Sometimes you have to hit the road and see what's out there. You never know what you might find. The best part, for me it seems, is frequently the getting there part of the journey instead of the destination part.

Things combined in such a way that the last part of June and first part of July worked out for time off. So I hit the road and headed west with two end points in mind. The first one was in western South Dakota. The State Game Lodge at Custer State Park, to be exact. The other one was Yellowstone National Park in northwest Wyoming.

Here's a news flash. Western South Dakota and northwestern Wyoming are not adjacent to Cresco, Iowa. It's a road trip to end all road trips without an ocean being involved. Rather than have a travel agent get involved, though, I went modern and used the Internet. A quick posting on New Ag Talk in mid-May about my potential plans garnered a couple dozen responses within a day or two. The rural community is pretty good about sharing information. It did not disappoint me, that's for sure. Not only did I get suggestions on where to stay, but I also got suggestions on which routes to take, which ones to avoid, which sights to see, which ones to avoid, and when to get it all done.

That last one was a bit of a surprise. If you're headed to Yellowstone during the summer, get your plans made and reservations booked sometime in January or February if you want to stay in the park. If you are, say, a last-minute kinda guy and don't get around to doing anything until a couple weeks ahead of time, you can still find places to stay, but they won't be as convenient or as authentic as staying in an actual lodge within the grounds of the park. I got lucky and found a suggestion about a place called Antlers Lodge in Cooke City, Montana, which is about three or four miles outside the northeast entrance of the park.

Then, in yet another stroke of luck, I found out a few days before departure that Honest RC, The Farmer's Friend From Beginning to End, had just returned from a vacation to Yellowstone! Really, if you can't trust your Deere salesman, who can you trust? I spent some quality time in RC's office one afternoon going over the highlights of his trip, as well as making tons of mental notes on what to bring along for a better trip. At the top of that list was a 12-volt cooler to store lovely beverages and food, thereby avoiding all the stops for high-priced stuff along the way. With all the savings, I will no doubt be better prepared to spend more money on my next farm equipment purchase. That RC is a GENIUS, I tell ya!

While traveling down I-90 somewhere in South Dakota, I saw a sign for a scenic byway near the Badlands. It sounded great, but something in my tiny little brain clicked and caused me to pull over at an exit ramp and read through all of the responses I'd gotten on New Ag Talk. Seemed to me like a scenic byway had been mentioned, but I couldn't remember if it was of the "must-see" or the "must-avoid" variety. I found the following item on the list of responses I'd printed out:

"Our family took the trip to SD and Yellowstone last summer. I'm surprised no one has mentioned the Badlands so far, especially since it is close to the Black Hills and Mt. Rushmore. Wind Cave is close by too. If you do want to go from Badlands to Wind Cave stay away from a road named highway 44. It is marked on the map but is no more than a two-lane gravel road stretching for more than 60 miles. My wife was the navigator and thought she would save us some miles, LOL. We saw a total of three cars and four ATVs, no farmhouses."

That looked to me like a pretty strong hint to stay on I-90 and skip the scenic byway! Although, note to self: 60 miles and only three cars? Keep that in mind for a hay route in the future. You just never know.

When I smugly got my printout and atlas put away and then pulled back onto the paving of the exit ramp to get back onto the interstate again, something down the blacktop caught my attention. Actually, it was multiple somethings. Of all the interstate exit ramps I could have chosen in this wildly underpopulated part of the country, I chose one that was about to become crowded. Moseying toward the car was a herd of horses! Not the Budweiser Clydesdale 8-Horse Hitch. Not the 40- or the 48-Horse Hitch of Belgians from Sparrow's in Zearing, Iowa. Not even a team pulling a buggy or a wagon with someone of the Amish persuasion at the reins. Nope, these were free-range horses.

But wait, this was South Dakota, so maybe they were grazing the road ditches. It's not entirely uncommon to see people tie up a horse at random and give him just enough rope to graze in a circle before being moved. Seeing as how this group was in the middle of the road and traveling with a Holstein, I was pretty sure they weren't pets on a really long leash.

So that raised a question in my brain. Do I stop and perform some Dr. Doolittle work out here in the middle of nowhere to put them back where they belong? Had this been the return trip home, yes, I may have attempted to polish up my stock-handling skills, but this was V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N! This was vacation in its infancy. Key point. Loose animals would remain loose while I was a freshly minted tourist. It seemed more fitting out in this country. Sure, there was that interstate a mere 50 yards away, but it was still light enough at that time of the day for even the most drowsy traveler to see a horse before morphing it into a hood ornament at 80 mph.

I saw loose livestock and I didn't do a thing. That's how disengaged from my work I was at that point. Refreshing and sad at the same time.

On it was. I soon realized that what appeared to be loose horses back at the ramp may have in fact been contained. Once you cross the line from Minnesota into South Dakota, one tool of sorts appears regularly that is almost never seen in Iowa. It's the cattle guard gate (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cattle_grid). It lets you play mind games with your livestock by driving over a steel or concrete grate instead of opening and closing a wire or pipe gate that's all vertical and imposing. The critters are too freaked out to attempt to walk across the grate, because it looks cavernous enough to be certain death in their minds, but it's a strong enough slotted grate to support vehicle traffic.

If I had to guess, I'd say my cows would out-think the grate and waltz right through like it was a red carpet and they were headed to the Kodak Theater on Oscar Night. If you've never heard a cow giggle with delight before, listen closely the first time I turn them loose after putting in a cattle guard as the entire herd walks through it without breaking their pace while humming the Andy Williams classic, "Born Free."

But before I could give up all hope of encountering true free-rangers while on vacation, the word "fortuitous" came up and smacked me upside the head. It was in the form of a road sign. (A photo of me with it is attached.) I must have one for my very own. Something tells me a certain deputy from the Winneshiek County Sheriff's Department would help me get it installed. If nothing else, he'd provide me the sworn testimony I'd need to convince the County Engineer that its placement in my neighborhood would be factually in the ballpark, if not right on the money.
Guy No. 2