On a recent cross-country road trip – you know the kind… kids, dogs, ice chests, camping gear, and anything else that won’t fit – we decided to be bad. Casting aside our pre-planned route, we took the road less traveled, at least for us.
Without a specific destination after Yellowstone, we could stop where and when we chose. We exited America’s oldest national park by way of gold-rush town Gardiner, Montana, driving north on U.S. 89 until we bumped into Interstate 90. If we turned right and kept heading east, eventually we’d reach the Northeast and home.
En route we stumbled upon two unique, almost otherworldly, national lands I had known nothing about. And each could be experienced, to a degree, just by “driving through” – one of the benefits of having an annual America the Beautiful national parks pass if you do much cross-country travel.
First, the mysterious rock in Wyoming known as Devils Tower. Fortunately, the parking area and campground are close to the tower, because dogs may not be left in vehicles (regardless of conditions) or taken on the trail. The tower is sacred to American Indian tribes. Still, seeing this fantastic formation that shoots 1,267 feet from the surrounding landscape was worth the 20-some-mile drive north of I-90.
And then… The Badlands of South Dakota. No doubt where this strange world got its name… Its stark and startlingly colored beauty is stunning – but would have seemed an impassable wasteland to a lone pioneer wagon heading west. A 60-minute loop road offers the perfect intro for travelers just “passing through.” We’re definitely going back to camp someday!