8/10/2014 a rest stop on i90 between Sturgis and that place that is east of Sturgis
I got my second Junior Ranger badge, and third total at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Honestly that park is going to be one of my topsies, it is really pretty! It is flatter than the Utah parks, but it has some nice buttes and the grasslands just do that iconic thing of being pretty and wafting in the wind. The sunsets are nice because the buttes catch the light in just such a way. The skies could twinkle a little more; they don’t have the clarity that was present in the Adirondacks or by Big Sur on the ocean. Those have been the top skies thus far. I spent two wonderful nights at TRNP, and considered staying a third but decided the road must go on.
Currently I am going to car sleep nearish Mt Rushmore, so I can knock it off in the morning and then go to Wind Cave NP. It doesn’t look like there is camping in the park, so I’ll probably head East after that towards Badlands, depending on timing. I’m right now in a sort of cluster of things to do. I wish I could sleep at this rest stop but it seems to be one of the “no sleepy overs” ones, but I’m sure there is a Walmart nearby. I’m near a big enough city. I’m just going to sit at this rest stop a while, do some computer things and charge the devices and load up the MP3 player. I get three hours here, I’m going to use them! Plus driving while the sun is setting is no fun at all.
So, Theodore Roosevelt National Park. There is a North Unit and a South Unit. North Unit is 52 miles North on 85 from iwhateverIwason. I drove up there on my second day, which was a nice little drive, and did the drive. A ranger had a telescope set up and he showed the visitors the deer through it, so that was cool to see. There was lightning in the distance and a thunderstorm/scattered showers warning, but wonderfully it only barely rained for 5 minutes in the evening! Still on the second day I had unloaded everything from my tent just in case it rained while I was gone. I’ve learned me a thing or two! The North Unit was a bit, well, absent. Not much going on, but it is a pretty isolated park. But it didn’t have the road construction that was going on at South Unit. Dirt washboard as dad put it. I went slow, to the annoyance of other drivers, and my car is riding fine. Doesn’t seem mad at me, though it does seem like it wants a wash. I got in early (sorry this write up is happening after the fact so it is rather disjointed) on the first day, so I got almost three whole days at the park, plus a bit of a fourth as I was leaving. I got my site first, it was in the walk in tent section, but my spot just had about 15 feet from where my car was parked to my tent area. I opted for walk in not because of availability, but just because I have a smaller car and less stuff, so I figured I’d leave a place for someone with more stuff. Got the tent up and I went to do the scenic loop around the park.
I had my fingers crossed that I would be able to see a Prairie Dog, but dang did I see many more than one! The loop went through several towns, and they were all over the place making little meep meep meep squeaky noises. Cute little creatures, though at the second ranger talk I attended I found out they cannibalize each other’s young! Aggh! Grotesque! I still bought a plushie, to go with the bison from my 2011 Utah trip and the turtle from 2013 Hawaii. I’ve been waiting to see which plushie I get on this trip and it was a prairie dog! Speaking of bison, the first time I got held up in traffic, there was one walking in the lane towards me, with a line of cars being it. I slowed to a stop till it passed me, and continued on. Closest I’ve ever been to one! It gave me some side eye, but I think every eye a bison gives is from the side. The second time a herd was crossing the road. The first night, there was some heavy huffing in the fields by the campground, and me and my campsite neighbors (Jeff, Michael, Bennet, and amazingly: Aunt Lisa and Niece Brynn, for realsies) shown our flashlights out and there were bison in the fields! Pretty far away, but they sure were there! On the last day, I took a little hike but didn’t feel like continuing the hike due to having to wade across the Little Missouri River, but it’s all good because there was a herd of bison across the river just chilling. So many bison! And I saw several wild horses. One walked in the middle of the road, seemingly oblivious to the cars it was holding up. The animals out here both don’t care about humans, but also don’t get close to them. It’s a good combo for wanting to see animals, but not wanting to be threatened by them.
I slept in the first morning, but woke pretty early the second. I changed and then lay in my tent reading for a few hours, before finally packing things up. I’m currently reading The Marriage Plot, and I am loving it! I’m already well past half way, and looking forward to what happens in the end. I’m not sure what I want to happen, I just want to spend more time with the characters.
I got the Junior Ranger pamphlet from the ranger at the Painted Canyon visitor’s center. Her last name was Zylland, and when I commented on never hearing that last name before she said that she and her husband combined their last names when they got married. At the main visitors center I met the other Zylland. The latter Zylland was the ranger who gave the dangerous animals talk, at which I learned about the cannibalism of prairie dogs.
The Junior Ranger book was tough! Lots of activities and very specific things to think about and find, information wise, but I completed it! Ranger Amanda Allen (two first names, another ranger told me not to trust people with two first names but Amanda Allen struck me as very kind and trust worthy AND she was a Hitchhiker’s Guide fan) swore me in with enthusiasm, and I got a round of applause. This ranger badge has a prairie dog on it, not the standard National Park crest.
The hikes at the park unfortunately are a lot of one ways. I prefer loops. I did the Coal Vein Burning Coal Thingy trail and the Wind Canyon trail and a bit of a few others. Very nice views. I drew one of the views for the booklet, and Amanda Allen photocopied it. OKAY SO I HAVE A CRUSH ON AMANDA ALLEN! SHE WAS REALLY NICE! And she did the tour of the Maltese Cabin that Roosevelt lived in. The first night, the ranger talk was actually from a Lacotah man who spoke about the Sibley Campaign and the massacre that followed, as well as about oral traditions, stories, and what the actual local tribes are called.
The best part was just sitting in nature, out in the fields, with a good book and a bottle full of water, and just…being there. Doing nothing much beyond being somewhere very far out, content. That’s really what it is all about. I love this middle of nowhere parks that have great vistas and silence and warmth, and I can just relax so well. Big Bend, Zion, Theodore Roosevelt, Acadia. Well, Acadia was more populous but again I just sort of sat out and enjoyed being there. I’m looking forward to more of this. Driving and driving, setting up my tent, and just that being it. It’ll be a nice way to round out this trip, after seemingly many weeks of driving and activities and doing this and that.
On the way down from the park, along the very straight Highway 85, I went off to see the “Center of the Nation” which is a pile of rocks and a sign that could be painted way better. One of those things you go a little bit (7.8 miles) out of your way to visit because when are you ever going to be on Highway 85 in South Dakota between Buffalo and Sturgis again? I think about that from time to time: when am I going to be here again? Cities are easy enough to fly into, so I don’t mind passing them up, but Theodore Roosevelt National Park? I almost didn’t drive up to the North Unit, but I reasoned it’ll be a while before I’m out here again so I should go and I’m glad that I did.
I dislike the times when I’m waiting till it is late enough for me to doze off to sleep. The few hours to kill till I know I can curl up across my front seas. Timing is sometimes hard to manage like that. I had perfect timing for North Dakota. I’m glad I did that much night driving. I saw Salem Sue, the largest Holstein cow, which is put on a hill overlooking just… what there is to overlook. It was great to look upon the land at night, with the little lights scattered across the nothing. And I could drive slower than the 75 that was asked of me (that just kills my gas mileage) and not fuss with other cars. I slept at a Walmart that was a short drive from the park, and because I crossed into Mountain Time, I arrived even earlier. I’m still adjusting to the new time. It’s good for it to be earlier in the morning, but not in the evening.
Hope all is well with you, sorry this is so late in coming. Wifi has been scarce.
8/11/2014 Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota
I come out of a cave and find out Robin Williams has died. That is just tragic. Depression is a real struggle. I don’t know what to feel.
So uhh… Wind Cave National Park was nice! I decided to go for the tour, and it was really fun! An hour and a bit through caves with box formations, 85% of the world’s type of this formation is found in these caves. How neat! I chatted with Nathan, a guy who is photographing National Parks, and Lillie the tour guide. A nice bunch of people. I’m currently using their wifi as it seems like they won’t close for a while. I’m in the visitor’s center, not the cave, on the wifi. Would be fun if the cave was hooked up like that. The cement path through the cave was built by the CCC and it still holds good! I still say of the caves of this trip, Carlsbad Caverns are the best, but Wind Cave far surpasses Mammoth Caves. Sorry Kentucky!
I slept in my car and in the morning I got ice and cash back, using that cash I did my laundry. Clean shirts, clean socks, clean underwear, clean pillowcases! That should get me through the rest of the trip. Did I mention there was a big motorcycle rally? There are still bikers in the area, which adds a nice flavor to the tourism. Anyway, the laundromat was nice. I did the dated, working atmosphere of them. Got my clothes clean and I went to this bead shop Elnora recommended and picked up a bison tooth to turn into a necklace later on down the road. Then I went to Mount Rushmore!
Where my annual pass didn’t cover parking, but I paid it under the “when am I going to be here again?” clause. Mount Rushmore I am filing under: visit once but that’s really all. It’s a cool sculpture! And great monument to just America and its ideals and all that. And it was built by a Dane, so hurray for that. It seemed smaller in person, maybe because all the photos of it are so close up. I toured the museum and sculpture studio. I pressed a penny. It was very crowded, though not unbearable. Plenty of parking. Would so many people have annual passes that charging for parking is a better option than an entrance fee? Interesting loophole there, America. After two hours I was ready to scoot, so south I went to Wind Cave National Park. As I said I went on the tour. Tomorrow I want to cruise into Badlands National Park and secure some camping and then have fun in the park. The park called Badlands.
Two parks in one day! Whooo!