From S. Dakota, we headed north-west towards Yellowstone, though we first stopped in Big Horn National Forest to camp. Being the inexperienced camper that I am, I didn't realize that you can stop in any National Forest or Campground and camp, as long as there is room. It was an educational experience for me, and cool one at that. When we landed in a new state, R would scour the map for campgrounds, and we'd check a few out before deciding on one.
We chose the first one we could find in Big Horn, and you could tell right away that it was different from the National Campgrounds, and much different from the state grounds. First off, it was more remote. You had to drive off the main road for a few miles before you got to the site. This meant it was a more genuine experience. There was no running water, and no flush toilets. And, of course, a greater possibility of running into wildlife in the form of deer, rabbits, coyotes, and bears. I was hoping we wouldn't see the latter.
We chose a spot and set up camp, and it was a really nice location. Beautiful and uncrowded, so much so that at one point I wouldn't have minded a neighbor or two. We were literally the only ones in our section, and that made me a little uneasy. Eventually a guy pulled in a set up nearby, which set my mind at ease, until my neurotic mind began wondering why he was alone and whether or not he was a serial killer. When he registered his space with the manager, it made me more comfortable.
We walked around and gathered firewood and built a fire. It was really cool. We explored the area, played with the fire, and made dinner, which consisted of killer black bean soup and hot dogs. We supplemented with raw veggies and ranch dressing. At one point, the camp manager stopped by to collect our fees. He also sold us some firewood, which I was beginning to learn was quite the racket. Even still, it was nice to have wood, which we would need as it got later because it got really cold. In fact, high 30s was the forecast, and we had packed for summer camping! Luckily, our sleeping bags were designed for it, so we didn't suffer... sort of.
We went to sleep all bundled up, and the owls and coyotes were howling. It was cool and eery at the same time. Before sacking out, we walked to the ridge and watched a lightning storm across the valley, and that was really cool. The lightning was spectacular, and we felt lucky that it wasn't coming down on top of us, though our time was coming. No room for complacency when you're on the road.
Just a quick note, our good friend at work used to work for the National Park Service. He is currently a logger/sugarer in Vermont and just the coolest guy, a devoted family man. Like us, he and his wife opted for part time work so that they could be at home for the kids, though they do not homeschool. Anyway, he told us not to waste our time with places like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. He said the National Forests are the way to go, and avoid the National Parks, which would include Yellowstone. I understood what he was saying. National Parks are less developed and thus less spoiled. You get the more genuine experience, if that's what you're looking for.
For the record, Big Horn and The Black Hills were my personal favorite spots, and the highlights of the camping experience.
More on this later.
Until then, thanks for reading.