Sunday, July 20, 2014

Wind Cave, Custer Park and Mount Rushmore in Fabulous South Dakota

We left Bozeman, Montana on Tuesday morning, with a fond farewell to Jane, childhood friend of Lizz.  Jane was a such a fun and gracious hostess, and she made our stay enormously special!  So a big thank you to my new friend Jane!!  But it was time to get back in the car, and we made one stop on the way out of town, at the fish hatchery to see the trout.
They were very colorful and quite large, and it gave me a chance to see first hand what all the fishing gear is for in Montana! 

We grabbed some snacks for the road, heading to our next destination of the Custer Park/Mount Rushmore KOA Campgrounds in Custer, South Dakota.  I tried out the Huckleberry Yogurt, a flavor you don't see in Los Angeles.  Very yummy!
It was to prove to be one our longest driving days, with a distance of 494 miles, and a time of just over eight hours.  We crossed Montana and Wyoming, and one of the last things we saw before finally crossing into South Dakota was Upton, Wyoming, the self proclaimed best town on earth.
So thankful we didn't miss that!  We rolled into our campground with just enough daylight left to set up the tents and have dinner.  And thanks again to Jane, we enjoyed leftover salmon from Bozeman, along with rice and asparagus, and it was delightful.
The next morning we headed towards Mount Rushmore and Wind Cave, and decided instead to start out with a drive through Custer Park.  The park afforded the possibility of seeing buffalo in the wild, and we were all for that.  On the road to Custer Park, there are some low bridges, and the RV'er in front of us should have checked his RV App before he started out.  Not sure how he planned to make it through this tiny hole,
and to complicate matters, now here comes a guy from the other side with the same problem!
Luckily we were able to scoot around both of them and left them to figure it out.  Stopping at a lookout point, Lizz pointed out a tree full of woodpecker holes. 
Upon entering the park, we paid the fifteen dollar entrance fee to the park and visited the first scenic stop, which was a gorgeous lake, with people enjoying kayaking, fishing and rock climbing.
 Continuing on to Needles highway, there were spectacular rock formations.

and tunnels carved right out of the rock.  This photo gives you an idea of the scale.
The views were breathtaking.
Moving out of the Needles area, it remained a beautiful drive with many areas to picnic along the way, finishing at the south end of the park with the Wildlife Loop.  We opted to go visit Wind Cave first, and then come back closer to sunset to do the Loop. 

At Wind Cave, we signed up for the Natural Entrance Tour, and we had some time to kill before the tour, so I enjoyed the wildflowers,
 while Lizz stretched out on the grass for a tiny nap,
which was great until a passerby warned her about rattlesnakes in the area.  It was a little harder to sleep after that.  But soon the tour began, consisting of a group of forty led by Ranger Volunteer Meredith, who was very perky and funny, and started by showing us the original entrance to the cave, which is the hole in the picture below.
According to the legend, Tom and Jesse Bingham discovered Wind Cave in 1881 when the wind blowing out of this cave hole was so strong that it blew Tom's hat off his head.  Fortunately we did not have to climb into this same hole to start our tour.  You may remember from our escapade in Simojovel, Chiapas, Mexico that I am not that fond of confined spaces!  It wasn't until the tour was about to begin that Meredith let us know that head clearance in some parts of the cave tour was 5 feet 5 inches, and her last remark was that if anyone suddenly realized that they were claustrophobic, now was a good time to leave the tour.  Now I was feeling a little nervous.  But Lizz volunteered to be the last in line to make sure we didn't lose anyone, and I decided to be a trooper and stayed right in front her, as we began the descent of 150 stairs into the cave.
As you can see from this photo, the passages were short and narrow, opening into slightly larger rooms.  At one point, as we were all walking single file, the lights suddenly went out and we were in complete darkness.  It was unnerving.  Fortunately I had my headlamp from camping along in my purse!  I highly recommend you bring one on your next cave tour.
Once I put that baby on I was good to go, and I left that headlamp on for the rest of the tour, just in case.  You can see in this photo that I just barely clear this part of the passage, which was also a little unnerving.   
One of the many interesting formations in the cave.
We did a headcount when we finished and all forty were present and counted for.  Good job, Lizz, of keeping the troops together.  When I asked Meredith if anyone ever gets lost, her answer was yes!  So stay with your group if you take this tour.  Also, I was told that there have been reports of paranormal activity in the cave, so there's that.  But in spite of it all, this tour was really fun, and Wind Cave is a must see if you are in the area.

We drove back to Custer Park to take the Wildlife Loop, and we were not disappointed.  We saw
tiny prairie dogs that made a cute squeaky, barky sound,
 Prong Horned Antelope,
and goats.
But the wildlife got bigger than that.  Much bigger.
When they said large wildlife, they weren't kidding.  The most magnificent animals we saw that day, up close and personal, were buffalo.
When we saw one munching grass just across the road from us, I jokingly asked Lizz, who was driving, what she would do if the buffalo actually walked out on the road.  Right after I said that, the buffalo DID walk right out on to the road.  At this point, a sign flashed in my head.
I wanted so badly to disobey this sign, to get a shot of this gigantic, prehistoric looking creature.  But I didn't want to be the girl you read about in the park brochure, in the "Don't Do This" section.  So I resisted my urge to get out of the car and run up to him for a picture, and instead captured a glimpse of him through the rear passenger window.  Unfortunately this view did not include his head, but you get the idea at least of how close he was.
Well the day just seemed to get better and better, and we decided to top it off with a visit to Mount Rushmore, which stays open late.  On the winding drive on 16-A from Custer Park to "The Heads" we were tickled to discover that you can actually see them from the road, without entering the park.  And the closer we got, the more dramatic they became.  It was the icing on the cake that day.
Exhausted, we finished the evening with home made Calzone at Pizza Works in Custer before going back to camp.  It was fresh and fabulous.

This area of South Dakota is filled with amazing gems, and I can't wait to go there again, because there is so much to discover.  I fell into bed a very happy camper that night, and slept like a baby.

I hope you all sleep well, too, and thanks for following along.

xoxo Linda

1 comment:

  1. I've never been to SD thanks for sharing your adventure two are making me antsy to go on a road trip!!! :)