Day 4: Discovering an amazing road

The road was clear at the 9,033-foot summit of the Big Horn mountains, but snow covered the rest of the landscape.

The road was clear at the 9,033-foot summit of the Big Horn Mountains, but snow covered the rest of the landscape.

Even when you’re in your 40s, sometimes you just have to listen to your father. I was planning on one route, and he suggested another that would save me some miles. Not only did it save me some miles, but it put me on one of the best roads I’ve ever driven.

Instead of heading north of Yellowstone to I-90 in Montana, I headed due east, across the top of Wyoming. The first 50 or so miles was just OK – a nice, fast two lane highway. Everywhere in the west, except Oregon, the speed limit is 65 or higher on rural highways and not just interstates. Antelope romp across the prairie that the highway traverses.

Then it got more interesting. Nearing the town of Greybull, Wyoming I came across an airport that was actually more like an airplane graveyard than an active aerodrome. Until a few years ago it was home to a museum dedicated to aerial firefighting (for forest wildfires.) That museum doesn’t seem to exist anymore, but the airport is filled with a wide variety of antique military bombers and transport aircraft from around the world. Very few of them will ever fly again as they’re just sitting on dirt lots, rusting away. It’s sad.

The Greybull, Wyoming airport is a graveyard of antique aircraft, rusting away.

The Greybull, Wyoming airport is a graveyard of antique aircraft, rusting away.

The road out of Greybull towards Sheridan, Wyoming is the 58-mile Bighorn Scenic Route. It starts with a slow, twisty road through the narrow Shell Canyon, with its shimmering creek and the last spectacular remnants of fall color. Breaking out at the top of the canyon, the road opens up with a mix of sweeping turns and twisty switchbacks. It was time to put the “sport” in the Kia Sorento sport utility vehicle.

EcoMode off, steering to “sport” setting, transmission in manual mode and I was set for fun. Even with the top-heavy dynamic set up by the canoe on the roof, the Sorento performed admirably. I’ve been thinking this for a couple of days, but I would trade my luxury SUV for this Kia. In a heartbeat.  The Sorento is equipped with a whole suite of traction, stability, and braking aids, plus an effective all-wheel drive system. All of them got to play today, as the road featured the occasional icy patch.

The road topped out at 9,033 feet, and then dropped like a stone into the town of Sheridan. It was awesome. For someone who loves to drive, the route was like aerobic exercise, with an extra jolt of adrenaline added in now and then. Don’t get me wrong, there was no speeding or anything reckless involved, it was just the pure rush of becoming synchronized with the rhythm and the pace of the road.

Devil's Tower rises dramatically 1,267 feet above the surrounding landscape.

Devil’s Tower rises dramatically 1,267 feet above the surrounding landscape.

Northeast Wyoming thrives on one industry — Energy. Not only is there a strip coal mine just a couple of miles out of town of Gillette, but oil pumping rigs line the landscape. Long coal trains stream from the town, heading both east and west. Gillette did have the cheapest gas of the trip so far — $2.95/gallon.

Devils Tower National Monument is located in the extreme northwest corner of the state. I didn’t really even know it was there until I was looking at a map last night. So, what the heck, I took a little detour and I’m glad I did. The tower is a large columnar igneous rock formation that dramatically juts upward from the surrounding landscape that was created by a magma intrusion about 65 million years ago. It’s one of those parks that you kind of know exists, but you have no idea where it really is. Now I know. And it’s a very cool place.

I finished my day driving through the little town of Sturgis, South Dakota. For most of the year, Sturgis is a sleepy little mountain town. For one week per year, however, it’s the wildest town in America, hosting a massive rally of Harley-Davidson motorcycle riders. If you own a Harley, Sturgis is on your bucket list.

I’m now in Rapid City, South Dakota.  It’s the gateway to Mount Rushmore National Landmark, and feels like the gateway town to an amusement park. The hotel has a water park and a pizza parlor, and the gas in town is overpriced for the tourists.

I've crossed the continental divide with the 2014 Kia Sorento.  I should be able to coast from here, right?

I’ve crossed the continental divide with the 2014 Kia Sorento. I should be able to coast from here, right?

Tomorrow brings an early morning trip out to the monument before a long traverse of South Dakota. Then I’ll turn south along the Missouri River in Iowa and head towards Omaha, Nebraska.

Total miles: 422
Start: Cody, Wyoming
End: Rapid City, South Dakota
Next up: Mount Rushmore and east towards Omaha, Nebraska.
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