Friday morning we left the Badlands and headed west across the plains. As the rocky formations retreated into the distance, the terrain quickly flattened and turned into a sea of grass spotted with an occasional heard of grazing cattle.
The drive itself was pretty unremarkable. Grass and cattle with hardly a tree in sight. My favorite sight appeared outside of Rapid City. We’ve seen a few of these dinos at Sinclair gas stations (I think it’s their Mascot), but this one was just in the middle of nowhere on the side of the road.
We planned our route to go past Mount Rushmore so we could make a quick stop. The place was packed but they had plenty of RV parking.
We walked through the visitors center where there’s a very nice display chronicling the construction of the monument and its importance to the area. Long ago the Black Hills economy was based on the abundant natural resources in the area, but now thanks in large part to Mt Rushmore, it’s all about the tourism. You can tell. The whole area is tailor made for families on vacation. Whether its Reptile World, Flintstone’s Bedrock City, Custer’s wild west downtown, the several caves in the area, or the many trails to hike- this place is a vacationer’s dream. Although we’re not on vacation, we do still like to take in the tourist sites from time to time, so the stop at Rushmore seemed warranted. The best part of the visit? This sign that told us it was practically our patriotic duty to eat ice cream. Okay…not really. But since Jefferson was looking down on us at the time, it seemed like we should partake in some of the delicious dessert that he helped create!
Remember last time I mentioned the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and how many people were expected to be swarming the area this coming week? Well, although the rally officially starts on Monday, many, many attendees have already arrived. The streets of every town we drove though were lined with motorcycles. Custer even had the middle lane of Main street roped off for motorcycle parking.
Despite our fear that all the campgrounds for miles would be full, we got a spot with no problem at a small national forest campground near Custer State Park. Bismarck Lake campground is pretty typical as far as national forest campgrounds go. It has around 30 sites situated on a windy road with vault toilets and no hook ups or dump station. The sites are pretty good size but we had to park the truck sideways in front of the trailer so we didn’t stick out into the road. Anyone with a camper much larger than ours would not have fit in this campground. Our only complaint was the price. Twenty four dollars a night, plus a two dollar per night fee for dogs. Really South Dakota? Twenty-six bucks for a campground with vault toilets and no hookups? All the other forest service campgrounds we’ve stayed at have cost well under $20 a night. Like I said though, this is a very touristy area. I shudder to think how much the private parks must charge.
Because of the motorcycle rally we only planned on staying one night. Originally we were going to take our time and explore the area, but we’re selfish and didn’t want to share the hills with 400,000 motorcycles. We did manage to sneak in a visit to Wind Cave National Park before heading out this morning. The road to the cave was really scenic with lots of wild life. We saw pronghorn antelope, bison and tons of prairie dogs.
We went on a guided tour of the cave that took us almost 200 feet down into the earth. Luckily we got to take an elevator back up. This cave is known for a geologic feature called boxwork. Over the years carbolic acid (water mixed with co2) has eaten away at the limestone leaving behind these papery looking web-like formations.
After leaving the cave we drove west into Wyoming. Although not a very long drive in distance, it seemed long because there was absolutely nothing to see. This next photo pretty much sums up the journey.
Right now we’re enjoying a night of free camping at a public park in Douglas, WY. While not exactly a destination spot, it’s not too bad for one night – and the price is right.
Tomorrow we continue west in search of some big mountains.