Sunday, September 24, 2023

2020 pandemic road trip to from Wisconsin to Montana: Chapter 4


Continuing to Cody

Saturday, September 19, 2020      

We drove the scenic route to Cody, Wyoming, at least for the first 70 or so miles. Not exactly sure how to begin the day’s travels, I googled the followed search: best things to do in the Black Hills. The most alluring suggestion was a drive along Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway, 70-miles of the most scenic roadway in the U.S. 

We limited ourselves to Iron Mountain Road, a 20-mile segment that features numerous hairpin turns, a half dozen spiraling bridges, a few one-lane tunnels, and numerous panoramic overlooks. The kind of drive that would be especially exhilarating while behind the wheel of a Mazda Miata. 

What followed was considerably tamer in comparison. Custer State Park’s Wildlife Loop promises views of abundant wildlife: deer, antelope, foxes, burros, buffalo, elk, even bears. Well, we saw all but the last two species, although not until we were more than halfway through the loop. The visit certainly didn’t live up to the hype of the 15-minute film we viewed at the visitor’s center. 

By this point, we had driven 100 miles in 4 hours and were no closer to our destination. And we still had a visit to Devil’s Tower on our itinerary. 

“At this rate, we’ll be lucky to make it to Cody at 8,” I noted, which turned out to be an accurate estimate. 

Devil's Tower, a geologic formation made of magma that condensed into columns – actually, up close it looks like an agglomeration of huge, concrete spaghetti -- is located in the northeastern corner of Wyoming, about 100 miles northwest of Rapid City. From I-90, there is only one way in and out. But it was worth the extra time. Rising to a height of 867 feet from its base (and nearly 1,300 feet above the nearby Belle Fourche River), Devil’s Tower is, surprisingly, not visible for miles and miles away. At least from the direction that we approached. I thought we’d start to catch a glimpse of it shortly after we exited the Interstate, but in fact, we were probably within a few miles of the entrance when it eventually loomed into view, appearing like a mirage rising out of a wheat field. I can understand why it’s promoted as an ‘out of this world’ experience. 

During the drive to the entrance after exiting I-90, we pretty much had 25 miles of two-lane highway to ourselves. As a result, we were surprised to find most of the visitor parking spaces occupied. We walked a 1.3-mile loop around the monument, which got us close enough to climb on some of the rubble at its base. The federal government allow access to rock climbers, and there were at least a half dozen, by our count, taking up the challenge. Outside of walking the trail and taking in the panorama of the surrounding landscape, there was little else to do. 

Devil’s Tower certainly wasn’t the highlight of our trip, but it’s certainly deserved to be included on our itinerary. 

Hitting the road again, we traveled the most treacherous portion of U.S. 14 in the waning hours of daylight and saw numerous deer along the way. JoAnna was driving at the time, probably a good thing because her nighttime vision is better than mine. 

Like Rapid City, downtown Cody is a hip, lively business district, very western in its appearance with a wide street and low-slung buildings. It’s home to an impressive array of local establishments, including a German restaurant, which we never expected to find. We had steak on our mind, but the highly rated, unpretentiously named Cody Steak House was packed — and through its large front windows looked as though the arrangement tables and chairs was still pre-Covid. (Pic taken at 7 a.m.)

Read about the entire trip

And check out "Covid Chronicles" here.

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