A Wild West Adventurer Part 2 Devils Tower National Monument to Mount Rushmore
by Laurie Pedrick
The story continues here....
Along the way to Badlands National Park, we stopped at the Minute Man Missile site D9 at exit 116 and the Visitors Center at exit 131 off highway 90. Next stop was Badlands which was just a short trip down the road. We also drove through Sturgis, South Dakota home to the Biggest Biker Rally around! Important information.... get fuel (especially diesel) in Rapid City as the prices in Wall are about twenty five cents per gallon higher.
As we drove through the entrance to the campground the gal at the gate warned us of an impending storm. It rained quite heavily for twenty to thirty minutes and the temperatures dropped about twenty degrees in that time. But the sun came back out and things started to dry out After a bit, we decided to take a walk to the Visitors Center to get our National Parks Passport stamped and to look over some of the many things they had to offer in this park. On our way back to the campsite we also stopped at the Cedar Pass store and restaurant to see if there was any item we just could not live without. Since this was a no fire campground, we decided that this would be a great opportunity for some night shots and to also see what the Ranger talk had to offer. Ranger Lydia gave us a presentation on the creatures of Badlands and it was very informative. The night shots came out pretty well, I think. We will know better when they are on the computer!
Day five found us on our way to the world famous Wall Drug. Along the route out of the park we saw lots of wild life including a herd of mountain goats. Wile Wall Drug is a bit of a tourist trap in my estimation, but very interesting nonetheless. We also stopped in at the local Ace Hardware (not a Home Depot in sight!) where we got a few things including a sweatshirt for JP. A quick stop for a few groceries and ice and we were on our way towards Wind Cave National Park. There is a winding road to get to this park with the bonus of great scenery along the way. With just enough time to get our Passport stamped and a shirt for me, it was time to take a tour of the Cave. The Visitors Center is well kempt and our guide was very informative and the cave was different than some others we have seen. There was quite a large group on the tour with quite a few folks that were traveling together. They found themselves hilarious! After our tour, we headed to the Wind Cave Campground which we had been told was quite sparse. We were pleasantly surprised to find the fire ban was lifted, so we had one of our favorite things, a campfire. This was a great location for evening shots. Since we had started our fire we were unable to attend the Ranger talk that evening. It was a subject we had a great interest in ... the night sky - hope to see a similar program at one of our other stops along the way.
Day six saw us rising early to get on the road to Jewel Cave, Crazy Horse and the Rafter J Ranch RV Campground. We chose the Rafter J for our first "civilized campground" because they had both showers and a laundry. While the price was a bit more than I really wanted to pay, they have many amenities available. You can arrange a rental car with the office, they have a pool, basketball court, playground and very close to the Mickelson Bike Trail (a part of the Rails to Trails). With the bikes with us, we took advantage of the access and rode down to the store, to breakfast and the like while we spent our two days there. As I mentioned they have a laundromat, so we got the chance to wash our clothes and also take a nice long hot shower.
Along the way to Rafter J we stopped at Jewel Cave with the intention of taking the tour. A word to the wise, make a reservation ahead of time. This is a very popular cave and we were disappointed that the wait was over three hours for a tour. With this location being so remote, we just decided to try for the next day and headed back towards Custer and onto the Crazy Horse site. Crazy Horse is a huge undertaking and will not be completed for many years, but what is complete at this time is worth seeing for sure. There is a nonprofit foundation that is completing the sculpture which is the largest in the world. Be sure to take the bus tour that takes you to the base of the mountain.
After getting a few things to take back to our kids, we were on our way to the Rafter J. Staff was pleasant and helpful. As I mentioned, they have many things available here, including a small store and every morning they serve up pancakes and biscuits and gravy. They have security that patrols the park at "quiet time" which is nice. We had another great campfire and dinner and called it a night - but not before we had a great lightning and thunder show. JPs Smart phone kept warning him of severe weather, but it passed to the north of us and gave us a show more than any severe weather.
Day seven arose with a dilemma on our part. Could we see Jewel Cave, do the 1880 Train in Hill City and Mount Rushmore all in one day? In a word, yes! I called the Cave before we had breakfast - had to get another bike ride to and from camp in....made our reservations and away we went on a whirlwind day of activity. Jewel Cave was certainly worth going back for. The formations were very different from Wind Cave and the tour a bit more strenuous. There are over seven hundred stairs in this tour while Wind Cave was about four hundred. After our tour, we beat feet for the 1880 train in Hill City. We stopped and had a pulled pork sandwich at the snack bar along with an ice cold beer. Great place to slake our thirst and hunger. The train ride was informative and with a transit time of just about an hour in each direction, provided plenty of time to take lots of photos of the scenery. The train crosses the same road twenty times on its way to Keystone, South Dakota and must blow its whistle at every crossing. We've all seen the movies when folks are having a conversation and must stop mid-sentence because of a load noise - this was just like that. This became funny after a while. The stop in Keystone is entirely too short if you take the last train of the day, so wished we had gotten and earlier train, but we rolled with it.... we are already talking of making plans to go back the future and maybe see more of Keystone at that time.
So off we went from the 1880 train to have dinner and then onto Mount Rushmore. Admittedly we really did not allow much time for this as well, but we did have time to take the trail; and plenty of photos. The Sculptors Studio was closed by the time we arrived via the trail, and we did not have time to see the Visitors Center before the evening lighting Ceremony started. Loved the bits of history and patriotism mixed together. Makes you proud to be an American.
Sometimes in todays political climate we can be made to feel as though we should apologize for being Americans, but at this place, at this time, you wanted to hold your hand over your heart and proudly sing the National Anthem along with the thousands of others that were there with you.
Next day.... onto the Homestead!
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