Bighorn Canyon – A River Runs Through It in Montana!

July 2018 – The Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming have given us many special moments recently. We traversed the beautiful Bighorn Scenic Byway this past spring and spent part of last summer nestled alongside the Bighorn Mountains in the charming town of Buffalo, Wyoming.

In Buffalo we not only enjoyed a festival for the Longmire TV show but also took part in an unusual celebration of the Basque sheep herders who settled the area over a century ago.

During our time in this area the word “Bighorns,” in our minds, had become synonymous with “Mountains in Wyoming.” So, it was a huge surprise when I opened a Montana travel magazine a few weeks ago and saw a stunning photo of sheer canyon walls plunging down to a winding river with the caption: Bighorn Canyon. This we had to see!

Devil's Overlook Horseshoe Bend Bighorn Canyon Montana and Wyoming

Bighorn Canyon.

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area is managed by the National Park Service, and there are two districts, the South District which is accessed from Lovell, Wyoming, and the North District which is accessed near St. Xavier, Montana.

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area RV trip in Montana and Wyoming

The drive into Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area from Lovell, Wyoming, is very scenic.

The two districts are connected by the wonderfully twisting Bighorn River that snakes its way between the canyon walls for miles and miles in both Montana and Wyoming.

However, the Bighorn National Recreation Area is not contiguous for visitors unless you travel on the Bighorn River by boat. The dirt road connecting the South and North Districts crosses through the Crow Indian Reservation which is private property.

So, we decided we would check out the South District of Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area since it is not too far from Cody, Wyoming, and then loop around to the North District and see the canyon from that angle.

Bighorn Canyon National Rec Area Scenic Drive Montana and Wyoming RV trip-min

Bighorn Canyon Scenic Drive.

The shock to our senses after spending several weeks in the high elevations of the Beartooth Highway and Chief Joseph Highway just outside Yellowstone National Park was incredible. Not only did we descend from cool summertime mountain temps in the low 70s to the baking heat of the desert in the mid-90s, but we went from lush greenery with wildflowers to a dusty crusty land full of red rocks.

Bighorn Canyon scenic drive Montana and Wyoming RV trip-min

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Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area Scenic drive by RV-min

Red rocks!

The most famous view on the southwest end of Bighorn Canyon is Devil’s Canyon Overlook just over the border on the Montana side. As we turned onto the road that heads out to this overlook we noticed a female bighorn sheep standing by the side of the road.

Bighorn sheep ewe Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area RV trip in Montana and Wyoming

A bighorn sheep stops grazing to look at us.

BIghorn sheep ewe Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area RV trip in Montana and Wyoming

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After taking a few pics we noticed that there were several more bighorn sheep munching the grass by the side of the road. A mama and her sweet little lamb caught our eye.

Bighorn sheep at Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area RV trip Montana and Wyoming

Mama Bighorn (shedding her winter coat) and her baby.

We got out of the truck to have a closer look.

Bighorn sheep lamb Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area Montana and Wyoming

So cute!

We noticed two other little lambs close by. They were adorable!

Bighorn sheep lambs Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area RV trip in Montana and Wyoming

Twice as cute!

Bighorn sheep lambs Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area RV trip in Montana and Wyoming

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What a treat it was to see all these bighorn lambs right by the road!

Bighorn sheep lamb Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area RV trip in Montana and Wyoming

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Just a little ways further on the view suddenly opened up and we were looking at the fabulous sheer walls of the Devil’s Canyon Overlook. Wow!

Devil's Overlook Horseshoe Bend Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area RV trip Montana and Wyoming RV trip-min

The view at Devil’s Canyon Overlook is very dramatic.

Devil's Overlook Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area Horseshoe Bend RV trip in Montana and Wyoming

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The towering canyon walls and the thin ribbon of water snaking between them reminded us a little of both Goosenecks State Park in Utah and Horseshoe Bend in Arizona.

We had the place to ourselves and we ran around taking pics like mad.

Photographer Devil's Overlook Horseshoe Bend Overlook Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area Montana and Wyoming RV trip-min

What a spot to take some pics!

Buddy trotted along the fence line, and he seemed to be enjoying the views too, although maybe he was just keeping an eye on the mice and other varmints that were scampering near the edge!

Puppy checks out view Devil's Overlook Horseshoe Bend Overlook Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area RV trip-min

Puppy Chow checks out the view and the varmints!

The Devil’s Canyon Overlook is a big area and we walked along the edge peering into the canyon for a ways.

Horseshe Bend Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area RV trip in Montana and Wyoming

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Backtracking a little into the Wyoming side of the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, we found the Horseshoe Bend Marina and Campground. We loved seeing the boats tied up to the docks with the rich colors of the red rocks behind them.

Horseshoe Bend Marina Bighorn Canyon Montana and Wyoming RV trip-min

Horseshoe Bend Marina.

At dawn we ran down to the beach to catch the sunrise.

Horseshoe Bend beach Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area RV trip in Montana and Wyoming

Sunrise on the Bighorn River.

Wild yellow daisies swayed to and fro by the water’s edge.

Daisies at sunrise Horseshoe Bend beach Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area RV trip in Montana and Wyoming

Daisies dancing at dawn.

The water in the Bighorn River reflected the sunrise beautifully.

Sunrise Horseshoe Bend beach Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area RV trip in Montana and Wyoming

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Sunrise Horseshoe Bend beach Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area RV trip in Montana and Wyoming

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Red rocks at sunrise Horseshoe Bend beach Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area RV trip in Montana and Wyoming

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The red rocks on the far shore took on a rich shade of burnt orange.

Sunrise Red rocks Horseshoe Bend beach Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area RV trip in Montana and Wyoming-min

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The beach and shoreline were deserted except for the three of us, and we had a wonderful time together playing by the edge of the water and watching the day wake up.

Photographer and puppy Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area RV trip in Montana and Wyoming

Happily busy on the beach at sunrise!

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area is most popular during the spring and fall when the temperatures are cool. But for visitors who stop by mid-summer, there are electric hookups at the marina campground at Horseshoe Bend, and the air conditioners of a handful of campers were happily purring away 24/7!

Horseshoe Bend Campground Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area RV trip in Montana and Wyoming

Camping at Horseshoe Bend Marina and campground.

We will be back again at a more comfortable time of year, and we plan to visit the North District of Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area when it’s cool too. Our visit this time was a brief but wonderful detour that took us out of the snow capped mountains and into red rock country, and it whetted our appetites for a return trip!

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Badlands National Park – Rugged Beauty on a South Dakota RV Trip

August 2017 – Several states boast rugged landscapes that are known as “Badlands,” and we have enjoyed two trips to the mysterious Bisti Badlands in New Mexico. But the Badlands in South Dakota are sizeable enough to have been set aside as a National Park.

Landscape Badlands National Park South Dakota

Badlands (along with dot-sized cows) in South Dakota

The town of Wall, home of Wall Drug, sits right next door to Badlands National Park, and after just a short drive from town we found ourselves immersed in the moonscape of a windswept desert where relentless erosion has shaped the sedimentary rock into an endless array of triangles.

South Dakota Badlands Scenery

Rugged “badlands” landscape

As far as our eyes could see, the land was rippled with peaks and valleys, natural pyramids and buttes.

South Dakota Badlands scenery

Slightly hazy from smoke coming from Montana’s wildfires, the golden glow was still beautiful.

Unlike Bisti Badlands, the rock in Badlands National Park is not brightly colored. There is a small section that features rolling yellow and red mounds, but for the most part the land is filled with shades of brown and beige. Despite the drab colors, it is a very stimulating place for photography, and we had fun trying to capture the essence of this desolate land on our cameras.

Photography Badlands National Park South Dakota

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Golden Hour Badlands National Park South Dakota

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Badlands National Park is quite popular, and there are several overlooks where you can get an outstanding view.

Overlook at Badlands National Park South Dakota

There are badlands as far as the eye can see!

For us, one of the coolest things in Badlands National Park was the large resident herd of bighorn sheep. These guys wander throughout the park at their leisure. They are well accustomed to tourists and totally unafraid of people. Best of all, it didn’t take long to spot them relaxing on the various precipices and promontories as they took in the views of the Badlands!

Bighorn Sheep Badlands National Park Overlook South Dakota

Two bighorn sheep enjoy the awesome view.

Like the wild animals at Custer State Park and Yellowstone National Park, this herd of bighorn sheep can hardly be called “wild.” The rangers keep a close eye on the herd and follows their movements about the Park. To help with their monitoring, some of the bighorn sheep have been outfitted with collars that carry rather bulky radio beacons, complete with a long antenna.

Bighorn sheep walks past an RV wearing a radio collar

Have radio, will travel! If the rangers gave this sheep an iPhone X, he could make calls and post pics on Facebook!!

This wasn’t the first time we’d seen bighorn sheep decked out with radios around their necks. The whereabouts of a herd of bighorn sheep at Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area is monitored this way, and the elk that have repopulated Great Smoky Mountains National Park are tracked via radio beacon too.

But the animals seem to manage just fine despite this bulky electronic gear, and only a few in the herd were collared. As the sun set, we found ourselves very close to the herd as they munched the grasses near the road, and we were able to get some wonderful portraits at close range!

Bighorn sheep at sunset Badlands South Dakota

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Bighorn sheep (ovis canadensis) really are in the sheep family (ovis), and they have been around on the North American continent for millenia. During our stay in Wyoming, we’d had a chance to get some fun mom-and-baby shots of domestic sheep too (ovis aries), and this made for an interesting comparison between the two species.

Mama sheep and her lamb

Very sheepish, but a little different looking!

Bighorn sheep in the prairie grasses Badlands South Dakota

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Pretty soon the herd began to leave the roadside and make its way across the shimmering golden grasses of the Badlands. The crowd of tourists on the side of the road murmured and held up their cell phones to capture this majestic and classic western sight unfolding before our eyes. How fabulous!

Bighorn sheep family at sunset Badlands South Dakota

A family of bighorn sheep moves through the golden grasses.

Big horn sheep family at sunset Badlands South Dakota

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Herd of bighorn sheep Badlands South Dakota

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Badlands National Park turned out to be an excellent place for wildlife viewing, and one day at a watering hole just outside the Park we spotted a flock of pelicans getting a drink and a bath. What an unexpected surprise!

Pelican Badlands National Park South Dakota

Here’s a Badlands visitor we didn’t expect to see!

But perhaps the most endearing animals were the prairie dogs. These little guys are just too cute for words!

Tourists like us love them, of course, because of their funny antics as they pop in and out of their holes. But they are not so popular with ranchers because their massive dog town communities spread out for acres and acres. They dig up the grasslands, leaving very recognizable little piles of dirt outside their holes, and it’s just too easy for a horse to step in a hole by accident and injure itself.

But we couldn’t resist them!

Prairie Dog Secrets Badlands National Park South Dakota

“I wanna let you in on a little secret…”

Two Prairie Dogs Badlands National Park South Dakota

“No… are you serious?!”

Prairie Dogs Badlands National Park South Dakota

“Hey! Guess what I just heard…!!”

We made our way across the Park, and at sunset the striped eroded sediment rock of the Badlands began to glow.

Badlands National Park South Dakota

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Badlands National Park South Dakota

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As we drove out of the Park the sun slowly sank out of sight and disappeared behind the hills, taking the rich golden light and dark shadows with it. Suddenly, we spotted one of the bighorn sheep standing on a ridge against the fabulous Badlands backdrop. What a classic image!

Bighorn Sheep Badlands National Park South Dakota

First there was one…

Then two of his buddies joined him.

Bighorn sheep Badlands National Park South Dakota

…and then there were three!

So often we have looked around at a classic western desert landscape and said, “Wouldn’t it be perfect to see a bighorn sheep standing right there!” And there they were right in front of us!

Red ball at sunset Badlands National Park South Dakota

The sun sets in a fireball of red.

If Badlands National Park seems a little out of the way, or if the scenery itself doesn’t lure you to the Park, perhaps the chance to see large communities of prairie dogs and a sizeable herd of bighorn sheep will. We were surprised at just how easy it was to spot these animals and how much they make an otherwise barren landscape come alive.

RV camping in the South Dakota Badlands at sunset

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Canadian Rockies – Big Mountains & Bighorn Sheep!

May 2016 – We wanted the theme for our RV travels this spring to be “Snowcapped Mountains” and, if possible, “Cool Wild Animals.” So far we had seen a little of both in northern Utah, southeastern Idaho, the Bitterroot Valley and in Glacier National Park in Montana. But we knew some of the most impressive mountains and close-up wildlife sightings were probably to be found even further north, so we drove over the border into Canada.

RV travel in the Canadian Rockies Columbia Lake

Snowcapped mountains were on our agenda this spring… and cool wild animals too, if we were lucky!

Our first stop was in Fernie, British Columbia, a mountain town in the Canadian Rockies that is home to a popular ski resort.

Church in Fernie British Columbia Canada

Fernie, British Columbia, is a picturesque ski town in the Canadian Rockies

We asked for snowcapped mountains and we got ’em!!

Church steeple Fernie British Columbia Canada

The mountains soar above the edges of town.

Even though we had rather threatening skies, the mountains framed every view beautifully.

Fernie British Columbia Canada

What a backdrop for a cute little town!

The town of Fernie has a hip and youthful vibe. Lots of kids come here to take advantage of the outdoor sports, and they live on the cheap in shared apartments so they can spend their days on the ski slopes or on the mountain bike trails. We saw almost no gray hair around us as we walked the streets!

Up by the ski resort there were elegant Swiss style lodges.

Ski lodge Fernie British Columbia Canada

Classic ski lodges at the Fernie Alpine Resort

Fernie is tucked into a bend in the Elk River, and a lovely path skirts the edge of town on the river banks.

River trail Fernie British Columbia Canada

There was a pretty walking path that went along the Elk River around the edge of town.

We wanted to walk the whole path, but just a little ways into our walk it began to rain. The mountains began to fade away in the mist!

Peaks of Rocky Mountains in British Columbia Canada

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Fernie is a great town, but we had Canada’s national parks on our minds, so we pressed on into the mountains. It was early May, and a heat wave had just passed through the area, but our arrival was heralded with cold. We stopped in one visitors center and as we were told about various wonderful things to go see, the gal joked, “Well, we’ve already had summer and now we’re back to winter again.”

Freezing cold in British Columbia Rock Mountains in May

A few months ago I was in shorts!

Fortunately, the sun came out and the snowcapped Rocky Mountains filled our view as we drove.

Rocky Mountains peek through in British Columbia Canada

The Rocky Mountains lured us onward up the road.

Cool view.

Cool view.

Rocky Mountains in British Columbia Canada

Good morning Rocky Mountains!!

As we drove north we saw road signs for big horn sheep. We were hopeful for a sighting or two, but didn’t get lucky. “Hah, there aren’t any big horn sheep around here!” We joked with each other.

Rocky Mountain Big horn sheep sign British Columbia Canada

The only big horn sheep we saw were on the road signs… argh!

We stopped at an overlook at Columbia Lake which is the headwaters for the Columbia River that flows down into the US, between Oregon and Washington and out into the Pacific ocean.

RV travel and camping in British Columbia Canada

The overlook at Columbia Lake

In the town of Invermere we got a glimpse of Windermere Lake. This is probably wonderful in the summertime, but it was a bit forbidding when the skies clouded over and more rain fell.

Columbia Lake British Columbia Canada

Windermere Lake

Just before we reached the first park in the cluster of national parks that make up the heart of the Canadian Rockies, we saw another sign for big horn sheep, but this one had flashing lights on it!

Flashing street sign Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep

Hey look, this big horn sheep sign has flashing lights!

There were cars pulled over ahead of us, so Mark pulled the rig over along wtih everyone else. Then I looked out my window and found myself staring right at a big horn sheep!

Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep head British Columbia Canada

Well, hello there!!

Wow!!

There were a few other sheep near him on our side of the road, but suddenly he marched out into the middle of the highway.

Big Horn sheep Invermere British Columbia Canada

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Then he stopped.

Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep in the road Invermere British Columbia Canada

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Crazy sheep. Why was he hanging around in the middle of the highway?!

Big Horn Sheep Canadian Rockies Invermere British Columbia

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Then we noticed that there were a few sheep on the far side of the road waiting to cross. He stood in the middle of the road while the other sheep began to cross the highway in front of him.

Big horn sheep crossing a road in British Columbia

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He was like a crossing guard for them! When they’d all passed him, he joined the last one and came across with it.

Big horn sheep cross the road Invermere British Columbia Canada

The crossing guard accompanies the last sheep across.

Big horn sheep cross the road Invermere British Columbia Canada

Safe and sound.

We looked back across the highway and there was one more sheep. This was a beautiful big ram with a huge pair of horns.

Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep crosses the road Invermere British Columbia Canada

Oh wait, there’s one more sheep to come, the big granddaddy of them all!

What a fantastic big horn sheep sighting.

Ram big horn sheep Invermere British Columbia Canada

And there it was — our Cool Wild Animal Sighting.
Welcome to the Canadian Rockies!!

Back in Arizona we’d been excited to see a pair of big horn sheep lying around sunning themselves at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. Seeing them here with their shaggy, shedding coats in the wild of the Rockies — or close to it on the highway — was a total thrill.

It turns out that wild animals are actually a lot more street smart and highway wise than you might think. When we got to Banff National Park, we discovered that a bunch of overpass bridges have been built for the animals so they can cross the Trans-Canada Highway that traverses the national park. And they use it!! (Who wouldn’t — it looks pretty nice up there with trees and bushes — and a view of the traffic from above!!).

Wild animal overpass Banff National Park Canada

How the wild animals cross the road in Banff National Park!!

More info about these area in the links below…

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More info about this area:

Blog posts from our RV travels with similar themes:

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Flaming Gorge Utah – Fiery canyons, a cool river, and nearly tame bighorn sheep

Flaming Gorge Utah Rainbow over our RV

A rainbow frames the buggy

Early September, 2012 – Leaving the northern half of Flaming Gorge in Wyoming, we settled down near the heart of the gorge in Utah where it is a part of the National Park Service.

Flaming Gorge Utah RV Views

Mark gets a front row seat to the view.

The storms continued to march across the sky every afternoon, and one day, just as the sun was setting, the sky went black and a brilliant rainbow formed right over the buggy.

Flaming Gorge Utah Greendale Overlook

Kids monkey around for the camera

The overlooks and walking paths near the Visitors Center offer the most impressive views of the gorge, and we wandered out to the edge of the cliffs repeatedly to see the breathtaking scene from every possible vantage point.

Flaming Gorge Utah Canyon Rim Hike

The Canyon Rim hike goes through the woods too.

Brilliant mornings complemented the brooding afternoons.  As we paused one afternoon to enjoy the views from one overlook, a crowd of young families showed up.

Flaming Gorge is a perfect area for families, as there are all kinds of things to do, from hiking to biking to camping to visiting with herds of grass-eating animals to taking a tour of the dam.  This group of families was having a ball.  Half the parents were out on mountain bikes somewhere while the other half chilled at the overlook.  The kids romped all over the place in very high spirits, despite the gathering afternoon storm.

RV boondocking view of Flaming Gorge Utah meadow at sunrise

Meadow at sunrise.

They posed for their moms to take a photo, and they were all so cute I had to get one too.  Just minutes after that the skies opened up and we had a downpour that pelted everyone and everything and soaked us all to the bone.  The kids laughed it off, but we felt badly for the late returning dads who had to hurry in the driving rain to get all the mountain bikes back on their bike racks before they drove off in a blur of spray.

RVers coming to Flaming Gorge will find stunning views and camping

Breathtaking views at every turn.

Between storms we were gifted with glorious sunshine.  We hiked the Canyon Rim between the visitors center and the Canyon Rim Campground, taking two photos for every five steps.  What a place!  Rock outcroppings hang out over the edges of the cliffs all along the rim, making for dramatic views (and a little bit of stomach churning if you stand on the edge and look straight down).  Campers can set up in sites with marvelous views.

RV boondocking offers amazing views of Flaming Gorge

Now it’s my turn to perch on a cliff.

The big horn sheep are very much at home in this terrain, though, and a large herd was mingling with the campers in the Canyon Rim Campground.

Another woman watching them through the viewfinder of her camera (just like we were) told us they had been wandering between the campsites  all four days she had been there.

Bighorn sheep at Flaming Gorge's Canyon Rim Campground, an RVers delight

A herd of bighorn sheep hung out at the campground. Rangers track their movement by radio.

As we chatted, the group of sheep stood and stared at us, barely moving.  They formed something of a protective circle, facing outwards.  They stood there so long the young ones got bored, as we did, and eventually two of them laid down behind the shield of their parents’ legs.

Big horn sheep at the Flaming Gorge Canyon Rim Campground

We watched each other carefully.

These guys were very accustomed to humans, and they let us get close enough to see that the largest one had been outfitted with a radio collar.  A large antenna stuck out from the radio on his neck like a third antler behind his head.  Rangers told us they track the herd very closely.

Flaming Gorge Dam

Flaming Gorge Dam

Flaming Gorge used to be a free-flowing river, and one afternoon we took a tour of the Flaming Gorge Dam.  Built in the late 1950’s, it was one of the West’s many water reclamation projects of the mid-1900’s that tamed the west’s wild rivers and provided electrical power to nearby communities.

Flaming Gorge Dam turbine

An original turbine was replaced recently and is now on display.

The most amazing thing about these dams, I find, is that in order to build them the rivers had to be re-routed temporarily.  At Flaming Gorge, as at all the other major western dams, a huge tunnel was dug into the cliff so the water would bypass the dam construction area.  The concrete is so thick in Flaming Gorge dam that it will take 100 years to cure fully at its center.

Turkey vultures dry their wings on the scaffolding outside the Flaming Gorge dam.

When the sun came out, the whole flock dried off its wings.

That means the concrete at the core is only half cured now, and it puts the cure date sometime just before 2060!

A turkey vulture at Flaming Gorge Dam

Seeing an original turbine that had recently been replaced was interesting, but what really caught our attention was the huge flock of turkey vultures sitting on the scaffolding outside the dam.

Sweeping views from the Flaming Gorge Visitors Center in Utah

Flaming Gorge was an awe-inspiring place to visit.

When we started the tour raindrops were falling, and these guys were hunkered down waiting for the typical afternoon deluge.  But when we emerged from the bowels of the dam’s massive structure an hour later at the end of the tour, we discovered the sun had come out and all the turkey vultures were now sitting with wings outstretched, drying off their feathers!

Flaming Gorge is a magical place, and we dallied for a while.  But eventually the lure of dinosaurs drew us away and we drove further south to Vernal Utah and Dinosaur National Monument.

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