Go See Do Photography

A Lot of Travel, A Little Bit of History, and a Whole Bunch of Photos

Category: Road Trip (Page 1 of 8)

Yellowtone National Park Overview

Bison in Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park was the world’s first national park and was signed into law by Ulysses S. Grant in 1872 to protect the otherworldly landscape that is Yellowstone. Located in northwestern Wyoming and spanning into Idaho and southern Montana the park encompasses 3,400 square miles, and is larger than the state of Rhode Island. It is separated into distinct geological areas formed by geothermal features unlike anything I had ever seen. From the sprawling Yellowstone Lake to hot springs and geysers and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, you could spend weeks in the park and not see everything. Ever since we were driving around Yellowstone, I have been trying to figure out how I am going to recap this enormous park!

We only had three days to see as much of the park as we could. Of course, I wanted to hit the highlights: Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Spring, Mammoth Hot Springs, and Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Surprisingly, in such a short time, we were able to see everything we had hoped to and more.

Old Faithful InnStaying in the park helped us tremendously. Driving in and out of the park can take away 2 or more hours of your time and when you are battling the record number of visitors that are coming through the gates in 2021, you need all the time you can get. While exploring the park, we heard many people say that you cannot get a room at the Yellowstone Lodges unless you book a year in advance. We managed to get our room at the Old Faithful Inn two weeks in advance. Just keep checking and it helps to subscribe to the Yellowstone National Park Lodges newsletter. They sent out a newsletter that they were opening up more rooms for the 2021 season and I was able to snatch one up before they were gone.

Staying at the Old Faithful Inn (above) was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience. The Inn was built in 1904 from locally sourced materials including lodgepole pine. We stayed in one of the Old House rooms that has walls made of logs. Staying in that (admittedly small) room, you really got a sense of the history of the place. The GyPSy guide called the Old Faithful Inn the only building in the park that feels like it belongs. The Disney Nerd in me understands now where the idea for the Wilderness Lodge came from. Probably the best part of staying at the Inn is sitting out on the Mezzanine and watching Old Faithful erupt without having to be crowded around strangers and enjoying a drink.

Walkway at Mud Volcano

Walkway at Mud Volcano just before the rain

Another trick we learned when visiting the park in the summer was to leave in the middle of the day. The parking lots filled up and it got hot, so we headed to one of the towns outside the park for food and air conditioning. Then, we headed back into the park as the day guests were leaving for the day and we explored until the sun went down. We also got lucky with the weather. Our first day in the park was forecasted to thunderstorm most of the day and I think this kept some visitors out. We managed to time it so we were driving when the worst of the rain was coming down and we managed to see most of what we wanted to on that first day.

Now that I’ve given you a little overview and some tips for making the most of your time at Yellowstone, next week I will begin to recap the highlights of the park! Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

Jewel Cave National Monument

Jewel Cave Header

Jewel Cave was discovered in 1900 when two brothers felt cold air blowing out of a hole in a canyon. They opened the hole with dynamite and found a cave lined with calcite crystals, which is where Jewel Cave gets its name. Word of the cave reached Washington and Theodore Roosevelt named Jewel Cave a National Monument in 1908.

Up until 1956, only about 2 miles of the cave had been explored. Famous rock climbers Herb and Jan Conn explored Jewel Cave for twenty years and mapped out over 65 miles of the cave. Herb Conn wrote a scientific paper about airflow in the cave and based on pressure changes, he estimated that 95% of the cave has never been explored. With 209 miles of cave mapped, Jewel Cave is the 3rd largest cave in the world. Experienced cavers are still exploring the cave and finding new rooms and passageways that no other person is known to have explored.

Calcite Crystals in Jewel CaveIn 2021, Jewel Cave National Monument is undergoing elevator maintenance to resolve chronic problems with the elevators. The elevators are expected to reopen in the late fall. When planning this trip, I didn’t think we would be able to visit Jewel Cave because of this maintenance, but for now, the park service is offering a modified tour. This tour involves walking down (and then back up) a steep hill and the park service describes it as “moderate to strenuous”.

I’m not sure if people were staying away from Jewel Cave because of the elevator repairs or if this park just isn’t as popular as Wind Cave because it doesn’t have the “National Park” designation. Either way, we arrived around 9:30 AM and there were only a handful of other people on the tour with us. It was a much more relaxed experience and even though we only go to see one room of the cave, I enjoyed this tour a lot more than Wind Cave. If you only have time to tour one cave in the Black Hills, I recommend Jewel Cave.

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

Devils Tower National Monument

Devils Tower

Devils Tower National Monument is located in the northeastern corner of Wyoming, only about an hour and a half away from Rapid City, South Dakota. Signed into law by Theodore Roosevelt on September 25, 1906, Devils Tower was the first National Monument in the world. The monument is a popular place for rock climbers as well as hikers and others who just want to see this unique geological feature for themselves.

When planning this trip, I originally wanted to visit Devils Tower on the way from Custer to Yellowstone, which would’ve had us arrive mid-morning on a Saturday. Then, I learned that the parking lot fills up early, especially on weekends, and it is not uncommon to have to wait a while for a spot. Since we had quite a bit of ground to cover that day, I decided it would make more sense to make it a day trip from the Black Hills, and that way we could also see Spearfish Canyon on the way back.

We left Custer after Chris got off work and arrived at Devils Tower around 5 pm. There were only a handful of people around and we had no trouble parking. The visitor center closes at 6 but I was happy to see that the passport stamp is outside so that if you arrived when the visitor center was closed, you would still be able to get a stamp. Because we wanted to see Spearfish Canyon before sunset, we didn’t have much time to explore the monument, but we did get to walk a little bit of the Tower Trail.

Roughlock FallsSince this was our last day in the Black Hills, I may have tried to cram too much in, especially with the three-hour round trip drive to Devils Tower. But, we did enjoy the GyPSy tour of the Northern Black Hills and the drive through Spearfish Canyon. The Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway is a beautiful drive that follows a river that has cut through these high rock walls. Spearfish Canyon is an absolutely beautiful area that just blew me away! There are several places along the way to stop and enjoy the beauty of the canyon. We got out and stretched our legs at Roughlock Falls (left). Several scenes from Dances with Wolves were filmed in this area and maybe recognizable to fans of the film. We had planned to checkout Deadwood this day, but the road was closed for a parade or something so we just kept driving. I guess we will just have to come back with more time to explore the Black Hills!

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

Wordless Wednesday: Sylvan Lake

Sylvan Lake

Custer State Park

Path Around Sylvan Lake

Sylvan Lake

Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota is a large park on the scale of some of the most popular national parks. If there is some type of outdoor recreation you enjoy, I’m sure it can be found at Custer State Park. From hiking and camping to rock climbing and scenic drives, there is something for everyone at Custer.

Getting Ready for the Hay RideThe 71,000 acres of Custer State Park is home to a variety of wildlife. The best way to see the wildlife is to drive the Wildlife Loop Road. Bison, Big Horn Sheep, Mountain Goats, and Prairie Dogs can be seen along the road. For my birthday, we took the Hayride through the wildlife loop road (left) and it was fun because our guide slowed down in areas where the animals are likely to be found and talked to us about them. At the end of the tour, we had a chuckwagon cookout and sing along which was a lot of fun and the food was good too! If you’re in for an off-road experience, the Buffalo Safari Jeep tour looked fun too!

Needles Highway

Probably the most scenic drive in Custer State Park is the Needles Highway. The Needles Highway takes you through pine forests and the unique needles rock formations. The drive isn’t for the faint of heart or those with oversized vehicles because there are some hairpin turns and one-lane tunnels through the Needles. I have heard that the road can get pretty crowded in the summer but we found that driving in the late afternoon or early evening we were able to enjoy the drive without crowds. We enjoyed the drive so much that we did it several times while we were staying in the area.

There are several good lakes for paddling in the park but Sylvan Lake (top) is probably the most popular. The unique rock formations are fun to paddle around and explore. It is a landscape unlike I had ever seen before. The downside of Sylvan Lake is that is fairly small and we had gone around it twice in probably less than half an hour. We were going to check out the bigger Stockade Lake after but when we got there it was closed due to bacteria. Oh well, I guess that gives us a reason to return, right?

The Black Hills really surprised me. I didn’t expect the scenic beauty that can be found at Custer and the surrounding area. I would love to return and be able to explore deeper into the park. I would love to stay at one of the many campgrounds or lodges. If you are going to be in the Black Hills, be sure to check out Custer State Park. You will not be disappointed.

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Badlands National Park

Badlands Rock Formation

After our day exploring the I-80 corridor through Illinois and Iowa, we continued to head west across South Dakota to Custer. Since we were so close, we decided to take a detour into Nebraska to cross another state off our list and headed to Ponca State Park.

Three State Overlook

Ponca State Park is located on the Missouri River and is a big destination to explore the National Scenic River. Fishing, paddling, boating, horseback riding, golf, and hiking are popular activities at the park. One thing we were really impressed with was the modern cabins around the park. They looked like a fun place to stay and explore the area without having to “rough it” too much. We also enjoyed the Three State Overlook over the river where you could see Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota. To learn more about Ponca State Park, visit OutdoorNebraska.com.

After leaving Ponca, it was a little over five hours drive through rural Nebraska to get to Badlands National Park. The Badlands of South Dakota is one of the most interesting landscapes I have ever seen. The unique formations were formed by deposition, the rock building up over time, and erosion, the rock wearing away. The colorful layers in the rock formations show moments in geologic time with different layers forming at different times. (https://www.nps.gov/articles/000/badl-geologic-formations.htm)

Badlands Window Formation

Badlands Window Formation

Badlands National Park got its name from the local Lakota people. They called the area mako sica, meaning “bad lands”. Before modern roads, this area was not easy to traverse and is probably how it got its name. It has been said that the name doesn’t do the park justice and that it scares some people away.  I can tell you that wasn’t the case when we visited. While it wasn’t as busy or as hard to find parking as Yellowstone, there were plenty of people exploring these bad lands.

We had planned to do some hiking in the park but arriving in the middle of the day during a heatwave put a damper on that. While we were driving through the park, it got up to 96 degrees. Because of that, we stuck to exploring the park by car and stopping at the scenic turnouts. We did hike the quarter mile Window Trail (above) but that was all I could manage in the heat.  I would love to return to the park when it’s cooler and get off the road a bit.

Of course, near Badlands National Park is the famous Wall Drug. This is really the only tourist trap we stopped at on this trip (our detour through Nebraska caused us to miss the corn palace). In case you’ve never heard of it, Wall Drug is a giant cowboy-themed store adjacent to Badlands National Park. It’s hard to miss the many billboards along I-90 advertising free ice water, 5 cent coffee, and their giant dinosaur. We decided to get dinner in their cafe and I was surprised by the quality of the food. Yes, it is a giant, crowded gift shop but it was a good stop to get a bite to eat and cool down after exploring the park. To plan your visit to Wall Drug, visit their website.

We used the GyPSy Guide to the Badlands and the Black Hills while exploring the area. The app gives suggested routes while also teaching you about the region. If you are planning a trip to this area, I highly recommend it!

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Epic National Park Road Trip

For the benefit and enjoyment of the people

We are back from our biggest trip yet. We were gone for 23 days, visiting 7 national parks, 4 other National park service sites, and 4 state parks spanning 12 states (8 of which were new to us). We had incredible luck on the trip securing a reasonably priced rental car and managing to score last-minute reservations at two incredibly popular national park lodges. To top off our luck, the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National park opened for the season on the day we needed to use it to get from one end of the park to the other.

This was a once-in-a-lifetime trip during the busiest summers for our National Parks ever! Throughout this trip report, I will share our experiences with the crowds and ways to avoid the worst of the congestion.

Here’s a little breakdown of the trip and a sneak peek of what is to come throughout this trip report:

  1. Ottowa, IL
  2. Dakota Dunes, SD
    • Ponca State Park
    • Badlands National Park
  3. Custer, SD
    • Custer State Park
    • Mt. Rushmore National Memorial
    • Wind Cave National Park
    • Jewel Cave National Monument
    • Devils Tower National Monument
  4. Old Faithful Inn
    • Yellowstone National Park
    • Grand Teton National Park
  5. Rising Sun Motor Inn
    • GlacierNational Park
  6. Watford City, ND
    • Theodore Roosevelt National Park
  7. Moorhead, MN
    • Mall of America
    • Wisconsin Dells
  8. Madison WI
    • Indiana Dunes National Park

We did SO much on this trip, this will probably take me months to recap, but I am looking forward to it! Thanks for stopping by!  To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Texas Hill Country Road Trip Recap

Mission Concepcion Sign

This trip took us to two national historic parks from very different times in American history. We had some of the best German food I have had in my life and I went to Germany in high school. We toured a bunch of wineries and had some of the best wine of my life. We experienced Texas’ first cold snap of the year. Locals were very excited to tell us Northerners about the “snow” they got. I feel like I got a taste of the real Texas on this trip.

If you are planning to explore the Hill Country, the most convenient airports to fly in or out of are Austin and San Antonio. We had flight credits from our canceled 2020 spring break trip on Spirit so we went with Austin. It is less than an hour and a half drive from Austin to San Antonio so no matter which airport you fly into, you would be able to see both cities.

The Alamo from the front

Between the two cities is the historic German town of New Braunfels which is home to Naeglins, the oldest bakery in Texas. Nearby, Greune is a fun place to step back in time and explore in the area. In San Antonio, exploring the Riverwalk and taking a boat tour are a must as well as touring the Alamo (but be sure to get your tickets in advance). If you have time, head a little outside the city to San Antonio Missions National Historic Park.

From San Antonio head north to Fredericksburg. Along the way, stop at Cascade Caverns in Boerne and have lunch at Little Gretel which is where we had the best German food of the trip! A litter farther north in Comfort, I recommend a stop at Newsom vineyards tasting room.

Fredericksburg Pioneer Memorial

Once you get to Fredericksburg, there is so much to do and The Museum of the Pacific War is one of the highlights of the city. We had great meals at Austlander and Pasta Bella as well as AMAZING pastries at the Old German Bakery. There are many wineries right downtown, but if you have time, I recommend you head out of town and check out William Chris Vineyards, Lewis Wines, and Kuhlman Cellars.

On the way back to Austin, stop in Johnson City and visit the LBJ National Historic Site where you can experience LBJ’s ranch and see and the Texas White House as well as the original 19th century Johnson Settlement. If you need to get out and stretch your legs some more, I recommend a hike at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge.

In Austin, I recommend you take a tour of the city and enjoy Ladybird Lake. It might seem silly, but check out the Austin Public Library. In Austin, I had more restaurants on my TripAdvisor list than things to do and every single one we went to was amazing. If you are in Austin, I recommend Chuy’s for Mexican food, Torchy’s Tacos, Terry Black’s Barbeque, and Ramen Tatsu-ya. If you want to get away from the city for a bit, I love getting coffee at Mozart’s and enjoying it by the water.

Some of the most popular attractions in the Hill Country are state parks. Enchanted Rock, just north of Fredericksburg is one of the most well-known. One thing I did not anticipate before this trip is that Texas State Parks require reservations to get through the gate. I don’t know of any other state that does this and being that we visited during the week between Christmas and New Years, all of the parks near where we were staying were booked up. If you are planning a trip to the Hill Country and want to see some of the natural features, be sure to book them in advance so you’re able to get in. I guess this just means I have a reason to return to the Hill Country!

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Texas Hill Country Road Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Hiking Balcones Canyonlands

The view of the Colorado River from Warbler VistaThe drive from Fredericksburg back to Austin was the longest driving day of our Hill Country Road Trip. In terms of some of the road trips we’ve taken, an hour and forty-five minutes drive are not that bad, but it doesn’t hurt to get out of the car and stretch your legs and take in some natural beauty.

To stretch our legs on this day, we decided to stop at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge. Located near Marble Falls, Balcones is about an hour drive from Austin and would be a good place to get away from the city and get into nature. As a National Wildlife Refuge, this area is popular with birders. We stopped at the Warbler Vista section of the park which offers three fairly short trails to explore. If it’s not obvious by the name, this area is prime warbler habitat.

Trail through trees

We started our visit at the end of the road at the sunset viewing platform (above). This overlook gives a view of the Hill Country as well as Lake Travis. After taking in the view and enjoying the (once again) warm Texas sunshine, we embarked on the 1.25 mile Cactus Rocks loop trail. We began on the northern branch of the trail which was significantly flatter and easier than the southern portion which had more elevation change. Overall, the trail was a pretty easy hike in the Texas wilderness. If you are looking to escape the city and get back into nature on a trip to Austin or just a place to stop between Fredericksburg and Austin, this park is quiet and off the beaten path.

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Texas Hill Country Road Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

Lyndon B Johnson National Historical Park

Cow in Field

Cow grazing at LBJ Ranch

Lyndon B Johnson National Historical Park is located in Johnson City (Lyndon’s family founded the town) about half an hour from Fredericksburg. The park “tells the story of our 36th President beginning with his ancestors until his final resting place on his beloved LBJ Ranch.” (NPS).

Log Cabin built by LBJ's grandparents

Log cabin built by LBJ’s grandparents in the Johnson Settlement section of the park

LBJ National Historic Park is made up of Johnson’s Boyhood Home, LBJ’s grandparents’ settlement, and LBJ’s Texas White House. The areas of the park are about 14 miles apart and a car is recommended for touring the park. Adjacent to the LBJ Ranch district of the park, LBJ State Park is home to the Saur-Beckmann Living History Farm, an Olympic-sized swimming pool, hiking trails, a bison herd, and a herd of Texas Longhorns.

Texas White House

LBJ’s ranch is probably the highlight of this park. Driving through the ranch and being able to see descendants of the president’s cattle (top) was a pretty unique experience. The Texas White House is one of the biggest attractions of the park. The Johnsons donated their Texas home to the Park Service while they were still alive but tours of the home were not offered until Mrs. Johnson’s death in 2007. In 2008, the President’s Texas office was opened to tours. Unfortunately, it is currently closed to visitors because of structural issues in the home. Visitors are still able to view it from behind a fence and get photos of it from an awkward angle (above).

LBJ's Presidential Plane in its Hangar

Parking at the hangar to get an up-close view of Air Force 1/2 (above) was pretty special too. Air force 1 was too large to land at the runway on the ranch so the president frequently flew a smaller JetStar to his Texas home, allowing him to continue his work away from D.C. The plane returned home to the park in 2016.

Overall, if you are in the hill country, I highly recommend a stop at LBJ National Historic Park. It will allow you to get a better picture of the 36th president (while skimming over issues regarding Vietnam) and his family history. The park is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day and is free to visit. For more information visit NPS.gov and Texas State Parks.

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Texas Hill Country Road Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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