Angela and I had a productive summer. We got married! Thanks to several excellent family members, we were able to get this spectacular event planned from China. We ended up with perfect weather and were surrounded by all of the people that we love.
We got married early in the day, and had already taken all of our photos beforehand with our exceptional photographer Brittany. We were sitting at our brunch-style reception by noon, thanks to some great planning on Angela’s part, with nothing left to do but enjoy ourselves. After enjoying the company of our friends and family, and some delicious food courtesy of Luther College, our reception came to a close and we enjoyed the company of Angela’s mom’s side of the family who were gracious enough to help us finish off the keg of Blue Moon that we had acquired for the reception and had not gotten through yet. We had an afterparty at the Courtyard later in the evening. Overall, it was the best wedding imaginable, though I may be biased.
Since we are lucky enough to do quite a lot of exotic traveling during our regular school year, we tried to come up with a honeymoon that would be different and special for us. Being in the United States, we decided on a good old fashioned, all American road trip. After recovering from our wedding and laying low in Decorah on Sunday, we took off early Monday for Deadwood, South Dakota.
We drove up to Minnesota and took I-90 all of the way to the Black Hills. It was a nice drive, with a lot to look at.
After hearing about Al’s Oasis from a few different people, we decided to check it out. It may have been because it was very hot, or because we had been driving for a long time, but we were not impressed. It was just full of stuff to buy, with one exception:
We continued on our way until we reached the Badlands. We took an optional scenic road through the park that ended in Wall, South Dakota. It was totally worth it as it did not add too much time to our trip, and it was beautiful.
After getting dropped in Wall, we decided to stop at the world’s happiest place.
I think this photo of Angela, which could have been taken straight out of half of the nation’s photo albums, sums up our experience in Wall Drug. We actually had a pretty good time, especially since we knew what we were getting into. We definitely capitalized on the free ice water and the 5 cent coffee, along with a slice of pie and a homemade doughnut. Overall, I feel like we really soaked up every last drop of Wall Drug.
After Wall, it was just a few short miles to Deadwood, where we happily arrived at our bed and breakfast, the 1899 Inn.
The 1899 B&B is really awesome. The rooms all have a theme, and are very comfortable. The hosts even share their Netflix and Amazon Prime accounts with you. And of course, the breakfast was incredible. I especially liked the antique coffee pot, which was kept warm by a candle.
After a great night’s sleep in the 1899 Inn and a delicious breakfast, we started our first and only day in Deadwood with a hike to the Mt. Moriah cemetery. This is the burial place of all of Deadwood’s legends, including but not limited to ‘Wild Bill’ Hickok. We were given a map of the cemetery with all of Deadwood’s famous residents marked, so we could take our own walking tour.
We also saw the grave of Calamity Jane, who is buried next to Bill Hickok (at her request). The cemetery also provided a scenic view over Deadwood.
Seth Bullock, one of Deadwood’s famous sheriffs, is buried above the rest of the cemetery with a great view all to himself.
Mt. Moriah was kind of a wild card activity for us and it ended up being really interesting and also a beautiful hike.
After exploring Mt. Moriah, we went into town for some typical Deadwood activities, including watching several reenactments of famous shootouts and getting an old-timey photo taken.
I was worried that Deadwood was going to be lame, and a lot of people may still think that it is indeed lame, but Angela and I had a great time. The story of each shootout was explained in detail, and then acted out with real guns filled with blanks. A lot of the stores are pretty typical tourist trap kind of places, but fun to look around in. There is also a really interesting custom Indian motorcycle shop. We stopped for a bloody mary break in the Nugget Saloon.
We wanted to watch the final shootout of the night from the upstair patio of the Franklin Hotel, but having a little time to kill we decided to check out the Broken Boot Gold Mine. It was interesting to learn about the mining business that existed in the Black Hills, but was not the highlight of the trip.
After the gold mine we went to the historic Franklin Hotel for their patio cocktail hour.
We made sure to get there early, but it never filled up. Our table was right by the railing, giving us a good view of the carnage.
Our time in Deadwood came to a close, and after another fantastic breakfast at the 1899 Inn, we continued on our way to the Grand Teton National Park.
Since we were going to the Grand Tetons we decided to head south upon entering Wyoming so that we had a straight shot directly into the park. In an attempt to make our drive interesting, I decided that we ought to cut south down highway 59 once we hit Gillette, Wyoming because it went through the Thunder Basin National Grassland. On the map, this whole area is green, which suggests to the reader that it may be beautiful. I have to admit that I would not recommend this road to anyone, as it does not look that much different than the surrounding Wyoming landscape, and is extremely boring. To be fair, there were pronghorns, but I am pretty sure that we saw some of those outside of the park boundaries as well. I would recommend skipping this area in favor of a faster option to anyone who may be considering it.
After quite a drive, we arrived at the Grand Tetons. We had booked one night at the Alpenhof in Teton Village because we knew that camping spots filled up early. We enjoyed a live polka band on the patio before turning in.
We woke up pretty early so that we could drive to a camping spot and snag one. As we entered the park, we saw signs about which campgrounds were still open, and discovered that even at 8AM several had already filled. Luckily we got a beautiful spot at the Colter Bay campground.
Our first goal in the Grand Tetons was to do a pretty famous hike around Jenny Lake. Based on a suggestion from two very good friends of ours, we took the ferry across Jenny Lake, hiked up the Inspiration Point, and then hiked back to the lodge instead of taking the ferry back. Angela was a little worried about bears on our hike back as it was by far the road less traveled, but we didn’t see any.
After a hike around Jenny Lake, we were ready to relax back at the campsite and have a fire. Colter Bay has a little grocery store with everything you could imagine needing on a camping trip, so we were all set to go. We had dinner at the restaurant in Colter Bay, and while the service was excellent, the food was sort of a resounding medium, so I could not recommend that one beyond it’s convenient location.
We had a fly fishing trip scheduled for our second day in the Tetons. We had booked a trip with Grand Teton Fly Fishing, which is a company that I would definitely use again. The guy that we first contacted was really helpful in helping us to organize the trip, and was willing to do all communication by email since we were in China at the time of our booking. We woke up early to meet our guide Chris. If you could imagine The Dude from the Big Lebowski being a fly fishing guide, then you would have a pretty clear idea about Chris. He was awesome, with a great sense of humor and a lot of helpful tips for us two beginners.
We were going to float down the Snake River, which is motor-free. Chris has a really cool boat that he had recently purchased from Adipose Boatworks, and it is supposedly the best drift boat on the market. I don’t know too much about boats, but I will agree that floating in it was a really great experience.
We had a great time on our fishing trip. We were the only people on the river until we reached the end of our trip, and even then we only spotted a few other boats. Chris informed us that he had never seen the river so empty. It was also overcast most of the day, and relatively cool. He also informed us that such good weather was rare, so we felt pretty lucky. We did get rained on for a little bit, but not enough to dampen our spirits in the slightest.
We practiced our casting and mending for quite a while before catching any fish. Eventually, we lowered our anchor and took a little break. Well, Angela took a little break, but I kept fishing, and it was at this point that we did most of our damage, catching about 8 fish at the same little bend in the river. I was worried that I was catching the same fish over and over, but Chris assured me that fish wait 24 hours between each time they are caught.
Chris called the back seat in the boat the no-pressure seat, mostly because he couldn’t watch your cast while in the back, and also because the person in the front was theoretically having the first shot at all of the fish. After I caught a bunch, Chris was worried about getting Angela a few trout, so he made us switch.
Angela caught a few fish while sitting in front, so Chris was happy.
Chris didn’t let us keep any of the fish we caught. I wondered if this was a rule on the Snake River, because a lot of people fish it. He said you could keep them, but since his business was helping people to catch fish, he needed to leave the fish in the river. He did threaten to not give us lunch until we both caught at least one fish, to simulate what it would be like if we were depending on our catch for survival. After we parted ways with our awesome guide, Angela and I drove down to Jackson, Wyoming where we drank and ate at the Snake River Brewery. Angela ordered trout to pretend like she was eating the catch for the day. The beer was really good, and so was the food.
Our waitress was really concerned that the fish was served with the head, and wanted to make sure that we were aware. All fish in Southeast Asia are served with the head, so we were not bothered.
On our way back to our Colter Bay campsite, we decided to find the famous Moulton Barn that everyone photographs while in the Tetons. We were successful. The barn was apparently built by Mormons who settled in the area.
On our last full day in the Tetons, we booked a horse ride.
This was an interesting experience. I thought that I would really enjoy it, but it actually made me kind of nervous. The horses were very well trained, but my horse got startled at one point and jumped, which startled me a lot. I also struggled a little bit with controlling the horse, since it basically just following the other horses down a trail. Towards the end I was feeling a little more in control as I got a little more aggressive, and thought that I might like to try it again someday. It was a pretty cool experience, and the nature and views that we saw along the way were pretty awesome. Angela got to ride Tugg, and I rode Wilbur.
After our horse ride, we wanted to pretty much just relax for the rest of the day. We did drive up Signal Mountain to get a few good views of the valley and the Tetons.
Signal Mountain also has a campground with a lodge, and we were told that the margaritas were good, so we decided to go there for a drink. They let you take the margaritas (which were in fact delicious) to go and drink them anywhere in Signal Mountain Lodge property, so we went down to Jackson Lake and enjoyed them on the beach. It was pretty spectacular.
On Sunday, we departed the Grand Tetons and drove north into Yellowstone. We were staying near Cody, Wyoming Sunday night, so we decided to spend the day in Yellowstone on our way.
Our only two goals were to see the geysers and to explore the massive canyon and waterfalls of Yellowstone. Old Faithful did not disappoint in it’s predictable timing, so we stopped there first.
We then explored the rest of the geyser basin, and discussed how bizarre it would have been to have stumbled onto this area before it was made into an attraction.
We then drove to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, which is probably one of the more spectacular sights in Yellowstone. We first stopped at the upper falls.
Then, in order to get the best view of the lower falls, we hiked down Uncle Tom’s Trail. I had done this one before with my brother, but had forgotten how intense the stairs were. The views were great.
After enjoying the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, we drove East out of the park, through Sylvan Pass. Angela had booked us a night of “glamping” just west of Cody, Wyoming. I was pretty skeptical, but it ended up being really neat. We stayed in a big canvas tent that was in the owner’s backyard. The tent had a huge bed, two chairs and even a wood burning stove. We had a nice fire pit, and even though the bathroom was an outhouse, it was actually done up so nicely that it hardly seemed like an outhouse. We had a really nice time staying at ‘Canvas Under the Stars’, and would recommend it highly.
After our glamping session, it was time to go back to Iowa. We stopped briefly at Devil’s Tower, but did not hike around.
We stopped for the night in Mitchell, South Dakota so Angela was able to witness the famous Corn Palace with her own eyes, and almost more impressively, we saw that Casey’s General Store has made it that far west.
Overall, it was the best summer ever. We are back in Shanghai for year four, and currently missing the fresh Iowa summer air.