Westward Ho(ly cow)! Episode 7: Eastward Home!

On September 18, 2022, we left Florida for a 5 1/2 -month road trip, visiting Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, New Mexico, Saskatchewan, North Dakota, and Minnesota. It was an ambitious itinerary and we were excited about checking many “must-sees” off our bucket list.

And … we’re off! (September 18, 2022)

Sometime in December, we decided that spending two more months in the cold, northern winter would be too much.  So, we cut our month in the Sax-Zim Bog down to just a week and pointed ourselves towards home at the end of January.

by mid-December we were done with the cold and snow!

By the time we pulled into our driveway in Okeechobee, we had traveled 22,614.6 miles for 130 days, visited 19 states and two Canadian provinces. 

22,614.6 miles later we were back home (trip odometer rolled over three times) January 25, 2023

In all those miles, we sat in traffic due to an accident just once:  ironically, it was outside of Orlando on our way home, less than 100 miles from Okeechobee.

Oscar and Maddie were amazingly good road trip pups!

We stayed at seven different Airbnbs and spent 15 nights in hotels while moving from one place to the next. TG fully packed and unpacked the car sixteen times, and partially unpacked/repacked it 30 times.  

TG had the packing & unpacking puzzle down to a science!

After we returned home, someone asked, “what was your favorite sighting?”  In 4 1/2 months of favorites, that’s an impossible question. 

Instead, we’ve compiled a list of the “Best/Worst” along with a few photos.  We’ve also put together a highlights video you will find at the end of this blog.

Best Drive: The roads from Canora, Saskatchewan to Fargo, North Dakota for the beautiful landscapes and all the wildlife we saw along the way.

What is left of Arena, ND, a ghost town between Minot and Fargo, January 6, 2023

Worst Drive: Teton Pass had TG white-knuckling it while I breathed into a paper bag. (Seriously!)

Teton Pass

Best AirBnB: Our cozy home in Canora, Saskatchewan. It had everything we needed and was laid out perfectly, with a fenced-in yard for Oscar and Maddie.

our cozy home in Canora, Saskatchewan

Worst AirBnB: None! They were all great!

Best Hotel: Hyatt House, Minot, North Dakota. Full size kitchens and complimentary washers & dryers!

Worst Hotel: Days Inn, Topeka, KS. Don’t even ask.

Best Meal: Huevos rancheros at the El Corral Café in Corona, New Mexico

Huevos Rancheros at the El Corral Cafe in Corona, New Mexico

Worst Meal: Thanksgiving, 2022. We wanted fancy cheeses but all we could find in Socorro were Kaukauna cheese balls.

Thanksgiving dinner, 2022

Funniest Moment: See Worst Meal. I asked the salesperson if they had any brie and she replied, “is that a type of alcohol?”

Scariest Moment: Driving the Norris-Canyon Road in Yellowstone National Park on a sheet of solid ice.

the icy, snowy roads through Yellowstone National Park

Favorite Sighting: Huck, the huge grizzly bear we spotted crossing the Snake River while driving the Rockefeller Parkway between Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park. “It’s a bear!!!! In the water!!!”

Huck, named by the locals for the nearby Huckleberry Mountain

Favorite Landscape: Mormon Row, Grand Teton National Park

Mormon Row, Grand Teton National Park

Favorite Night Sky: The Northern Lights in the wee hours of January 4, 2023

Around 2:00 am, January 4, 2023

Most Memorable: Our week at the McReynolds Blacktail Cabins in Grand Teton

a view of the Grand Tetons from our shower!

Our Bucket List:

Grizzly and black bears √

black bear, Grand Teton National Park

Moose √

moose bull and cow, Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone’s hydrothermal features √

Old Faithful timelapse, Yellowstone National Park

Bear and bison jams in Yellowstone √

bison jam, Yellowstone National Park

You can read all about our visit to Yellowstone in Episode 1: Walk on the Wild Side


Mormon Row √

Mormon Row, Grand Teton National Park

Milky Way over the T.A. Moulton Barn at Mormon Row √

the Milky Way over the T.A. Moulton Barn, Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton landscapes √

Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton National Park

You can read all about our visit to Grand Teton in Episode 2: The Grand Splurge


Bighorn sheep √

bighorn rams, Badlands National Park

You can read all about our visit to the Badlands in Episode 3.5: The Big Surprise


Northern lights √

Canora, Saskatchewan January 4, 2023

You can read all about our trip to Saskatchewan in Episode 4: Christmas Lights, Northern Style


Saw-whet owls √

Northern saw-whet owl, Fargo, North Dakota

You can read all about our trip to Fargo in Episode 5: Saw-Whet, Say What?!?


Great gray owls √

great gray owl, Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

You can read all about our trip to the Sax-Zim Bog in Episode 6: Sax-Zim Bog-Golly, We’re Back!


We also had some delightfully unexpected surprises. The first was when I had taken a turn driving and said, “I’ll just go to the next rest area.” Little did we know that rest area was home to the beautiful sculpture, “Dignity.”

the 50ft high Dignity (a.k.a. Dignity of Earth & Sky) sculpture on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River near Chamberlain, South Dakota

Both TG and I had the opportunity to meet up with several schoolmates along the way.

Welcome sign for TG at his grade school friend’s pub in Lawrence, KA

And many surprises in New Mexico where we spent a lot of time driving around the state during our month-long stay:

Gallup and the El Rancho Hotel

El Rancho Hotel, Gallup, New Mexico

Valley of Fires

Valley of Fires, Carrizozo, New Mexico

Gila National Forest

Gila National Forest, New Mexico

Rio Grande Gorge

Rio Grande Gorge, Taos, New Mexico

The Rattlesnake Museum in Albuquerque

Rattlesnake Museum, Albuquerque, New Mexico

You can read all about our trip to New Mexico in Episode 3: Back to the Bosque


We were also smitten with the rolling hills in both South and North Dakota and the beauty of Saskatchewan including the hoarfrost, all of the wildlife we saw while driving around, the “prairie sentinels” that dot the landscape, and the delicious Ukrainian food!

Ukrainian skuffles (a type of tiny cinnamon roll) O.M.G.

And a few final stats:

Windshields replaced: 1

nice chip in the windshield driving through Albuquerque, New Mexico

Times stuck in snow: 0

waiting for the roads to open after someone else went off the road, Yellowstone National Park

Times car would not start: 0

Oil Changes and tire rotations: 2 (Bozeman, MT & Albuquerque, NM)

Stickers on car from places visited: several dozen

we were planning to take them off when we got home but have grown to like them!

Refrigerator magnets: several dozen

quite the collection!

New T-shirts: a dozen or so

Westward Ho(lights)! video from our trip (click to open a new tab in Vimeo):


When we left Okeechobee back in September, we said to each other “at the end of this trip, we’re either going to arrive back home saying NEVER again or let’s GO again!”

Stayed tuned … we’re already planning our next trip!

22,000-mile punchiness: “Take a little trip, take a little trip with me-ee”

Westward Ho(ly Cow)! Mini Episode 3.5: “The Big Surprise”

For anyone following along on our epic 5 1/2-month road trip, you know I’ve been chasing a dream photo of a bighorn ram … a male with a magnificent head of “curls.”

bighorn ram with “curls”

We saw ewes on our first drive through the Badlands back in September.  And a juvenile ran across the road in front of us in Big Sky.  But even with a trip up to the Rio Grande Gorge, all we managed to spy were some fresh tracks in the mud.

bighorn sheep tracks at the Rio Grande Gorge

So, we decided to cut short our time in New Mexico and spend three nights in Rapid City, S.D. on our way to Canada.  A ranger at the El Morro Visitor’s Center had assured us that bighorn sheep sightings were almost guaranteed in the Badlands.

a ranger at El Morro assured us we would see bighorns in the Badlands

We’ve gotten into the habit of shorter drive days to build in time for sightseeing or weather delays.

Oscar and Maddie safely secured in the back seat

The wind gusts through northern New Mexico were 65+ mph, and we took our time carefully driving past blown-over semis.

we saw lots of blown-over semis in the 65+ mph winds!

Checking the map, we realized that a slight detour would take us directly through the Black Hills National Forest,

the Black Hills National Forest

And past the Crazy Horse monument. The on-going work is 100% privately funded and the expected completion date is 2050.

the Crazy Horse monument

The road heading into Rapid City is lined with attractions – most of them cheesy tourist traps. 

tourist traps line the road into Rapid City

And I had forgotten that fossils were such a big thing in this area.  The famous T-Rex “Sue” at the Field Museum in our hometown of Chicago was discovered right here in the Black Hills of South Dakota!

T-Rex “Sue” at the Field Museum in Chicago (photo courtesy of Chicago friend Mimi DeCastro)

Sunday morning was clear with a bright blue sky and brilliant sunshine.  We arrived at the Badlands’ west entrance at 8:45 and headed straight to Roberts Prairie Dog Town.  On our way, we passed several bison standing close to the road.

bison close to the road

Just as we reached them, the prairie dogs were waking up and we got some fun shots as they popped out of their burrows into the early morning sun.

Good morning!

As we turned back onto the main park road, I spied something up ahead and quickly grabbed my binocs:  two bighorn sheep!

two bighorn sheep!

While we were photographing them, a third ram came over the hill.  Three bighorn sheep, complete with curls! And off in the distance, I spotted another pair – a ram and a ewe.  Make that five bighorn sheep within the first hour of our visit!

a ram came over the hill!

I could not have been more thrilled as we continued our drive. We stopped to photograph more of the prairie dogs that dot this section of the park. 

prairie dog burrows dot this section of the park

On the other side of the road, across a deep ravine, were three more rams.  Eight bighorn sheep! 

three rams were on this ridge!

As you drive east, the landscape changes from open prairie to iconic Badlands: high pinnacles and buttes, otherworldly rock formations with beautifully colored sediment layers. 

high pinnacles with beautifully colored sediment layers

We spied several groups of mule deer as we drove along.

mule deer

We stopped at the Ben Reifel Visitors Center to chat with the rangers.  They told us that a year ago the park’s bighorn population had been decimated by pneumonia.  They lost 86% of their herd, which currently numbers around 50.  50?!? 

approximately 50 bighorn sheep are currently in the Badlands

I was grateful we learned this after we had spied our eight.  If I had known beforehand how truly rare they have become, I fear I would have given up before we even started.

We drove to the east entrance and then turned around to retrace our drive back west.  It was a beautiful day, and the park was almost empty.

we turned around and retraced our drive back to the west entrance

We stopped along the way to capture a little of the Badlands’ magic.

the park was almost empty, and we stopped to capture some of its magic

Just as we reached the Pinnacles Overlook, we spied our three big rams again – this time close to the road.  They were making their way across a ravine to the ridge on the other side. 

crossing a ravine

They seemed to be enjoying themselves, head-butting a little before standing side-by-side.

they seemed to be enjoying themselves

I turned around to see a group of six females and one male coming down the hill behind us!

six ewes!

What?!?  Without double counting the eight we had spied earlier that was five new females!  Thirteen total including six ewes and seven rams with full heads of curls.  What a BIG surprise!

As we watched, there appeared to be some drama between the two groups.  The rams across the ridge were on high alert, eyeing the female group. 

the rams were on high alert

A ewe left her group, crossed the road, and stood watching the three bachelors.

she crossed the road and stood eyeing the three bachelors

Her mate followed after her and gradually persuaded her to join the rest of his herd.

her mate gradually persuaded her to join the rest of his herd

The three bachelors made their move, crossing the road and approaching the herd from different angles. 

the bachelors made their move, approaching the herd from different angles

The valley reverberated with the sound of their magnificent horns clashing as they competed against each other.

head butting

We shared this special sighting with two women who were hoping for this type of action. 

we shared this special sighting with only two other women

Passing cars occasionally stopped to capture a quick photo but only the four of us were privileged to watch the whole story.

passing cars stopped to snap a photo or two and were on their way

Then, as quickly as the drama started, it ended. 

the drama was over as quickly as it began

Monday morning we awoke to snow, so we decided to leave any exploring for the afternoon when the forecast called for clearing skies.

view from our hotel room on Monday morning

Rapid City’s most well-known attraction is Mount Rushmore.  Here’s what TG had to say about our visit:

I find it ironic that when we visited The Badlands and all its natural magnificence, we were blessed with a stellar day of clear and sunny weather, especially for December. The next day, when we planned to visit the man made “wonder” that is Mount Rushmore, we get gloomy, overcast skies and snow, with fog surrounding the sculpture…”

Mount Rushmore on a foggy day

But Mount Rushmore isn’t the only place to see presidents in Rapid City.  Life-size bronze statues of every past American president stand along the downtown streets and sidewalks, and we stopped to photograph my hero, Teddy Roosevelt.  We found him wearing a knit cap and looking for all the world like Robin Williams in “Night at the Museum.”

Teddy Roosevelt with knit cap

I wanted a bighorn ram with full head of curls but never in my wildest dreams did I expect to see thirteen so close and with so much drama!  Our three nights in Rapid City exceeded all expectations and were indeed a BIG(horn) surprise!

so many curls and so much drama!

You can view all of the photos from our unforgettable day in the Badlands here:

badlands prairie dog-9472-SharpenAI-Focus-DeNoiseAI-standard
hover on photo to arrow through the set or click on any photo to open a new tab in Flickr

Coming next:  Westward Ho(ly Cow)! Episode 4: “Christmas Lights, Northern Style”

Main Street Canora, Saskatchewan