When we visit the National Parks we feel like we're home. Since our last blog entry, we drove to Devils Tower in Wyoming; America's first National Monument. In previous traveling years we've skirted this place but never visited. In the middle of mostly flat country is this huge rock, jutting out of the earth, measuring 867 ft from its base and 1000 ft in diameter. You may remember seeing it in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. We camped below it in a quiet little campground in the curve of the Belle Fourche River. In the evening we went to a ranger talk and in the dark someone pointed out a light on the side of Devils Tower. These were climbers that apparently had miscalculated their time and the ranger said they were also repelling down the most difficult side. More than 5,000 climbers come here every year from all over the world to ascend the massive columns. There are rescue rangers on duty but the one assigned for that day went to bed; tired of waiting for them to reach the bottom. According to the ranger they would have heard them yell or received a call from their cell phone if they had a problem.
After 35 years of marriage, Dick and I still have communication problems. His plan was "to walk the 1-1/2 miles to the visitor center and then take the loop around the tower." What he didn't say was we'd be hiking 1-1/2 miles of switchbacks up the side of a mountain to get there. I must admit it was a beautiful climb looking back down over the valley and the river. I'm actually getting better at this uphill climbing. I've acclimated to the higher elevation and I've hiked many trails on this trip that have strengthened my up hill climbing muscles.
Devils Tower is also a sacred site to American Indian tribes throughout the U.S. We saw several prayer bundles along the trail. I really wanted to stay longer but we decided we'd better keep going since we need to be home in a week and we still have so much we want to see.
We traveled next to Wind Cave National Park in Wyoming, seeing lots of wildlife - buffalo, prairie dogs, elk, turkeys, mule and white tail deer, antelope, mountain bluebirds etc.... We went to the evening program and the energetic ranger tells the audience of around 40 people that she would like us to follow her by car to a prairie where we could listen to the elk bugling. As we walked out into this field in the dark, we passed buffalo and walked around prairie dog holes, and then everyone sat very still under the stars and listened to the bugling in the distance. One of the reasons we love the National Parks so much is the ranger led walks and talks. We learn so much and we meet great people. So this leads me to the best part of the bugling experience. As you know, from Dick's last blog, the starter on the Saturn is shot. After too many arguments trying to push start it, we have decided to just keep it hooked up to the motorhome until we get home. Consequently, we needed a ride to the prairie bugling. A couple, who recently moved to South Dakota from Louisiana, willingly volunteered. After an evening of talking and laughing to and from the prairie, we exchanged contact information and Robin even had Dick take a picture of she and I for her Facebook. Great people. It reminded us that oftentimes good things come from bad situations. I didn't mind that our Saturn wasn't starting.
We were up before sunrise and the prairie dogs so we could see wildlife as we headed for the Badlands National Park. A unique beauty of its own, this place is located in southwestern South Dakota, and consists of nearly 244,000 acres of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires with a grass prairie mixed in. It's hard to believe there is anything living in this arid place but it is home to so much wildlife.
This is the last national park on this trip. Now we are looking forward to getting to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and enjoying the beautiful fall colors, but know we have three long days of driving to get there.
Dick's Comments: Coming out of Cody, Wyo. I again tested the motorhome transmission getting up, over and through the Big Horn Mountains. That type of climbing sucks the petro, but worth the price of admission. We love the little town of Ten Sleep at the base of the Big Horns. Ten Sleep got its name by being ten sleeps (nights) between the Great Sioux Camps and the Platte River to the South, and the northern camp located near Bridger, Montana. We always feel like we have arrived home when we enter National Parkland. Devils Tower was no exception. We are so incredibly fortunate that these areas were set aside and protected for generations to come.
Besides the vast array of wildlife viewing opportunities in Wind Cave National Park and Custer State Park in the Black Hills region of South Dakota, the caves themselves are fun to explore with a ranger. We didn’t do a cave tour on this trip, but instead spent our time hunting for wildlife.
It is so easy to start friendships when traveling. This trip has been no exception. We met an interesting family at Devils Tower who travel, home school their daughter and publish a magazine “Airtstream Life” online and in print.
Another couple we met in Wind Cave became fast friends. In a short span of time we got acquainted, plus pulled over by park police. Dave and Robin and their lab puppy, Dakota, are avid hunters, especially bow hunting. Robin was telling us how she met Dave in a taxidermist shop. She actually set him up. “In hunting circles,” Dave says, “it’s called baiting.” Robin’s girlfriend ran the taxidermy shop. Robin had her eye on Dave and told her girlfriend to call if he showed up in the shop. The call came in and Robin made a 911 whistle-run for the taxidermy shop. It only took one of cupid’s arrows from her quiver to bag her buck. The rest is history. We laughed so hard our sides hurt.
The park police pulled us over because a headlight was out. None of us had seat-belts on, Robin gave the officer expired proof of insurance and Dakota just wanted to lick him. He didn’t ticket us but we were so confused we missed the campground turnoff in the dark. I think we could make a lot more friends if we didn’t haul a car around with us.
A trip out this way would not be complete without a traditional stop at “Wall Drug” and a loop through the Badlands. Our weather has been almost perfect on this trip but we were blown into the Badlands National Park. The wind and storms can be ferocious in the plains and especially here it seems. The last time we camped in Badlands National Park we watched a large troop of Boy Scouts take shelter in their vehicles as they watched their tents blow across the prairie like tumbleweeds. It comes with the territory I guess. A good place to earn your Long Tent Stake Merit Badge. --Keep Smilin