NATIONAL PARKS OF THE NORTH
Channel the spirits of the great American West on Fantasy’s spectacular 33-day trek through the National Parks of the North! It is the land that now tells the stories of people no longer here. No one could dream up stories that detail such a colorful cast of characters, including Native Americans, cowboys, outlaws, lawmen and self-made legends like Buffalo, Bill, General Custer, Calamity Jane, Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull. This Wild-West adventure winds through the stoic great ranges of Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, the Yellowstone corner of Montana and into the hearts and minds of all visitors.
Colorado Springs, Colorado, is the rendezvous point for our orientation, get-acquainted party and very welcome barbecue dinner! All-aboard the Pike’s Peak Cog Railway on day 2, for the 14,115-foot chug to the staggering summit and sweeping vistas of the Colorado Rockies. This is the world’s highest cog railway, and it almost feels like it’s climbing all the way to heaven. Lunch is at the historic Garden of the Gods Trading Post. Colorado’s largest gift shop and gallery is perched on the very edge of the world-famous Garden of the Gods Park. Our third day in Colorado Springs is spent touring the Air Force Academy, steeped in Academy history and Cadet life. The Olympic Training Center where Team USA athletes train is another interesting stop.
Day 4 finds us heading north to Estes Park, Colorado. We’re on top of the world on a tour of Rocky Mountain National Park! We travel on Trail Ridge Road, cresting at 12,000 feet. Generous overlooks provide plenty of photo ops of alpine meadows, 300 miles of hiking trails, diverse wildlife and endless blankets of wild flowers. A buffet lunch with sweeping mountain views is a welcome stop at historic Crag’s Lodge, whose friendly doors first opened in July 1914.
Calling all dudes to Cheyenne, Wyoming, for camping at Terry Bison Ranch. Here’s the West the way you want it for four fun-filled nights! Starting with a real ranch dinner, we find a warm and wonderful home base as we explore Cheyenne Frontier Days and its parade, rodeo and unique ‘behind the chutes’ tour. This tour follows the path of bulls and broncs as the animals are guided to the chutes and out into the arena. Guests have the rare opportunity to step into the chutes themselves and walk across the arena. On our last night in Cheyenne, you have the option to watch the evening shows with headliner entertainment.
While in Cheyenne, we also visit the ICBM & Heritage Museum at Warren Air Force Base. The base is the home of one of three strategic missile bases responsible for the Minuteman lll ICBMs. We also visit the Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum and take a trolley tour of the town.
En route to little Gering, Nebraska, we have the option of visiting Chimney Rock in Scottsbluff National Monument. Chimney Rock is a striking geologic formation that became the symbol of the great migration for pioneers and travelers on the Oregon, California and Mormon trails. Afterwards, we enjoy a campground dinner together.
Fort Robinson, Nebraska, is our next two-night stop. Sing along to country classics on an old-fashioned hayride through scenic mountain meadows before dinner. We visit the historic Fort Robinson Museum to learn of the many historical surprises and contributions of this tiny town. We also enjoy a production at the Post Playhouse Theatre, northwestern Nebraska’s favorite live theatre company inside Fort Robinson State Park.
After breakfast in Fort Robinson, we break camp for Hermosa, South Dakota, gateway to mighty Mt. Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial. Our arrival time in Mt. Rushmore is perfectly coordinated with the acclaimed Mt. Rushmore Tour Lighting Ceremony. This ‘Shrine of Democracy’ is unique at any time of day, but it is even more moving at night with the illumination of the massive faces and accompanying powerful narration. We enjoy dinner before we call it a night. The next day dawns with a Black Hills bus tour of Needles Highway, Iron Mountain Road and Custer State Park. Needles Highway is a gorgeous 14-mile road through spruce and pine forests and meadows bursting with birch and all surrounded by piercing granite formations. Iron Mountain Road starts at Mt. Rushmore National Monument and ends at Custer State Park. It is 17 miles of switchbacks designed to slow down travelers so they can enjoy the many architectural features of the park, including wooden bridges and one-lane tunnels. Keep your eyes peeled for Mother Nature’s frequent travelers on this highway. Buffalo, antelope, deer, turkey, big horn sheep and even mountain lions are frequently seen. Nestled in the Black Hills, Custer State Park is 71,000 acres of clear mountain waters and wide open ranges.
Onward to Crazy Horse Memorial! In 1939, Oglala Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear invited New England sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski to carve a memorial to the North American Indians. This massive project that began in 1948 remains a beloved work in progress. Lunch is at the historic State Game Lodge, an imposing native stone and wood lodge built in 1920, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. We drive through the Badlands and visit charming Wall Drug Store, located in the ‘geographical middle of nowhere.’ Before leaving Hermosa, we explore the wonders of Rapid City, where all visitors are encouraged to ‘Do Big Things.’
Dead ahead are two nights in Deadwood, South Dakota. In case you were wondering, it was named after the many dead trees that lined Deadwood Gulch, where gold was discovered in 1875. We spend an entire day on a historic tour of Deadwood City to learn where the countless colorful skeletons are buried. Speaking of which, we also visit Mt. Moriah Cemetery, the final resting place of the legendary Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. Later that day, a reenactment shooting of Wild Bill details the untimely end of this controversial folk hero.
Rising dramatically from the rolling prairie in the Black Hills is Devil’s Tower National Monument, which we explore on our way to Buffalo, Wyoming. This dramatic monolith is sacred to many Indian tribes, particularly the Northern Plains Indians. Buffalo lives at the base of the beautiful Big Horn Mountains. Dinner tonight is at a popular local steakhouse.
Besides being the site of General Custer’s last stand, Garryowen, Montana, is unique in another way. It is actually a privately owned and operated town. We stay at the full-service RV park closest to the Little Bighorn National Monument. Our two days here, we start by visiting the little Big Horn Main Battlefield, the location of Custer’s Last Stand. We also visit Crow’s Nest, Custer’s lookout. The Custer Battlefield Museum tells the history of the area through many exhibits about the Battle of Little Bighorn, the culture of the Plains Indians and military life. Here, Fantasy has arranged for a special historical presentation, followed by first lunch at a favorite local’s hideaway. We have dinner at the campground.
Calling all Fantasy RVers to Cody, Wyoming, named after William Frederick Cody, aka Buffalo Bill. More rootin’ tootin’ Wild West fun happens here, beginning with a Cody Trolley Tour. The tour takes us to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West – a comprehensive complex of five museums and a library that all embody the spirit of the American West, telling its story from all perspectives. From there, we go to Irma’s Legendary Saloon inside the Irma Hotel Buffalo Bill, built and named after his daughter. Don’t look now, but we witness an all-too-real gunfighter show on Main Street! We then take in Dan Miller’s Cowboy Music Revue and dinner back at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. Live, authentic cowboy music and a lavish buffet at one of the country’s premier Western museums is a fitting finale to this great day.
Thanks to the initial vision and commitment of President Theodore Roosevelt in the 1900s, the National Park Service celebrated its glorious 100th anniversary in 2016. Better late than never for that party as we arrive at the motherlode of the national park system, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. The Yellowstone IMAX Theater is a good first stop to give us an overview of the grand park on the giant screen. Next, we tour the Yellowstone Upper Loop. This includes Mammoth Hot Springs Mud Pots, the so-called ‘natural double boilers.’ On to Norris Geyser Basin, whose boiling waters and vivid rainbow colors are incomparable. The cascading majesty of Yellowstone Falls is a sight to behold and be photographed.
Today’s lunch stop is at Mammoth Hot Springs, where you can walk over the steamy thermal waters flowing freely over vibrant travertine terraces. A Yellowstone Lower Loop tour takes us through the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, 20 miles long and considered by many to be the most spectacular sight in the entire park. But don’t forget about Old Faithful – not just the most famous geyser in the world but also the enduring symbol of Yellowstone National Park. There’s plenty of time to decide what you like best over lunch at Old Faithful!
Our last stop is Jackson, Wyoming, gateway to the Grand Tetons and Grand Teton National Park. We take a peaceful scenic Snake River float trip through a portion of the park, followed by dinner. Fantasy devotes a day to explore here, including visits to the historical district of Menor’s Ferry and the Chapel of the Transfiguration that features classic altar windows framing the tallest peaks of the Tetons.
The charming communities of Colter Bay and Jenny Lake are both located inside the park and offer incredible alpine vistas of the Tetons – dancing meadows full of wild flowers and, of course, the calm, pristine waters of Jenny Lake itself. We have lunch at the beautiful Jackson Lake Lodge. Each of the stunning 60-foot-high windows in the hotel lobby delight guests with breathtaking views of the surrounding mountain paradise.
Our magnificent 33-day National Parks treasure hunt ends all too soon with our farewell dinner, followed by a goodbye continental breakfast in the morning. It leaves all Fantasy guests quiet and contemplative of all the natural beauty they have seen, literally from the mountains to the prairies – and also curious about how much more there is to explore in America the beautiful.