As you have surely heard or read, Yellowstone National Park is one of the highlights in the USA with its nature and the animals that you can experience in the wild. Therefore, there was no question that this should be our next destination on the way to the West Coast. However, once again we discovered that there are other great highlights to experience between Badlands and Yellowstone if you take a small detour. Consequently, until Yellowstone NP we put in two more stops, which will always remain in our memory.
Over Devil’s Tower to Bighorn National Forest
So we first followed the Freeway 34 north from Sturgis, where we passed the border between South Dakota and Wyoming. Of course, as you can see above, a short photo stop was not to be missed here 😉.
Then we continued on Freeway 24 to Devil‘s Tower National Monument – America’s very first national monument, designated by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. At this mountain of volcanic rock, which rises 265 meters above its surroundings and has a diameter of about 150 meters, Steven Spielberg filmed the finale of his movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” in 1977. As a fan of the novel series “The Seven Sisters” by Lucinda Riley, however, I find the role of the mountain in the mythology of indigenous peoples much more exciting. According to one legend, the mountain was created to protect seven girls – the Pleiades – from bears. But read for yourself:
Doesn’t that just sound great? 🤩 It’s definitely worth queuing up for the parking lot of the national monument and taking photos up close. And of course, if you have the time and the inclination, you can go hiking here.
Offroad around Sheridan
After a short break at the Devil’s Tower Trading Post, we drove further west in beautiful weather. But after Gilette, the weather threw a wrench in our plans. Actually, we wanted to avoid the interstates as much as possible; due to the oncoming rain and the extreme wind, we decided to follow Interstate 90 via Buffalo to our destination, the KOA Campground in Sheridan, despite the detour.
Sheridan is an ideal starting point for trips into the Bighorn National Forest. After a little research and the procurement of bear spray (which we planned to use in case of an encounter with one of the cougars found there), we set out the next day for a full-day off-road tour. From Sheridan we drove past the Big Horn to the Red Grade Road. Even though this dirt road is quite steep and rutted at the beginning (and gets extra watered in between), after a few miles it leads on a nice, wide gravel road across the national forest. A very nice tour, on which one meets only a few vehicles and can thus enjoy nature completely. FYI: To my relief, we did not encounter any bears or cougars.
To get back onto a paved road, Highway 14, towards the end of Red Grade Road, we turned left once and, after a closure, ended up on a “real” off-road trail through the forest – just the way Micha liked it, i.e. with ruts, boulders, tree roots, etc. Apart from us, there were only two quads on the trail, which were much easier on their four wheels than we were. That’s what Gisi thought after a somewhat steeper curve and lay down halfway to take a short break 😉 Thank God she did not hurt herself (this time).
After we helped Gisi up again, Gernot drove the rest of the way in front. So we successfully covered this without further incidents, but were (especially me) quite exhausted from so much rough terrain. So we took a longer break when leaving the forest and enjoyed the view in the sun.
Proud to have made this stretch, we finally made our way back to our campsite on Highway 14. After only a few miles on the highway, we were rewarded with the sight of a moose enjoying its dinner in a meadow. 🤩
A “wild” world all its own in Buffalo Bill’s Cody
After our great off-road excursion we took the Bighorn Scenic Byway. Again we took Highway 14 from Sheridan first to Burgess Junction. A wonderful winding mountain road with great viewpoints and even more impressive with rock sediments that are over 3 billion years old and thus are among the oldest in the world. Just incredibly impressive!
At Burgess Junction, Highway 14 then heads south along Shell Canyon. Also a winding road in a breathtaking natural scenery (especially at the western end; Do not forget to turn on your GoPro 😉). For motorcyclists a great road, on which you should definitely stop at Shell Falls.
Arriving in Cody, we were both a little surprised: We had not expected the Wild West here at all. 🤭 As soon as we had pitched our tent at the Cody KOA Holiday Campground and freshened up a bit, we took the shuttle bus to our first Wild West experience: the Cody Stampede Rodeo.
Even though it was very interesting to experience such a typical American sports show live for once, it was also a bit bizarre. On the one hand it is impressive how young men (hardly older than 16) can hold themselves on such disturbing horses or bulls even for a moment. On the other hand, one watches young calves being chased, brought down with lassos, thrown on their backs and tied up by their legs. Even if they are unleashed again immediately afterwards, this is certainly no pleasure for the animals. And also one or the other bull clearly showed what he thinks of waiting in the cramped box for his turn. And you won’t believe it, but even here they don’t do without commercial breaks. The way it works is that a cowgirl gallops through the arena on her horse, holding a flag in her hand that shows the logo of the corresponding brand, and the presenter – also on horseback – nicely recites the corresponding advertising slogan. Crazy! 😂 For us, one thing is certain in any case: experiencing it once is okay; for several visits, it’s not really our thing.
The next morning we went on to our second Wild West experience. When we found out that you can go to the range in Wyoming without a gun license, we wanted to at least check it out. So we headed to Cody Firearms Experience. And what can I say: yes, we tried it out. But I can’t tell you how excited I was. That was probably why I actually hit it, and hit it so well that our instructor said to Micha, “Just don’t make her mad.” To be honest, it was an ambivalent experience for me: On the one hand, I would never have thought that I would hold a gun in my hand and shoot it – simply because so many bad things can & will be done with it; on the other hand, the support by the staff and especially by our instructor (who stands next to you the whole time and shows/explains everything in detail) was super good. I must admit that after this experience I can understand how one can find fascination in this sport. It takes an incredible amount of patience, focus and calm.
Back at the campsite we met Melanie and Thorsten from Gütersloh, whose blue van with the German license plate just two places away we had already noticed the day before. So nice to talk again with compatriots – even more with two who make a similar journey (and route) as we do – just with the Bulli. It’s a pity that it didn’t work out with a joint dinner – but who knows, maybe we’ll run into each other again.
For the afternoon of this day, Micha had planned a little tour for off-roading. So we drove on the Greybull Highway (US Hwy 14) to the McCullough Peaks OHV Staging Area and turned there into unpaved terrain. It’s a nice little loop of about 40 miles (about 65 kilometers) that passes the McCullough Peaks and offers great views of the surrounding area. However, you should keep a close eye on the weather here: Even though the approaching thunderstorm provides an interesting photo backdrop, you’d rather not be out on this route when it’s raining. (Thank goodness we only got a few drops when we were already back on the highway).
Since the thunderstorm fortunately passed without much rain, we spent the evening in Cody. In the town founded by Buffalo Bill in 1896, you can definitely still feel something of the flair of the Wild West. And not only in the Buffalo Bill Center of the West or the Old Trail Town, where relics from that time are gathered; also when strolling through the town – or its Main Street – you can feel the Wild West feeling.
Overall, a really great area that we don’t think you should skip on your way to Yellowstone National Park.