This was another awesome surprise of a day! I texted my friend Kathryn for advice since we were in her neck of the woods, and she suggested we take Route 14 east through the Bighorn Mountains and stop for a picnic. I’m glad we did. :)
To start the day, Brendan got some work done from our hotel room in the morning, and then we grabbed a late breakfast at a local, smoky diner. The place was a bit depressing, but Brendan’s omelet with green chili was apparently awesome.
Heading out of town along Route 14, we drove through some relatively flat prairie, but soon approached the red, rocky cliffs that mark the start of the Bighorn National Forest.
The road follows a river canyon and then turns through switchbacks up into the mountains. We stopped at some waterfalls and, on checking the map, realized that this was going to be a pretty epic drive - we were only at the very edge of the park still!
The road continued up, up, up, and the landscape changed from red, rocky cliffs to an evergreen forest with wide open, green fields and wildflowers galore. Pink, yellow, purple, white! We stopped again at some high-elevation fields to walk around and saw a couple of deer, plus lots of bluebirds at birdhouses they have along the road.
This place spoke to us. It was exhilarating to be up at that height, around all this beauty, and relatively isolated from other people.
As we headed toward our exit from the park, we drove by a rocky outcropping, surrounded by a green field, with a dirt path leading straight up to the top, and we quickly decided we just had to stop and hike it.
I was not expecting to hike on this day, so I was a bit unprepared in the clothing department. The skirt turned out to be just fine, but we probably should have changed into sneakers - it was steep and slippery! We made it to the base of the rocky part, though, and the view was gorgeous.
On the other side of the Bighorn Mountains, we found the charming town of Sheridan, where we discovered an awesome coffee shop - Java Moon - where we hung out for a couple hours. Brendan got some work done, and I wrote for a while, then walked around the historic main street. It was a surprise to find such a nice town, and it made for a very pleasant afternoon.
Photo credit: SheridanWyoming.org
By evening, we were back on the road and headed for the Ramada in Rapid City, SD. This hotel managed to be one of the worst places we stayed, and at the same time, one of the most expensive. Rapid City is South Dakota’s second-largest, but it seemed to us to be nothing but chain restaurants and hotels that boasted indoor waterparks and casinos. Apparently that’s the thing to do in Rapid City, and because of its popularity with South Dakotans, it is pricey.
Here's our Ramada:
Photo credit: Rapid City Ramada
Our room was in a separate building from the main one with the pool, and the parking area around it was poorly lit and rather sketchy feeling. As we unloaded our stuff from the car, two guys who appeared to be rather high or drunk approached us, and we both thought we were about to get mugged. They asked us if we could give them a ride somewhere, but Brendan quickly put them off by saying, “No man, sorry, I’ve got to do some work,” and they not only didn’t mug us, but they didn’t press the issue, and followed up by suggesting we check out some nearby place with good music.
We closed out the night with dinner at Chili’s. In our books, if you have to eat at a chain restaurant, that’s one of the best choices for dinner (for lunch, we’d choose Panera, Cosi, Chipotle, or Qdoba). You know you can count on Chili’s for a decent frozen margarita.
Then it was back to the hotel - where we parked in the better-lit main parking lot - and time to hit the hay.