RV Life – Year 3 – Mountain Summer Pt.3

Eye of the Beholder - RV Life - Year 3 - Mountain Summer Pt.3
Sunset colors on the Badlands of South Dakota.

Montana, Wyoming, and South Dakota offer much to see and do for a mountain summer destination.

From national parks, to historical locations, there is no shortage of amazing attractions.

mountain summer

mountain summer

It was late August of 2019 and we knew it was time to start heading out of the high country before the weather turned. Glacier National Park lived-up to its reputation and exceeded our expectations for a pleasant mountain summer climate with unparalleled natural beauty. South Dakota was next on the itinerary, but we were not finished with Montana yet.

Not only did we want to make a stop in Billings to visit a few specific points of interest, but I also needed medical attention. I was 51 at the time and feeling some typical symptoms for a man of my age throughout the summer months, so I arranged to see a healthcare professional in Billings.

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The drive from Essex to Billings was about 6-hours through central Montana. We parked at the Yellowstone River RV Park and Campground on the southeast side of town. Literally, just steps away from the Yellowstone River, the property is a beautiful, well-kept location under the shade of towering birch trees with long and spacious RV sites.

mountain summer

Eye of the Beholder - RV Life - Year 3 - Mountain Summer Pt.3
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One of the first places I wanted to see was Cody, Wyoming. I never knew my paternal grandfather, John Daniel Coryell, but I knew that Cody is his resting place. He passed when I was 7 years old, in 1975. I also knew that Cody and the surrounding countryside was his heart and soul. While helping my dad prepare his book, TOM, I learned that Cody is where Grandpa John grew into manhood after his father tragically passed away in 1930, when John was just 12 years old.

Cody is about 2 hours from the campground, located at the western edge of the Bighorn Basin and surrounded by some spectacular mountain scenery (Big HornOwl CreekBridger, and Absaroka ranges). It is easy to see why John fell in love with the area. It is incredibly scenic and remote. I tried to imagine him as a young ranch-hand there in the 1930s.

mountain summer

Eye of the Beholder - RV Life - Year 3 - Mountain Summer Pt.3

John was born in 1918, so he would have been 23 in 1941 when America was pulled into the war.

He served as a private in the 53rd Training Group of the Army Air Corps and is an honored veteran in his hometown of Green Valley, Illinois.

His 3 brothers also served and share John’s recognition at the World War II Memorial in town, each with their names forever-etched into a memorial brick.

Thank you for your service, Coryell men!

mountain summer

I found John at the Riverside Cemetery in Cody, near the Shoshone River. After the graveside visit, we made a brief drive around town, enjoyed a nice lunch, and then headed back to Billings.

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During the day trip to Cody, we spotted a marker for an interesting nearby attraction. The name Plenty Coups resonated with me right away, because I remembered seeing it a couple years previously at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C. See RV Life – Year One – Summertime, Part 2

A couple days later, we returned to the small town of Pryor, less than an hour south of Billings, and visited Chief Plenty Coups State Park. The experience was impactful for me. I explored his home and wandered the property, finding his Sacred Spring and pausing for several minutes of silence within a small thicket of forest.

Eye of the Beholder - RV Life - Year 3 - Mountain Summer Pt.3

I felt a strange calmness about the place, something like what I experienced at Sitting Bull Falls (see RV Life – Year One – Autumn).

In that moment of peace, I understood clearly why this was a sacred place for him.

Inspired, I wrote an article especially for the old warrior in February 2023, honoring his life and memory.

See Inspire Me – Plenty Coups

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Our final point of interest near Billings was about an hour east, the Little Bighorn National Monument. Also known as, Custer’s Last Stand, this is the battlefield location where Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer met his demise with 40 other soldiers of the US Cavalry 7th Regiment, including Crow and Arikara scouts. Plenty Coups also had a role in that fateful battle.

Warriors of the Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes clashed with cavalry soldiers on June 25-26, 1876, overwhelming the 7th Regiment with superior numbers. It is quite a sight, observing so many granite headstones placed on various spots where men fell in battle. Red stones mark Native warriors and white ones mark Army soldiers.

I found a few stones far from Last Stand Hill. I stood in silence with a soft wind blowing through the tall prairie grass and imagined what it must have been like for those brave souls on that terrible day.

mountain summer

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Labor Day weekend arrived and we left Billings for South Dakota. A short 5-hour drive to the southeast, on the northside of the Black Hills National Forest, is the small community of Spearfish. We parked the rig at Elkhorn Ridge, an amazing property with sweeping views of the South Dakota horizon all around and a convenient launch point to all the best Black Hills attractions.

We weren’t there for long when we heard news reports of heavy snowfall and road closings around Glacier National Park, confirming our notion that bugging-out of Rocky Mountain country by Labor Day is a smart move!

The region around western South Dakota and northeastern Wyoming is loaded with some amazing sites. History and natural beauty offer a full itinerary of things to see and do. We started with a day trip into Wyoming to see the Devil’s Tower National Monument.

Eye of the Beholder - RV Life - Year 3 - Mountain Summer Pt.3

An easy 1-hour trip west of Spearfish is the iconic rock formation made famous in the 1977 Steven Spielberg film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

The Tower is a unique geological feature protruding high above the Black Hills prairie. Considered sacred by Northern Plains Indians, the vertical crack lines make it one of the most popular climbing areas in North America.

We spent a couple hours wandering the trail that encircles the base, observing incredible viewpoints of the tower and the surrounding valley. I was there before, in 1995, and the trail seemed much easier to hike at age 27!

mountain summer

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We visited many places in the Black Hills during our stay in Spearfish. Here is a quick summary of our favorites;

Mount Rushmore:  Of course, we had to go see this incredible, larger than life display of the four presidents! Since its completion in 1941, the memorial has attracted over a billion international visitors. Cheri and I have both been there before, and many changes have occurred over the years. I found the location of a sweet memory from 1995 of my little kids climbing the rocks at an overlook spot.

Crazy Horse Memorial:  I love the words written by Chief Henry Standing Bear in his 1939 letter to Polish-American architect Korczak Ziolkowski

“My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes, too.”

Chief Henry Standing Bear – 1939

I could not agree more. Seeing the image of Crazy Horse beginning to emerge from the mountain was awesome. It will be a fitting tribute to rival the majesty of Mount Rushmore. I was a bit sad however, realizing that the memorial might not be finished in my lifetime. Supported solely by private funding, the massive investment of time and money will require decades to bring the project to completion.

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Deadwood:  The legendary old west town was created by the 1874 Black Hills Gold Rush. By 1876, miners had established a gold camp that attracted outlaws, gamblers, and gunslingers. Wild Bill Hickok was among those who came looking for fortune, but was gunned down while holding a poker hand of aces and eights, often referred to as the Dead Man’s Hand.

Roughlock Falls: Fans of the movie, Dances With Wolves, will recognize this area. Nestled in the Spearfish Canyon, we enjoyed a pleasant nature trail experience and splendid views of the multi-tiered waterfall feature.

Custer State Park: This incredible park offers some of the best South Dakota scenery in the region. We explored the Needles Highway, passing through narrow tunnels of solid granite. We also visited Sylvan Lake, another location that movie lovers should recognize from National Treasure: Book of Secrets.

The Badlands: A true national treasure, these eerie geological formations draw millions of visitors from around the world. We drove through the Badlands Loop Road stopping at several historical points of interest and scenic overlooks.

mountain summer

We pulled out of Spearfish in mid-October, heading east on Interstate-90 for about 4 hours. We stopped for the week at the small town of Oacoma, South Dakota and set-up camp at the Oasis Campground. We wanted to visit a couple of specific sites there.

The Dignity Sculpture: A beautifully crafted 50-foot memorial of a native woman standing high on a bluff above the Missouri River called, Dignity of Earth and Sky. The sculpture pays homage to the Native Nations of the Great Plains. I found this to be a very fitting location, because it is also the Camp Pleasant historical marker for the Lewis & Clark Expedition. That famous journey owes much of its success to the brave assistance of a very important Native American woman named Sacagawea.

Aktá Lakota Museum & Cultural Center: Another reason that the Dignity Statue stands in an appropriate place is the nearby St. Joseph’s Indian School in Chamberlain, SD. We visited the campus and toured the museum and cultural center.

mountain summer

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Summer was clearly behind us as we entered late-October. Fall colors started to appear on the trees and the nights were getting cold. We left South Dakota and headed to Kansas City. It was a long travel day, over 8 hours, to one of our favorite spots in the KC Metro, the Trailside RV Park in Grain Valley, Missouri.

We enjoyed a wonderful time catching up with family and friends, attending a baby shower, a birthday celebration, a fun day at Carolyn’s Pumpkin Patch with the little ones, and the arrival of a new baby nephew! We left Kansas City on October 26, 2019, heading back to our Nashville home base.

Our Mountain Summer was the best RV Life summer season yet! How would we ever top that one?

Psalms 115:15

mountain summer

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Steve Coryell