Wind Cave & Custer State Park
Tuesday, May 19
We’ve landed in another KOA for a few days. This one in Hot Springs, SD. We planned on camping in either Wind Cave National Park, or somewhere in Custer State Park – both have nice campgrounds, but the weather has gotten quite cold up at around 5500’, so we opted for hook-ups and lower elevation. We are further away from the areas we want to visit, but with the rain and snow, dirt roads we would have used to get in will be pretty mucky.
We spent a cold quiet morning inside, but got it together and got outafter lunch. Up to Wind Cave National Park for a tour into one of the caves. We generally don’t go in for cave hikes. While seeing the formations is pretty interesting, it is always a large group that has to shuffle single file through the passageway looking at whatever happens to be highlighted by harsh lights. No way to photograph in this situation, so I usually just take a few reference shots and spend more time looking.There were interesting things to see – stuff called boxwork – almost exclusively in these caves. After the intro, our guide led us to the only natural opening known to exist. Its is a 2 ft. diameter hole and was discovered when 2 hunters heard some rattling in the brush. Turned out to be air being expelled from this opening. It blew their hats off and can “breathe” at up to 70 mph in or out.
We proceeded on to the airlock entrance and then down the first of 300 steps. Almost immediately the word was passed up from the rear, that someone was feeling sick and arrangements had to be made to retrieve that person. The rest of the 30 of us continued down and around the caverns. We stopped at a few of the more remarkable rooms before gathering at the end for the ride up in the elevators.After the tour, we headed out of the park up to Custer State Park. The clouds were higher now so we had better light and we thought a ride on the Wildlife Loop portion would be nice this time of the afternoon. What there is to see are bison, pronghorn, elk, prairie dogs, wild burro’s, marmots and various prairie birds. On the first portion, we found some nice landscape scenes worth stopping for.We were quite surprised to first come upon the bison. Many had calved and their offspring were prancing about. Further on, we came upon a group of wild burros, a few who also had their foals. As we sat and watched, a bus pulled up and stopped. The driver exited and proceeded to entice the burro’s over to him with Cheeto’s. It worked. From like a quarter mile off, the burro’s slowly began the march over. I hate to see this, but I must admit to enjoying the shots I got because of his stupid actions. Just a little way up the road again, we were greeted by a single pronghorn antelope. I really liked it’s molted coat and the way it seemed to consider us harmless before drifting off down the hill. Mary spotted this marmot by the side of the road. There were lots of them – all hanging around sunny outcroppings of rock.It was getting late and we still had the 40 miles back to camp to drive, so we headed out. I have to comment here on the well behaved white-tail deer that are everywhere around Custer. Somehow, against all nature, they have learned to jump AWAY from the car instead of right into it. We watched as time after time, they reversed course and jumped back off the road or into the forest. You Go White-tails!
Crazy Horse & Sylvan LakeOn Wednesday we woke to more cold and low clouds with just a bit of slushy snow on the ground. The forecast called for clearing later in the afternoon so we decided another trip up to Custer, by way of the Crazy Horse Monument, would work out well. Too much driving of course, but it seems the best way to go on these unpredictable kinds of days.On the way up we encountered everything from rain to sleet and a bit of snow. The driving was easy, except for when we discovered the way we wanted to go was closed – after we drove 10 miles to get there. We had to reroute to Crazy Horse first, instead of doing the lake hike we had in mind.This actually worked out well for us. I was worried the monument would be fog covered or have too heavy clouds above it. No fog, but plenty of featureless clouds. But while we were there it began to clear, and before we left, was more sky than clouds. We’ve been here two previous times and very little seems to have changed in those 7 years. Only when you read the info and watch a video or two do you understand where to see the changes. They are in the process, of contouring the front of the mountain in order to work on the horse’s head. Maybe in another 20 years we may see it.
Back to CusterOnce we finished at Crazy Horse, we still really wanted to hike around Sylvan Lake. It was still early enough despite our detour to do this 1 mile walk. We arrived just as the sun broke out.The lake was like glass in many places, and the huge slabs or rock around the rim reflected in a most enjoyable way. Light was constantly changing, and we enjoyed the path that runs first along the lake, then later down and behind it. The trail continues back around the lake before returning to the parking area. This is a short but sweet walk that aways yields plenty of nice sights. It was nearly 7 PM by the time we started back to camp in Hot Springs. The scenic road on the way out twists and turns up into a rocky pinnacle-like area with narrow single car tunnels. There were turnout in which to stop and take in the views.We were back in an hour, tired but happy. Tomorrow we drive to Badlands National Park to wait out the holiday. We reserved about the last RV site left available so there is no pressure to get in and with bad weather moving again, having electric will be convenient.