We awoke to temperatures in the high 20’s. The windows on our Ford Van E150 were frosted over. The forest floor had a white blanket of frost covering it everywhere. It was quite cold, but our trustworthy furnace had our trailer nice and toasty in no time at all.
We departed the Sibley Lakes Campground in the Bighorn National Forest at 8:40 a.m. Our destination today is Devils Tower, Wyoming. Our planned route will take us east on US-14 to north on WY-24 to Devils Tower.
US-14 joins I-90 at Ranchester, Wyoming and the two routes then run south to Sheridan, Wyoming. At Sheridan, US-14 splits off from I-90 and continues on east for about 100 miles before it rejoins I-90 at Gillette, Wyoming. The two routes then run together east for about 29 miles before US-14 splits off from I-90 at Moorcroft, Wyoming. US-14 then runs north a few miles before resuming east to intersect with WY-24. We have avoided the Interstate system on our trip out west as much as possible and opted instead to take local routes wherever possible. The local routes take us through some charming towns and give us the opportunity to experience the local culture and scenery that you miss when traveling on the Interstate system.
Now the white knuckle driving part of our travels began. Shortly after we were on the road we encountered the RV and truck drivers nightmare… Granite Pass! This pass has an elevation of 9,033 feet descending through Shell Canyon. Fortunately, we had already read about this stretch of road in our Mountain Directory for Truckers, RV and Motorhome Drivers. Our descent through Sylvan Pass in Yellowstone National Park provided us with a preview of coming attractions at Granite Pass. The descent on US-14 through Shell Canyon is 6-7% for 18 miles. The first 11 miles are up and down with 5-6% grades and 30 and 40 mph curves. The next 2-1/2 miles are downhill with the grade changing from 6% to 2 or 3% and then back to 6%. At this point, there is a truck warning sign – "Steep Grade Next 9 Miles." And indeed there is! Over the next 9 miles the grade is 5-7% with many 25 and 30 mph curves.
One unique feature of driving through Granite Pass were informational signs posting the age of the different areas we were driving through. They ranged from 50 to 350 million years ago when they were originally formed. I was chatting with Sharon about the information on these signs, when I glanced over at her; the poor dear was clutching the sides of her seat, white-knuckle style. I guess I failed to appreciate how close we were to the edge of the road on her side, overlooking the valley, thousands of feet below us!
We had the option of taking US-14 Alt. That route would have taken us over the "OH My God Hill." The descent on this route is posted at 10% for 10 miles with an additional 4 miles of 8% grade. After we had made it safely down the Granite Pass route, we stopped at a turnout at the base of the mountain pass, Sharon got out of the van, dropped to her knees and thanked me profusely for not taking the route over the "OH My God Hill!"
The outstanding experience of driving east on US-14 through Wyoming were the numerous scenic delights that greeted us on each turn and over each mountain pass. Massive mountains dotted the landscape around us and off in the distance far ahead on the highway. The mountains displayed the effects from the various forces of nature that ravage them over time, resulting in rock slides from erosion that litter the base of the mountains. Some of these rock slides contained massive boulders that were about the size of a two-story house.
We arrived at the KOA private campground located at the base of Devils Tower at 1:10 p.m. It was time to pamper Sharon at a campground with electric and water hookups. Sharon is happy, life is good!
We spent the remainder of the day just relaxing at the campground. We will be here two nights and then depart Monday morning for Custer State Park in Custer, South Dakota.