By Michelle Colesanti

After visiting the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, we headed east spending a night in Cody, named after Buffalo Bill Cody. This small town has that real cowboy feel. The Buffalo Bill Cody Museum, which is five museums in one, will offer you great insights into the old west, Buffalo Bill Cody’s colorful life, Native Americans in the area, the wildlife in the parks and more.

parks_wyoming-ta-ranch-horsebackHorseback Riding

Traveling east across the state, we continued with a stop at TA Ranch near Buffalo, Wyoming. There, we enjoyed lunch and a horseback ride while learning about working ranches in the area. We spent the night at nearby Ranch at Ucross. The grounds were well kept and our cabin was nicely decorated. We could have used more time here just to relax.

I was amazed at the vastness of the open land in Wyoming. Comparatively, Wyoming’s total population is 563,626, while here in Hillsborough County alone, it is almost 1,300,000.

We were sad to be leaving the wide open spaces of Wyoming, but excited to embark on the next leg of the journey into the plains of South Dakota.

Plains of South Dakota

At Wyoming’s eastern border, we headed into the Black Hills, so named by native Lakota because the evergreens are so thick that it makes the hills look black.

parks_mount-rushmoreOur first stop was the Crazy Horse Memorial, commemorating the 19th century Lakota warrior who fought to preserve Native American traditions. It is the world’s largest mountain carving. This private endeavor was started by Korczak Ziolkowski, who began the carving in 1948. The carving is still in progress with much work still to be completed.

Once we left the Crazy Horse Memorial, we headed to Mount Rushmore, South Dakota’s most famous rock carving. Completed in 1941, it was sculpted by Gutzon Borglum, and eventually joined by his son Lincoln Borglum, who then com
pleted the sculptures after his dad passed away. The four presidents on the carving are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. Roosevelt owned a ranch in South Dakota and with his help establishing our national parks system; it earned him a coveted spot in granite history along with the others.

Our Tauck tour officially ended after our short visit to the Black Hills, but we chose to stay an extra day using Rapid City as our base so that we could visit Badlands National Park.

Black Hills Tour

I set up a private tour with Black Hills Open-Top-Tours. Our personal driver Marty spent many years in the area and shared plenty of information not only about the park, but the surrounding area. By choosing this tour, we were able to sit back and just enjoy the scenery, learn the history, and not worry about driving. We could pit stop wherever we wanted for photo opportunities, and there were plenty.

The day was hot, reaching 109 degrees, but it wasn’t enough to slow us down. The Badlands is a unique area located in southwest S. Dakota. Its rugged landscape is almost reminiscent of the moon. Over millions of years, this area has had extensive erosion by wind and water. With the many canyons, ravines and other complex formations, it is also a geologist’s paradise as it is home to one of the world’s richest deposits of mammal fossil beds. Over 70 million years ago, this area was covered by water. Dinosaurs lived at this time, but not in this area. I found it interesting that alligators roamed this area from about 34 to 37 million years ago and fossils of gators have been found.

The colors on the mountains are unique. Sedimentary layers of different colors are based on when the mountain was formed. Plenty of wildlife calls this area home. We saw bison, mountain goats and many prairie dogs.

After an ice cream and shopping stop at Wall Drug Store, South Dakota’s famous roadside attraction, we headed back to Rapid City and an end to our parks tour.

You can find information on all of the National Parks by visiting www.nps.gov. For information on Black Hills Open-Top Tours, visit blackhillsopentoptours.com.