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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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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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!

 

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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!

 

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Cement Ridge Lookout Tower

In this post, I review the Cement Ridge Lookout Tower in extreme, eastern Wyoming.

The Cement Ridge Lookout Tower is located in extreme eastern Wyoming, almost on the border with neighboring South Dakota.  It is a National Forest Service fire lookout that is still in active use today.  This is a prime place for 360-degree views of the surrounding countryside and is especially picturesque during the fall.

Puppers and I enjoying the lookout!

From the lookout point, you can see portions of four states, South Dakota, Wyoming, North Dakota, and Montana.  Expect the weather to be different here than in much of the rest of the Black Hills as this is one of the higher elevations you will find in the Hills.  It is frequently windy here and is usually cooler than the surrounding areas due to its altitude.  It can also be cloudy/foggy, even when the surrounding areas are not.

Mr. Trekler and I once attempted to take Momma and Poppa Trekker here to view leaf colors.  It was a lovely day and we were raving about the view the entire way.  When we reached the tower, however, it was sacked in with fog. 😕 

The view from the lookout tower! This is looking north towards Montana/North Dakota.

How do you get to the Cement Ridge Lookout Tower?

There are a number of different routes you can take to the lookout tower.  Some of them require driving on high-clearance, 4WD roads so I won’t be discussing those here.  The easiest way to reach the tower is via Forest Route 222 (also called Roughlock Falls Road) that traverses Little Spearfish Canyon.  This will take you to Tinton Road and eventually Cement Ridge Road.  In recent years the Forest Service has actually put up signs directing you to the lookout, so it is much easier to locate than it used to be.

You will take Roughlock Falls Road west, towards Wyoming, past the turnoff for Roughlock Falls.  Continue until this road meets a T-intersection with Tinton Road.  You will then take a right onto Tinton Road and a short time later make a left onto Schoolhouse Gulch Road. Follow that to the intersection with Cement Ridge Road and follow the signs.

Drivers should be aware that ALL of these roads are dirt.  They are graded, however, and are in quite good condition.  As long as you don’t mind your car getting dirty, any sedan should be able to handle them in good weather.

It should also be noted that in the winter, most of these dirt roads become impassible to all vehicles other than snowmobiles as they are usually not maintained. 

Another pretty fall picture from the Black Hills!

If you’d like to skip the business of Spearfish Canyon, you can access Tinton road from the north from Spearfish (take I-90 to Exit 8 for Mcguigan Road.  Then take that road to the south until you reach the T-intersection with Tinton Road.)  You can also access it from the south.  Take US 85 west out of Lead (towards Wyoming) for about 18 miles.  Tinton Road will be on your right.

This is a fun place to visit almost any time of the year, which also offers amazing views.  Why not check it out?

Have you been to the Cement Ridge Lookout Tower?  What did you think?  Tell me about it in the comments!

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Looking for a great place to view the northern Black Hills that almost anyone can reach? Check out the Cement Ridge Lookout Tower in Wyoming!

 

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Hiking in the Bighorns

In this post, I outline some great day hikes in the northern portion of the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming!

Usually, the Trekkers go camping in the Bighorn Mountains, in northeastern Wyoming, over Labor Day weekend.  However this year, thanks to Coronavirus, Mr. Trekker’s school schedule has been altered and that wasn’t an option, so we picked a random couple of days in July instead! 😎

We started our trip with two nights in the Porcupine Campground, which is located off of Route 14A, in the northern portion of the national forest.  It is not far from the ancient Medicine Wheel that we visited several years ago.  We drove in from the east, from the Sheridan and Ranchester area.

This is a MUCH easier drive than coming in from the west, near Lovell.  That way is far steeper with much sharper turns.  When we drove the road from that direction several years ago we both agreed we wouldn’t want to have to do it pulling a 5th wheel.  We talked to someone in the campground who had accomplished this feat, and he confirmed it was quite difficult. 

Climbing the mountains from the west you do get some nice views of the Bighorn Basin, but it was a lovely drive through a canyon coming in from the east, as well.

Porcupine Campground, Bighorn Mountains

Porcupine Campground is very nice as far as those in the national forest are concerned.  The sites were large and flat, and also well-spaced apart, some even appeared to be wheelchair-accessible. They also gave you lantern hooks! (I’m easily impressed, what can I say? 😉)  This was nicer than the national forest campground we visited in South Dakota recently.  There was a goodly amount of shade and some of the sites offered fantastic views from the hillside.  The mosquitoes weren’t quite as bad as what we experienced in the Black Hills earlier in the summer either, though they still gave us a few good bites.   

Sunset from the campsite!

Waterfalls in the Bighorns!

Porcupine Falls

For our first hike, we visited Porcupine Falls.  It isn’t on all of the maps but it is easy to find.  It’s located off of Route 14, the same road as Bucking Mule Falls (which IS on most maps) and there is a sign at the turnoff.  The road to the trailhead is short but it does get rather rough.  We saw people in RVs and regular sedans who made it through though.  In good conditions, most vehicles shouldn’t have too much trouble as long as you are watchful and take it slow.

The trail is short, less than a mile each direction, but it is STEEP!  We were prepared for this but I strongly recommend GOOD walking shoes with strong tread if you’re attempting this hike.  In dry conditions, it was a little slippy heading down.  If it was muddy or snowy/icy this trail could be downright treacherous!  It’s a downhill hike the whole way to the falls, so you know what that means for your return trip! 😮  Another thing that makes the trek back so difficult is the altitude, you’ll find yourself above 5000 feet in elevation when attempting this hike.

It becomes extra fun when you meet an unleashed, less-than-friendly dog along the trail with no owner in sight, who insists on getting in your pup’s face and growling.  PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT:  Please be responsible for your pets and respectful of everyone else on the trail.  No one else knows your dog, or if the growls he emits are casual, or a prelude to something more aggressive–this is especially concerning when you have a pup who thinks EVERYBODY just wants to play with her! 🙄

Porcupine Falls!
Doesn’t that pool look inviting?
A view down the canyon, past the waterfall and pool!

The view is definitely worth the challenge of getting to the site.  The roaring cascade plummets into a pool at your feet from over 200 feet above you. On hot days, this makes for a perfect place to take a cool dip, but be warned, the water is COLD!

Bucking Mule Falls

After that adventure, we continued down the road to Bucking Mule Falls.  There were numerous horses and campers at this location and before you ask, yes, there was also a mule!  Poor Puppers didn’t know what to make of the ungodly noise that emanated from him in response to some nickers from other horses. 😂

You get extra points if you know what a mule actually is (hint, it’s a hybrid).  You get EXTRA, extra points if you know a unique characteristic that this hybridization causes…🤔 **(answers at the end)

I was in absolute heaven, I LOVE the smell of horse (yes, really 😝).  I blame my childhood, growing up on a hobby farm, with horses, in Indiana.  But seriously, there is something cool about those animals.  They’re REALLY intelligent, for one thing, and their smell is divine!  It isn’t anything like other barnyard animals, it’s sweeter. (The only time I’ve ever known a horse to stink is when they’re super sweaty after a hard ride.)  Even their manure smells better than other animals.  That’s right, you heard me!  I like the smell of horse poop! 🤣

Related posts:  West Tensleep Trail, Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming; Bighorn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming; Camping in the Bighorns

This was a great trail!  It was about four miles round-trip, but there wasn’t a large amount of elevation gain.  The route mostly rolled over the lower-lying hills in the local area.  It traversed a beautiful, wooded forest with the pine needles cushioning your footfalls, as well as some more craggy outcrops.  The trek was fairly well shaded, on a graded path, without a lot of roots or boulders to trip you up.

At the end, you come to a lookout point over Devil Canyon, where you look DOWN on the falls from high above (it emerges from the opposite canyon wall).  It was really cool!  The canyon was HUGE and beautiful, not what I was expecting at all.  It reminded me of the canyon that Green River formed at Dinosaur National Monument, in Colorado, that we visited last fall.  It leads to the west and opens onto the expansive, hazy plains of Bighorn Basin.

Devil Canyon, isn’t it GORGEOUS?!
Bucking Mule Falls!
Shadow Trekkers at the falls!

There is also a Paradise Falls in this area.  I didn’t see it on the map and we didn’t know it existed until someone told us about it.  Apparently it’s a bit of a secret. 🤫  It does show up on Google Maps though and looks rather easy to reach if you want to research this location on your own… 

Later, we drove a loop from 14A to Route 15, to Burgess Overlook.  Then we returned back to our campsite via 14A. This allowed us to FINALLY see a moose (she ended up being the only one we saw the entire trip! 😕)

It’s highly unusual that we see so few moose in the Bighorns.  Usually, we are there in early September so I’m not sure if this is a result of the hotter weather keeping them at higher elevations or the crowds encouraging them to stay more isolated.  The babies would still be smaller and younger at this time of year which may explain why the mommas may want to keep them further from people. 

Dinosaur Tracksite

On the third day of the trip, we took Shell Canyon to the west on Route 14.  We’ve traveled this road before but never in this direction, so we got a different perspective on it.  Later we got to view the rain shafts hammering the canyon as we looked up at it from the west.  It was a very cool sight! 

Then we took Red Gulch Road to the Dinosaur Tracksite.  This was very cool and something I had just happened to stumble upon on the map.  They think this location was a beach on the edge of an inland sea during dinosaur times.  The “terrible lizards” would walk in the mud next to the water and leave tracks.  These eventually hardened and were fossilized!

Fossilized shrimp holes at the Dinosaur Tracksite!
Dino footprint!

This attraction is small and free, it’s a nice place to visit for lunch and to let the pup run a bit.  I can imagine it being quite hot on a warmer, sunnier day.  They had nice picnic facilities, though.

We then finished this backcountry byway that we had completed the other leg of on another trip.  Ya’ll know how I LOVE finishing things that I start! 😁  This portion of the road was quite rutted and rough too, so it’s not really fit for a typical sedan (though a higher clearance SUV could handle it in dry conditions–we saw some CRV’s do it!)

If you’re looking for some great day hikes in the northern Bighorn mountains, check out some of these cool options! 

Have you visited any of these sites?  Tell me about your experiences in the comments!

 

**Mules are a hybrid of a male donkey and a female horse.  You can usually spot them because they’re the size of a horse, but with GIGANTIC ears.  And the other characteristic that makes them unique?  Because they are a hybrid, rarely can they reproduce…The More You Know 🌈 😉 !

 

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Looking for some great hikes in the northern Bighorn mountains? Check out Porcupine and Bucking Mule Falls!

 

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Microadventures: Fun Close to Home!

In this post, I review a recent adventure the Trekkers pursued, “chasing” the Neowise comet!

I’m going on a Microadventure!

What is a Microadventure?

“Microadventure” is a term that’s come about in recent years.  It basically means you’re going on an adventure that’s close to home, easily accessible, and can be completed in as little as a few hours.  It can range from anything from a Saturday picnic in the woods to a several-day long camping trip.  It can be enjoyed at any time, though it’s become increasingly popular in the days of Covid-19 when many people are choosing to save some money, and to not venture too far from home.

Microadventures are a great way to find the hidden gems to enjoy in your local community and region.  They’re especially important during the days of Coronavirus when we’re all stressed, depressed, and worried about the current state of the world.

The Trekkers live for microadventures, be those outdoor activities in the Black Hills, or storm chases in the nearby plains!  Recently, we got to enjoy something that doesn’t come around every day, we “chased” Neowise, the comet that made a surprise appearance in the skies above us!

This isn’t the first comet I’ve seen in my life.  I’m old enough to remember standing outside my childhood home, in the 1990s, with my mom one night, checking out the Hale-Bopp comet through the binoculars.

How do I find a microadventure near me?

It helps that we live in a beautiful place that makes these opportunities many and easy to find, though you can enjoy these types of activities in most places if you know where to look.  Go to your local community park or just take a drive in the country outside the city lights.  So many places have walking paths and greenways now, even in more urban areas.  There are also museums, historical and natural sites, and additional recreational activities, such as ropes courses to explore.

We actually started our chasing adventure on Skyline Drive, which traverses the ridgeback that splits the town of Rapid City in two.  Unfortunately, the light pollution from town made it difficult to see the comet.  A few evenings later we visited Badlands National Park, with MommaTrekker and Puppers in tow.

Badlands National Park, by-the-way, is one of the best places to view the night sky that I’ve ever seen.  As the park’s location is the epitome of the “middle-of-nowhere” and being that this area is more arid, where clear skies are a common occurrence, this is a place with very little light pollution where you can view the night sky in all its grandeur.  It helped that the night we went, the moon wasn’t up yet.

My mom agreed that she had never seen so many stars, and she’s spent the last 40 years living on a farm in Indiana!  Several different constellations, planets, and the Milky Way were also easily visible to the naked eye.  I can also attest, from previous experience, that this is a GREAT place to view meteor showers! 😮 

Several days later, we finished our adventure with a short drive to Pactola Lake which is about a half-hour to the west of Rapid City.

Neowise over the Badlands!

Whether you don’t have much spare time, or you’re trying to stick close to home due to Coronavirus, or if you’re trying to save a little on expenses, try out a microadventure.  See what you can discover near you!

What sorts of activities do you enjoy on your microadventures?  Tell me about them in the comments!

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Looking for something fun to do close to home? Why not try out a microadventure and enjoy some hidden gems in your local area!

 

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Christmas Tree Hunting in the Black Hills National Forest

In this post, I discuss a delightful holiday pastime, Christmas tree hunting in the Black Hills National Forest.

Well, kids, it’s that time of year again!  Thanksgiving is over, the turkey has been eaten, you may have gotten up REALLY early (or stayed up REALLY late) to get some good deals on shopping…or better yet, you said FORGET THAT and chose to #OptOutside to enjoy some fresh air and work off those Thanksgiving Dinner calories instead.  Either way, it is now, FINALLY time to enjoy the Christmas season!

The tree is decorated, lights are sparkling (both inside and outside the house), and Trans-Siberian Orchestra is booming from the speakers.  Christmas has now been fully embraced by the Trekker household!  (I told ya I wasn’t a Grinch!) 🤶

(I’m excited about the upcoming holidays even if Target does have swimsuits out already…*sigh*  Although, this might explain why I’ve had trouble getting a good bathing suit there in the summer, clearly I was shopping during the wrong season! 🙄)

This time of year the Trekkers take part in what has become an annual tradition:  Christmas Tree Hunting in the Black Hills National Forest for the Trekker Family Christmas Tree!

Some years, thigh-high snowdrifts can make the hunt exceptionally challenging (this is especially true when you find yourself attached to a rambunctious pup who happens to LOVE the snow! 😝 {Mr. Trekker plays lumberjack, carrying the tree and saw. 😮}). 

We load up the “old family sleigh” (otherwise known as Mr. Trekker’s 4WD truck) and head out to our favorite, tree cutting spot (no, I’m not going to tell you exactly where it is.  We’ve got our eyes set on other trees up there for future years! 😉)

A Trekker Family Christmas Tree in its natural environment

Where do I get a permit for hunting Christmas trees in the Black Hills?

The Forest Service encourages the practice of hunting Christmas trees in the national forest to assist them in maintaining healthy forest spaces, and there is nothing better to compliment the Christmas Season than the smell of pine in your living room!

You do need a permit to cut a Christmas tree in these areas.  They are $10 each (max 5 per person) and you have to go to a Forest Service office or certain private vendors to obtain one.  For information on how to go about acquiring these, and a full list of vendors where you can buy them, click here.  You can also check the Forest Service website (where you can buy and download a pass online).  There are some restrictions on which parcels of land you can acquire the trees from and all usual restrictions pertaining to vehicle travel still apply.  Also, be sure you are on Public Forest Service land and not Private Property when tree hunting.

Something to be aware of if you’re going tree hunting in the Hills.  These are not “tree lot” or “tree farm” trees.  These are WILD, “free-range” trees.  They haven’t been trimmed and shaped on a farm with others their size, placed a perfect distance apart for ultimate fullness.  They’ve been forced to fight for sunlight and nutrients among others of their kind, some that are MUCH bigger.  They may have had to grow around other trees or obstructions or had to survive vicious storms and wind, or the damage caused by animals.  Basically, these trees look how they are SUPPOSED to, without human intervention. 😁  The chances of finding “the perfect tree” are pretty slim, but you’ll know when you find the “right” tree.  It calls to you 😉.

Where are good places to hunt for Christmas trees in the Black Hills National Forest?

There are a variety of pine trees available in the Hills for this purpose, ranging from the stereotypical, Christmasy, spruce tree to Ponderosa Pines.  I personally recommend the Black Hills Spruce which is usually found on north-facing slopes of hills and wetter areas.  We tend to favor the central to northern Black Hills in our searches.

Be warned, many roads in the Hills are Forest Service roads (or old logging roads) which means they are dirt, rutted, and not maintained AT ALL for winter travel.  Conditions in this area this time of year can range from dry, dusty forest roads, to mud, to, frequently, several inches to feet of snow!  I would not recommend driving on them without a 4-wheel-drive/high clearance vehicle.  Some of the roads don’t require this but much of it depends upon current conditions and varies year-to-year (or even week-to-week and day-to-day.  Heck, let’s face it, in the mountains, it can vary hour-to-hour!)

Usually, the roads are snow-covered, sometimes deeply.  Some years, there is little snow and the roads aren’t muddy, so even my all-wheel-drive Subaru could suffice, though these are not normal years.  Also be aware, as with many places in the Hills, if you were to become stuck or mired…it will likely be quite a hassle (and quite expensive) to get out and that’s once you hike somewhere you can get cell signal to call for a rescue!

Lunch, by Deerfield Lake, after a successful hunt, on a snowy Saturday!

We have a favorite area we frequent (nope, still not going to tell you where it is! )  I will tell you this much, the mountains west of Deerfield have an abundance of spruce trees (assuming that’s the type you’re searching for.)  Flag Mountain Road is one of our favorite routes that takes you to some good hunting spots. (That’s ALL the helpful info you will get from me!)

The difficulty with this location is that it usually receives some of the heavier snowfall in the Hills.  Even if there is little to no snow in the lower elevations, what falls as rain in these locales often falls as snow in the higher portions of the Hills.  And, as I mentioned previously, as is true throughout the Black Hills, cell service in this area is often spotty (if it exists at all).  So if you do get stuck and/or your vehicle becomes disabled, you may have a lengthy walk–possibly in deep snow–before you can call for help.  Also, watch your step when you venture off the roads.  The deep snow can easily hide stumps, downed trees, and other deadfall that can trip you up.

Our favorite Christmas tree hunting area in less snowy years

Mr. Trekker and his Tacoma usually handle the conditions well, we’ve only gotten stuck…a few times.  Mr. Trekker didn’t mind too much though, it gave him a chance to expand his trail, snow-driving skills (and the opportunity to play with his tire chains). 🙄

To be clear, we know this area well, such as which parts to avoid as the road winds through gullies that tend to drift.  We always carry numerous options of recovery gear with us–and yes mom 😉–we always bring extra clothing in case we get stuck out for a lengthy period of time or need to hike out to call for help.  We also have bug-out plans if the conditions prove worse than we had anticipated.  Click here for a short video of one wintery trip in the forest!  

The Tacoma stalks its prey (said in my best, nature documentary, narrator voice 😉 )

Our usual MO is to wander around one of our favorite hunting sites for a while…until both of us look across the meadow…and see IT, standing on the border between meadow and forest, with its MUCH larger brothers towering in the background.  You always have to wait for that “Griswold Family Christmas Tree” moment (and yes, Trekker family tradition dictates we watch that movie the night we go tree hunting to start off the Christmas season.) 😉

If you’re really lucky, as you begin the search for the perfect tree it may start to snow gently…then it looks like a Norman Rockwell painting!  A word of advice, we’ve learned the trees look smaller in their “natural habitat”, surrounded by their MUCH larger brothers.  More than once we’ve had to cut a tree more drastically than we initially thought was needed once we got home and tried to fit it in our living room.  We’ve learned if Mr. Trekker’s 6’4 frame can reach the top of the tree…it should fit in the house!

To Conclude

So, if you’re looking for a great place to cut down your own tree, while also helping the local forest stay healthy, don’t be afraid to get your hands a little dirty.  Get out to your nearby national forest and get yourself a “free-range” Christmas tree. (It’s more organic than those tree-farm trees! 😉).

Christmas Tree Hunting in the Black Hills (or anywhere really) is an enjoyable, family-friendly experience.  I encourage everyone to try it out and as always, be safe and smart when venturing out.  The experience of trekking out to the wilds to acquire a tree from its natural habitat is incredibly exhilarating.  It speaks to the instinctual lumberjack who’s hiding in the deepest, darkest depths of all of us. 😉  It’s also a fun, family activity.  As I mentioned earlier, there’s little cell service out there, so gather the kids up in the “old family sleigh” and head out for some good, old fashioned–sans-technology–family time!

…just don’t forget the saw!  😳

The final product!

Have you ever ventured out to cut down your own family Christmas tree?  Tell me about your experience in the comments!

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Are you wanting to channel your inner Paul Bunyan and cut your own Christmas Tree? Look no farther than your local, national forest!

 

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Dinosaur National Monument: the Colorado Side

This week’s post is Part 2 of the Trekkers’ recent trip to Dinosaur National Monument. Today I discuss the Colorado side of the park.

In last week’s post, I reviewed the Trekkers’ recent visit to the Utah side of Dinosaur National Monument.  Today, I’ll be discussing the Colorado side (as the park spans both states).

Scenic Drives on the Colorado Side of Dinosaur National Monument 

One of the main things we enjoyed on the Colorado side of the monument was the scenic drives.  There are several found throughout this portion of the park, though all but the Harper’s Corner Road are suggested for high-clearance vehicles only.  As I mentioned in Part 1, under good conditions most of these roads are great to drive (honestly several of them were less bumpy than some of the paved, county roads we drove on).  I would have felt comfortable taking any vehicle with a higher wheel base on these (such as my Outback), and we saw several SUV’s.

But I cannot stress enough that we were there in the most ideal weather possible.  According to the park, several of the roads are completely impassable when wet.  This seemed likely as we crossed many dry stream beds that could easily fill with stormwater runoff.  It also makes sense that the powdery dirt that covers the surface of many of these routes could quickly turn into slippery ooze when wet.  Many of the roads also only have one way in or out, so, if you reach the end, and then a rainstorm comes…you may not be able to get back out again.  Several also lead through low-lying canyons which are likely to flood quickly in a heavy rain event.  So please, be wary before attempting these roads if any bad weather conditions are present or expected.

Click here for the NPS website for the park that will have up-to-date info on current road conditions.

Harper’s Corner Road

This is the main road through the Colorado section of the park.  You access it near Dinosaur, Colorado.  This is also one of the only paved roads in the monument.  At the end of it is the Harper’s Corner Trail which offers INCREDIBLE views.  At times you are hiking on an almost knife-edge of rock, with the Green River winding along beside you on one side, and the Yampa River on the other.  Did I mention you are up to 2500 feet ABOVE these waterways throughout the hike? 😮  It got my acrophobic-heart pumping a bit! (It really wasn’t too bad.  I only felt nervous in one spot where you get a healthy view of a chute, down a cliffside. 😋)

I would rate this trail as “easy”.  It’s about three miles in total length (out and back) and it doesn’t have much elevation gain.  Just about anyone wearing tennis shoes should be able to handle it (though I should note the park is at an altitude of over 5000 feet, so “flatlanders” may want to take it slow. 😉)  At the end of the trek you are treated to an AMAZING view down the canyon, and of Steamboat Rock from above, behind which the Yampa and Green Rivers meet.

One of the incredible lookout points from the Harper’s Corner Trail. That’s the Green River far below, you can maybe see how it got its name.
Steamboat Rock, from above…

Echo Park Road

This route takes you from Harper’s Corner Road, east, to Echo Park and its campground.  This area is called a “park”, like several other locations in Colorado.  It is really just a flat, meadow-like area.  It was cool!  (Hint, it’s called “Echo Park” for a reason, I encourage you to experiment with this 😁.)

This route traverses the lower “benches” of land that can be seen from above, when traversing the Harper’s Corner hike.  They are called this as they are wide sections of terrain.  They literally look like benches, or steps, that rim the lower, river canyons. 

The road winds through an incredible canyon where sheer rock towers over you on both sides.  From here you can see Steamboat Rock from the bottom, where it’s much more impressive.

There is a short hike along the river’s edge that is around two miles long (out-and-back).  It takes you to the confluence of the Yampa and Green Rivers.  There is also a place on this road called Whispering Cave.  It appeared fairly unassuming, at first, as it’s just a vertical slit in the rock wall of the canyon, that you can stand in.  This was until we figured out it’s secret (and how it got its name).  If people stand at either end of this long slit, and whisper REALLY quietly…you can hear each other VERY well (thanks to the unique acoustics of the rock structure).  And it’s far more effective than if you try the same thing outside (we checked! 😉)

Click here for a short video of the drive!

The canyon on Echo Park Road.

Echo Park!
Another view of Steamboat Rock!

Yampa Bench Road

This route takes you from Echo Park Road, east, all the way to US 40 in Elk Springs (though there are a few places you can bug out before you get that far, dependent on road conditions).  This was the most difficult route we encountered.  The drive was beautiful though, with yellow grassland and scrub brush spread before you, all the way to the rock walls that rise above you on two sides.

Even this road wasn’t bad at this time of year, though I could see it being difficult if it was wet.  It was the steepest drive we took and it had the sharpest turns.  This was also the longest route we attempted, by far.  It was fun, but we covered less than half of it (around 20 miles) and that took almost two hours.  This did appear to be the most difficult part of the trek.  According to the map, the rest of it looked flatter and easier (and some parts may have been roughly paved).  We did finally escape, through a blessed hole in the rock wall called Thanksgiving Gorge (I think I know why they give it that name!) just as daylight was waning.  We were rewarded with a herd of elk…and LOTS of cows! 😋

Sunlight is waning on the Yampa Bench Road

Beautiful Canyons in the Colorado section of Dinosaur National Monument

Flaming Gorge Reservoir

On Sunday we took US 191 north of Vernal, UT, to the Flaming Gorge Reservoir.  It was named for its vibrant, red cliffs that were cut by the Green River.  It spans both northeastern Utah, and southeastern Wyoming, just to the north.  It is absolutely beautiful, and the dam that created the reservoir is pretty stunning as well.

Flaming Gorge Reservoir
The Flaming Gorge Dam

Gates of Lodore

From the dam, we then continued north on Route 191, just across the Wyoming line, and picked up Brown’s Park Road.  This we took east, back into Colorado.  From here we followed signs to the Gates of Lodore, another INCREDIBLE canyon that was cut by the Green River.  It sits on the northern tip of the monument.  This route was a mixture of well-graded dirt and rough pavement, though any passenger car should be able to handle it, at least in good weather.

I was pronouncing this location like “Gates of Mordor”, from Lord of the Rings, but was quickly corrected by a local.  Apparently its supposed to sound more like “Gates of la-DOOR”. ☺ 

There’s an easy, and fairly short, hiking trail that leads to the mouth of the canyon, from the parking area.  Due to its sheer, rock walls, there is no access through this rocky cleft, except by water craft, on the river itself.

Gates of Ladore!

Crouse Canyon

We returned back to Vernal by way of the Crouse Canyon/Brown’s Park Scenic Backway.  This is another route that cuts through a beautiful canyon, and then a meadowy area.  This road was one of the rougher routes we traveled on and was basically only one lane wide.  This was unexpected as it was listed as a scenic drive in one of the local tour brochures, and wasn’t suggested to be high-clearance.  Our truck handled it easily, but had we known how rough it would be we would have aired the tires down, just for a smoother ride.  In good conditions, any SUV with a higher wheel base should be able to handle it (we passed a CRV or two) but I wouldn’t suggest attempting it in a typical passenger car (just because there were some rocks and ruts that had to be navigated).  My Outback probably could have managed it, but we would have been extra cautious.  The drive was BEAUTIFUL though, with the yellow and orange leaf colors set against the red rock of the canyon walls, which contrasted with the blue of the sky above.  Click here for a short video of it!

We returned home on Monday, via US 40 east, through Craig, Steamboat Springs and Rabbit Ears Pass.  This is the one portion of northern Colorado we didn’t get to see on our trip last year (have I mentioned how much I like tying up loose ends? 😉)  From there we took Route 14 north to Walden, then headed north to Laramie, Wyoming and back to the Black Hills.  FYI, this is a great way to avoid the traffic in the Denver area, and much of I-25, if you’re heading north from northern Colorado!  It offers some great views too!

You won’t find a better time to visit this park than Fall.  Tree colors are bright, crowds are light and temperatures are cool.  So the next time you’re looking for a good autumn vacation spot, think of the out-of-the-way Dinosaur National Monument!

Have you visited this incredible place?  Tell me about your favorite parts of it in the comments!

 

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This is the second half of the two-part series, on the blog, about Dinosaur National Monument

 

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