7 Slot Nomads

Get Out

Bandlands and Sand Dunes

August 9th

We rolled out middle of the day, and headed north through Missouri. It was a COVID vacation wake-up call when we were unable to get into a restaurant for lunch in Harrison, Arkansas because it was too crowded. Since we had anticipated this, we had a cooler packed with food so we ate lunch at a picnic table at the rest area.

We had an excellent dinner of ribs and burnt ends at a BBQ restaurant a couple of blocks from the hotel in Saint Joseph, Missouri. Ironically, the name of the restaurant was Bandana’s - pretty funny since everyone is wearing them to fend off the dread disease.

Stayed the night at a very questionable Hampton Inn property. Hampton Inn is usually a safe bet; this one was pretty bad, but we both got a good night’s sleep.

August 10th

Got up early, bailed out, and logged 600 miles on the interstate. The only saving grace of that trip was some good fried chicken for lunch at The Keg.

When we arrived in Wall, South Dakota, we went straight to Wall Drug Store because that's where the action is in Wall, SD. There were a couple hundred bikes and the Oscar Mayer Weiner Mobile in the parking lot. We happened to be there during the annual Sturgis Bike Rally. Really nice people, though. The bikers came with lots of American flag patches and were proud to be there.

We ate buffalo burgers, fries and onion rings for dinner at Wall Drug Cafe, then browsed the stores for a little while. We grabbed some chocolate shakes before we left, put them in the cooler, and headed out to the Badlands. Watching the sun set over the rock formations was the highlight of our day.

August 11th

Day three started with a trip back to Wall Drug Cafe where we had bacon, eggs, really good 5 cent coffee, and blueberry pie for breakfast (because we’re on vacation!)

After breakfast, Custer State Park was on the agenda with a preliminary stop at Mount Rushmore. Mount Rushmore is pretty cool, but it was very crowded. There’s not much to do there except look at it. So that’s what we did, and went on our way.

Our planned route first took us along the Wildlife Loop in Custer State Park where we saw a herd of buffalo, a herd of antelope, and some donkeys that were mooching food from people who were trying to eat lunch.

Next, we traversed Needles highway with hundreds of bikers - twisting up to about 6,000 feet at the Eye of the Needle. The spires of rock formations there were stunning.

A few miles before our stop in Sheridan, Wyoming for the night we turned south (wrong direction since we should be headed north) and traveled more than a few miles off the beaten path to The Cookhouse at TA Ranch. I was extremely skeptical, but we had the most delicious dinner of trout and bison steak there. Best Bison Steak on the planet (in my humble opinion). The staff and family were exceptionally friendly, and while we dined one of the grandsons regaled us with history of the Johnson County Cattle War that took place in that area from 1889-1893 that was partially fought on the ranch.
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August 12th

Our day started with a trip through the Bighorn mountains. The views were stunning, and we topped out above the tree line at 9,400 feet. Coming out on the west side, the drop in elevation covered six plus miles at 10% grade and another four or five at 8%. Even geared down, it kept the brakes warmed up on the 20-30 mph curves. This is the first time, I've crossed the Bighorns on the highway. In 2014 we ran the Outlaw Trail overland through the Bighorns and a snow slide diverted us. We had to find another way across and wound up on a trail called Slipknot that took us over the mountains. This time it was a lot easier trip.

From there we headed northwest to Red Lodge, Montana to meet Jordan and Stephanie. After eating lunch there we headed west on highway 212, the Beartooth Highway through the Beartooth Mountains - one of the most stunning drives in America. Pretty amazing views in every direction (including down). Even in August the air was pretty chilly and snow was still on the mountains. It was pretty windy at the pass.

We arrived in Cooke City, Montana that evening, and checked into the Alpine Motel. Across the street was a highly recommended pizza place, the Miner’s Saloon, where we had dinner. We sat outside taking in the local sights and fresh air. Several side-by-sides rolled through the city streets. While we were sitting there, six guys and a dog showed up in a homemade Toyota convertible. It was quite a sight. I was impressed and I've seen a lot. Incredible details on the convertible including things like 5 gallon buckets duct taped over the B pillars so they wouldn't get cut getting in and out of the back seat AND the windshield was relocated to the rear deck. You can still see the rearview mirror is still attached. It was also sporting a Utah license plate (which is maybe 450-500 miles away).
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August 13th

We got up early and headed out to Yellowstone National Park. There were several bison herds grazing in the Lamar Valley. From there, we went through Mammoth Springs and out the north entrance into the Gallatin National Forest. We cooked lunch and ate it along the Yellowstone river.

Next, we went back into the park toward the southwest. Gibbon Falls and Firehole Falls were two of the highlights we saw in that part of the park.

We closed out the day in West Yellowstone. We enjoyed elk ravioli and pan seared trout for dinner at Bullwinkle’s.

August 14th

We got up early and headed south into Idaho, then cut across Grassy Lake road to Grand Teton National Park. We saw Indian Lake (which was mostly covered in lily pads like many of the lakes in the area) and Moose Lake along the way - but no Moose. We also got a good long look at the Tetons from the western side which I've not seen before.

We turned south into Grand Teton past Jackson Lake. We took the River Road Trail down to the Snake River, and had lunch there. Jeeping back out facing west, we had a gorgeous view of the Tetons the whole way.

We went to see the overlooks at Signal Mountain, then travelled through the Jenny Lake area, checked out Mormon Row, and watched the sun go down over the Tetons from a more secluded area.

August 15th

We spent the day in Jackson Hole getting a little rest and relaxation as well as catching up on some chores like laundry and airing the tires back up before we hit the pavement south towards Colorado.

We traveled to Rock Springs for the night.
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August 16th

The next morning, we drove several miles to the Gates of Lodore overlooking the Green River in Dinosaur National Park. We hiked a mile up to the overlook. Yup, the river is green.

Then we limped into Maybell Colorado with fingers crossed and thirsty Jeeps and filled up. The only diner in town had been closed for three years, so we ate sandwiches at a covered picnic table at the Maybell gas station/store. It’s in the middle of nowhere, but they have whatever you need. They also have good advice on Dinosaur National Monument road conditions.

Next, we drove Moffatt County Road 14 from Elk Springs to the entrance of Dinosaur National Monument where it became Yampa Bench Road and ran through the middle of the park. There were several impressive overlooks, but it was 100 degrees that day so we looked quickly. Yampa Bench Road is not for low slung vehicles or wimpy tires. There are some rough areas of the road and some deep sand and silt areas that could bog you down. In the rain or other inclement weather, this road might be a challenge for some.

The last stop in the Monument that day was at Echo Park Canyon for a dinner of freeze dried and snacks near the confluence of the Green and Yampa rivers. It was cool and beautiful there.

From there we drove up the dugway out of the park to Vernal, Utah. This was the longest day of our trip.

August 17th

In the morning, it was Betty’s cafe for breakfast. Nostalgia put us at Betty's for breakfast. Big Win! We ate there after coming out of the Book Cliffs into Vernal, UT on another trip a few years ago. Still the best chicken fried steak I’ve eaten in my life. The portions were humongous, so nobody needed lunch that day.

After Betty's breakfast of champions, it was back into Colorado, south to Montrose, then east to Grand Mesa climbing to about 11,000 feet. We stayed at a couple of cabins on Island Lake at the top of the mesa. There was a restaurant at the top of the hill, so we had pizza for dinner there. Lots of pizza.

August 18th

Breakfast was leftover pizza, and we rolled out to see the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. At one overlook point, you can see down 2700 feet to the Gunnison river. The narrowest point is about 40 feet. Some of the rock is black because of mineral deposits. The canyon's name owes itself to the fact that parts of the gorge only receive 33 minutes of sunlight a day, according to Images of America: The Black Canyon of the Gunnison. In the book, author Duane Vandenbusche states, "Several canyons of the American West are longer and some are deeper, but none combines the depth, sheerness, narrowness, darkness, and dread of the Black Canyon."

The next stop was Lake City about mid-afternoon for gas and ice. We spent the afternoon relaxing at our lodge at Lake San Cristobal for a bit before dinner. We had a really nice dinner at The Climb Eatery and had a nice fire in a fire pit by the lake later that night and talked about the Alpine Loop and the trip so far.
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August 19th

We cooked breakfast of eggs and venison sausage at our lodge, then headed out on the southern portion of the Alpine Loop which runs over Cinnamon Pass. It was a pretty enjoyable ride with awesome views. The trail on the south is a little rough in spots, but not bad when you air down some. On our way up, we ran the Carson Road Trail up to the Continental Divide and looked at some historic cabins and old mining equipment long forgotten.

Lunch was at American Basin where the trailhead for Mount Handes is located (bagged that 14er on another trip), and ate lunch there near the trailhead. We made the obligatory stop at Animas Forks and looked at the historic buildings on our way to Silverton. We stayed the night at the historic Grand Emperial Hotel. built in 1883. It was hot, and they don’t have air conditioning, but we scored fans to put in the open windows in our rooms.

August 20th

We ate a big breakfast at the Lone Spur Cafe next door to the hotel, then headed out for Engineer Pass and the northern part of the Alpine Loop. Engineer is by far the more difficult of the two passes with the trail being more narrow and definitely rougher. At the top, there are incredible vistas. Four-low got a workout.

We got back into Lake City mid-afternoon, aired up the tires, and went for pie at a local bakery. This is where we parted ways with Jordan and Stephanie, as they had to get back to the ranch to check on their cows. When they got home the next day, they discovered four new calves had been born!

We went as far as Alamosa, Colorado and stopped for the night.
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August 21st

After a quick breakfast, it was off to the Great Sand Dunes National Park, and drove part of Medano Pass primitive road scouting campsites for the next trip. It was fun driving through the sandy curves on the road, but Angela got chastised by a park ranger for driving too fast.
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We drove Scenic Highway 12, the Highway of Legends, through the Spanish Peaks on our way into New Mexico.

Then we got on the highway and headed home. No more happiness! Looking back, we traveled some 4500-4600 miles through parts of 13 states and saw some pretty awesome sights both on and off pavement. The farther out you get, the thinner the crowds.
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