July 24-28,18; Day 32-35
Black Hills, South Dakota
Mt. Rushmore, Jewel Cave, Wind Cave, Bandlands
One night in tiny but amazing Lovell, Wyoming. They offer a small, free campground behind the city park (with showers!!). Add to that a small honey processing plant that sells wholesale honey, beeswax, and honey candies AND a drive-through Espresso hut, we were smitten. You could say we supported their economy more than enough to make up for the free camping.
Our final major stop put us in Black Hills, South Dakota, our 11th state. We added two unexpected National Parks to our list- Jewel Cave and Wind Cave. Wind Cave has very close tunnels and caverns, totally different from Carlsbad or Mammoth. It is a dry cave, created by wind and ancient waters that left behind formations called boxwork. Jewel and Wind are the only caves known to have established boxwork instead of stalactites and stalagmites.
Friday found us on a scenic drive to Mt. Rushmore. There are three short tunnels cut into the mountainside so they each frame Mt. Rushmore as you go through. Suddenly the mountain was in view. Getting into the visitor center was like driving downtown D.C. and visiting one of the monuments. People and cameras were EVERYWHERE! That’s what we get for sleeping in. We had planned on a short hike and more time in the outdoor viewing area, but a severe thunderstorm kept us in the museum. I have to say the story of the sculpture and the men who carved it was fascinating. However, we left cold and wet, with many unanswered questions, like “why doesn’t Lincoln have an ear?” and “why did they leave the space between Roosevelt and Lincoln empty?” “How did his son Lincoln decide it was finished?” We drove home the long way, through Custer State Park and the Needles Scenic Byway. The Needles are tall rock formations in the Black Hills that stick up like fingers or needles. Headed back to the campsite a bit early, Keith spied a Pie Shop in town. Who could resist Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie on a rainy day?
Saturday marked the end to week 5 and the final National Park on our wish list. We drove through Badlands National Park- a small strip of protected land east of Mt. Rushmore and home to some interesting rock formations and wildlife. At first I wondered if we should just stay on the interstate and move towards home- the boys were over the “overlooks” and “scenic routes” where Keith and I would keep saying “put down your book and look around, you might see something fantastic!” But as soon as we entered the park I knew we were in the right place. The Badlands are made up of mini-rock mountains and canyons with bands of colors similar to the Painted Desert. Suddenly we were back where we started- the desert- with green mesa tops and washout gullies and red and blue stripes across the side of the mounds. But these had a layer of green and a few trees, hints of the forest and woods we were accustomed to since coming north. For me it was the perfect closure, as it encompassed all the different lovely pieces of our experience out west.
As we left the visitor center at the edge of the park and headed towards the interstate, I had all but given up on seeing the last animal on my wildlife list- the bighorn sheep. As the rock mounds turned to meadow and grassland, and the canyons became less deep, I spied a beautiful pair of curled horns sticking up out of the grass!! And sure enough to confirm my sighting, we spotted another one sitting in the grass with his back to us, enjoying the sunshine. We were driving by too fast to get a picture (and it’s hard to turn around with the camper). But I saw it with my own two eyes. And I had to laugh at God’s goodness for granting me my wish in those final moments.
Soaking in the wilderness for the last time, I felt the shift of turning towards home. I cannot believe we haven’t had more trouble or difficulties, or even sickness. Almost every evening we say, “I’m so tired but It’s been such a fantastic day!” Our legs are tired, our bodies are tired, our minds are overloaded with landscape. We are full and satisfied.