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Road trip report: Yellowstone

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Road trip report: Yellowstone Empty Road trip report: Yellowstone

Post  Rob Cote 6/12/2013, 4:27 pm

This is a repost from another forum I use. I took a road trip. But I did a lot of hiking and camping, some backpacking and spent a lot of time outdoors. So hopefully this is the "right" forum to document it. I know at least a couple people wanted some info about the trip, and figured others may also. I hope this is way more information than desired. Wink

I traveled with my girlfriend. We rented a car and drove from Boston, MA area to Riverton, WY, via several points of interest. We flew back 9 days later.

Some background information-
-$39.71 in tolls
- Our route looked something like this: http://goo.gl/maps/jmhys
- She has some friends in Bozeman, MT who she wanted to visit
- We originally rented a Ford Focus "or equivalent" because of its fuel efficiency and it was one of the cheapest to rent
- We only loosely planned the trip; we wanted to get to Bozeman sometime Sunday or Monday, then head into Yellowstone for 3 or 4 days, go to Grand Teton National Park and then to Jackson, WY "on the way out" (for the record, it's totally NOT on the way, but we knew that lol!) to Riverton.
- We planned to camp most or all of the nights
- All the pictures in here were taken with my DroidX. The rest of the pictures I took are on film.

So I took half a day Friday and left work at 10 am to go pick up the rental. We got to the facility and they told us the car we had rented wasn't there and we got a free "upgrade" to a Chevy Malibu. We both immediately thought, "worse gas mileage isn't an upgrade," but whatever. No big deal because we were getting the family discount, and we're easy-going anyways. So we packed up and got on the road. Probably some time around noon. Main goal here was to beat the early holiday weekend rush out of Boston. Which we did.

First real stop was Niagara Falls. I had attempted to go on a family vacation when I was much younger, but the family we were traveling with spun a rod bearing in their van and we only made it to Lake George. She'd never been. It's hardly out of the way, so we stopped in. I gotta be honest here, we were both underwhelmed. I had always imagined the falls was much taller than it is. That said, it IS pretty impressive in its width. And I had no idea there was a huge park there. I kinda just figured it was the falls and a viewing area. Anyways, I'm glad to have checked it off my list. I'm told the Canadian side has a better view, but we didn't really care to spend the time necessary to go through customs twice. It was a good stopping point to stretch our legs a bit, walk around and get some air before we got back in the car and pushed on through to Pennsylvania.

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We stopped somewhere in Pennsylvania I think (might have been east Ohio, I can't be sure) at a gas station to sleep in the car for about 4 hours. Here we learned that Malibu seats are terrible for sleeping in. I'm about 6 feet tall, my girlfriend is about 5 feet tall. The seats don't recline far enough for either of us to get comfortable. I gotta assume they don't recline far enough for any "normal-sized" person to get comfortable. Maybe a child would do fine, it's hard to say. Needless to say, we woke up TOTALLY refreshed and well-rested. Ready to chug on through several more states then take on the world. Not really, but we did anyways.

We caught sunrise over Lake Erie, which was beautiful:

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Nothing noteworthy happened 'til we reached Chicago. We were getting hungry around then, so we figured we'd give it a shot to stop for some lunch. Chicago is well-known for good food, especially pizza. We had no idea where to stop, but saw signs for a college. Having gone to college myself, and several herself (I guess when you go for a doctorate, you bounce around a few schools to work on different research projects), we were aware that there are usually some good eats on and around college campuses. We agreed it would be a surefire neighborhood to find somewhere to get a quick bite of good local food and get out. So we found this pizza joint that appeared to be open; there were people inside working and a man was in the doorway. I pulled it and it opened and to my confusion he told me they don't open for a couple hours. We turned away, puzzled. We'd already walked a block or two in each direction, and aside from several Asian restaurants, the only other place in the area looked like a sandwich shop. But it looked to be a non-chain-type, and it smelled great outside. Here we learned that Jimmy Johns is in fact a chain restaurant that serves mediocre cold sandwiches. Our first of surprisingly few disappointments on our journey. Oh well, at least our hunger was curbed and we were back on the road in short order.

I got this lone shot of Chicago on the way out:

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We hit a little bit of traffic after leaving Chicago. I was riding shotgun at the time, and happened to notice a couple new Jeeps parked outside what was clearly not a dealership. Confused, I could read "Belvider--" something on the side of the building, between trees. I looked it up. Apparently that's where new baby Jeeps are hatched. I wish I had known we'd be passing that close to the place and if there's any way of getting inside (do they do tours or anything?), because that would have been cool, I bet. We were both mind-blown by how massive the factory is. I've worked in assembly plants, but nothing ever that large.

Wisconsin was cool landscape. Neither of us really knew what to expect from that state. I'd heard from friends at work that it's a really boring drive west of PA/OH/IL, but I disagree. I'd say MD is much more boring to drive through. True, it's a lot of farm land in Wisconsin, but at least they have some hills to break up the monotony a bit.

We crossed the Mississippi River around dinner time. Finally got a good meal in us and found what was perhaps the strangest experience of the trip. We just happened across a neighborhood on what I believe is French Island but all the houses were floating. But not houseboats. Maybe some of you can give me a little more info on this? It was weird, for sure, but might be an awesome spot to live. We were both a little underwhelmed again, at the size of the Mississippi River. I expected something more grand. Perhaps where route 90 crosses is a small part of the river. I dunno.

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Heading through Minnesota, we learned that it's actually pronounced "Min-i-SOH-dah". From a cop. No He was really cool, though, and seemed as if he didn't really want to give me a ticket at all, but repeated that he had to. Most pleasant experience I've ever had getting a ticket. Also, that was the only opportunity we got to hear a Minnesota accent, so....worth it. It's hilarious. I didn't even know that was a thing until he started talking. I had to work to not laugh.

By dusk on Saturday we had just reached South Dakota. 

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We stopped in a state park and pitched the tent (pictured above, with our POS rental), figuring it's better to stay off the road due to an abundance of wildlife and being unfamiliar with the area in a car that's not ours. Yes, we did get insurance. But still, smacking a deer and dealing with a tow truck/body shop/insurance company is no way to spend a vacation. It rained most of the night. I'd never really experienced a thunder storm quite like that. I dunno if it was super close or because we were in a tent or if it had to do with the flat-/open-ness of the area but it was definitely the loudest thunder I've ever heard. For a while it was tough to fall asleep just because the lightning kept flashing so bright and so frequently that it was just too much. That was a cool experience though.

In the morning, we checked out some of the hiking trails at that campground. Landscapes were starting to get cool:

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Back on the road, I saw my first road train in real life. I'd seen pictures before, but they don't use them here on the east coast. I think there are too many hills. There are lots of mint-condish old trucks like this one with a 454, so that was pretty awesome:

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The weather is a lot less stable out there in flat land, too. While there was a menacing pitch black cloud that had just dumped a deluge of water on us RIGHT behind us in the rear view, there were clear, sunny blue skies right overhead.

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The badlands were pretty cool to check out.

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We wandered around there for a little bit and snapped some pictures and stuff. After a little bit, though, it kind of started to feel like we were just looking at more and more of the same thing, so we hopped back in the car and kept driving. What I found much more interesting than the formations on a small scale was the sheer size of that park and how it is completely unlike the surrounding area. I believe we took route 240 through the park until it hooked back up with 90 in Wall. We kept seeing signs for Wall Drug and it grabbed our attention since she's a pharmacist. I looked it up on my phone while we were driving and although they boast being "America's favorite roadside attraction", or something like that, we both agreed it sounded totally boring and skipped it. But if you're into that sort of thing, apparently others are as well. Or, if you're headed there in the summer, you should know they have free ice water, so there's that...

We turned off 90 in Rapid City to go to Mt. Rushmore. I was far more intrigued by Rapid City than the sculpture. It looks like the city has a ton of cool stuff going on to check out. Unfortunately, we didn't really spend too much time there. We did spend some time in Keystone and got lunch there so the detour wouldn't be a total bust. We got to the parking lot for Mt. Rushmore and they wanted $11 to get in. We could see it on the road up to the parking lot, and that was enough for us both so we were all, "thanks, but no thanks." Keystone is a neat little tourist attraction in itself, I think. It kinda reminded me a little of Helen, GA, in that it's just a weird little place in the middle of a valley surrounded by very little else.

This was supposed to be of Keystone, but it turned out mostly just this chick:

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It's a good spot to get a bite to eat and pick up some souvenirs for family/friends if you so desire. I'd like to spend a little time in Rapid City someday, though. It feels less touristy, but definitely country. I could dig it.

We got to Devils Tower just after the few businesses there closed. With a $20 and some singles. Here we learned the importance of carrying smaller denominations of cash. For some reason, they collect the park entrance fee and the campsite fee separately. So we had to kind of makeshift our payment. I think one was $10 and one was $12. So we paid the right amount, it was just not in the right envelope. We got an AWESOME spot at the foot of the tower. Well, not literally, but we had this dope view from outside the door of the tent:

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There had been a thunder storm that passed over before we got there and it was just over the treetops along the horizon. It was cool to watch the lightning so far away as we setup. There were some clouds overhead, but clear skies coming towards us. We were stoked to get to sleep in some dry weather. About an hour or two after we fell asleep, the wind was so intense a corner of the tent caved in. I pushed it back out and it was fine. Like 10 times. Oh yeah, it was pouring again, with thunder and lightning. Finally, we said f*** it, she carried our sleeping bags to the car and I ripped the tent down and tossed it under the car so it wouldn't blow away or get our stuff in the car soaked and we slept in the car again. The storm probably died shortly thereafter. I don't know, we were both exhausted. But when we woke up, the weather was beautiful and the skies were clear. The tower looks so menacing, even when it's nice outside. I was impressed by how large it actually is when you're standing in front of it. That's what she said. But seriously, it's a cool stop. Especially if you're into rock climbing.

So we packed up and got our asses to Bozeman around noon on Monday. We met up with her friend for lunch and I had my first taste of bison, which was outstanding. We ate at Ted's Montana Grill because it had outdoor seating and the weather was awesome. The food and beers there were great. The waitress was a little odd, but she was nice to us. I'd recommend it, if you're around. We went to the friend's house and unwound a little. The girls had to catch up. Then we hiked Drinking Horse, which is a short little hike on the outside of town, but it was lovely to be active for a bit. The top of the hill gave us our first real good view of the landscape:

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Some friends I got to meet:

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I'm used to seeing mountains like the Whites, which are covered with trees and TOTALLY different. It's crazy to see the shape of the ground in more detail, the trees hide a lot. We were going to pitch a tent in the yard, but slept in a spare bed that night. Actually, we did pitch the tent so it could dry out.

Tuesday morning we headed into Yellowstone through Gardiner. 

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More cool old cars in Gardiner:

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The first stop in the park was Mammoth. We checked out the hot springs and reserved a back country site. We'd read a few sources on different hikes in the park and different sites and such, and we had several we were interested in, but hadn't really nailed any down. Don't do that, because if the site's not currently closed, it could also be unavailable because someone is there. Or there are bears around. Or it's too wet. Basically what I'm saying is don't plan out your stay in the park (unless you're staying in the hotels Question) because anything goes. Part of Mammoth was partitioned off because a family of elk had decided that would be a good spot to raise their baby. I guess it's just another day in the park, but to us, it was pretty funny. Also, weather in the park is very unpredictable. Bring all sorts of clothes. I took my convertible hiking pants for their maiden voyage. If you've got a comfortable pair, DEFINITELY bring 'em. I'm so glad I did. When we arrived, I was walking around in a t-shirt and shorts and it was HOT. By dinner, I was wearing pants and a hoodie and was cold. And wet. Of course it rained again, what'd you guys think!?

We camped in Norris that night. I tried to light a fire, but everything was too wet and I was too hungry to fight with it. I got frustrated and she could see it, so we went for a drive:

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saw those guys and got some food at a restaurant and we saw some more thermal areas.

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I was beginning to notice how commercialized the park is, which I was totally not expecting, as well as how crowded it was, especially given the weather. It was cold and rainy, yet there were people everywhere! She had been before, like I said, but I think it was later in the summer. She said it's far more crowded then. There's traffic throughout the park. Something to consider if any of you are planning to go.

We checked out Old Faithful after dinner. The timing was perfect; as soon as we walked out after paying, it started squirting:

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As it started dying down, we turned to leave and definitely saw either a fox or a wolf dart across behind the crowd of spectators. I didn't get a good enough look to distinguish exactly what it was, but it was certainly something. So that was cool.

Next morning, we checked out the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone which, while not nearly as grand as the "real" Grand Canyon, is definitely impressive. It's hard to photograph without a wide angle lens though.

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Keep that in mind, if you're into that sort of thing. Then came my favorite part. We packed our stuff and set out for our back country site on Hellroaring Creek.

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It was only 5 miles in, but definitely the most beautiful hike I've ever done.

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It wasn't even really hard, because it was pretty flat, give or take a couple hundred feet of up-and-down. But it was each of our first real backpacking experience. It was a bit misty on the way in, but as soon as we got the tent pitched it started pouring. This marked the site for us:

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So we chilled inside, waiting for it to let up and relaxing for a while. I have to pack less stuff next time, my pack was way too heavy. By the time the rain let up, we were too comfortable and exhausted to do anything about it, so we passed out super early. It was nice to get some extra sleep though. The hike out was pretty brutal because it was more uphill and my shoulders and hips were starting to feel the toll of my pack. But the whole trip was an overwhelming success. We both loved it, though she was dragging on the way back towards the end (which was fine because I was beat too, so I had more reason to take it slow). On the way out, we got to follow a deer which just happened to be moseying along the trail for about 20 minutes. That was awesome.

My girlfriend's friend came down that day and met us for lunch again and a couple games of pool in Gardiner. We cruised around near Mammoth some more and checked out some more stuff with her and her boyfriend.

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The locals around there seem super nice, very laid-back and just plain happy. Very tempting to just move out there, that's way more my style than New England. But anyway, after noon-ish, we went down towards Fishing Bridge

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We found a campground which was privately run or something. I dunno, it was weird. Going from the back country to that was awkward. There were all these rules and stuff to follow, and SO MANY PEOPLE around. But we finally got some dry weather, which was a relief.

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We tried to get a fire going, but I had no luck. Then I realized I was dealing with way less oxygen than I was used to, which I'm sticking to as my excuse. I've never been particularly good at getting a good fire going anyways. I could really use some practice/tips. Once it got dark out, we finally got a chance to do some star gazing which was simply beautiful. I always make it a point to do this whenever I'm camping, but my mind was still blown away. It always is. We're both kinda space nerds, so we've shared a ton of  time staring up, pointing out satellites and stuff. It's the best. Unfortunately, I didn't have my tripod because I didn't really have any way of getting it back home, so the only pictures I have are mental.

On Friday, we left the park through the south entrance and went through Grand Teton National Park. I knew the mountains were big, but god damn. :face:They're so beautiful and just...majestic!

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My basis for comparison is the Whites, which is funny because they're all shorter than the average ground level around the Tetons. We drove up Signal Mountain just 'cause, and that turned out to be a real cool vantage point.

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Also, this is where we discovered XM102 which was surprisingly uninteresting and awkward. 😕We stopped a lot going through the Tetons to get pictures of the range. I've got a TON of pictures on film of almost the same angle, but I couldn't help it. THEY'RE SO HUGE! (That's what he said) We got to Jackson around lunch-ish and hit up Town Square Tavern (I think that's what it's called) for some excellent food.

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(We went to The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar that night and it was a blast!)

There was a BBQ chicken pizza that was AMAZING! Got some drinks and walked around the square a bit. Such an awesome, tiny town. If you're nearby, even remotely, check it out. They apparently get a ton of tourists, but it doesn't really have a touristy feel IMHO.

Saw this headline posted in the restroom, had to snag a picture because racecar:

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It just feels homey, welcoming, but doesn't make you feel like you're from outta town. Plus, the coffee shop allows puppies, as long as they're on leashes, which are provided by the shop! We cruised around for far too long trying to find a campground because the road through the elk refuge was closed. We almost gave up on Curtis Campground, and checked out one or two others, that were really just RV parks. If the elk refuge road is closed, go the long way around through Jackson and out to Curtis Canyon Road. It's worth it.

The view from in the campground:

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If you walk into that field, you see the Tetons off to the left. Obviously all the pictures I got of that view are on film. It's a real small campground (like 10-12 sites?) halfway up a hill across the elk refuge from a string of Tetons. Basically, you have a pristine, uninterrupted view of the mountains and, oh by the way, the sun sets behind them (read: brownie points with the missus Cool).

Saturday morning we packed up our stuff once more and cruised back up through Grand Teton National Park. This time, we stuck to the eastern side of the park's loop. We went off-course to check out Mormon Row. There's some houses and barns that have probably been photographed a million times out there but the views are just too magnificent to not photograph. Definitely check that out. We would have gone back to the highway through the park, except the dirt road continued in the direction away from it. And we had this rental. So...we took it wheeling a bit. Not really, but we got it good and muddy. Smile It added plenty of extra time to the drive, but we got to drive by what were clearly some VERY expensive private ranches. There are apparently some celebrities that live in/near Jackson. These might have been some of their homes, I'm not really sure. We stopped in...well, I guess I can't remember the town...a really small town for lunch on the way to Riverton. Some small ranching town. Some tiny diner. Good food though, and again, very nice people. 

Our last night was spent in a Holiday Inn in Riverton. Riverton seems like a poor town with not much going on besides the college. Oh and this:

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But flying out of Riverton worked with our schedule to give us the most amount of time in the park. One of the weird stipulations with a family-discount rental is that you have to return it at a corporate location. Whatever that is, Riverton apparently has one. We got dinner at some sketchy buffet place. It was not good. There was a fair that night, and we didn't have to pay to get in, so we wandered through. Mostly just people watching. We didn't play any games or ride an rides. It was kind of depressing to watch, if I'm honest. So we went back to the hotel and did our fellow travelers a favor and showered. jocolor

Sunday we flew out of the tiny regional airport in Riverton. That was pretty uneventful. We were to fly to Denver, CO, then to NY, NY, then to Manchester, NH. Well, the flight out of LaGuardia was canceled, so they redirected us before we even flew into New York. They redirected us. Not our bags. Evil or Very Mad So we got to go to Atlanta after Denver. Then to Manchester. And we waited at baggage claim 'til the belt stopped. No packs. So we had them shipped home, waited for our ride to pick us up, then drove to my place. Finally got into bed about 1:30am Monday. So I was very helpful at work on Monday. geek not.
Rob Cote
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Post  mr.steamy 6/12/2013, 5:15 pm

Thanks for sharing your trip!  I love road trips and checking out the scenery of different states.  I've always wanted to travel up to that area.  Glad you had a good time!
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Post  Rob Cote 6/13/2013, 6:13 am

I'd recommend it to everyone if you've got the time. The way we went about it, it was a very cheap vacation.
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Post  CrawlingForward 6/13/2013, 1:14 pm

Oh, man that just brought back a lot of memories, ha ha.  Between a family road trip and a bike trip, I have a lot of good memories at a bunch of those places.

That cowboy bar is Jackson Hole is where I finished up two month bike trip playing pool and having beers with old and new friends.  The Tetons are just.....holy crap.  You can't help but just....stare.  So amazing.

Grew up in Rochester and went to Niagara Falls many times.  Loved it.

Wall Drug was *awesome* as a kid, but it's basically just a giant touristy Old Western-style general store.

To me, both Rushmore and Devil's Tower fit in the same category of "yeah, I knew they were big and cool, but seeing it in person and thinking about how they were created is just *mind blowing*"  (Stonehenge is the same way, btw, if anyone ever gets a chance to see it, I recommend it.)

Still haven't had a chance to go to the Badlands, I need to.  Just realized....when were you there?  My sister works as a Ranger there in the summers. Not sure specifically what she does, but I know she explains birds, astronomy, and gamma rays to kids for some reason, ha ha.

Looks like an awesome trip, despite the crappy weather and sleeping conditions. Anything you would want to change/add if you did it again?

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Post  Rob Cote 6/13/2013, 2:25 pm

Sounds like your sister's got an awesome job. I guess we were there on Sunday? I think? It's getting harder to remember which day was what.

I would have liked to toured the Belvidere plant if that's even an option. I haven't looked into it. I would have liked to get some good Chicago pizza, too. And lastly, I would've liked to skipped the return flight. It's just beautiful there. I'll be back, for sure.
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Post  CrawlingForward 6/13/2013, 2:34 pm

Rob Cote wrote:Sounds like your sister's got an awesome job. I guess we were there on Sunday? I think? It's getting harder to remember which day was what.

I would have liked to toured the Belvidere plant if that's even an option. I haven't looked into it. I would have liked to get some good Chicago pizza, too. And lastly, I would've liked to skipped the return flight. It's just beautiful there. I'll be back, for sure.


Ha ha, she's actually a professor in Georgia, but she takes summers to work remotely from North Dakota, of all places. Yeah, she definitely would have been there.  Wish I had known beforehand.  Could have really freaked her out if a stranger went "You're Geoff's sister, right?" ha ha.

I don't know about the Belvidere plant, but I drove by the Jeep plant in Toledo on my trip out west and they didn't offer any tours or anything.  They were kind of top-secret, actually.  Bummer.

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Post  Rob Cote 6/13/2013, 2:56 pm

[url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belvidere_Assembly_Plant]Belvidere Plant[/url] is where Jeeps are made.

Maybe I didn't miss anything, though. I'll just tell myself that.
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Post  Rob Cote 6/13/2013, 2:57 pm

I butchered that link.
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Post  CrawlingForward 6/13/2013, 2:59 pm

Rob Cote wrote:Belvidere Plant is where Jeeps are made.

Maybe I didn't miss anything, though. I'll just tell myself that.



So it makes Jeeps, but not Wranglers.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toledo_Complex

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Post  Rob Cote 6/13/2013, 3:05 pm

Holy Toledo!

I'm down to tour just about any factory, anyways. It'd've been cool regardless of what they're making.
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Post  CrawlingForward 6/20/2013, 3:45 pm

My sister (the one working at Badlands) just sent me a picture.

This is what you missed out on with Wall Drugs, ha ha


Road trip report: Yellowstone Img_2011


Last edited by CrawlingForward on 6/21/2013, 10:48 am; edited 1 time in total

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Post  Rob Cote 6/20/2013, 3:53 pm

picture is bussit, i think. try again?
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Post  CrawlingForward 6/21/2013, 10:48 am

Fixed?

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Post  Rob Cote 6/21/2013, 10:50 am

What in the..? Is it a rabbit? Is it a deer? hahahaha I'm still okay with missing that stop.lol!
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Post  CrawlingForward 6/21/2013, 10:54 am

Rob Cote wrote:What in the..? Is it a rabbit? Is it a deer? hahahaha I'm still okay with missing that stop.lol!


Wait...you've never heard of a Jackalope?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackalope

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