Where the Deer and the Antelope Play!!!  A Road trip Through the Great Plains of America.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Oh, the joy we had making plans for this trip!!!  It all began with the desire to have a warm and homey visit with family in the Prairie States.  The plan was to visit relatives in Nebraska and Montana; view those houses, towns, cities, and places of importance to our forebears throughout the Great Plains; and then return to some national parks and historic places that we have loved and admired and visited over the decades.  We flew into Denver and then set off by car for Nebraska, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, and back to Colorado.

Wyoming….where the deer and the antelope play!!!!
After nearly 2 years of Covid, we finally got back on an airplane!!! Oh , the joy of of it all.
Flying over the Great Plains
Landing in Denver
Designed by Fentress Architects and opened in 1995, the Denver International Airport sits at the western edge of the Great Plains. Resembling snow-capped mountains, the iconic terminal evokes Colorado’s history when Native American teepees dotted the plains.

But wait, what exactly are Prairies?  What is the Great Plains?   

A prairie is an extensive, level or slightly undulating, mostly treeless tract of land characterized by a highly fertile soil and originally covered with coarse grasses.  A prairie is like pampas or savanna or steppe.  So says dictionary.com!!!

The Great Plains refers to a broad expanse of flatland in North America; west of the Mississippi River and east of the Rocky Mountains, that consists mostly of prairies.  This is the land of ranches and farms.

And why is this important?

Actually, there are many reasons.  But let’s start with the land bridge, Beringia, that formed across the Bering Strait between North Asia and the Americas sometime around 45,000BC and existed to around 12,000BC allowing animals, followed by humans, to migrate into the interior of North America.  By 11,500BC the Paleo-Indian culture was established throughout the Americas!!!  These early settlers were hunter-gatherers but as the glacial ice continued to melt, they relied less on hunting/gathering and started to fish and harvest plant foods.  Regionalization became common as the Paleo-Indians settled on the Great Plains in Tribes of Blackfoot, Crow, Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Comanche, and others.  By 800AD, corn was a harvested crop and trade flourished across the Great Plains.  Then, the Age of Discovery sent explorers from Europe out into the world and over to the Americas.  In the 1500s, horses were introduced to the area by adventurers and explorers such as Francisco Vazquez de Coronado and Hernando de Soto.  By the 1700s the Plains Indians culture was mature and buffalo hunting on horseback was the norm.  Fur trappers made their way to the Great Plains and in 1803 the United States acquired the Louisiana Purchase.   In August of 1803 to September 1806, Lewis & Clark set out to explore the Northwest.  Settlers migrated from the East to the Great Plains.  The railroad came.  Ranches prospered and the cattle roamed the open ranges.  And in 1862 the U.S. passed the Homestead Acts.  Game changer!!!

What happened next???

Our forebears homesteaded on the Great Plains!!!  The point of Homesteading was to encourage agricultural development of the Great Plains and house a growing population.  A settler could claim up to 160 acres of land, provided he lived on it for a period of 5 years and cultivated it.  Oh yeah, lots of folks claimed such homesteads.  They built homes, planted crops, created communities, and raised families.  But then an extended drought, inappropriate cultivation, and the financial crisis of the Great Depression forced many farms into ruin.  Known at the Dust Bowl, this period of American history saw many Great Plains farmers pack up their families and move away.  But that is another story for another time.

For now, let us show you what we saw as we traversed the Great Plains!!!

Road Trip through Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming. Here, we are approaching Lyman, NE
Nebraska…..where the cattle roam!!!
Where ranches sit below the buttes.
Ah, it was the railroad that brought commerce and prosperity to the Great Plains along with the people who would build the cities and establish businesses.
Then, therre’s the North Platte River, seen here as we cross on our way to South Dakota from Nebraska.
You’ve gotta love the bales of hay. They come in so many shapes and sizes. Growing up in Illinois, we would see them shaped into oblongs, here in South Dakota, they are baled into cylinders.
Lewis & Clark had 4 goals when they began their journey on the Missouri River in 1803–find a direct water route to the Pacific; explore the unknown territory; establish trade with the natives; and affirm U.S. sovereinty in the region.
At 2,540 miles long, the Missouri River is the longest river in the U.S.
Beginning in Montana, it flows through North Dakota, into South Dakota where it shares the borders of SD/Nebraska/and Iowa before flowing into the Mississippi River at St. Louis, Missouri.
Our goal, as we crossed the Missouri River at Chamberlain, SD was to view the stark beauty of the plains as we made our way to the Wall Drug emporium; the Black Hills; Mount Rushmore; Crazy Horse; and Deadwood!!!
The Wall Drug Store is a sight to behold!!!
And a good place to stop for a quick meal.
The Black Hills are spectacular.
Here we are approaching Mt. Rushmore!!! It is wonderful that you can view the marvel while along the highway. Pull-offs and signage are scattered all along the route.
Of course we stopped to read the sign and take some pictures. This sign told us about Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor of Mt. Rushmore.
Impressive, isn’t it!??!
Then you round a curve…..and see this!!! Breathtaking!!!
But do stop to view the memorial from the park facility.
It is majestic!!!
And then there’s Crasy Horse. We fist visited this project with our parents. Decades ago!!!
It will still be decades before this project is completed!!! What an amazing endevour.
But it will be an impressive accomplishment.
After a very long day of sighseeing, we made our way to Deadwood, SD to spend the night.
And we made it a point to visit Saloon #10 to view the place Wild Bill Hickok played his last poker game.
Outside of Deadwood, we spotted this contraption. Now isn’t this clever!?! A portable traffic light!!! We had not seen this before!!!
Our last segment of this journey is a stop at Yellowstone National Park. We made plans to stay in Gardiner, Montana. This is the view along the highway. Gorgeous, isn’t it!?!
But then the snow began to fall. It didn’t seem to bother the animals!!! And it didn’t bother us, either!!!
We made it to Gardiner with no difficulty. but the snow did continue!!!
And the next day we learned that Yellowstone was closed to thru traffic. So, as we made our way out of town, deciding to hurry along to Caper, Wyoming for our last stop, we totally admired the beauty of the snow!!!
Leaving Gardiner on the way to Casper, WY
And then, the Wyoming DOT closed the highway. We were forced to exit and spend the night in Buffalo, Wyoming. We were lucky to find “the last chance motel.” Even more fortunate–they served breakfast the next morning!!!
Our good fortune finding a hotel room may have been due to the many truckers choosing to park along the exit ramp to await the highway reopening. They spent the night in their rigs.
Buffalo looks like a nice town. Maybe someday we’ll return and tour it properly!!!
But we were anxious to get on the road again. And then, 18 hours later, I-25 to Casper, WY re-opened!!! We were on our way!!!
Heading south, the weather warmed. We zipped right pass Casper, Wy and drove on to Colorado. We made it back on schedule and were soon ready to fly back home.
As we drove back to Denver for our flight back east, we knew we’d be looking forward to our next visit!!!
But no one ever looks forward to the crowds and congestion of the airport. Sigh. Here we go again.

This was a great trip!!!

We learned a lot about our families and gained a new respect and admiration for them.

Thank you letting us share the adventure with you!!!

3 thoughts on “Where the Deer and the Antelope Play!!!  A Road trip Through the Great Plains of America.”

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