Tranquil Trekker’s 5 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!

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 get to know 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 adventure.

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.  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 them out (this is especially important if your four-legged friend tends to sleep in the car.  You don’t want to get some place and be tired and all they want to do is run and play because they’ve been sleeping in the car the last several hours.).

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!

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

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.

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. 😀

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!

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

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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 saw a few on a recent road trip to western Montana (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.  

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. 

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.

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 always 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 always so interesting. 

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.)

Main Street Nevada City

Barber Shop, Nevada City:

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

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.

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.

Main Street Bannack

The jails in Bannack
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!

A smoky sunset over wild Montana
Puppers and I searching for ghosts at sunset
Inside the schoolhouse

Rules for teachers written on the schoolhouse chalkboard:

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

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.)

Our cute little campsite at the Bannack State Park campground
View of Bannack from the hill above the town
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:  

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!

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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 (for good reason, they are AMAZING and totally worth the drive!)  Mr. Trekker has been craving these delicious delicacies since that trip.  We decided our Pennsylvania road trip from earlier this summer didn’t involve enough camping to slack our urge 😉, and since we didn’t get many good road trips last year (thanks COVID 😝) we decided we deserved two this year! 😁  So we headed out for a western Montana road trip!

Places to Eat in Western Montana

We found some great places to eat on our trip!  I mention a few of them 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 check out in this area, check out my post on Ghost Towns in Southwestern Montana!

Polebridge Mercantile in Polebridge, Montana

Despite a wildfire in the area, 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 have 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 the lake and nearby mountains.  We were excited when we got there because it seemed SO NICE. 

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 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. 😕

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 could see them through the 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.)

Looking north from the southern tip of Flathead Lake
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 smoke). 😝
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. 😩  The West is burning ya’ll! 😪  PLEASE pray to Whatever/Whoever you pray to, send positive vibes, good wishes, white light, or whatever your spiritual “thing” is, but we NEED RAIN out West.  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 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, 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.

Hungry Horse Dam
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.

Kerr Dam

Views from the Kerr Dam Overlook:

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! 😂

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.

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:

The Salish Tribe

One of the prominent, early tribes in this area was that of 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 found a neat book that gives a Salish glossary.

This is so neat! It’s one of those “wildlife bridges” on Route 93 between Missoula, MT and Polson (on the Flathead Reservation). 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.”  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!

Puppers checking out the view on Beartooth Pass!
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!

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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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Hershey’s Chocolate World!

In this post, I review the Trekkers’ visit to the home of Hershey’s chocolate!

 

As a final, exciting event on our Pennsylvania road trip, we visited Hershey’s Chocolate World!  I’ve been wanting to check this place out for several years since I learned about it while researching one of my online, travel-related, writing jobs. (Those professional jobs have proven quite helpful for personal trip planning! 😂)  Needless to say, I was very excited to learn it was within driving distance of the Trekker In-Laws’ new house! 

Hershey’s Chocolate World!

There are SO MANY things to do at Hershey’s Chocolate World.  You can tour the “chocolate factory”, enjoy chocolatey tastings, there is even a place where you can invent your own chocolate bar, and take a trolley tour!  There is also HersheyPark, which is an amusement park that is adjacent to the factory campus and there is a small zoo on-site!

Hershey’s Chocolatetown and Amusement Park

Things to do at Hershey’s Chocolate World

We didn’t see every attraction but I’ll highlight the ones we did enjoy (hopefully we can go back later to try out the rides at HersheyPark 😁 ). 

You can see all the roller coasters at HersheyPark from this shot I took on our Trolley Tour.

Hershey’s Chocolate Tour

This is the “factory tour” that shows you how Hershey makes their chocolate!  Admittedly, it was a little hokey (it was a slow ride through a mock-up of a factory) but it was fun, and FREE!  They even give out free candy at the end! (Rumor has it they used to give out full-sized candy bars, now they are fun-sized.  Gotta love inflation! 😝)

I highly recommend the GIANT soft pretzels at the food court.  They are HUGE and delicious (and come with multiple types of dipping sauces).  Plan on sharing these!  

Hershey Trolley Works

This was one of my favorite attractions that we enjoyed.  It was a very cool tour of the town, that also gave historical info on Milton Hershey’s life.   I had no idea he was such a philanthropist.  He gave millions to help his employees and the local community.  He donated money and land for schools, theaters, and community centers.  He even started a boarding school for underprivileged children that still runs today (at no cost to the families of the kids who attend!)

Hershey, Pennsylvania Street Lights

One quirky aspect the town of Hershey is known for is its REALLY unique street lamps!  They look like Hershey’s kisses and they’re found all throughout town!

US Route 15!

On this excursion, we enjoyed another drive that was an “old friend” from times past, Route 15 in south-central Pennsylvania.  This road was important to the Trekkers in our earlier years.  We used to take it when we drove from the Trekker In-Laws’ old home in New England back to North Carolina when we lived there.  It was a way to avoid the traffic fiasco known as the Capital Beltway in Washington, D.C. 😝

We hadn’t driven this route in more than 10 years.  I always enjoy going back and seeing places we’ve been in our past.  It is interesting seeing how they change and develop over time.

There are Hershey Chocolate Worlds in several other locations in the US and throughout the world but I figure it’s always best to go right to the source, right?  If you’re ever in the area definitely make time to check this place out.  You’ll even get some free chocolate out of the deal!  What could be better than that?! 😁

Related posts:  Gettysburg Battlefield, Flight 93 Memorial

Have you ever been to Hershey’s Chocolate World?  Tell me about your visit in the comments!

 

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Do you like chocolate? Do you want to learn how it's made? Visit Hershey's Chocolate World in Hershey, Pennsylvania!

 

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Flight 93 Memorial

In this post, I review the Flight 93, September 11th Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

 

As part of our recent trip out East, we visited the Flight 93, September 11th Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. (For anyone who isn’t aware, United Flight 93 was one of the four planes hijacked by terrorists on September 11, 2001.  They believe this one was headed towards the capital when it was brought down by the INCREDIBLY brave passengers who were trying to take control back from the terrorists.)

Author’s Note:  I usually try to keep this blog light and carefree.  Unfortunately, there is really no way to do that with today’s post.  I felt like I lost my innocence in a lot of ways on September 11th, 2001.  The metaphorical curtain was removed and I saw the depravity, hate, and evil capable in the human spirit.  I also felt horrible feelings within myself that I didn’t even know were there.  It was the first time in my life I understood how it felt to want to lash out and hurt someone who was responsible for hurting others.  When you see innocent people being harmed, dying in horrific ways, knowing that families are being ripped apart, forever altered, it makes you angry.  You can’t understand why some people would want to hurt others like that. (As someone who has a degree in human psychology, I can understand that these feelings are perfectly normal as a reaction to such a trauma.  It’s still alarming to see those feelings manifested in yourself, however.)

The Flight 93 Memorial Visitor’s Center

We started at the Visitor’s Center which was very well done.  It highlights the events of September 11th with various video and audio recordings that actually occurred that day (news reports, recordings from air traffic control, even some of the messages people on the planes left with their families–those were particularly heartwrenching.)

The Visitor’s Center at the Flight 93 National Memorial

It was a very emotional experience to visit this memorial, as I assumed it would be.  Mr. Trekker and I realized this is the only national memorial we’ve been to that commemorates something that happened in our own lifetime (I’ve also been to the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial which is very beautiful.  We hope to visit Ground Zero at some point in the future, as well.).

I can’t imagine the thoughts and emotions that the people on the plane felt.  They knew what was happening and that they were likely to die, so they were facing their own mortality on top of dealing with this attack on their homeland.  I have always been awed by their bravery and their final act to try to stop the attack and take control back.  I pray I am never in a situation like that.

The memorial brought back memories of that fateful day.  Mr. Trekker and I were (barely) freshmen in college, we had only been there a couple of weeks.  Funnily enough, that was one of the first times we remember actually hanging out together.  We went to chapel together with a group of friends that night…

One of the spooky parts of that day for us was our college was located only about an hour from Chicago.  A lot of the kids we were in school with were from the Chicago area and they were all worried that the terrorists might be targeting the Sears Tower (now the Willis Tower).   

Related Posts:  Hershey’s Chocolate World!; Gettysburg Battlefield

This was the first national crisis Mr. Trekker and I had ever lived through, it was definitely a defining moment for our generation. (I realize this is an indication of just how blessed life is for most of us in the US…the fact that we were almost 20 before we had to deal with a crisis like this and that for most Americans, this type of national crisis is a once or twice-in-a-lifetime experience.)  This was our “Pearl Harbor moment”.  I will never forget where I was or what I was doing that morning, what the weather was like, or how we found out “something” was wrong.

While walking through the memorial I just kept thinking, “I know our country and world are divided right now but man, I can’t contemplate one person having so much hate for another, and for seemingly innocuous reasons.  How can you want to kill someone who isn’t posing a risk to you or your family, who is just existing…most if not all of the victims were completely innocent (some were children)?!  

The Wall of Names

The Wall of Names is the actual, granite, memorial stone that looks much like many other memorials around the country.  It also sits at the bottom of the hill, near the final flight line and boulder that marks the crash site.  It features a separate stone for each innocent person killed on the flight with their names engraved in the marble.

The Wall of Names

Flight 93 Flight Line and Crash Site

The actual crash site sits in a field below and behind the Visitor’s Center.  It was once an old mine that scarred the land.  Now it is a lovely green area filled with wildflowers, surrounded by trees and accentuated with birdsong.  I think it is a perfect memorial to the people who died.  I’m glad this former scar on the land got a new lease on life, so to speak.

Flight 93 flight line. The mowed area is the final path the flight took before it crashed into the field.

According to one of the guides we spoke with, the plane hit the ground at over 500 mph with hundreds of gallons of fuel onboard.  Needless to say, the resulting explosion left very little behind.  So a boulder is used to mark the plane’s final resting place… 

The boulder is the site of the actual crash of Flight 93. No one but the families of the victims are allowed out near it.

Walking Trails at the Flight 93 Memorial

There are several walking trails that ring the field that marks the plane’s final resting place.  One is the Avenue of Trees that is a paved trail lined on both sides by trees.  It circles one side of the field where the plane crashed and leads from Memorial Plaza, at the bottom of the hill where ceremonies are held, back to the Visitor’s Center.  It leads past the 40 Memorial Groves where more than 1500 trees were planted to commemorate the people who died at this site that day.

The Western Overlook Trail is a dirt and grass path that forms the other side of the loop around the field.  It runs from the Visitor’s Center down to the actual stone memorial and the crash site itself, and then on to Memorial Plaza at the bottom of the hill.

The Avenue of Trees

Tower of Voices

The Tower of Voices is located elsewhere on the monument’s property.  It is 93 feet tall (in honor of the flight number) and it features 40 different wind chimes (one for each, innocent person killed on the fateful flight.)  It needs at least a 12 mph wind to chime well.  It wasn’t ringing much the day we were there but what we heard was pretty.  It’s an unusual, haunting, and very subtle sound.

Click here for a video of the chimes in action.

The Tower of Voices
A look at the chimes that make up the Tower, from below.

US 30 through Southern Pennsylvania

We brought the scenic, US 30 back from the memorial.  This road holds a special place in my heart as it was the same route we drove to college (from home, in Indiana) and I took a portion of it from home to North Carolina when we lived there.  It’s funny how certain objects (like roads) can sometimes play a role in our lives.  As another example, US 6 ran right near where I grew up.  It also ran right through Mr. Trekker’s hometown, even though we grew up almost 800 miles apart.  We were connected long before we even knew it! 😀

This is a VERY pretty, country drive.  The route curves through forests and over and around hills–I use this term instead of mountains–technically we were in the Appalachian and Allegheny Mountains.  HOWEVER, they are thousands of feet shorter than the Black Hills in South Dakota, so I also call these things hills. 😀  Even though they are almost twice as tall, the Black “Hills” may be called that because they are thousands of feet shorter than their big brothers to the south and west in Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana. 😀

**Final snarky note (I felt bad putting this further up) 😇 :
People wonder why I don’t like to fly (I’m probably one of the only ‘travel bloggers’ who hates to fly! 😂)  I don’t like dealing with airport security (which admittedly has gotten worse since 9/11).  I don’t like packing for it, I don’t like having to take my shoes off; I don’t like that it’s essentially just public transportation where they pack you into a tube, like sardines (though not necessarily during COVID which is a WHOLE other thing. 😝 )  I don’t like that my flight in Michigan can get delayed for HOURS because it’s raining in California and I’m flying to Florida. 🙄   I’m also terrified of the prospect of crashing to my death from 30,000 feet in a fiery tube (and that’s just from good, old-fashioned, mechanical failure, that’s before the idea of terrorists comes into play.) 🙄  All of this is why the Trekkers’ road trip! 😂  

I really enjoyed our visit to the Flight 93 Memorial.  It is situated in a beautiful setting in the country.  It’s peaceful and tranquil, with the tweeting of birds surrounding you.  I couldn’t help thinking this would have made me mad if I had been there when the crash happened.  How dare the birds tweet happily on this horrible day! 😝  It is a wonderful, final resting place for the people who died on that fateful day, however.

On this Independence Day weekend, I’m gonna end this patriotic post with my favorite song that came out after 9/11.  I still get chills whenever I hear it…Courtesy of the Red White and Blue, by Toby Keith

Have you been to the Flight 93 Memorial?  What was your experience like?  Tell me about it in the comments!

 

Did you enjoy this post?  Pin it!

September 11th was seared into the mind of all Americans. Read on for my experience at the Flight 93 Memorial that commemorates that day.

 

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Gettysburg Battlefield

In this post, I review our trip to the Gettysburg National Military Park!

 

The Trekkers enjoyed their first, fully-vaccinated, post-pandemic road trip in 2021!  The Trekker In-Laws actually moved during the pandemic, so we went to visit them at their new abode!  Trekker Father-in-Law is a Civil War buff, so while on the trip, we had our own, personal guide to the Gettysburg Battlefield and National Military Park!

For my non-American readers (or anyone else not “in the know”) Gettysburg is a major feature in American History as it played an incredibly important role in the American Civil War that occurred in the 1860s.  Some say it may have been the turning point in the war as it marks the furthest point north that the Confederate Armies (the armies from the South) ever controlled.  Several months after that great battle, the current President at the time, Abraham Lincoln, also gave his infamous Gettysburg Address at this location.

This is considered the furthest point north the Confederate Armies successfully controlled…

Mr. Trekker had visited this and many other battlefields on countless occasions throughout his childhood.  I had been to Gettysburg on an 8th-grade school trip MANY years ago (we don’t need to talk about how many exactly 😉 ) but didn’t remember much, so I was looking forward to returning with our knowledgeable guide!

Unless you’re also a history guru, before visiting the battlefield, I recommend watching the movie, Gettysburg that was made in 1993.  I’ll warn you, it’s LONG–like 4+ hours–so you may want to split it up over two days.  It’s a little boring if you aren’t really into historical battles and such, but my understanding is that it is fairly, historically accurate.  The movie really helped me to understand the prominent characters and all the events that transpired over the course of the battle.  That made it much easier for me to follow along with our tour guide when we were at the battlefield. (I can finally say, with certainty, which side General Lee was on! 😉)

This is just a statue, but I thought the silhouette Mr. Trekker captured in the gathering darkness was pretty cool!

Sites you don’t want to miss at Gettysburg National Military Park

There is SO MUCH to do here that you probably couldn’t see it all in a week!  If you’re only planning to stay for a few days though, below are some highlights I really enjoyed from our trip:

If you aren’t necessarily planning to be there for special reenactments or events, May is a GREAT time of year to visit the battlefield.  The crowds were light (except for on Memorial Day itself) and the weather was pretty good!  It was a little warm and rainy but much more pleasant than I imagine a July afternoon being. 🥵 

If you want more info on the nearby area, check out this article.  I have it on good authority this was written, once-upon-a-time, by a certain blogger you all know and love (ahem!) 😉  

The Visitor Center at Gettysburg Battlefield

Like all good national parks, this one has a very nice visitor center.  It features a really unique attraction called the Cyclorama which is an incredible mural.  It was originally painted in the late 1800s, and it covers the walls in a circle around you.  It depicts the events of the infamous “Pickett’s Charge” which occurred on the third day of the battle (more on this later!)  The exhibit includes a spoken presentation complete with lighted scenes to help you fully experience the event.

The Cyclorama!

When we visited Gettysburg when I was in middle school, there was also an exhibit that featured a lighted map.  It aided people in acquiring a full-sense understanding of the battle, as well, and I really enjoyed it.  Unfortunately, it aged and is no longer available to the public. 

The Visitor Center also offers a large museum to help you fully understand the events surrounding the three-day battle.  There is also a short video that I found both entertaining and quite interesting.

Eternal Light Peace Memorial at Gettysburg

Legend has it, this site inspired Jackie Kennedy to do a similar memorial for her husband, John F. Kennedy.  That eternal flame is now at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. 

The memorial sits on a hill in the middle of a field.  It is constantly lit and is worth seeing both during the day and in the dark.  In daylight, you can appreciate the memorial while at night the beauty of the flame is most prominent.  The whole scene felt very solemn and majestic as you see it flickering across the darkening field.

Related Posts:  Flight 93 Memorial; Hershey’s Chocolate World!
Little Round Top and Devil’s Den

This is one area I remember from our 8th-grade trip (probably because it’s one of the most visited places at the park!)  This is another site that figured prominently into the three-day battle.  It required the Confederate Army to scale a steep, rocky uplift that afforded them little protection from the guns and cannons fired by the Union soldiers from above.

Little Round Top as seen DOWN the hill from Devil’s Den. This was the perspective of the Confederate soldiers.
Devil’s Den as seen UP the hill from Little Round Top. This spot was held by the Union Army.
Culp’s Hill

This hill held a special place in my memory as it was one of the areas some of the Indiana units (my home state!) served during the battle.  I am almost positive we visited here during our 8th-grade trip (for obvious reasons).  The site also offers an observation tower that I climbed in 8th grade, and returned to climb with Mr. Trekker this year!

Witness Trees

Ok, these are pretty cool!  These are trees that scientists have determined, by tree-ring data and other measures, were around during the actual battle!  They are marked by the presence of small medallions nailed to their trunks.  You may also see lightning cords strung to the tree to help protect them.  The cords deflect the bolt to the ground in the event the tree is struck by lightning.

Can you see the green medallion in the middle of the trunk that marks this as a Witness Tree?
Lightning cord on the Witness Tree
The Eisenhower Farm

Not far from the legendary battlefield lies the site of the farm President Eisenhower used as a personal retreat during his days in office and later, for retirement.  It was a very scenic, peaceful, and idyllic place.  It offered 360-degree views of the surrounding countryside, fields, and forests.

You’d be able to see both the sunrise and sunset from here!  This is a place the Tranquil Trekker could live!  The site reminded me again that eventually, I want to move to the country.  I enjoy our neighborhood, but ultimately I’d like some space to breathe! 😊 

Pickett’s Charge

Pickett’s Charge was another failed attempt by the Confederate Army to take a prominent hill the Union Army held (they charged almost a mile across an open field!)  We walked the field where it occurred.  You could almost hear the sound of musket fire; smell the smoke from the cannons; imagine the sounds of men and horses screaming and smell their sweat and fear…

The field where Pickett’s Charge occurred.  Can you imagine running across this field in dark blue, wool uniforms, in the July heat and humidity, while being shot at?

Other interesting things around Gettysburg, PA

In addition to learning about the history of the battlefield we found some other fun things to do in the local area:

Majestic Theatre:  this is a cool, old theatre, in town, check them out for some classic movies.

The Battlefield at night:  One damp night we drove through the fog-shrouded battlefield.  It was really cool!  It felt ghostly in the cool of the night, with the mist rolling in.  It was peaceful, like a remembrance.  I didn’t find it spooky (though I thought I would.)  We didn’t see any ghosts 😕 (but, as you might expect, there are A LOT of ghost stories about this area!)

Thank you Mr. Trekker for this AMAZING sunset shot over the battlefield!

North Carolina Memorial:  My in-laws took us to a cool memorial that fit two places that have connections for us.  The memorial was for the North Carolina soldiers who fought in the battle (we used to live there) but it was sculpted by Guzman Borglum, who also sculpted Mount Rushmore (which is in the Black Hills, where we live now!)  It was cool to see that unique connection!

 

Cicadas:  I’m sure many of you have heard about the Great Cicada Boom of 2021!  Every 17 years these little buggers pop out of the ground in search of a little romance. (Then they lay eggs and die. 😝)  We have the regular type of this critter out in South Dakota but we didn’t see the boom that the Eastern Seaboard did.  They were weird.  You’d walk under a tree, look up, and could just see tons of their shells hanging from the leaves. 🤢 

The sound they made was weird too.  It was like this low hum, that kinda sounded like a motor running in the distance.  You almost felt the vibration more than heard it.

Some of the holes in the ground where the little buggers had been sleeping.
One of the cicada shells that was left behind

Below is a short video that will help you hear the “dull roar” of the cicadas (turn the sound up!):

One of the nasty critters!

Lightning bugs!:  So the twinkle of these fun little guys on a summer night is something my Indiana heart misses out in western South Dakota.  Therefore I was THRILLED to see them in the peach orchard on several evenings!

Real Bathrooms!:  This is something goofy that you don’t think about or appreciate until you need it.  We’re used to vault toilets (read: outhouses) at many of the national forest campgrounds, state, and national parks we visit out West.  Therefore I was PSYCHED to find that many of the bathrooms throughout the battlefield area have FLUSH TOILETS! 😁  Ya’ll live fancy out East! 😉

Places to eat near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania!

We had some great food on our trip, as well!  After all that walking around the battlefields, you’re going to get hungry!  I’m sure there are many other great restaurants found around the local area, these are just the ones we visited and really enjoyed…

Gary Owen Irish Pub:  We had GREAT service here and the food was wonderful, as well.  Ask them about the mural of the crying oysters! 😂

Road Hawg BBQ:  This place is actually in Dillsburg, around 30 miles to the northeast of town.  Trekker Father-in-Law is also a BBQ buff and he really enjoys it.  The food was good, especially the hush puppies! 🤤 (I hadn’t had those since we lived in North Carolina, 10 years ago!)

Upper Crust Pizza:  This is another yummy place with good pizza!  The Trekker Extended Family also suggests you try their Philly Cheesesteaks!

Half-pint Creamery and Mr. G.’s:  These are both good places for ice cream!

A few more random pics!

Below are a few more pictures from our trip!

I learned something cool.  Any cannons you see on the battlefield with numbers on the mouth were original to that era (though they may NOT have actually been at the battle.)
As far as they know, this gun fired the opening shot of the battle…

The Gettysburg Battlefield in Pennsylvania is a fun place to visit for history buffs and “normies” alike!  We studied the Civil War in school, though not in this great detail, so it was neat to see the place it actually occurred.  It helped to humanize everyone involved.  

Have you visited Gettysburg?  What did you think?  Tell me about your experience in the comments!

 

Did you enjoy reading this post?  Pin it!

Want to learn more about one of the most important battles of the American Civil War? Check out these cool places at the Gettysburg Battlefield!

 

Like what you read here today?  Please feel free to leave a comment, like or share this post!  Add your email at the bottom of the page, or the sidebar to the right, to be notified when a new post is published.  By signing up for the email list, you will also receive a free copy of the Tranquil Trekker’s Top 10 Tips of Trekking Do’s and Don’ts!

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Happy Blogiversary!

In this post, I ruminate on my last five years of blogging and what I hope to achieve in the next five years

The Tranquil Trekker turns 5 this month!  That’s a pretty major Blogiversary milestone.  I can’t believe it’s been that long!  For fun, here’s a link to the first, full-length blog post I ever wrote:  Dugout Gulch Botanical Trail (#77).

How It Started…

I started the blog in 2016 kind of on a whim, not knowing ANYTHING about blogging.  I did it mainly to make it easy to share pictures and stories of our adventures with our family and friends.  At the time we were living more than 900 miles from our closest family members and people were always asking about the random trips we took.  I originally assumed “no one makes money on a blog”, so I didn’t start it with that intent at all.

What’s Changed…

SO MUCH has changed in the last 5 years!!!

–In 2018 I left my full-time job and started social media accounts for the blog.  I also switched from a free hosted blog (WordPress.com) to a self-hosted blog (WordPress.org).  I can honestly say that I LOVE both Bluehost and WordPress.org!  They make blogging easy for me, the technologically-challenged, “geriatric” millennial. 😝 (I also now know the difference between the two WordPress options. 😉  If any novice bloggers out there want help deciding which option is right for them, let me know!)

–I monetized my blog!  Contrary to popular belief, it is actually possible to make money blogging! 😮   I’m still not making much, but at least it’s something! (And at least now I know what affiliate programs are and how they work!)

–In 2020 I FINALLY learned how to do SEO and started ranking on Page 1 of Google for many posts! (I still hate SEO, it still feels to me like you’re speaking “robot” to make a computer happy–which you kind of are.  It’s hard to make the blog post feel authentic to ME.  But…I understand the need for SEO.  At some point, if you want your blog to be seen by others, you have to make it easy for the Google Bots to “see” you first.)

I’ve even had a couple of freelance jobs where I did proofreading and helped with SEO optimization on other blogs.  I definitely NEVER thought THAT would be a job for me! 😮

What I’ve Learned…

You could ask, when did my blog really start?  In 2016 I was lucky if I was publishing one post each month as I was busy with my full-time job and other projects.  In 2018, when I finally got on social media, I really started pushing my blog to the masses.  But it wasn’t until 2020 that I finally started really doing the SEO.  So, did I “start” my blog in 2016 and I’m just a REALLY slow learner, or did it really not “start” still 2018 or 2020?  Whatever the answer you can see I have learned SO MUCH throughout the whole process.

I also learned how to code…barely. 😉.  Really I just learned how to look tips up online to tell the webpage how to do what I want it to do.  Sometimes, Google really is your friend! (If anyone has any suggestions on coding classes I could take, specifically for web development–namely HTML and CSS–let me know!  I’ve been on the lookout but haven’t found anything that really fits just yet.)

Over the last five years, I’ve made a lot of friends in the blogging world, specifically travel/outdoor recreation bloggers.  I’ve done guest posts on other blogs and collaborations with other friendly bloggers (click here to see those!)  There are so many supportive people in the blogging world, I’ve been SO impressed by how many want to help each other.  It’s a really encouraging community to be a part of!

What’s Next?

What will the next five years bring?  Who knows!  Once we fully get through the COVID saga I hope to attend my first blogging conference, in-person.  I’ve also been working on a project for the last several years that I’ve been keeping very hush-hush.  I’m truly hoping to make enough progress on this to reveal it to you soon…🙏 🤞  I do hope to continue the blog, at least in some form, for the next many years!

Thank you for hanging out with me for the last five years.  I have grown to love blogging and I TRULY appreciate the supportive readers I’ve gained along the way.  I hope we have MANY more years of blog enjoyment ahead of us!

What brought you to my blog Dear Reader?  What holds your interest and gets you to keep reading?  Do you have any suggestions of things I could change in the future or topics you’d like to see me cover?  Let me know in the comments!

 

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I hit a major Blogiversary this month! Thank you to my Readers! Read on for what's changed, and my hopes for the future.

 

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Hiking Black Elk Peak, Trail #9: the Easy Way!

In this post, I detail the main route up Black Elk Peak in the Black Hills.

Black Elk Peak trail (Trail #9) is one of the most popular hikes in the entire Black Hills.  It summits Black Elk Peak, which is the tallest peak in the Hills (at over 7000 feet in elevation) and it is also the tallest mountain in the entire country east of the Rockies!

In this post, I am reviewing the route that traverses the south side of the mountain.  This is the easiest way up Black Elk Peak.  You can also attempt Trail #9 from the north.  For a review of that trail, which is only lightly traveled and is FAR more strenuous than the southern route (in my opinion it is one of the hardest trails in the entire Black Hills) click here.  

Where is the Black Elk Peak Trailhead?

The trailhead is located within Custer State Park.  It is adjacent to the picturesque Sylvan Lake.  You can reach it from the east side of the main parking lot at the lake, which is found just off of Route 87.

When is the best time of year to hike the Black Elk Peak Trail?

You can hike this trail any time of the year (weather-permitting that Route 87 is open so you can get to the trailhead).  Always remember that because this is the highest portion of the Black Hills, it tends to get more snow than the surrounding areas and that snow tends to stick around longer.  Also, this trail is VERY popular, even in the winter months, so the snow on it gets packed into very slippery ice.  At a bare minimum, traction devices such as Yaktrax are a MUST during the snowy months.

As with the majority of Custer State Park, you can take dogs on this trail.  Please keep them leashed though.  Unlike many other trails in the Black Hills, you should expect to have A LOT of company on your hike, at least during the busy season. 

Black Elk Peak is the new name for Harney Peak

Black Elk Peak is located within the Harney range.   The name of the mountain was changed from Harney Peak just a few years ago so many signs and maps still carry the old name.  The new name honors Black Elk, a Lakota, Holy Man who died in 1950.  The wilderness area that the peak is located within was named after him, as well.

*If you’re interested in learning more about this great man and the rich, Lakota culture, check out the book Black Elk Speaks by John Neihardt.  Neihardt wrote this biography after interviewing Black Elk near the end of his life. 

The Holy Man had an incredibly rich life filled with diverse experiences from growing up in a nomadic tribe on the South Dakota Plains to traveling the world with the Wild Bill Hickok Wild West show!  Black Elk was even at the Battle of Little Bighorn where General Custer was killed.  In the book, he discusses how everything changed when “the yellow metal that makes white men crazy”–-his name for “gold”–was found in the Black Hills.

What is the Black Elk Peak trail like?

The trail is quite wide and graded, with very little rock-scrambling required (until you get to the summit).  Due to this, I would give it a rating of Moderate.  The only things that make this trail difficult are the length (it’s over seven miles long, out-and-back, and can easily take 4 – 5 hours to complete) and it sits at a high altitude.  Throughout the entire hike you never drop below 6000 feet, so expect to feel the lower oxygen levels present at this higher elevation.  You will get out of breath and tired more quickly and you may feel dizzy (or like your head is “swimming”.)

The summit can be a little daunting.  As with much of the rest of the Black Hills this area is left primarily to nature.  There are very few fences or barriers between you and the cliff edges that surround the summit of the mountain.  If you are responsible you can very safely enjoy this site.  Just be watchful with small children and pets.

All that being said, this trail is family-friendly as long as you know your limits and take your time.  I would recommend hiking boots (or at least sturdy shoes) for this hike but I’ve seen people do it in simple sneakers and even flip-flops or sandals. 😮

It’s a long way down!

The other concern here is the weather.  It can change incredibly quickly.  It can also be drastically different here than the lower elevations in the rest of the park or the surrounding countryside.  The peak is solely made of granite rock, there are no trees for shade or protection.

While the hike does meander through the Black Hills National Forest, this portion of it was decimated by the pine beetle epidemic just a few years ago so there are many areas that were left bare of trees. So don’t expect a lot of shade to hide you from the sun in the summer. 

There is also little protection from the wind.  If a thunderstorm pops up while you’re on the mountain (which can frequently be expected during the afternoon in the summer months) you should immediately trek back down the trail and get to an area with more trees and protection!

What will you see on the Black Elk Peak Trail?

The panorama that greets you at the summit is unrivaled anywhere in the Black Hills (you’re taller than everything else so there is nothing to block your view! )  We are talking a 360-degree vista of the entirety of Custer State Park, the town of Custer to the south, Rapid City to the north, and the plains that spread to the east of town!  On clear days you may also be able to spot the Badlands, which is almost 100 miles to the east (bring your binoculars!)

The view from 7000+ feet high!

Much like the rest of the park, this route is the perfect place to see the wide variety of flora (plants) and fauna (critters) that call Custer State Park home.  These include mountain goats, bighorn sheep, deer (both whitetail and mule), elk, chipmunks, and the squirrels who will chatter at you along the way.  There are also coyotes, mountain lions, and bobcats, though you are less likely to see these shy animals. 

Harney Fire Tower

There is an incredibly picturesque fire tower at the top of the peak and to my knowledge, it still bears Harney’s name.  It was built in the 1930s and rumor has it the infamous burrows that can be spotted in other portions of the park are descendants of the pack animals who were used when the fire tower was in service.  The tower is no longer in operation, but it is still maintained and can be climbed!  For more info on the tower, click here!

First glimpse of the Harney Fire Tower!

This trail is not “easy” but it is quite doable for almost any able-bodied hiker.  Plan to spend an entire day at Sylvan Lake and hiking the Black Elk Peak trail, it is most definitely worth that much time!  Enjoy the trail, appreciate the summit and the splendid beauty of the Black Hills that surround you.  This is a fun trek with incredible views and I would encourage anyone who has even the slightest interest in hiking to try it out!  You’ll be glad you did!

 

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Looking to bag one of the most popular peaks in the Black Hills? Read on for details on hiking Black Elk Peak!

 

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Hike the Hell Canyon Trail in the Black Hills

In this post, I review the Hell Canyon trail located near Custer, South Dakota

The Hell Canyon Trail is found in a very scenic portion of the southern Black Hills.  It was once quite forested until it was decimated by the Jasper Fire in 2000 which was one of the worst fires on record, ever, in the Black Hills.  You can still see remnants of this damage (though they have begun reseeding this area, so hopefully it will be returned to the forest in a few years).

Funnily enough, the canyon was named BEFORE it was ravaged by the fire.  The ruins of that event do make it look a bit like a hellscape though! 😮

Puppers and I enjoying the trail along one of the canyon walls that was left bare as a result of the Jasper Fire.

Where is the Hell Canyon Trailhead?

The Hells Canyon trailhead is located in far southwestern South Dakota pretty much in the middle of nowhere. 😉   It is situated 25 miles east of Newcastle, Wyoming, or a little more than 10 miles east of the Wyoming state line.  It is also less than 15 miles west of Custer, South Dakota, basically a mile west of Jewell Cave, on US 16, on the north side of the road.

A word of caution:  if you just put “Hell Canyon” into your GPS it may try to take you to a remote spot south of the highway.  This area is beautiful, but these roads can turn into 4WD roads VERY quickly and easily, especially in snowy or muddy conditions.  You can certainly enjoy driving in this area but do so with caution and at your own risk.  The actual Hell Canyon trailhead can be reached by any vehicle as it is just off of US 16.  No 4WD required!

The paved road at the bottom of the canyon is US 16, you can see how easily accessible the lane to the trailhead is (the dirt road).

What is the Hell Canyon trail like?

Hell Canyon is a loop trail that is about 5.5 miles long and really only covers a small portion of land.  The right side, or eastern branch, of the trail traverses the floor of the actual canyon while the left side, or western branch, is found on the canyon rim.  In many places, you can see the lower portion of the trail from the upper portion.

You can really take the loop in either direction.  During the warmer months, the Trekkers prefer to go counterclockwise, starting with the climb to the top of the canyon wall.  This gets the only moderately difficult portion of the trail out of the way early.  This area also has little to no shade, due to the Jasper Fire, so depending on what time you set out, it may be best to try to do this section during the coolest portion of your hike.

A cool pic of the canyon wall!

The exception to this is if you’re attempting the hike during the colder months and you WANT the sun.  Also, the portion at the back of the canyon that descends the forested part of the canyon wall can become INCREDIBLY icy during the cooler times of the year.  We made the mistake of descending this way once and had to pretty much do the entire thing by crab-crawling and sliding on our backsides to keep from careening over the cliff edge (and this was WITH YakTrax traction devices on! 😮 )

What Will You See on the Hell Canyon Trail?

You will see a variety of ecosystems on the hike.  The canyon floor itself is forested and quite green and lush, with a creek running through it.  The upper canyon rim consists of dry, arid grassland.  This is the portion that was hit by the fire.

A placard at the trailhead that gives info on the fire

On the backside of the canyon (the north end), at around the halfway point through the loop, you will see the ruins of an old CCC camp.  There is also evidence of an old, paved road in this area, as well as some root cellars and small, cement foundations leftover from the camp days.

There are a few places along the canyon rim that can feel a little sketchy to people who are afraid of heights.  As long as you are careful there isn’t a lot of danger on this portion of the trail, but it can be disorienting as you’re basically just staring down a scree slope.

This is one of my favorite parts of the hike. The red rocks of the canyon rim make a VERY pretty contrast to the dark green trees that sit just below it.

If you’re looking for a fun, moderately challenging hike that isn’t very busy, check out the Hell Canyon trail!

 

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Hell Canyon is a lightly-trafficked, moderately-difficult hike that includes many unique ecosystems found in the Black Hills!

 

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