The Wall Drug shopping complex also features one of many fine bookstores we visited in small towns throughout our trip, offering scores of volumes about American Indian history.
Bookstores -- like the ones in 1880 Town, in Wall and the Book Peddler in West Yellowstone -- all sell many volumes written from the perspective of American Indians featuring events like the Wounded Knee Massacre, the Battle of Little Bighorn -- "Custer's Last Stand" -- and the ongoing deadly wars against Plains Indians.
In "Black Cowboys of the Old West," author Tricia Martineau Wagner estimates that the 35,000 cowboys working ranches and riding trails in the late 1800s included between 5,000 and 9,000 blacks.
Twisting roads lead up to Mount Rushmore National Memorial, featuring the iconic sculptured faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. Visitors first glimpse the famous mountaintop sculpture when passing through tunnels along the mountain road approach.
At the park, we learned that 90 percent of the faces were crafted with dynamite blasting, not chiseling.
Mount Rushmore is in the Black Hills and Badlands Wilderness Area of western South Dakota. Sculpted by natural floods long ago, the Badlands feature spectacular colorful hills and valleys of rock.
Beautiful layers of pink and yellow run through compressed sandstones and Pierre shale. No one should miss the Badlands.
Before Mount Rushmore, we stopped by stopped by a field in Custer State Park filled with dozens of American bison.
Later, we saw a herd of nearly 50 bison, some of which were so close we could have reached out the car window and patted them. But doing so would be very dangerous. Some bison walked slowly across the roads, blocking traffic.
Outside Otto, Wyo., a town of 50 people, we saw a big field of sunflowers for the first time on the trip. We were on the way to Yellowstone National Park across the Bighorn Mountains.
Along the roads to Old Faithful, boiling hot springs and colorful geyser basins -- with red, blue, green, white and brown waters -- send steam into the air.
We also saw a bobcat perched on a ledge 30 feet above the road. It's rare to see bobcats during the day because they typically live alone and come out at night to capture small mammals and birds.
Because it is very difficult to rent rooms overnight in Yellowstone, the towns of Cody, on the park's east border, and West Yellowstone, on the west border, are packed with restaurants, bars, stores and motels.
After spending a night at the Pioneer Hotel in West Yellowstone, we drove north along the Gallatin River, a beautiful area for fishing and rafting. Some roads in this area of Montana and Idaho follow the historic Lewis and Clark Trail.
Butte, the historic mining town in southwest Montana, was a highlight of the trip. On top of valuable copper, gold and silver veins, Butte began as a collection of mining camps back in the 1870s.
By the late 1800s and early 1900s, Butte -- the "Richest Hill on Earth" -- produced one-third of all copper used in the United States. By 1910, Butte had 100,000 residents.
Downtown Butte is still filled with impressive brick and stone buildings, many built in the 1880s. Old company houses still sit on hilltops overlooking the town, in walking distance of the tall black mining rigs that once lowered miners down into copper seams, then lifted them up at the end of their shifts. Many rigs are still standing.
For decades, beginning in 1889, Anaconda Mining ran Butte's mining operations. In the 1950s, Anaconda began strip mining for copper, removing entire hillsides and destroying two towns on the hill.
In 1977, Anaconda merged into Arco, which continued mining operations until 1983, when Montana Resources took over.
Butte has also become the nation's largest Superfund environmental cleanup site.
Today, Montana Resources employs 350 workers at an open pit copper and molybdenum mine. With nearly 40,000 residents, Butte is still very vibrant.
After driving along a maze of curving back roads across Idaho, we finally reached Walla Walla, a town of nearly 60,000 people and home to Walton College.
Its attractive downtown is filled with quality restaurants. Brasserie Four served us the best meal on our trip: Katharine had mussels and I ate yellow trout.
Walla Walla often features musical groups informally performing along its sidewalks. One downtown park has high-quality speakers that regularly play Italian opera. Beautiful farms, wine fields and wineries surround the town in rural southeastern Washington.
My flight from Walla Walla back to Charleston on Sunday was not nearly as scenic as the road trip.
Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjny...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.