Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Honeymoon in Yellowstone

Josh & I spent our honeymoon exploring and camping in Yellowstone NP, Grand Teton NP and the surrounding National Forests. It was the best camping adventure of our lives. We did too much and had too much fun to put it all down in words. So, here is a slide show of some of the beautiful places we visited.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Little Bighorn NM & Cooke City-Beartooth Pass

View over Little Bighorn Battlefield
We came across Little Bighorn Battlefield on accident on our adventure west towards Yellowstone. As we were driving along Highway 212 we noticed cars on the ridge to our left and it looked like there may have been a statue. We were curious. After a little investigation with our Garmin we realized that abutting the road was Little Bighorn NM. Both of us voiced some interest in visiting the site and it seemed perfect that we happen to be driving by.

Marking the Calvary's Mass Grave
Here's a little history: At the Battle of Little Bighorn, late June 1876, George Armstrong Custer and 12 companies of the 7th Calvary went up against Cheyenne, Sioux and Arapaho warriors. It was a culminating moment in the  Native Americans struggle against the European invasion. Custer and his men were defeated and buried in a mass grave. The fallen warriors were removed by their tribes and given proper Native American burials. Within a few years the area became a national cemetery and a monument was erected on the knoll where Custer made his "last stand'. Stones now mark where soldiers and warriors fell.

From the parking lot it is a short walk through the museum to the knoll where the monument lies. As you walk slowly uphill it's impossible not to think back to what the battle must have been like. The prairie dominates the landscape for as far as you can see like an ocean of grass and woody shrubs. The sun was beating down upon our face and shoulders, warning us to seek shade and drink more water. I couldn't help but wonder if the battle was on a day like that and what it really was like.

The stones that marked where soldiers fell were white granite, all except for Custer, who's stone had a black front. Where each Native American warrior had fallen there was a dark granite stone that informed the reader that he had died 'defending the Cheyenne way of life'. We thought that was quite beautiful.

Little Bighorn NM, Walking Tour
The path lead us into a circular area with stone walls reaching 6-7 feet. Dark plaques displayed the names of the warriors lost in battle and of famous warriors who had changed the history of the people. Along one edge there was an iron statue of warriors riding into battle and through the iron the prairie flowed below. The circular construction of the area helped us to feel the place. It felt like a memorial. Silent yet intense and somehow peaceful.

This was a great surprise for us on our journey. I think that we had been so focused on what we could do in Yellowstone that we may have overlooked some things to do along the way! From here we continued to head west, getting closer to Yellowstone with each moment.

The shortest route from the Black Hills to Yellowstone is straight East to Cody and in through the East Entrance. We wanted to leave the park that way so we decided on the Northeast Entrance. This meant that most of our drive was through Montana, a state I'd never seen before. It was beautiful.

Rock Creek Vista Point Rest Area
It turns out that Highway 212 would lead us all the way to Yellowstone's doorstep. In Red Lodge, MT we stopped to fill our cooler and stretch our legs. After looking around a bit, we thought that we could definitely live there. The town is nestled in a valley and felt like a outdoor paradise. It's the end of the line during the winter months when the Cooke City-Beartooth Pass is closed. It seemed like a fun little town.

As soon as we headed south on 212 there was a change in scenery. We were entering into the Shoshone National Forest and approaching the beginning of the Pass. The mountains on both sides of us nestled closer and seemed to climb higher. We followed the valley floor for miles before we began the slow climb up the mountain side. There were so many switchbacks that I lost count before we were at the first viewpoint. As we rose out of the valley we had spectacular views to take in. The mountain peaks were covered with snow and though they had felt far away, we were suddenly on the plateau cruising on top of the world.

Gardner Lake Overlook
Josh was doing most of the driving and I was envious. The road was narrow, constantly curvy and rarely had a guardrail. I wish I could have driven to distract me from the huge drop that we were coasting along. My toes were constantly tingling.

We stopped at each overlook and gushed at the views. As we had rose in elevation the temperature dropped significantly. In Red Lodge we couldn't escape the heat but on the high plateau it was in the 60's and the wind was howling and we needed sweatshirts. The lakes were edged in ice and snow still dominated the ravines. It was like stepping back into spring.

We began to look for a place to camp that night. Originally, we thought that we were going to make it into Yellowstone the first night but we talked about it and decided that we would like to make our entrance in the morning. We checked out few camping areas but none of them seemed to be what we were looking for.

It's a odd thing to be driving to a destination but to have no plans at all. Our schedule was up in the air and our time was our own. We eventually came to a campground called Crazy Creek and decided to spend our first night in Site 11. It was far away from the mosquitoes, had a view of rocky ledges and had a path that led down to a roaring stream.

Josh on Crazy Creek
We pitched our tent, blew up the air mattress, made the bed, started a fire and set to cooking dinner. This was the first time that Josh and I had actually been camping together and we were having a lot of fun. For dinner, I think I made beans and hot dogs with bread and cheese. It was definitely a cowboy dinner. We brought our dishes to the creek and washed them the best we could. The recent rain had left the creeks at record highs and it was a sight to see with the water rushing through the rocks and debris.

With the sun beginning to set we took the opportunity to glass the rocky ridge and try to spot Bighorn sheep. We didn't have any luck but it was incredibly peaceful to be sitting under a setting sun, in the middle of the forest next to my husband. It was a great start to our greatest adventure yet.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Wedding

For the last two years Josh and I have shared our lives. It 's been the best time of my life. Two years ago on my drive to Deadwood I wasn't expecting what I would find there. I found work, friends and adventure but I also found Josh.

I remember the exact moment when I saw him. We were standing at the back of a equipment trailer when he smiled and introduced himself. His smile lit up his whole face and I took note. We were instant friends. At work we chatted and told stories. After awhile we started to hang out outside of work. We explored the town and the Black Hills. We found Art Alley in Rapid City and became regulars at Mustang Sally's. I had more fun with him than I'd ever had in my life.

We had our first kiss at Wonderland Cave. Then several more kisses at Black Hill Caverns, Crystal Cave, Wind Cave and Sitting Bull Crystal Caverns. We kiss in every cave now; it's become our tradition. On the road to each of those kisses we grew to know each other and even more about ourselves.

Then, on Friday, the 8th of July, we began the greatest adventure yet and pledged ourselves to each other in marriage.

The sky was clear and the sun was warm. The ceremony was at Roughlock Falls in Spearfish Canyon, in a private clearing that was edged in giant pines and thick
softwoods. We could hear the creek
running under the bridge and every tree seemed to be a little greener.

Our nieces, Ayden and Ava were excellent Flower Girls. They looked beautiful in their ivory dresses as they carried smaller bouquets of daisies. My Maid of Honor was my closest friend, Amy. She wore a dress in my favorite hue of blue and had her hair pulled up. She looked fantastic! Josh asked his father, Willie to be his Best Man
and he and Amy walked together. Willie, my father, Bob and Josh wore dark suits and matching ties. They looked so handsome.

I will always remember the moment that I saw Josh waiting for me. It looked like the sun was shining down upon him and he was wearing that huge smile that I love so much. I walked a little faster when I saw him. My Dad asking me why I was walking so fast, and I told him that my husband was waiting for me!

Our best friend and roommate, Nate preformed the ceremony. As I was reciting my vows to Josh I could hear my voice cracking and see tears in his eyes. Everything that I had tried to memorize seemed to disappear and as I held myself together I told Josh that he had taught me to love and how I pledge myself to him. Josh vowed to me that he'd always let me catch the bigger fish, something I intend to hold him to, and that he'd love me forever. It was very casual and very us. Nate did a great job and free-styled some of the most beautiful parts of the ceremony.

Our friends, Dan and Kindell, took our pictures. They captured not only our families but also the candid moments throughout the day. We love the pictures that they took. They came out beautifully.

After the ceremony everyone headed for the reception, which was at Butch Cassidy Sundance Kid Luxury Suites in Deadwood. The Suites have an amazing patio and since Josh's parents, Uncle and Grandmother had rented the building for the weekend it was the perfect place for our reception.

We really to have food that you'd find at a Southern Style BBQ. There were ribs and brisket, prepared by Willie & Uncle Terry. I have never had BBQ better than theirs. Josh's Mom and Aunt prepared a potato salad and a strawberry salad that were unforgettable. We had made pasta salad, which wasn't so bad either. There was corn, rolls, and fruit in case we were still hungry. Everything was delicious.

We had asked Josh's sister, Jawauna, to make our cake and cupcakes and she blew us away with her red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. Our cake she decorated with pine trees, chocolate rocks and even a small deer. It was a winter scene of the Black Hills and it was perfect! We cut it and as we served it to each other, Josh pushed my piece into my face and up my nose and I served him a sweet little bite. Delicious!

When our song, Wagon Wheel, came on we danced, sang and reveled in the moment. We sang it to each other and Josh spun me around a bit. In that moment it seemed to be just me and my husband.

As the afternoon came to an end, we began to realize how all of this excitement had worn us out and we returned to our home.

Later that evening we went to Saloon 10 with our friends and my new sister- and brother-in-laws. We popped in to the Deadwood Tobacco Co. and listened to music until Josh excused us and informed me that our night was just beginning.

We stopped up to our house, grabbed an overnight bag and we were on our way. I had no idea where we were heading. I thought maybe we were going to a hotel downtown and when we passed the last hotel I was truly confused. Then I thought maybe he had set up the tent somewhere and we were headed out to a night under the stars. It was when we were at the top of Strawberry Hill that I realized we were heading to the Fish n' Fry Campground, the place I had been camping when we first started dating. It's always been a favorite of ours and we've often toyed with the idea of camping there again one summer.

Josh had reserved a cabin for us and it had been decorated with a "Just Married" sign and balloons. We had brought Wu because we couldn't escape him and he made his bed on the floor as we made our bed. Josh had brought the computer and a movie, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. He had recreated our first date on our wedding night. It was so sweet that I cried a little. I'm such a girl and I'm so in love with my husband.

In the night it hailed and rained harder than it had in awhile. It was awesome to hear it fall on the metal roof. I felt so snuggled, secure and safe as we watched the movie and sipped champagne. It was the perfect ending to our wedding day.

More wedding photos can be viewed by following this Family Photo's link.