Surviving the Surreal

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Cedar City to Blanding, Utah, 360 miles

0902 Cedar City to Blanding Route 360

Map credit: Google Maps 2017, courtesy AAA

Thanks to our superb server, Jacee at Centro Pizza, we knew that the place to go for breakfast this morning (another Sunday morning in Utah – sort of limits your breakfast choices!) was the All-American Diner, and we even knew where it was, since we had passed it on our way to dinner the night before.  We were not steered wrong – I had a standard All-American breakfast of eggs over easy, bacon, and hash browns with a splurge of a pancake.  It was all great, and I didn’t even eat all of the pancake or the potatoes.  It was about 9:30 when we started off on what would be one of our most challenging drives ever on our trip across what must be America’s strangest state, at least as far as terrain and topography are concerned!  The drive started out innocently enough, and we were on familiar territory, as we had stayed three nights in Cedar City on our very first Sassy Sister trip in 2006, on our way home from Route 66.  The first part of our journey took us through the Dixie National Forest until we turned onto Utah Scenic Byway 12 (an All-American Road), which took us past Bryce Canyon National Park, but we didn’t stop since we had spent a day there previously.

We made a quick stop at the Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument Visitor Center in Cannonville and talked to a friendly ranger there who suggested that we stop at the Escalante Petrified Forest State Park and do a short hike there, since we really didn’t have time to explore the Grand Staircase much more than that.  It wasn’t too long before we traveled the 32 miles to the park, where the ranger there didn’t seem to think we would be up to the challenge of the short but steep hike up to see the petrified trees. Needless to say, that decided it.  We filled our water bottles, put on sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses, and after checking out the 50′ petrified tree at the base of the hill, headed up the dirt trail, which was almost completely unshaded.  Mrs. Ranger had given us a map that had info for each of the numbered stops along the trail, so we learned a bit as we hiked.  The trail was at its steepest early on, so the going was hardest at the beginning. Since we were just off of Vernal Fall though, it was a piece of cake!  One of the interesting things we learned was that the town of Escalante was named for a Spanish Franciscan priest who had explored the area in 1776, looking for an overland route from Santa Fe, New Mexico to Monterey, California.

With a little hike under our belts, we were ready for some more driving.  We thought! What no one had mentioned to us (and since we had done no research, we didn’t know) is that the next section of the road we would be traveling was near another road called ‘Hell’s Backbone‘, which is a gravel road built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933, and let me just say that I am sure it is very aptly named!  I have to give total props to Kim, who drove Highway 12 masterfully and didn’t get to enjoy the spectacle nearly as much as I did.  The road featured several sections of 8 to 10% grades, no guardrails, and lots of curves.  The best news was that the road was obviously recently repaved!  The other good news – evidently, most people travel on interstate highways!  We were both thankful that we didn’t come upon any crazy bicyclists on this road and were stunned to read (days later) that Colin had taken this exact route on his travel the opposite direction!  Colin, when you read this, we are SO GLAD you made it safely!! These next photos need no explanation – the first ones were taken over about a 15 minute time period, and the ones with the aspen trees were about 25 minutes after that.

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About thirty minutes later, we turned off of Hwy 12 onto Hwy 24 at Torrey and soon found ourselves in Capitol Reef National Park, with yet another stunning terrain change. Capitol Dome is a Navajo sandstone feature that was named for its resemblance to the US Capitol. This dome, along with the nearly 100-mile Waterpocket Fold (a barrier of rock that obstructed early travelers like a barrier “reef”), inspired the park’s name.  Capitol Reef became a National Park in 1937, and it has three main districts – the Fruita area, which was a Mormon settlement with a school and orchards, which are one of the largest historic orchards in the National Park Service with almost 3,000 trees, including apple, peach, pear, apricot, cherry, and plum; the Waterpocket District, which encompasses the 100 mile long Waterpocket Fold; and Cathedral Valley, which is a backcountry area.  While we would have liked to have explored this park more, it was quite hot and we still had a long way to go to get to our destination before dark.  And if the road ahead was like the one we had just traveled… Anyway, we stopped in the Fruita district to see the petroglyphs.

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We continued on Hwy 24 until we reached Hanksville, where we turned south on Hwy 95 (the Bicentennial Highway), headed for Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Natural Bridges National Monument, and ultimately, the town of Blanding.  Kim was almost over it with the driving (and I can see why) and we really wanted to make sure we were situated well before dark, so we mostly enjoyed the views from the car.  We stopped at an overlook to see Lake Powell, and we were in for a nice surprise.  From the Hite Overlook (which was quite a ways up and a mile or so off the road) we could see not only Lake Powell, but also the bridge over the Colorado River that we would be crossing soon.

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Before long, we were pulling into Blanding, not sure whether or not we would be happy with our choice of a place to stay.  Let’s just say it was not up to our usual standards, and if we had known then what we know now, we would have gone a bit farther up the road. But we were safe and had beds and a shower – and air conditioning, so no complaints. Before we checked in, we drove around town a bit since it was still light and found pretty much the only place to eat, which looked okay.  Turned out, we really enjoyed the Homestead Steak House!

Majestic Yosemite

Friday, 1 September 2017

Yosemite National Park

Kim and I had big plans for the day today, as it was our last full day at Yosemite.  We had to check out of our Yosemite Lodge room before 11 AM and then check into the famous Majestic Hotel, but not until 4 PM, so we planned to pack up, load the car, and do a couple of hikes in the morning and then do a Valley tour in the afternoon before moving to our new not-so-humble abode.  I won’t say how much, but let’s just say in all of my travels, I have NEVER paid anywhere near as much money for a hotel room of any kind as we paid for 18 hours (maybe) at the Majestic.  We were sure hoping it wouldn’t have been a mistake!  (The only reason we were moving was because that was the only place in the park that we could get a room for the first night of Labor Day weekend.)

Anyway, we went to the Lodge’s food court for breakfast, and my mom told me if I couldn’t say anything nice, not to say anything at all.

We caught a shuttle bus right outside the front desk at the Lodge and rode it to stop #16, Happy Isles.  The bus was almost empty when we got on, and thirty minutes later, when we got off, it was packed to the gills.  Almost everyone got off with us – seemed a hike to Vernal Fall was on lots of people’s agendas this morning.  It was a gorgeous day – not nearly as smoky as it had been yesterday – and it was just starting to get hot.  The Vernal Falls hike (aka the Mist Trail) had been listed as ‘moderate to strenuous’ on the info sheet, but the info lady we had spoken to yesterday decreed that we would have no trouble with it.  The hardest part about it, she said, was that there was a pretty steep elevation change over a short distance, but that if we took it slow and easy, we’d be fine.  Right.

It didn’t help that we chose the wrong trail to start off on, but we got to see a stream measuring station and talk to the nice lady at the Happy Isles visitor center, and we weren’t the only ones who had made that mistake.  Off we went, back to the bus stop, across the bridge, and up the hill.  We were behind a large group of Asians who were about our age or older and who had grasped the idea of ‘slow and steady’.  I guess I am more hare than tortoise, and I have no problem stopping to rest and then moving on again.  With my long legs, it’s harder to go slowly than to move on a rest when I need to!  We had been warned to stay adequately hydrated, so every time we stopped, we had a drink of water.  I was loving the cool water ‘bottle’ that I bought at Tahoe and wishing I had purchased more than one.  I really wish my photos were a better representation of the elevation change and how strenuous it was.  Granted, some young people seemed to be having no trouble with it, but there were LOTS of people having way more difficulty than Kim and I were.

Before too long, we reached the footbridge and were rewarded with a fantastic view of the waterfall.  Our original plan was to refill our water bottles here (with the potable water available) and head back down, but the activities guy at the Lodge and implored us to continue up the hill for a better view.  So after we rested a bit and took some photos, off we went, looking for the big rock he had told us to climb to.  We found the rock, but kept going, always hoping for a better view around each turn.  We went until we reached the rocky stairway that led to the very top of the falls and decided we’d had enough – in fact, had we kept going, we wouldn’t have had time for the rest of our day’s agenda!  After a few more photos, back down the hill we went.  As expected, going down was as hard on the knees as going up was on the lungs, but it went lots faster!

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We made it down to the bus stop just before another bus arrived to take us to the next stop, the Mirror Lake trailhead, which was about a mile away.  We had been told that there was still water in the lake (usually there was only water in winter and spring) and that it was a nice, easy hike on a paved road.  Thankfully, those reports were correct.  We had great views of Half Dome and the lake, while not full, did have enough water for people to frolic in and for us to cool off with.  We walked back part of the way on a trail instead of the road since it was shady and nice.  We didn’t have to wait long for a bus, so it looked like we would make it back to the Lodge in plenty of time for our planned 2:00 Valley Tour.

We not only made it back before the tour started, we had just enough time to grab a beer and make a quick rest stop.  Rejuvenated, we hopped on the tour train, sitting in the front row, since all others were taken.  That turned out to be great for several reasons – we had the whole row to ourselves, there was no one in our way when taking pictures, and we got to be the ranger’s pets.  Our ranger guide was Owain (pronounced Owen) who had been a ranger at our old favorite, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  He did a fabulous job pointing out the sites and telling us a lot of history about the park and filling us in on the flora, fauna, and geography of the park as well.  The tour was two hours, and we made two stops – one about 30 minutes in and one 30 minutes later – and even though it was really hot by mid-afternoon, we kept moving just enough to stay cool.  It really helped to be able to spread out a bit, too!  We got to see all of the most iconic Yosemite landmarks and we saw parts of the park we had not gotten to on our own, so it was a good activity for us.

By the time we got back to the Lodge, it was check in time at the Majestic, and we were hot, tired, thirsty, and pretty stinky.  We self-parked, lugged in our bags, checked in, and made our way to our room, only to find out that it was occupied!  Ack!  At least the couple lounging in there was fully dressed!!  I went back down to the desk and after many apologies and no one knowing quite what happened, we got a new room (a corner one!) and a voucher for a free breakfast (no small change there – that was a $45 value!).  Kim reported that we should be glad we were the ones to move, as a very large and very loud party had checked in to the room next door to our original room.  Thankfully, we were on the same floor, so our move was a short one.

Our room was plenty big and hooray!!  It had air conditioning!!!  Best of all, the shower was heavenly!!!  I think I took a 30 minute shower!  Once we were clean and fresh and ready to rejoin civilization, we went down to the Majestic Lounge and got a table on the patio, had a cocktail, and then enjoyed a nice supper.  We split a Caprese salad and a Cuban sandwich and then we each had a dessert – Kim had a chocolate chip cookie with ice cream and I had the famous Majestic boysenberry pie, also with ice cream.  It was the perfect end to our fun-filled and busy day!

We would be leaving Yosemite on Saturday morning, which also meant we would be heading east for the first time in two weeks….but we still have almost a week to go!

Walking Through Woods and Meadows

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Yosemite National Park

For the first time in weeks, we slept in because we had no place to be at any particular time and we didn’t need to be moving on.  It’s probably a good thing we didn’t have AC, because we might have slept until noon!  Kim was feeling pretty nervous about the forest fires in the area, and it didn’t help that it was very smoky outside – it was not going to be a great day for photos, that much was certain!  As it was, by the time we were ready to head out, we had pretty much missed breakfast, so we wandered over to Yosemite Village and got some lunch at the Yosemite Grill.  We had burgers and split an allegedly unbelievably good milkshake – neither were anything to write home about, but they hit the spot.

We had already decided that some pool time was going to be in order later in the afternoon, so we did the short hike back to see the beautiful Yosemite Falls.  This was a very easy, very flat trail, but we still got a kick out of some of the hiking attire sported, mostly by women.  Heels, flip flops, fancy jewelry, and my favorite, designer backpack/pocketbooks.  Seriously?  When we arrived at the base of the falls, lots of people (and many, many young children) were playing on the huge rocks, despite constant warnings of falls, swift water, slick rocks, etc.  So many people forget to pack their common sense when they go out into nature!   We learned that at Yosemite, if a waterfall is one single cataract, it is called a fall, like Bridal Veil Fall, but if it is made up of multiple parts, like Yosemite Falls, it is called falls.  Important distinction, evidently!

We walked on back to our room in the Willow building of Yosemite Lodge and got our suits on and headed for the pool, which was right next door.  We practically had the whole pool to ourselves, and yes, we not only got in, but we stayed in for a while and swam.  And impressed the lifeguards with our stellar floating abilities.  Until we heard them discussing body fat and its relationship to good floating…. Once we were fully refreshed and had maybe had a short nap in the sun, we geared up for more afternoon activities, starting with happy hour outside the Mountain Room Lounge.  We each had a Peach Mule and shared some popcorn.  A little squirrel may have been the recipient of some wayward kernels.

After our libations, we took a photo walk through Cook’s Meadow.  The light was great, but it was still too hazy and smoky to get really good rock/waterfall photos.  Thankfully, there were plenty of other great photo ops!  After our walk, we had a lovely dinner at the Mountain Room.  Kim had a smoked salmon flatbread and I had grilled salmon with sweet corn polenta and asparagus.  We split a decadently rich chocolate cake – so good!  It was dark by the time we walked back to our room, and the moon was gorgeous!  It was a fun day – restful and full of nature!

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So Long, Long Hike, Longer than Expected Drive

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Lake Tahoe, California to Yosemite National Park, California, 245 miles

0901 Lake Tahoe to Yosemite Valley 245

Map credit: Google Maps 2017, courtesy AAA

Since it was our last morning in paradise, Kim and I wanted to take Laura and Don out for breakfast and one of their favorite places called Bert’s, which happens to be right across the street from Ernie’s.  Too funny!  Bert’s  would have been one of my go-to joints as well – my sausage Benedict was incredible, and Kim’s eggs, bacon, and blueberry pancake looked yummy.  We went back to the cabin and loaded our car, and then Kim and I headed up the lake toward Emerald Bay for a hike and a tour of Vikingsholm.  We parked the car at Eagle Point Campground and made our way to the trailhead of the Rubicon trail, which was about 1.5 miles from Vikingsholm, which was a private home built by Mrs. Lora Knight in 1929.

Rex and I had been to Vikingsholm before, but we had hiked down the driveway, which is a VERY STEEP 1 mile hike – killer on the knees going down and aerobically exhausting getting back up.  The Rubicon trail is longer, but on a much easier grade.  It was a fun hike, as we could see the tea house on Fannette Island and then even Vikingsholm on the way down the mountain.  Just before reaching the house, we crossed a bridge over a pretty running creek.  We got there just in time for the noon tour, which we thoroughly enjoyed.  Be sure to read more about Vikingsholm HERE, and visit it when you go to Lake Tahoe.

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The hike back up was not bad at all, although it was a good bit warmer by the time we started up the hill.  Just as we reached the end of the trail, we met a couple and a Tahoe photography tour guide who were on their way to the Point, so we extended our hike long enough to see the view from there.  We were rewarded with panoramic views of the lake and of Emerald Bay, and we could even see Don and Laura’s place from there.  We saw a huge eagle’s nest on the way back, but no eagles – bummer!

Since we were going to Yosemite, we knew we needed to get on the road soon, so we didn’t delay any more, nor did we stop for a cold drink.  It was just as well, since the route we had decided to take proved to be impassable due to a forest fire.  Thankfully, we did not have to backtrack too far to get on a different path (thanks to a friendly sheriff who was in the right place at the right time for us – getting his mail from a rural mailbox where we just happened to be turning around!) and we made it to the Yosemite Valley Lodge just as darkness fell.  Turns out it was really good we talked to the sheriff, because the alternate route we would have taken was also closed due to a different fire!  Yosemite is one of those places that you have to wanna be – it was not an easy drive, but it was beautiful!  At least I was able to enjoy it – I had to keep telling Kim not to look, as it was a steep, curvy mountain road with very few guardrails.  We were very thankful to have gotten as far as we did before the sun started setting!

We got checked in, found our room (not without incident!), unloaded the car, and headed to the Mountain Room Lounge for a late dinner and a well-deserved adult beverage.  We opted to share a big appetizer platter of ceviche, a charcuterie, and chips and salsa while sipping on cocktails.  We had enough food for about six people and we did not eat it all!

After our long and tiring day (all 17,000 steps of it), we sort of collapsed into our beds and were asleep right away.  If only we’d had some air conditioning, we may have slept really well!  And if Kim hadn’t waked up worrying about forest fires!  Anyway, it was a fantastic day and we were thrilled to be in the park!



The Saga of the Sassy Sisters

Our road trip history goes way back – so far back that even we don’t remember those first trips.  During our formative years, in the Leave It to Beaver days, all of our trips and vacations were taken in a car.  I took my first plane ride when I was 16, when for some unexplained reason, Mom and Dad allowed me to go to Mardi Gras by myself!  Not completely alone, mind you, but I stayed with a girl I had met at Girl Scout camp the summer before and whose parents my parents had never met.  I’ll never understand quite what happened, but I took my $100 in savings, booked a Delta ticket from Paducah to New Orleans, and had $33 left for spending money.  And I lived to tell about it!

I’m pretty sure my next plane ride was a few years later when I took my grandmother to Boston for the Bicentennial.  Once I became a full-fledged adult, flying became more common, but when I have the time, I’ll pick a road trip any day of the week.   My sister Kim and I have fond memories of some of our longer family vacations – trips to Florida, a monumental trip out west (when we missed two weeks of middle school!), and the frequent journeys to see our grandparents – monthly trips to west Tennessee and twice a year (or more) trips to Knoxville.  We can still recite the names of the little towns we passed along the way, the names of restaurants where we always stopped, and how many times we crossed the Caney Fork River.

Since I went to college in Knoxville and then spent most of my married life in North Carolina, that route became one I could almost drive in my sleep.  Kim headed south to Memphis, so for her, those little towns in west Tennessee remained familiar friends.  One year, when our kids were in middle school, Kim and I decided they needed a road trip like the one we loved and remembered, so we hatched a plan.

I drove my kids from Durham to Memphis, where we combined an Amtrak train/plane trip with a road trip in a 15 passenger club van.  We boarded the City of New Orleans at midnight in Memphis and woke up in Chicago.  We spent our six hour layover hitting the Magnificent Mile, Water Tower Place, and Navy Pier, then all six of us crammed into one taxi so we could make it back to Union Station on time.  The Empire Builder took us from Chicago to Glacier National Park in only two days, and Rex met us at the train station in Glacier after he flew to Calgary and rented the giant club van.

What a grand time we had!  We toured Glacier, Yellowstone, the Tetons, and places in between and then Rex flew home from Jackson.  Katie bar the door!  Kim and I took off, completely deviating from the plan as we criss-crossed Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana on our way to Alberta, Banff, Lake Louise, and Moraine Lake, and then we flew back to Memphis from Calgary (via San Francisco and Chicago – go figure!).

While that trip was fabulous, Kim and I didn’t take another road together until 2005, when we ventured from Knoxville to Gulfport, Mississippi, to do relief work with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance after Hurricane Katrina.  When we survived that week – showering outdoors (or not showering at all), sleeping in a tent, on cots in a room with scores of snoring men and women, in sleeping bags in the back of a Suburban (in freezing weather), on the floor of a pantry, and in a prefab structure that we built – we knew we could road trip together and have fun doing it.  And so began the saga of the Sassy Sisters road trips!

The page below was made years ago, but I love it and the story it tells:

SS Newsflash

Natchez Trace MS 2009 Bourbon Trail to Bourbon Street

Three States, Snake, Center, and Tower

Wednesday, 4 August  2010

Medora ND to Gillette WY  ~390 miles


While I worked on the computer this morning, Kim went for a walk around the old West town of Medora.  While out, she spotted a good place for breakfast, which was right behind our hotel.  The Cowboy Cafe is known for its sour cream raisin pie, which is evidently a local favorite.  We haven’t tried it yet, and today would not be the day, either, as they hadn’t made the pie yet.  But we were here for a substantial breakfast, and we got one!  We each had eggs and meat and shared a fruit bowl, then we sat on the terrace of the newly restored Rough Rider Hotel and Conference Center and wrote some postcards to Mom, since we were right next door to the post office.  And then we were off to explore nearby Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

DSC_0311 dsc_0313

This park is the northern reaches of the Badlands, which stretch all the way to southwestern South Dakota.  The park was dedicated in 1949, and it is a real monument to Teddy Roosevelt and his love of the Badlands of the west.  We found it prettier than the Badlands in South Dakota, probably because there was more vegetation here. It is very close to the interstate, and there is a 36 mile loop (two way, thankfully!) that you can drive, stopping for photos, hikes, or whatever.  Just after we began there was a huge prairie dog town, so we stopped for a minute or two to listen to the chattering animals and watch them peeking up out of their burrows.  We got some good photos from several of the scenic pull-off areas, and then we decided to take a short little ‘nature’ hike.  Little did we know what an exciting National Geographic moment awaited us…We were just ending a delightful, not too hard Ridgeline Nature Trail walk – on the steps on the way down to the parking area, when right next to my right foot (clad in open sided Keens, not hiking boots!) I heard the unmistakable rattle of a you know what.  So what if I’d never heard it before or that I couldn’t see anything – I skeedaddled!  Behind me, Kim (wearing sensible hiking boots and socks) actually SAW the source of the noise and stopped.  And backed up!  So now we were separated by a snake!  Just as Kim finished telling me it was a small one, it decided to cross the path.  Suffice it to say that any snake that is as long as the path is wide does not fit my definition of small… Kim changed her mind, too, both about ‘small’ and about crossing the path anytime soon.  I, of course, took the opportunity to get some really great photos!  Once the snake decided to stay put (it actually acted like it might cross again, and at one point Kim reported it was in ‘strike position’) Kim got brave and scampered down the path.  We quickly alerted the family with three young kids coming up the path to the danger, and they opted for another fun activity.  The dad tried to get some pix, but the snake was no longer cooperating.  So down we all went to the parking area, where I was able to at least share the pictures on my camera.  We finished the rest of the loop without incident (and without getting out of the car!) and then went to Painted Canyon, another part of the park several miles east of the main entrance.  We had been told not to miss it, but we were underwhelmed.


Leaving the Badlands behind, we retraced our route toward Dickinson, ND, and turned south towards the geographic center of the United States.  In 1959, the US Coast and Geodetic Survey officially designated a point 20 miles north of Belle Fourche, SD, as the Geographic Center of the Nation.  While we drove right past the actual point, we stopped in Belle Fourche (pronounced ‘Bell Foosh’) to see a newly built monument.  It was the map of the US mounted atop a compass and surrounded by flags of all of the states, and it was made of South Dakota granite.  It was in the back yard of the Tri-State Museum, so of course we checked it out, too.  The ride down here was the most boring so far.  Kim kindly drove and I unkindly slept!  But it was my turn back at the wheel, as we were off on another detour.


We should have known better, but we were lured by the promise of a fun, funky, fifties roadside attraction called Boondocks, just south of nearby Deadwood, SD.  Since we skipped both Deadwood and Sturgis when we were out here three years ago ( we decided to give it a try.  And why should we have known better?  Because we know that the first Saturday in August is Bikers’ Week in STURGIS, SD!!!  And this was on the first Wednesday of August…we may as well have been invisible, arriving as we did in our Prius, which makes NO NOISE.  All told, we could have done without Deadwood (now officially designated as the Sassy Sisters’ Gatlinburg of the Badlands) and we had to drive through it TWICE, and we sat in a diner at Boondocks for easily ten minutes without being acknowledged (or finding anyone who cared) and yes, it was open.  But, we got some pix and we can say we have been there, done that and we never need to wonder if we have missed something good!  Onward we went to Devil’s Tower, which we did miss the last time we were near.  However, due to our time wasted in Deadwood, we decided not to actually go into the park, as we figured we had seen what we came for!  We were so hungry by now (breakfast being a LONG time ago now!) that we even ate at the KOA Kampground.  Not worth wasting words on, but at least we were no longer hungry and they served beer.


The sky had been gorgeous all day, but it was clouding up.  While that meant we might get a beautiful sunset (and we did), it also meant we likely would not get to see the Northern Lights (we didn’t) on the last night possible.  It also meant there was a big storm coming, which we really wanted to avoid.  We had heard at the Tri-State Museum that they had had six INCHES of HAIL the day before.  If you follow along with us regularly, you know that we attract hail like some attract lightning.  I think my insurance company would get suspicious if I asked for a third hail repair…So without further ado, we made a beeline for Gillette, WY, and shelter from the night at a Hampton Inn.  We got there just before the sky opened up!

Tomorrow will be another fun one!


Day 3 Medora ND to Gillette WY