Devils Tower, Fort Robinson, and Great Friends

Both were out of the way a bit but definitely worth the journey. After leaving North Dakota we headed south and west to reach the other-worldly Devils Tower. Teddy Roosevelt’s first national monument in 1906 has been attracting crowds for centuries.

A sacred place for native Americans and a draw for climbers since the first summit in 1893, Devils Tower is a geologic wonder.

We walked the easy Tower Trail around the monument and watched climbers high up on the cliffs. Can you see them on the photo above? The views of the surrounding pine forests and distant grasslands were also pretty cool from the trail.

It was a short visit. You can see it in an afternoon unless you plan on climbing. We stayed at the KOA just outside the monument and had great views of the tower from our campsite. The Devils Tower KOA screens Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind each evening in its outdoor theater. The movie was filmed on the grounds of the KOA in the 1970s. We watched the show and realized neither of us remembered seeing it in its entirety before.

After getting our passport stamp at Devils Tower we headed south to visit another of Steve’s childhood memories. The Greens visited Northwest Nebraska’s Fort Robinson State Park in the late 70s.

Steve says the park hadn’t changed much but we were impressed with how the historic site has been maintained and preserved. The campground was a great base from which to explore the fort that saw Indian wars including the death of Crazy Horse, a WWII German POW camp, and years and years of family reunions in the old officer’s quarters.

The park has a ton of hiking/biking/riding trails which we really enjoyed. As you know, we don’t pass up a good trail!

The free Thursday night rodeo was a kick. And we couldn’t miss the chuck wagon dinner, which Steve and his family also enjoyed years ago. The bison stew and cornbread is the same but now the wagon is powered by a truck instead of horses.

Being back in Nebraska gave Steve an opportunity to enjoy one of his favorite treats, a Runza. He says they order these meat pies at Cornhusker football games and holding it keeps your hands warm until halftime.

While both Devils Tower and Fort Robinson may be new destinations for many people, we highly recommend both.

On our way home from our two month adventure we stopped in Colorado to visit two sets of dear friends. In Fort Collins we connected with the Shoemakers for breakfast. Susan and I worked together at the City of Phoenix back in the 90s, and her family is very special. It was great to spend time with Susan, Russ, Steve, Rachel, Griffin, and Fletcher.

In Denver we spent a few days with Sam and his family. We all go back many, many years, and it’s always fun to hang out with this crowd. In fact, we even left for home with a stowaway…Sam is riding to Arizona with us to hang out for a little longer.

As we close this trip out and prepare for the next, we feel super grateful for the opportunity to explore at our own pace and in our own way. This summer we covered nine states and four national parks, staying in twenty three different campgrounds. It was a fun summer, and the best part was connecting with family and friends along the way.

We are now preparing for our next journey, and we’d love to see more friends and family along the way. If you want to join us on the road, we’d love to have you!

Theodore Roosevelt and the Maah Daah Hey

It’s a little out of the way compared to other western national parks, but we highly recommend a trip to Medora, North Dakota to explore the town, its history, and Theodore Roosevelt National Park (TRNP). We spent six days in Medora and loved every minute. The Maah Daah Hey Trail Runs brought us here to begin with but the scenery, the park, and Teddy Roosevelt’s story kept us enthralled.

To continue Steve’s pursuit of running a marathon in all 50 states, we made the Maah Daah Hey (MDH) Trail marathon our first priority.  The MDH trail runs a total of 144 miles from the north unit through the south unit of TRNP. The trail markers for the MDH is a turtle, which symbolizes patience, determination, and steadfastness, all of which are required when you run on this trail.

Steve ran the 27 mile race fast enough to win his age group. Yep, he beat all the other guys aged 50-59! I ran the 10K, which was closer to seven miles, through the beautiful and rugged Badlands. The race itself was enough of a draw but there was so much more!

TRNP, the only national park named after a U.S. president, was established to honor his contribution to conservation, having preserved and protected an estimated 230 million acres of land including 18 national monuments, five national parks, 150 national forests, and dozens of federal reserves. As national park geeks, we really like Teddy!

The park itself includes three units covering over 70 miles. Roosevelt ranched in this area in the 1880s and artifacts from his time are on display at the visitor center, including rifles and ranch clothing. We immersed ourselves in all things Teddy while we were here and enjoyed seeing his original cabin and the land he loved. 

In the park itself we drove the South Unit’s 36-mile scenic drive and took in the park’s numerous prairie dog towns, numerous bison, and the park’s herd of wild horses. In the North Unit, we took the 14-mile scenic drive and learned about the unique rock formations called cannonball concretions, created by erosional forces. The badlands are rugged, desolate, and yet, beautiful in many ways. 

The town of Medora is a living tribute to our 26th president. In fact, much of the neat town and its attractions are run by the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation. We attended two afternoon shows that paid tribute to T.R. and taught us about his impact on Medora. He came here to find solace after the death of his first wife and his mother on the same day. His ranching days here were short-lived, but his love of North Dakota endured. 

The Medora Gospel Brunch is also worth checking out when you visit Medora. In fact, all of the entertainment in town was top-notch. High quality singers and musicians, polished re-enacters, and New York-level productions. We were really impressed.

The star of the Medora entertainment scene is the Medora Musical which has been running since 1965. Set in a striking outdoor amphitheater with sweeping views of the badlands, the musical pays tribute to Medora’s history and the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt.

With a mix of classic country music and original tunes, the company sings, dances, and rides with high energy for a full two hours. In our second row seats, we had a great view of the action.  The Medora Musical is a not-to-miss event in Medora.

Of course we went back out on the Maah Daah Hey trail a bit on our bikes and just enjoyed being in this unique place. Beautiful views, a well-groomed trail, and sunshine always make for a good day.

We hope to return in 2025 once the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library is opened. 

The Black Hills with Cousins

Steve’s cousin Traci often talks about her annual horseback riding trips to South Dakota’s Black Hills.

We decided to join them for a few days while passing through the area. They rode horses and we stuck to the bikes.

Basing ourselves in the beautiful Spokane Valley, just south of Keystone, we explored a few areas that we’d not visited on a previous trip. First stop: the Mickelson Trail. We took on a scenic ten mile section of this beautiful 109 mile rail trail.

The trail, its trestle bridges and tunnels, was a relatively smooth and flat path which we explored with the dogs in tow. It got a little warm towards the end and Mia was done riding in the back. So Steve carried her. Probably not the safest but…

Each evening we joined Traci and Randy for either dinner cooked outside or at a local restaurant. We did a little putt putt too! It was fun to hang out and catch up with them.

While we were in the Black Hills, the summer’s heat wave continued. That was a good excuse to hit one of the many local lakes. We took the kayaks out onto Custer State Park’s Legion Lake and enjoyed a relaxing paddle. And, we continue to receive comments and questions about our fun Bōte inflatable kayaks.

We’d explored Mt Rushmore on our last visit but missed the Crazy Horse memorial. This time we made sure to explore Crazy Horse and the accompanying museum. While they have decades of work before the memorial is finished, the site has plenty to see.

Finally, you can’t miss Custer State Park when you are in the Black Hills. We traversed the park several times and usually found ourselves in a bison jam. The large herd owns the park and when they are in the road, they have the right-of-way. We didn’t mind at all!

Now that we’ve been to South Dakota’s Black Hills several times, our list of things to do and see has grown. We’ll definitely be back for more hiking, biking, and sightseeing. Thanks to Traci and Randy for luring us this way again!