Listen to the Silence
Standing on the hill at Little Bighorn Battlefield, it's hard to imagine the fierce battle that raged as Custer marched his troops into oblivion. Listen to the silence. It tells a different story – one of dramatic cultural change and loss of lifestyle, not just loss of lives. Watching massive Mt. Rushmore flooded with light as the evening sky darkens, you'll find the affect dramatic. Listen to the silence here as well. It tells the story of the very dedicated men who helped to found this nation and change the world through democracy. At Devil's Tower, Hot Springs, Deadwood and Yellowstone, you'll hear the stories of now silent forebears who blazed trails, worshiped, explored new territories and fought for a new way of life in the United States and in the West. All along the way, the silence is wrapped in unspoiled scenery, lush forests, great landscapes and sparkling water. Enjoy this journey through the authentic American West, where the best stories and legends, natural treasures, and American heritage are yours to explore.
- Rapid City
- Yellowstone National Park
As your international flight touches down in Bozeman, Montana, you'll be amazed by the majestic peaks and steep canyons that ring the town. It's a young town with an old history, located in the classic Rocky Mountain West landscape. Native Americans occupied the area for thousands of years before fur traders arrived in the 1700s looking for beaver pelts. Founded in 1864, Bozeman served as the trail head for the Bozeman Trail that lead to the gold fields 80 miles west. Today, students from Montana State University give the city the vibrancy of a college town. The Museum of the Rockies, on the university campus, houses one of the world's largest collections of dinosaurs, along with exhibits on Native American and Western history and a 104-seat domed planetarium. The Gallatin Pioneer Museum provides a glimpse into Montana's past through such unique exhibits as jail cells, a hanging gallows, and a reconstructed log cabin.
About 60 miles west of Bozeman, at the end of the Bozeman Trail, you can witness the birthplace of Montana frozen in time. The gold discovered in Virginia City, Montana, helped to silence the guns of the Civil War by providing funding for Union troops to defeat the South. The end of the mining era in the early 1940s silenced Virginia City, and it remains today the best preserved example of the many placer mining camps that flourished in the Rocky Mountains in the 1860s. The town stands as it did in its heyday, with 150 buildings certified as authentic historic structures, filled with museums, shops, a brewery, summer theater and restaurants. An authentic narrow gauge railroad, using cars from the railroad's gold rush era, runs between Virginia City and Nevada City, another intriguing mining ghost town. If you prefer natural history, an 89-mile scenic route takes you to the Gallatin Petrified Forest, Lee Metcalf Wilderness Area, Gallatin National Forest and the Madison mountain range.
When you reach Billings, head for the Western Heritage Center which features over 17,000 objects, photographs, American Indian beadwork and artifacts, western art, including the James Kenneth Ralston Collection, architectural drawings, furniture, clothing, textiles, weapons and oral histories. Outside Billings, Pompey's Pillar is one of the most famous sandstone buttes in America. It bears the only remaining physical evidence from the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Captain William Clark carved his name here on July 25, 1806, during his return to the United States through the beautiful Yellowstone Valley. Just southeast of Billings, Pictograph Cave State Park was home to generations of prehistoric hunters 4,500 years ago. Rock paintings left behind by these ancient peoples are more than 2,000 years old. A short paved trail allows you to view the images that are visible in Pictograph Cave.
Near Billings, the Little Bighorn National Monument tells one of the most interesting stories in American history. Legends call it "Custer's Last Stand," placing emphasis on the US Army defeat at the hands of Chief Sitting Bull. The lesser known story is the reason the Lakota and Cheyenne warriors were motivated to fight fiercely enough to slay all of Custer's troops. As the nation made its way from east to west, settlers and army troops encroached on more and more traditional Native American lands. Native Americans at Little Bighorn were fighting for more than territory; they were fighting to preserve their nomadic way of life. Ironically, even though they defeated the US Army, the battle still marked the end of the tribal lifestyle. As more archaeological research has been completed, the location of artifacts continues to support a completely different story from the legends that have traditionally surrounded the Custer story. The Memorial on Last Stand Hill was joined in 2003 by a Memorial to the Native Americans who fought here as well, which promotes "peace through unity".
Between Billings and Sheridan, you can detour a bit on the Bighorn Scenic Byway, which winds up the Big Horn Mountains. The mountains began uplifting 60 million years ago, ultimately reaching elevations of 13,000 feet. The drive showcases craggy limestone outcroppings, colorful stacks of granite, and sandstone filled with fossil shells in Bighorn National Forest. Over one million acres are covered with fir, pine, spruce, and aspen trees and over 1,500 miles of trails are available for hiking. Go fishing at one of the many lakes loaded with trout and hundreds of other species of fish or watch wildlife and see black bears, elk, moose, deer, and more.
In Sheridan, nestled beneath the Big Horn Mountains, the Old West meets the modern era in a town that offers world-class culture, hometown hospitality and authentic Western charm. Sheridan's Main Street is lined with historic buildings, including the Landmark Historic Sheridan Inn, where Buffalo Bill Cody auditioned acts for his famous Wild West Show. More than 30 downtown buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places, delightfully coexisting with unique shops, boutiques, galleries and restaurants. Explore the town by trolley or on foot.
Devil's Tower, known as "Bear's Lodge" (or a variation thereof) was considered sacred to more than 20 Native American tribes in the region who used it as a place of prayer, introspection and renewal long before Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed it the country's first national monument in 1906. The gigantic stump-like rock formation, which rises more than 1,200 feet over the Belle Fourche River, was formed by molten material being pushed up from the earth at the same time the Rocky Mountains were formed. Millions of years of wind and erosion uncovered the mass of hard volcanic rock originally formed underground. Today, the monument attracts rock climbers, hikers, photographers, artists and visitors drawn to the drama of the site and the beauty of the area.
From the mystery of Devil's Tower, you'll be moving on to an even more fascinating place. Deadwood, named for the dead trees that were found in Deadwood Gulch, was home to Calamity Jane, Wyatt Earp and Wild Bill Hickock. Gold was discovered in 1876 and the years that followed were rough and tumble, with Wild West legends being made. By 1878, Deadwood had the first telephone exchange in South Dakota. Today, it is still the place to release your inner outlaw. Eighty historic gambling halls still rock in this National Historic Landmark, with 1,800 residents who man the museums, restaurants, theaters and shops that make the history come alive.
This morning, as you head for South Dakota, get prepared to be introduced to some of the most unusual scenery in America. Sandstone desert and twisted rocks jutting out of the ground are coupled with the dense Black Hills National Forest, which does indeed, look nearly black from a distance. The hot springs doting the area were the result of water pressure being caught underground when the earth changed position. At Mammoth Hot Springs, the remains of mammoths are still being discovered in the "sink-hole" that turned into a steeply sided pond.
With three days here, you'll have plenty of time to explore nearby Badlands National Park, a 244,000 acre treasure trove of Oligocene fossils dating back 37 million years juxtaposed with buttes, spires and pinnacles. Two visitor centers offer interpretive exhibits on the cultural and ecological heritage of the Park. The 31.5-mile Badlands Loop National Scenic Byway, which passes through the Park, has 14 designated overlooks that let you enjoy the dramatic landforms sprouting out of the mixed grassy prairie. Also in the area, Wind Cave National Park was named for the constant movement of air within. It is filled with delicate boxwork, an unusual cave formation composed of thin calcite fins resembling honeycombs. Above ground, the fragile mixed-grass prairie is home to diverse wildlife. Jewel Cave National Monument is 135 miles long, making it the second longest cave in the world. Air currents indicate there are still vast areas left to discover. Back in Rapid City, you can visit the Journey Museum, which illustrates the 2.5 million year geologic history of the region. It was voted the best museum in the Black Hills. The 71,000 acres of Custer State Park are truly one of the last wild places in America. Nearly 1,500 bison, commonly called buffalo, roam the prairies and hills which they share with swift pronghorn, shy elk, sure-footed mountain goats and curious burros. You can enjoy and up close and personal encounter with these permanent residents along the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road that winds around the southern edge of the park. Be sure to allow time for the other scenic drive that takes you past slender granite formations called "Needles" that dominate the skyline. These unique rock outcroppings are an excellent place for rock climbers to push themselves to the limit. With its winding roads and small granite tunnels, Needles Highway (SD Highway 87 between Sylvan Lake and Legion Lake) is not only stunning, but fun to drive. Mount Rushmore National Memorial is connected to the other Black Hills attractions by another scenic road, the Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway, named after the South Dakota Governor who began the movement to preserve the natural treasures of the state. On the Byway, the Crazy Horse Memorial is the largest sculptural project in the world. The best time to visit Mount Rushmore is in the evening when the monument is illuminated. During the 45-minute Evening Program in the park's outdoor amphitheater, you'll enjoy a ranger talk, the film "Freedom: America's Lasting Legacy" about the presidents carved into the mountain, and the lighting of the sculpture.
More than 26,000 years ago, large Columbian woolly mammoths were trapped and died in a spring-fed pond near what is now the southwest edge of Hot Springs. The bones of these huge creatures were discovered by happenstance in 1974 during excavation for a housing development. Local citizens worked tirelessly to preserve the site, now complemented by the world's largest Columbian mammoth exhibit. The dig is now enclosed in a climate controlled building, where new bones are displayed as they are discovered. Along with 55 mammoths, the remains of giant short-faced bears, camels, llamas, wolves, prairie dogs and fish have been unearthed.
Upon reaching Buffalo, you'll feel transported to the Old West – if you didn't already! Your accommodations at the Occidental hotel give you a perfect vantage point from which to explore the whole historic town. Buffalo is nestled in the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains, a sister range to the Rockies and surrounded by the Bighorn National Forest, rich with lush greenscapes and glacier-carved valleys. For the best view of the Forest, the Bighorn Mountains, and Cloud Peak Wilderness, drive the Cloud Peak Skyway National Scenic Byway. The Skyway is the only way to view Cloud Peak, the highest peak in the Bighorn Mountains. From Buffalo, it's a short drive to Fort Kearney, site of the famous Wagon Box Fight and "Hole in the Wall," the hideout of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Yellowstone National Park
As large as Rhode Island, Yellowstone National Park features an incredible array of natural phenomenon. The Park contains over 10,000 hydrothermal features, including 300 geysers that account for approximately one-half of the world's total. The geography of Yellowstone is made up of eight distinct areas. At Mammoth Hot Springs, the bubbling, boiling springs appear to be covered with white chalk. Norris Geyser Basin is the hottest, oldest and most dynamic of Yellowstone's thermal areas. A temperature of 459F was recorded just a little over 1,000 feet below the surface.
In the Madison Natural Area, thermal action bubbles up in many colors. Trails take you through colorful hot springs and Artist Paint Pots just south of Norris Junction. The Old Faithful Area is actually made up of four different geyser basins where 60% of the world's geysers share a very small space. The Grant Village Area and the Lake Area are both adjacent to Yellowstone Lake, the largest lake at a high elevation in North America. The deepest portion in the West Thumb area has the same terrain of geysers and hot springs at the bottom. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River is roughly 20 miles long and varies between 800 and 1,200 feet deep. The falls along the river range from 300 feet to Tower Falls, which drops 132-foot. Tower Creek is framed by eroded volcanic pinnacles that were documented by the earliest explorers in the region. Should you wish to learn more about the cultural heritage of the Yellowstone area, there are numerous museums nearby. From the Buffalo Bill Historical Center to the International Fly Fishing Museum, these excellent centers will round out your visit and put your experiences into perspective.
Bozeman & Home
You'll be following one of the region's most scenic byways on your way back to Bozeman today. Snow-covered mountain peaks and sparkling trout streams accompany you through Gallatin National Forest, a 1.8 million acre forest that spans six mountain ranges and includes two designated wilderness areas. Part of the Greater Yellowstone Area, the largest intact ecosystem in the continental United States, the forest is home to a wide range of native fauna, including grizzly bear, gray wolf, bald eagle, and Canada lynx. Plan to explore the Gallatin Petrified Forest, which is between 35 and 55 million years old and is unique because of the many trees that were petrified in an upright position. Walk the half-mile interpretive trail from the Tom Miner parking area to learn to identify the petrified wood in the forest. In Bozeman this evening, enjoy dinner at the award-winning Montana Ale Works, which is located in a revitalized railroad warehouse and offers a modern and eclectic menu infused with the "distinctive spirit of old-time Montana" before flying home tomorrow.
- Direct return flights from London (Please ask about other departure airports)
- 14 nights hotel accommodation and room taxes
- Fully insured compact car hire (larger vehicles are available)
- A comprehensive and detailed travel pack with driving instructions and maps
Daily departures from May to September.