Tuesday, May 12 – Goodbye Colorado
We been at Rocky Mountain National Park for 8 nights. Moraine Campground has had few campers since we arrived but now it’s starting to fill up with college students. It must be time for their summer break. It’s also time for us to move on. We need to be in Chicago for a family wedding at the end of May and Rapid City seems like a good place to leave the Airstream for a couple of weeks. Nearby is Devil’s Tower, the Badlands National Park, Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse Monument, Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park. I never knew South Dakota has so much to offer.
It’s about 4 o’clock as we pull into the Lewis Park Campground in Wheatland Wyoming. Lewis Park Campground offers 30 amp service and best of all it’s free! It’s part of a city park just off I-25 making it a great stopover spot for the night. We towed the Airstream 165 miles today and will drive another 200 miles tomorrow to reach Wind Cave National Park, about 30 miles south of Rapid City.
Wind Cave National Park – Thursday May 14
We arrived at Wind Cave National Park yesterday and we’re one of only two campers here. There’re no hookups other than a shared water spigot but at $9 a night, who can complain? Today’s weather is perfect with bright blue sunny skies and a high of 70 degrees so this is not a day to spend underground. As its name implies, Wind Cave NP is best known for its caves. The park covers 52 square miles but concealed beneath its surface lies 140 miles of explored cave passageways, one of the largest in the world. Cindy and I have no interest in caves, so we head out to explore the park.
Along our drive we see elk, deer, pronghorn, countless prairie dogs and lots of bison. Most of the wildlife is far from the road but the bison are everywhere. We’ll be here 3 more nights then head 30 miles north to Custer State Park.
Custer State Park – Monday May 18th
Custer State Park is no ordinary state park. At first, we were put off by the $15 weekly entrance fee but once we started driving around this massive park, it seemed more like a National Park than a State Park. At 71,000 acres, it’s twice the size of Wind Cave National Park to its south. The park contains multiple campgrounds, scenic drives including a wildlife drive, historic lodges and cabins, restaurants and drop-dead gorgeous scenery. With snow in tomorrow’s forecast, we decide today is a good time to see Mt. Rushmore.
Best Way to Visit Mt. Rushmore
We’re staying at the Game Lodge Campground near the eastern side of Custer State Park. Nearby, Highway 16A turns north where it becomes known as the Iron Mountain Road, a route made famous for its scenic, one-lane tunnels aligned to frame the faces on Mount Rushmore. The road twists and turns and climbs ever higher. We see very few cars on our drive. I know we’re getting close but so far we haven’t seen it. We finally come to one of the famous tunnels and see Mt. Rushmore for the first time. I stop the truck to take a few photos. Seeing Mount Rushmore in person after a lifetime of seeing it in textbooks, movies, and elsewhere gives me a special feeling that’s hard to put into words. As a result, we decide to forego visiting it up close. From what we’ve heard, the monument has a shopping mall atmosphere with a multi-story parking garage, gift shop and crowds of tourists. We prefer remembering it in the solitude of its natural surroundings.
Tuesday May 19th – It’s snowing again??!!
Do they have summer in South Dakota? We wake up to a couple inches of snow and decide to treat ourselves to breakfast out. On the way, we’ll drive the wildlife loop in search of wild burros. We had made this trip yesterday but only saw bison. Perhaps the snow has made the burros hungry and we’ll see them on our way to the Blue Bell Lodge. If so, Cindy is ready with the carrots.
Along the way, Cindy and I see pronghorn…
While feeding wildlife in the park is prohibited, an exception is made for the “begging burros” descended from pack animals once used for treks to the Harney Peak summit.
After feeding the burros a breakfast of carrots, Cindy and I head to the Blue Bell Lodge for a breakfast of pancakes and a western skillet.
After breakfast, we head for the Needles Highway, a scenic route known for its needle-like rock formations. As we turn onto the Needles Highway, signs warn us of narrow tunnels, steep grades and numerous switchbacks. No trucks or trailers are allowed. I hope they’re not referring to big pickup trucks.
We come to a tunnel that’s only 8 feet, 4 inches wide. It’s a tight fit but we make it through…
Thursday, May 21st – Badlands National Park
Tomorrow’s Friday, the start of Memorial Day Weekend. We don’t like to arrive at a new campground on Friday, especially on a holiday weekend so we’re leaving today to secure a first-come, first-served spot at Sage Creek Campground in the Badlands National Park. We stop off at Walmart and Petco in Rapid City to stock up on supplies. Sage Creek Campground has no hookups and is a long way from town so we need to go prepared.
As we drive down the gravel road leading into the campground, a couple of bull bison line the road. It’s remote out here and I sense these guys don’t see many visitors. As we slowly drive by, the largest of the bison objects to our presence and charges the truck, stopping short of striking us.
The campground is mostly empty when we arrive and we select a spot by the horse hitching posts. After settling in, we take Trixie and Eddie for a walk around the campground loop. On our way out, Cindy almost steps on what appears to be a rattlesnake. We later determine it’s a non-venomous bull snake. Needless to say, we are both shaken up by the experience.
On returning, we find a visitor by the Airstream. Now we have to decide to walk by the area where we saw the snake or continue past the bison. If we make it back safely, an extra large Margarita is in order.
Friday, May 21st – A New Day at Sage Creek Campground
Despite our encounters with a charging bison and an impostor rattlesnake, Sage Creek Campground is quite nice. Cindy and I head up the hill outside the Airstream door for a morning hike.by