns in Southwestern Montana

In this post, I review several, cool ghost towns in southwestern Montana.

 

Montana IS the Old West!  It’s full of small, dusty, cowpoke towns where you can just imagine characters like Buffalo Bill Cody and Wyatt Earp walking its streets.  What better way to enjoy that experience than visiting an authentic ghost town?  We’ve enjoyed a few of these unique locales (though there are still plenty more on our list!)  See below for details!

Elkhorn State Park (Ghost Town)

Elkhorn is a tiny town located in the high mountains of southwestern Montana.  It is situated in a lovely valley with a mountain expanse that spreads out before you.  Technically this is a state park but the park portion only encompasses two buildings and a picnic area, the rest of the town is privately owned.  Feel free to walk the local roads though.  There are a number of signs that show where buildings used to be, what they were used for, etc.  

Front of old, wooden building. Sign says, "Gillian Hall: Built 1880's, Bottom a store or saloon, dances upstairs."

You can reach Elkhorn from the south by taking Exit 256, off of I-90, near Cardwell, Montana.  From here you will take Route 69 north.  After about 25 miles you will turn right on White Bridge Road (it’s literally just a short road that crosses the river on a small bridge.)  Once you cross the river turn right at the T-intersection onto Lower Valley Road.  You then take this road to the town.

There are a few signs for the Elkhorn mountains and Elkhorn state park but don’t rely on these to guide you.  It will be about 40 miles until you reach the town going this route.  As long as you stay on the main gravel road once you reach Lower Valley Road, you should be fine.  These roads are almost all dirt but they’re in good shape for basically any vehicle in good weather conditions. 

Old wooden building

You can also reach the town from the north from I-15.  From Exit 164 on I-15 at Boulder, MT, take Route 69 south and then take a left onto White Bridge Road.  The town is about 20 miles from the I-15 exit going this route.

Front of old, wooden building. Sign says, "Fraternity Hall, shows were upstairs"If you continue up the dirt road past town and follow the signs, you will end up at the old cemetery in the woods. (The road is in pretty decent shape in good weather conditions–though we admittedly had a 4×4 truck.  We did see a sedan up there but I’d be careful with any car other than a Subaru or something else with higher clearance.  There were a few ruts and rocks in the road that could damage a lower-clearance vehicle.).

The cemetery was really neat but also very sad.  There were SO MANY graves of babies and children (apparently there was a diphtheria epidemic in the town that killed many children).  You’d see families where multiple children died within just a few days of each other.  I love visiting old cemeteries.  It’s always very sad to see how frequently young people died, but the histories of the area that you can gather are so interesting. 

Old, wooden building

Old, decrepit, wooden mine stands on a mountainside
The mine in Elkhorn

Nevada City and Virginia City Ghost Towns

These two towns are also located in southwest Montana.  They are only about two miles apart.  The easiest way to reach them is probably from Three Forks, Montana.  Take Exit 274 off of I-90 for US 287 south.  Then take this road to the town of Ennis and turn right onto State Route 287 (yes, the roads are the same number. 😉)  This road runs right to the towns.  It is around 60 miles to the towns from I-90.

Related Info:  Activities in Nevada and Virginia Cities, Virginia City history, Nevada City history, Bannack HistoryHistory of Elkhorn; 6 Don’t Miss Places for your Western Montana Road Trip

Nevada City was our favorite site of the two.  It is an outdoor museum of sorts.  Once you enter you can then walk around the entire town.  There are many buildings that you can actually go inside that are modeled to look as they would have in their heyday (such as a barbershop, the blacksmith shop, the general store, etc.).  Many of the structures are not native to this exact location, rather they were saved by historical foundations and brought here from around the state to be preserved. (It reminded me a little of the 1880 town in South Dakota.)

View down dirt, main street of Nevada City ghost town. Old, wooden buildings on each side.
Main Street Nevada City

View down dirt street of a ghost town. Old, wooden buildings on each side. Blue sky with clouds

Barber Shop, Nevada City:

Interior of building. Sinks, mirror and wash basin in foreground, antique chair to the side, antique wood stove through doorway. Sign above door says, "Bath's"

One great part about this museum, it was Puppers friendly!

Front porch of old Post Office, dog walking through front door.
Puppers enjoyed the post office!

Virginia City was ok.  There were some decent sites to see but mostly it was a busy, commercialized town filled with shops, restaurants, and saloons.  Some people enjoy that atmosphere and that’s fine, but the Trekkers (and Puppers) prefer the quiet and solitude of the real ghost town. 😁  The town did offer some historical tours in horse-drawn stagecoaches that looked kind of cool, though we didn’t partake.

View down modern, paved, main street of Virginia City ghost town. Cars line both sides.
Main Street Virginia City (it isn’t quite so ghostly)

Bannack State Park (Ghost Town)

The easiest way to get to Bannack would be to take I-15 to Exit 59, near Dillon, Montana.  From here you will take Route 278 west.  After about 17 miles, Bannack Bench Road will break off to the south (left).  That takes you right to the state park.

Some of the roads to get to the park are gravel, but they were in great shape!  As long as you take it easy and don’t mind getting your car dirty, any sedan should be able to handle the drive in good weather conditions.

View down dirt, main street of Bannack ghost town, Bannack State Park. Old, wooden buildings on each side, blue, cloud-covered sky, dusty mountains in background..
Main Street Bannack

Old, wooden buildings line one side of dirt, street.

Old, wooden buildings line one side of dirt, street.

Old, wooden jails. Dusty mountains in background.
The jails in Bannack
Interior of old, wooden jail. Shackle points in floor.
You can see where the prisoners were chained

Bannack is AWESOME!  It’s one of the better preserved, true ghost towns I’ve ever seen (meaning it’s still in its original location and the buildings are in fairly good shape.)  They let you just wander around the town on your own, you can go in the buildings (that aren’t locked) AND you can bring dogs!

Smoky sunset over scrub-brush covered pastureland.
A smoky sunset over wild Montana
Woman and dog walking away from camera on dirt street of ghost town, sun setting into the clouds in background.
Puppers and I searching for ghosts at sunset
Interior of old, one room schoolhouse. Antique desks fill the room.
Inside the schoolhouse

Rules for teachers written on the schoolhouse chalkboard:

Rules for teachers at the schoolhouse in 1915 written on a chalkboard. These include, "you may no loiter downtown."

Rules for teachers at the schoolhouse in 1915 written on a chalkboard, including, "you may not dress in bright colors."

My favorite are no wearing bright colors over that scandalous one petticoat! 🤣 

View down spiral, front staircase of old hotel.
Not gonna lie, I couldn’t help imagining myself descending these stairs in a hoop skirt!

If you can make it work I STRONGLY recommend camping in the park, it’s about a half-mile walk from the campgrounds to the ghost town, and being there in the evening as the light wanes is AMAZING! (If you choose not to camp the park is open till 9 at night, in the summer).  The campgrounds are rustic (read vault toilets) but they were cute, well-maintained, and quiet.  This was our favorite stop of the trip and Mr. Trekker’s favorite campground (mostly because of the access to the ghost town.)

Foggy campsite surrounded by trees, tent in middle.
Our cute little campsite at the Bannack State Park campground
View from top of hill overlooking the ghost town of Bannack, Montana. Smoky mountains in background.
View of Bannack from the hill above the town
Dog asleep in back of vehicle, strapped into harness and seat belt.
Sleepy puppy after chasing ghosts! (BTW that seatbelt harness she’s wearing is AWESOME!)

Though they weren’t nearly as good as the ones we found for Colorado, I did find a series of books that is helpful when visiting Montana ghost towns:  

Book, "a pocket guide to ghost towns of Montana, volume 1."

This volume didn’t cover EVERY town we’d like to see but it did review many of them.  I’ll look into getting one of the other volumes when we go out for our next trip.  The book focused mostly on the histories of the towns (which is always interesting) but it did give a quick synopsis of how to find the town at the end of each section.  It even made helpful suggestions such as, “it is not advisable for any vehicles towing trailers to approach using the southern route.”

Bannack and Nevada/Virginia Cities are only about 80 miles apart.  While you can certainly enjoy Nevada City and Virginia City on the same day, I would encourage you to save one whole day for Bannack.  This will allow you to fully enjoy that park and give it the time it deserves.   

Ghost towns are such a great way to experience history and gain an appreciation of the “cushier” lives we lead today.  So if you find yourself in southwestern Montana, check out some of these cool destinations!

Have you been to any of these awesome ghost towns?  Are there others we should put on our list?  Let me know in the comments!

Did you enjoy this post?   Pin it!

Do you enjoy immersing yourself with the ghosts of yesteryear? Check out these cool ghost towns in southwestern Montana!

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6 Don’t Miss Places for your Western Montana Road Trip

In this post, I detail sites we saw on a road trip through western Montana.

 

It all started with some AMAZING huckleberry bear claws… 🤤  

In 2016, on our trip to Glacier National Park, we visited Polebridge, Montana.  They are famous for their homemade, huckleberry bear claws that are baked at their Mercantile. (They are AMAZING and totally worth the drive!)  Mr. Trekker has had an ongoing craving for these delicious delicacies since that trip. One summer a few years ago, we decided we needed more of these amazing treats, so we crafted an entire road trip around enjoying some! Read on for more info on the bear claws, and several other cool stops to add to your Western Montana Road Trip!

Places to Eat in Western Montana

There are so many great places to eat in Western Montana.  I mention a few we tried  below:

Montana Wheat bakery (throughout the state):  this place has AWESOME cinnamon rolls and pastries that are made locally.

Lake City Bakery and Eatery (Polson, MT):  We acquired yummy pastries from this locale and then enjoyed them at Boettcher Park which sits on the southern shores of Flathead Lake.  It offers prime views of the lake (where we learned that Puppers is afraid of waves, even small ones. 😂)

Burrito Brothers (also in Polson):  We got another AWESOME breakfast from this small shop.  They offer a variety of burrito choices including both breakfast and lunch options, and they’re open throughout the day!

Freestone Ice Cream (Hamilton, MT) and the Virginia City Creamery (found in the Virginia City ghost town!):  check out the yummy huckleberry ice cream at these locales!

Red Lodge Cafe and Lounge:  They make a great breakfast sandwich!

For more fun places to visit in this area, check out my post on Ghost Towns in Southwestern Montana!

Polebridge Mercantile in Polebridge, Montana

We made it to Polebridge and got our huckleberry bear claws…and yes, they were DELICIOUS! (For more info about this little piece of paradise, click here!)  Polebridge is a TINY hamlet that sits only about 20 miles south of the Canadian border. (For those keeping track at home, the Polebridge Mercantile is exactly 923 miles from our house! 😁)  They also make some great sandwiches that we enjoyed by the creek later!

Polson/Flathead Lake KOA Review

I struggled with whether to include this info.  I always try to keep this blog positive, however, this experience was so disappointing I felt like I needed to say something.  The campground was LOVELY.  It was set back from the road so it was fairly quiet, and it offered beautiful views of Flathead Lake and nearby mountains. The RV sites were shaded and lovely, as well.  We were excited when we got there because it seemed SO NICE…then we got to the tent sites…

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows we prefer to stay in national forest campgrounds.  They’re usually more secluded, quieter, prettier and you’re more likely to see wildlife.  However, western Montana is prime grizzly habitat (and since they scare the CRAP out of me, especially after this incredibly unfortunate incident) we decided to opt mostly for KOA’s this trip.  I will be the first to admit, KOA’s are basically the most “vanilla” camping experience you can possibly have (but the showers and flush toilets were LOVELY! 😉)

Unfortunately, the tent campsites at the Polson/Flathead Lake KOA were AWFUL!  The facility literally parked the tent sites onto a gravel parking lot.  It felt like whoever designed them had never tent-camped a day in their life. 😔

The tent sites are on pebble tent pads (which are ok) but they are surrounded by gravel…there was only a small amount of lawn that we could reach next to us (and the sprinklers came on for that at midnight and sprayed half our campsite too, getting our chairs and towels wet and hitting the fence and waking us up. 😒)

The sites offered almost no shade so they just BAKED under the sun.  We avoided ours until at least 6 at night as it was so hot.  The first night the hot pebbles radiated heat into our tent all night. 🥵  To top it all off they wanted us to park our car elsewhere (not too far away, but still.)  Um, we are CAR CAMPING, all our stuff is stored in the truck so we go to it, A LOT!  KOA isn’t known for great tent sites but these were the worst we’ve ever had. 😕

Three tent campsites separated by wood fences on gravel and pebble pads
I’m sorry but THIS is not worth $50/night. 🙁

I will say the showers and the Pet Exercise area were nice.  The views of Flathead Lake were also great and the mountains would have been gorgeous…if we had been able to see them through the wildfire smoke. 😝 (This issue was obviously not the fault of the campground.).

Bottom line, if you want to be an RV resort, that’s fine, just tout yourself as such and don’t bother with the tent sites.  Or, if you want to offer options for all types of camping, PLEASE don’t make your tent campers feel like second-class citizens. 😡

Flathead Lake

On a much more positive note, Flathead Lake is situated in far, northwestern Montana, less than 50 miles southwest of Glacier National Park.  It’s the largest freshwater lake in the Continental US west of the Mississippi and it is AWESOME!  The view reminded me of Sebago Lake in Maine. (I reviewed a trip we took to that lake, several summers ago, here.)

On a beach looking out over a large lake. Mountains are barely visible in the background through the haze.
Looking north from the southern tip of Flathead Lake
Grassy area with a large lake in the background. The sun rises over some shadows in the far background through the haze of wildfire smoke.
The sun rising over the haze-enshrouded Rockies (those would be the dark blur below the sun that you can barely make out through the wildfire smoke). 😝
Sun shines through the haze of wildfire smoke and is reflected on the water of a lake
The sun reflecting off Flathead Lake

*You may notice a lack of the beautiful, landscape, vista pictures, that I usually post.  That would be because on this trip, we could hardly see the mountains due to all the smoke and haze. 😩  Sadly, this is becoming more of a norm as the West tends to burn each summer. 😪  PLEASE pray to Whatever/Whoever you pray to, send positive vibes, good wishes, white light, or whatever your spiritual “thing” is, but the West NEEDS rain, snow, or anything else that can fall as precipitation.  It’s crazy seeing some of the flooding in other parts of the country/world while out here the landscape just BAKES under the hot sun. 😭  Climate change SUX!!! 😡  

I’m glad we’ve visited this area before so we know how beautiful the landscape actually is.  A few times on this trip we could barely make out tall, mountain shapes looming through the yellow-brown gloom. 😪 (We did get lucky that even though we drove through some very smoky areas, none of our campsites were inundated with wildfire smoke.)  The morning we woke up to the sound of rain on the tent it took me a while to remember what that sound was! 😯  And then I rejoiced!  It’s a beautiful sound and we didn’t even mind packing up a wet tent in the drizzle. 😁  

Hungry Horse Dam in Hungry Horse, Montana

We also saw the Hungry Horse and Kerr Dams.  The Hungry Horse Dam is located just south of Route 2 in Hungry Horse, Montana, just west of Glacier National Park.  It dams one of the forks of the Flathead River and creates the very scenic and very LONG Hungry Horse Reservoir.  The dam is over 500 feet tall and is one of the tallest ever built by the CCC (and is one of the largest of its type in the country).  It was cool to see!  If you stop at the Visitor Center there are even some tours available of the dam and its workings.

Large, concrete dam sits in the middle of forested mountains
Hungry Horse Dam
A serene lake surround by forested mountains. A large, rocky mountain looms in the background.
View from Hungry Horse Dam

Word to the Wise:  The view in the picture above is similar to the one we saw from the Gunsight Pass Trail in Glacier National Park–the portion of the trail that starts from the Jackson Glacier Overlook which is found off the Going to the Sun Road. (I reviewed that trek here.).   Often, if you know where to look (and have a little bit of luck), you can see similar sites to those found in national parks just outside the park boundaries where there are fewer crowds.  After all, it’s all the same countryside!   

Kerr Dam in Polson, Montana

The Kerr Dam was REALLY neat!  They had a great little boardwalk path down the canyon wall that offered prime views of the structure.

Be warned, the path was a little steep and could be HOT in the sun.  It could also be slippery if wet. We had a nice breeze and a rain shower when we were there at 6 pm so it was pretty nice, we also had the place to ourselves at that time of day.  This could also be a bit of an uncomfortable walk if you’re afraid of heights.  It didn’t bother me as there was a nice railing but you’re basically walking along a knife-edge cliff that drops off on both sides.

The dam is on another fork of the Flathead River on land owned by the Flathead, Salish, and Kootenai tribal people.  The US government leases the dam from the tribes which provides them revenue.

Large, concrete dam in a river canyon with a reservoir behind it
Kerr Dam

Views from the Kerr Dam Overlook:

A river flows through a valley surrounded by rugged, rocky and tree-covered hillsides

A river flows through a valley surrounded by tree-covered hillsides with dark mountains in the background

Traveler’s Rest State Park

Traveler’s Rest State Park is pretty cool!  It is located near the intersection of Routes 12 and 93 in Lolo, Montana.  This site’s claim to fame is that it is the only confirmed campsite of the intrepid explorers, Louis and Clark.  How do they KNOW this is the case, you may ask?  Well, the answer is kind of gross actually! 😂

Two small, canvas tents sit in a golden, grassy meadow
A recreation of Louis and Clark’s camp!

The location of the camp was long suspected to be in this area.  An archeological study eventually found higher-than-normal amounts of mercury in soil samples gathered here.  It was known that the exploration party carried mercury pills to be used to help “expel sickness from the body”.  As it turns out, the soil the archeologists had found was the site of the camp’s latrine! 🤥  Once this spot was confirmed, the scientists were then able to locate other remnants of the camp using previously known camp arrangements.

Informational, trail sign that explains how the site was analyzed and that the mercury they found in the soil indicates it was likely the location of the camp's latrine.
Don’t believe me regarding the story of how they confirmed this was the site of the camp? Read the sign! 😁

Similar to the trees I discussed in my Gettysburg National Battlefield post, Witness Trees have also been identified at the site of the Louis and Clark camp! (These are trees that have been determined to be old enough to have been here when the camp was here.)

The camp’s three Witness Trees:

Single tree stands on a grassy hill Lone pine tree standing tall against the blue sky Lone pine tree stands on a grassy hill with a barn in the background

The Salish Tribe

One of the prominent, early tribes in this area was the Salish People.  I loved how many of the local signs are written in both English and Salish.  It is a beautiful language to see written.  It looks almost Cyrillic (Russian) but is actually completely unique to this tribe.  I was also able to purchase a cool book that gives a Salish glossary.

Grassy bridge overpass. Also a road sign written in English and the Salish language.
This is so neat! It’s one of those “wildlife bridges” on Route 93 between Missoula, MT and Polson (on the Flathead Reservation). It allows wildlife to safely cross the highway. Notice the Salish language included on the sign.

Our evening with the Hells Angels 😮

When we arrived in Red Lodge, Montana, one evening, near the end of our trip, we noticed LOTS of bikes (motorcycles).  We’ve always loved Red Lodge but have only been there in the early summer, it’s a bit busier during the prime season. 😝  We should be used to this living so close to Sturgis but we hadn’t anticipated all these bikers may want to ride the Beartooth Highway (duh!)

So, we were like, “oh, ok, no big deal.”  Then we noticed, “Hey, that guy has a Hells Angels cut on…and so does that guy over there…and over there is a cop…and over there is another cop…those guys over there are wearing Hells Angels cuts too….and over there is another cop…”…yeah…the Hells Angels were apparently having their annual gathering in Red Lodge that week. *sigh* 🙄 (For the record we had no problems at all and the few HA’s we talked to were VERY friendly–they liked Puppers. 😉)

Beartooth Highway (Beartooth Pass)

On our final day in Montana, we traveled up the Beartooth Pass a bit to see the view.

We were actually killing time until a local store, Lewis and Barks opened. (You’ll notice it’s a play on words of the two explorers mentioned earlier.)  As you may guess by the name, it’s a pet-based store.  We figured Puppers had done so well on her first real trip with us that she deserved a souvenir too! 

Finally, we took a nice, country drive on several back roads (Route 308 east out of Red Lodge, then picked up Route 72 north to Route 310 southeast.  We took that to Lovell, WY where we picked up Route Alt-14) to our final campsite of the trip in the northern Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming!

Overlook of a mountain pass. A stone wall and metal railing in the foreground, mountain vista in the background.
Puppers checking out the view on Beartooth Pass!
A dog on a leash stares at a chipmunk on a rock, just out of reach.
Puppers enjoyed the OVERLY FRIENDLY chipmunks at the Vista Overlook on the Beartooth Highway.

So there you go, 2000 miles and 7 days later…we saw some great sites, we ate some DELICIOUS huckleberry, bear claws and we had a fun time!  Check out some of these great locales for your next road trip around Western Montana! 

Have you visited any of these places?  Tell me about your experience in the comments!

Did you enjoy this post?  Pin it!

A land full of rugged beautiful, wild animals and wide, open spaces! Read on for 6 places note to miss on your western, Montana road trip!

 

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Wyoming’s Bear Lodge Mountains

In this post, I review a weekend we spent in the Bear Lodge Mountains of Wyoming.

 

The Trekkers tried out a new spot recently, the Bear Lodge Mountains, also known as the Wyoming Black Hills.  We stayed at the Reuter Campground.  It is easy to reach, as it is less than two hours from Rapid City.  It is also just a short drive north of Sundance, WY (and I-90).

This was a typical, rustic, National Forest campground.  Potable water is available in-season, there are campfire rings and picnic tables at each campsite, and the campground offers vault toilets.

The campsites were decent, this was one of the first times we had an “inner “site so it was closer to other campers.  Usually, we go for “outer” sites but there were none available by the time we made reservations.  This meant we had to deal with more noise from other campers which is something we are usually able to avoid.

This campground wasn’t my favorite.  It was fine, the were plenty of large and shaded sites, but the host wasn’t as available or on top of things as we usually experience. (As an example, the trash DEARLY needed to be changed when we arrived.  It’s usually not a good idea to have full trash cans at a campground, at the START of the weekend, in the height of summer. 😝  She also seemed to have a hard time remembering who she had and hadn’t checked in already. 🙄)

We noted another campground in this local area was actually closed and was looking for a host.  It seems that campgrounds may be experiencing the same lack of available employees that so many other businesses around the country are right now.

Hiking in the Bear Lodge Mountains of Wyoming

We enjoyed several different hiking trails in the area.  Though many were overgrown, they were very well marked with signs and markers.  Just watch out for ticks, snakes, and thistles in the tall grass. 😯

Carson Draw Trail including the Carson Draw Spur #1, the Carson Cut Across, and the Reuter Springs Trails

We made a loop out of a portion of the Carson Draw Trail, which we then took to the Carson Draw Spur #1, then went on to the Carson Cut Across, and then the Reuter Springs Trail…

The Carson Draw Trail offers a lengthy and groomed cross-country ski trail in the winter months that is around five miles long.  I think this would be a lovely area for skiing.  We may also return for a day trip this fall to check out the leaf colors.  We saw several aspen groves that would likely be lovely.

Looking down Reuter Canyon on the Reuter Springs Trail

Unfortunately, going in this direction means that the Carson Draw Spur #1 trail is almost completely an uphill hike.  It isn’t overly steep, it’s just a long hill.  It was a former forest road so it is plenty wide and graded though it was rather overgrown.

The Carson Cut Across was much nicer.  It was short (less than a mile) with only a small amount of elevation gain.  It was also nicely shaded and more like a typical, single-track, hiking trail.

Even though it meant a long uphill slog on the Carson Cut Across, I would recommend taking this loop counterclockwise as we did.  It means prettier views of the Wyoming prairie and grasslands opening up before you, on your way down the hill, as you exit Reuter canyon on the Reuter Springs Trail.  Also, portions of the Carson Draw Spur #1 trail were VERY STEEP as you went downhill shortly before it reached the Carson Cut Across.  I was happy we didn’t have to hike UP that!

Warren Peak Fire Lookout Tower

Warren Peak Fire Lookout

The Warren Peak Fire Lookout Tower works in conjunction with the Cement Ridge Tower, which sits to the southeast, on the border of South Dakota and Wyoming. (I discuss that lookout here).  It offers 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains and prairie.  On a clear day, you can see portions of Montana, Wyoming, the mountain Crow Peak in South Dakota, Devils Tower just a scant 20 miles away, all the way to the Bighorn Mountains much farther to the west!

Devils Tower as seen from the Bear Lodge Mountains:

Cliff Swallow Trail

So, I am NOT trying to be a Negative Nellie here but we did NOT see ANY swallows OR their nests on this trail! 😝  The only place we could have possibly seen them was one overlook fairly early into the hike where we saw some cliffs across the canyon.  They were probably a good half-mile away though and we couldn’t see any birds using the binoculars.  We’ve definitely seen more of these cool featherlings on other trails that don’t even advertise themselves as “Cliff Swallow” trails. 😝  So I’m gonna have to give this trail a rating of…FAKE NEWS! 😂

This trail can also be done in a loop.  I would again recommend taking it counterclockwise.  Going this route you start at the bottom of the canyon and travel along the bubbling, Beaver Creek.  The trail went through some very lush greenery, with lots of deciduous trees and ferns (this also meant it was VERY green…and humid. 🥵)  There was also little breeze down in the canyon and there were TONS of cobwebs strung amongst the greenery that spanned the trail (thanks to Mr. Trekker for taking one for the team on this one and going first, to knock them all out of the way.  See guys, THIS is how you woo a lady. 😉)

Cook Lake as seen from the Cliff Swallow Trail

As you continue down the trail you ascend some mild switchbacks that take you up the hill.  Here you will notice a transition to a drier, ponderosa-pine-forest-environment that is more typical of the Black Hills.  There was also a blessed breeze at the top and it was less humid (though there could be more sun depending on the time of day as you’re traversing the canyon rim at this point).  Our experience was the entire trail was a mix of sun and shade and we were there around the middle of the day.

Again, I strongly suggest you take this loop counterclockwise.  The ascent of the hill is more gradual and you’ll have nice views of the lake as you emerge from the canyon.  If you go clockwise the trail goes straight up the hill! 

This isn’t a bad trail at all, older kids could certainly handle it. It was definitely shorter and easier than the Carson Draw/Carson Draw Spur/Carson Cut Across/Reuter Springs loop (thankfully because it was also HOTTER that day! 🥵)  That trail wasn’t bad either, though.  I would probably give both a rating of “moderate”, just on opposing ends of the spectrum.

Cook Lake

To finish the second day of hiking, we took a back road out to Devils Tower, just because it was close and we could. 😉  Also, the Devils Tower General Store sells ICE CREAM! 🍦😀😀  

That monolith points to ice cream! 😁
Sleepy puppy after hiking!

In general, these Hills seem to be more lush and overgrown than is typical in the South Dakota Black Hills.  They reminded us more of the lusher ecosystem you find in the northern portions of our Hills.

Not sure if this may indicate they are wetter and may mean they have fewer wildfires here on average (as you don’t hear about them much.)  This could also explain why we found there were fewer good lookout/viewpoints here, many of our open spaces in the Black Hills come from burn scars. 😝

I found I didn’t like the Bear Lodge Mountains quite as much as the Black Hills we know and love.  They were more rustic and less developed.  They actually reminded me a bit of State Forest State Park in Colorado (you can read about that little-known location here and here!)  It seemed less organized, you were kind of left more on your own to figure things out.

It wasn’t nearly as busy and touristy as the South Dakota Black Hills though this also meant it was far less crowded. (Admittedly we only experienced a small corner of this area.)  It made me think of a green island rising from the sea of brown that is the dry grassland of eastern Wyoming. 😇

Have you ever been to the Bear Lodge Mountains of Wyoming?  Tell me about your experience in the comments!

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For a unique adventure, check out a little-known and lightly-traveled corner of the Black Hills, the Bear Lodge Mountains!

 

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