After making a stop Cabela's (Which I might add is really the main motivation on this trip for driving across one of the most boring stretches of interstate ever. People see a beauty in the sand hills of Nebraska...but I prefer a little more topography. Or....ANY topography at all. But that's just me), anyway, after our stop at Cabela's...we headed north on Highway 385. (I believe I was told this highway goes from Mexico to Canada - just an interesting little tidbit of information.) To the right of the highway, in the middle of nowhere looms this large 'pillar' (for lack of a better word). It piqued our interest and we decided to go check it out. Once we top the small hill in front of us, we see a second 'pillar' as well. these two peaks (again, in the middle of no where) are called Courthouse and Jail rocks. We couldn't resist - out of the truck we went, camera in hand. We spent a little over an hour climbing over it's cracks and crevices, stopping (quite a bit) to check out the scattered flora and occasional jackrabbit. Tom found a feather he thinks belongs to some sort of owl. I'll have to look it up to see for sure. We took nearly a full roll of film and drank the only bottle of water we had with us - which was an afterthought, but a good one, none the less. We could have climbed all afternoon, but the wind, sand, and lack of water and sunblock edged us back towards the truck. On the road again....
The map says this park is on the east side of the highway - its lying! The actual road to Toadstool Park is labeled by a sign as small as a postage stamp. We had to drive on the equivalent of level B roads in Iowa for 11 - yes you heard me, 11 miles. Through prairies, past grazing cattle, and rumbled over around 5 sets of cattle guards on the road. Then we turned onto another road, which looked a heck of allot like the last one...crossed a really gnarly set of railroad tracks, and across yet another cow pasture. Suffice it to say, when we finally got to the park we weren't surprised to see only one other vehicle at the park. Not a tree in sight, not a hill in sight...nothing but a grass pasture with a gravel road looped around it. An outhouse and water well pump...maybe 5 campsites, each with their own covered patio and picnic table. Again, with camera in hand...along with plenty of water and sunblock (yes, we can be taught)..we took to the trail which led to the reason we came. Words cannot describe the place, but since that's all I have, I'll try. It's a moonscape. Their were canyons, cliffs, crystals, fossils, snakes and birds. We climbed and climbed...followed canyons for hours. We could have hiked for days and not seen it all. It was at that time one of us noticed the menacing thunderhead rolling towards us. Have you ever seen the movie Independence Day...where the spaceships first enter the Earth's atmosphere? That's what this thunderhead looked like. Meteorologists would have had a field day with this thing. Now...I won't go into depth about that night. All I can say is tall tent, straight line winds...they don't mix. It was like the tent scene from Blair Witch. Only one of us could get out at a time, one of us had to stay behind and keep the darn thing on the ground. Tom got up numerous times during the storm, moving the truck to block the tent from the wind. It was crazy!!
We were going to stay for the weekend...but when we woke up and it was still raining and blowing...we through all the wet gear in the back of the truck (an obsessive compulsive's nightmare) and starting driving north. We ate breakfast at the Elk Horn Cafe....buffet was pretty good...minus the mystery syrup substance. Then on to the Mammoth Site, bought tickets for the guided tour....but you know us, it didn't last long. About 10 minutes to be exact, before we left our group for our own tour. The place was pretty cool, yet not what I expected. After the tour, back in the truck. Wind Cave National Park.....our destination for the week. All prairie dogs..seriously. It's an ankle twisting nightmare if you were to get out of your vehicle. It seems the construction from the Omaha area, followed us here....you can't get anywhere from where you are. :-) Campsites were very.....RV-ish. No privacy, no trees...just a parking lot. We decided to drive around South Dakota and see if we could find a state park...something a little nicer. We found a really nice little state park (Center Lake, upper campground) not too long after we starting looking. We found an awesome campsite and got everything set up. Then took to the road to see the sights. We drove on the most incredible highway...saw some of the most awesome wildlife....it was wonderful. We finally came across a visitor center. I noticed all the books in this shop were talking about a park called Custer State Park - that must be where we are. "Wow, there are allot of books about this place." Then I noticed even more books with the words "black hills" on them. Holy smokes...."Tom!!! You'll never guess where we ended up!?!?! Have you ever heard of the black hills? That's where we are!" His response "No sh*t?" It was then that I looked up to the man standing behind the cash register. He was wearing a smokey the bear outfit and was shaking his head. People purposefully come to this place...and we ended up here on accident.
We need a motorcycle!!!!!!!!!! They are everywhere. We've met some of the nicest people traveling via motorcycle. One gentleman near us has a trailer he pulls behind his bike. Scooter Schooner to be exact. It's got a friggin' queen sized bed in that little tiny box. I keep thinking of some loony tunes cartoon. It's a tiny box...and it just keeps unfolding and unfolding. :-)
Decided to take in some of the sights listed in the book we bought at the visitor center. Well, we'd already been on Needles Highway...remember that really cool highway I mentioned the day before. Many narrow tunnels and narrow roads surrounded by huge drops, trees and rocks...like you've never seen. Beautiful. I took an entire roll of film from one ledge we crawled out on. Mental note - letting tour buses on this highway is an insane idea...who decided to allow that?) Tom gets frustrated with my nervousness near sharp drop offs while driving. What can I say - that's a long way down!!!!
Drove past Crazy Horse (his head and maybe a little of the horse), did a drive-by of Mount Rushmore (we didn't want to pay to go right up to it, but I did get a cool picture of it from the road), then the Mt. Coolidge Fire Tower. The road to this place made the Needles drop offs pale in comparison. From the fire tower, you can see everything I've talked about so far. Plus the badlands and Harney Peak - which we will hike to on Wednesday. It's a brick tower on the highest peak in South Dakota. 3 mile hike is the only way there.
I've been saying wow quite a bit on this trip, so I'll try and control myself today. But what an awesome day! Wild caving tour, Wind Cave. 3-4 hours climbing around in the dark. You'd think I would have a hard time with this trip, being as claustrophobic as I am....but it was a blast!!! There was really only 1 squeeze that made me nervous, but I did it, no problem. The trick - find the biggest person (in this case, a dude) on the trip...and make sure I'm behind him. If he can make it through, so can I. It worked. We're both pretty sore from the day already - even with knee pads, are knees are bruised up badly. But it was all well worth it. We had to put a leash (of sorts) on Tom. He's such an explorer, no fear to him. the coolest room was probably the Rome Room. Not because the room itself was especially cool, but because there was only one way out. All the other exits led right back into it. "All roads lead to Rome"...well, all but one, that is. There were a couple rooms with 30-35 foot deep pits right at the bottom of the slope you were climbing down, or right under the rock you were climbing over. The start of the tour, you go through this little hole in a wall of the normal guided walking tour. You go through the hole, and stay to the right. Yeah - staying to the right would have been a nice piece of information for me to get BEFORE going through the hole. I went through, and immediately started sliding down...and down....and down. OK, so it was maybe only 5 feet down..but down is never a good thing, I don't care how much it is. Especially when no one else was sliding down...and I'm underground. OK - my heart is working fine. :-) I definitely can't wait to to this trip again, how fun!!! We're going back tomorrow for the walking tour....probably won't be as cool...but should still be fun. Wow!! (ok, I made it through that whole post before saying wow...that's a record!)
You're going to find out how religiously I write in this thing...technically it's 05/27/02. We're getting ready to leave for our vacation this year...but thought I'd better finish writing about last year's first.
I was right...the walking candlelight tour wasn't nearly as cool. Nothing compared to the wild tour the day before. The next couple of days are pretty much a blur. We checked out more sites, etc, etc, but ended up leaving a day early (newly married, still fighting, patience with each other being tested, 'nuff said), but it's a good thing we left when we did. We didn't get the hiking in that we'd hoped to do. We were both terribly sore after the spelunking, and just didn't feel like it. They tell us that the area had a tornado the day we left. Woman's intuition - never doubt it. :-) We drove through the badlands on the way home. What a sight! It was amazing! The little road you have to take to get these is horrible, but it was worth it. We drove home across South Dakota in record time. Never did see a place to eat along the interstate...so we were both getting pretty darn grouchy by the time we got home. But we made it, safe and sound. Good trip all in all!!!