MONTANA! MONTANA!

800px-Flag_Map_of_Montana_(1905_-_1981)

…Glory of the West…or so the state song goes (man, I haven’t sung that tune since grade school). Anyway, I thought it would be worth announcing my upcoming drive to my former home state next week.

I guess I’m crazy enough to drive the 2,000 miles out there (and 2,000 miles back) within a week’s time. Yeah, you read that right. My entire stay in one of the greatest states will be barely three days (including two full days and some driving time on either side). Yeah, it’s not much, but I haven’t been back since I left just over two years ago and have been spending all my traveling time going to places all over the country as well as Canada, Europe, the Caribbean and the South Pacific.

It’s time to go back home!

So, here’s the challenge. I understand weather might play a factor but I’m gathering roadside stop ideas for my journey. Keep in mind, I’ll be sticking as close as I can to the interstate and deviating from that will take up precious minutes – so I have to also keep the stops to a minimum (or at least go through them quicker than I’d like).

I will get at least one stamp for the Rocky Mountain region of the NPS (National Park Service) Passport, which has sat empty since purchasing it (and filling it up with at least 100+ stamps) last year. Where should I stop, well here’s a rough draft of my travel plan…

For one, there is hardly any chance of NPS stop opportunities from the D.C. area to Minnesota. I’m just too short on time to even toss in a 10-20 minute detour. In fact, the only stop that I realistically could consider is the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore – located just off I-94 – if only to nab a stamp and take a quick (and likely chilly) look around. I might need the stretch, and a bathroom, so that’s possible.

southdakotamap

On to Montana, if I take the southerly route through South Dakota (longer, and would require a VERY early start, I could make it to a number of places. Unfortunately, the weather forecast for the area is spotty at best and I could run into some rain and (gasp) snow. Not fun for any road trip. That said, the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site would be a very easy get (literally located right off I-90, note the aqua blue pin on the map). The Silo is located within the Badlands National Park, which would also be doable (though I’ve visited the park before as a kid). The further west I go into the Black Hills, I’ll have a tempting opportunity to visit Mount Rushmore. Jewel Cave National Monument and Wind Cave National Park are also nearby, but those seem a bit out of the way for this particular excursion. Rushmore is tempting, though, despite visiting the site at least once or twice before when I was younger. It all depends on weather…

northdakotamap

An alternative (and my route coming back) is to go through North Dakota. It’s a bit quicker, leaving me more time to grab the more obscure Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site (teal marker to the far right in the map above). The Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park is an easy get – but I have visited it before. The other teal marker in the map is the Fort Union Trading Post (also visited), a pretty remote NPS unit that might be sitting on a whole ton of oil these days…

billingsmap

During my stay in Billings I’ll just be catching up on what I’ve been missing, but, if I feel up to it (and have the time) I could take the rather quick drive down to the Little Bighorn Battlefield (home of Gen. George Armstrong Custer’s infamous “Last Stand”). I’ve been there numerous times but never appreciated it as much as I’d probably do now. However, driving about two hours south would get me to the picturesque Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area (the green marker), a place I’ve actually never been to.

Add an extra hour to the drive and I could actually make it to Mammoth Hot Springs, part of Yellowstone National Park and just south of the Montana border and into Wyoming (you can see the blue marker roughly indicating the center of the park). Despite visiting Yellowstone too many times to count (I hate to brag…but, seriously, as a kid I didn’t realize how lucky I was to be so close to one of the Earth’s great wonders) I’m still tempted to make this day trip to Mammoth. If the weather was better (and if I had more time), I’d be more apt to consider it seriously. Likely I’ll make the quicker trip to Bighorn Canyon and my very first NPS NRA!

Any other non-NPS suggestions for the drive? I’d love to hear them!

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