It was a cold night on our first night in the Black Hills, but the kids slept soundly in their sleeping bags. I, on the other hand, felt cold all night and had a rough time sleeping with the kids tossing and turning. It was close quarters in our tent, as I've mentioned, and they even complained of being too close to one another. We had the two of them sleep in the middle while R and I slept on the edges. Even in lieu of the rough evening, I felt good in the AM, maybe because we went to sleep so early.
I woke up first and went for a walk. The early morning light was beautiful, and the quiet and solitude peaceful. The camp was fairly small, in a somewhat linear pattern, and as I walked around, I noticed that they had firewood for sale, which was the case in most places. This campsite was unique in that it was based on the honor system. You took what you needed and left a donation. Being green to the whole camping thing, I left a couple of bucks for six logs of pine, which seemed to fair to me, but later I realized that most camps really stick it to you and rip you off, especially in places like Yellowstone and Grand Canyon. I also paid for our campsite, which worked fine in most places, though the bigger, more commercial areas demand money first, which I found kind of lame.
I eagerly built a fire (our first family campfire!), had my coffee and watched as the camp came to life. The campground was pretty full, and it's always fun to see the other campers and get an idea of what kind of equipment the have. Lots of nice tents, and in retrospect, we realized we could use another one, or a bigger one. Though I kind of like all four of us in one tent, the space is limited, and I think we would benefit from having another two-man tent. Besides, at some point, the kids are going to want their own digs.
R got up and made some tea, and slowly A&R rose from their sleeping bags. The chill began to wear off as the sun rose, and before long everyone was up and having breakfast. There was another family staying there, but for the most part, we didn't encounter too many young children. Mostly couples, an impressive number of older ones, though they mostly had campers and traveled in style. I actually met a guy from Florida who spent some time in Vermont. He was heading up to Alaska with his wife, which was a common destination.
After breakfast and an adequate amount of time for the kids to play with the fire, which amounted to burning everything they could get their hands on, we broke down camp and got ready for the next leg. The camp manager stopped by to chat because he saw we had California plates, even though it was a rental car. Turns out he was from Carson, south of where I grew up. Really nice guy, inline with the good vibe we were getting off S. Dakota on the whole.
Once we were in the car, we headed for some caves, but not before getting a good look at more buffalo. There are some famous caves in the area, the biggest of which are Windy Cave and Jewel Cave, both under the jurisdiction of the National Parks. We went to Jewel Cave in the hopes of seeing some cool stalactites or stalagmites, but it turns out there were none. The cave is impressive, with I believe hundreds of miles of tunnels. The ranger who led the tour was a cave lover, and was passionate about every nook and cranny that we saw, while I personally thought it was nice, but not that impressive. Call me a jaded city boy. Don't get me wrong, the caves were cool, and they went on for days, but for the most part, it was just a big, long, cold, dark tunnel. In fact, it is known as a dry tunnel, which explains the lack of formations.
I did learn how the caves were formed. Apparently millions of years ago, waters filled the cracks and crevices of the limestone and gradually eroded the stone to form the caves, so it formed from the inside-out. I thought it was some sort of underground river or something.
We emerged from the cave and set our sights on our next destination: Mount Rushmore. Now everyone knows about the place, but I really didn't know too many people who had actually been there. Somehow S. Dakota just isn't on most people's radar, including mine. Who goes there? Mt. Rushmore wasn't far from where we were, just about a half hour north, and we were there in no time. Like many national monuments, the place is built up and garish, and crazy-busy with people. A constant stream of tourists, which included us. We parked out car and did the long walk to the hills, quizzing the kids about the relevance of the figures. We had a good look, stopped for ice cream, and watched the tourists cruising around.
One thing interesting is that in order to rightfully acknowledge Native American culture, they created the Native Culture equivalent to Mt. Rushmore called Crazy Horse, in honor of several Native American leaders. There were pow-wows and light shows, and all sorts of things to experience to learn about Native culture. In fact, when we first saw it, I thought it was Mt. Rushmore, but not so. We were ready to check it out, but they were charging and arm and a leg to get in, so we passed and headed for Mt. Rushmore. Maybe next time.
One thing I've noticed is that the iconic busload of Japanese tourists had been replaced with busloads of Chinese tourists. You can tell the difference because they tend to be louder, making their presence known. Chinese is a harsher, more discordant language, to boot. They seem to pull in and take over a place, for better or worse. The Japanese tend to be quieter and more discrete.
We got out of there and headed for our next camping destination, the Badlands. We really wanted to check them out (again, I'd never been), though it was really out of the way. We had to head in the opposite direction for about 60 miles, all through barren desert. We did get to pass through Rapid City, which was a huge town and an exact replica of many towns throughout the US, filled with big box stores and restaurants, with the usual Walmart, Target, Applebys, and Denny's. You realize what this country is all about, and once you're there, you could be anywhere in this country. It's all the same.
One thing that was really fun was en route to the Badlands, we saw about a millions signs for a place called Wall Drug. At some point there signs practically every few miles for the place, and they were funny and clever. It made it fun for the kids (and parents) to anticipate the next sign, which was good on a long car trip. The drugstore is apparently one of the biggest in the world, and is famous. The story goes that they were a struggling pharmacy on the interstate that decided to give away free ice water, and from there the place took off. Of course, we had to stop by, and it was a lot of fun. Kind of reminded me of Vegas, like everything in the west, but cooler. I found a hat for my mentor there.
From Wall Drug, we hit the Badlands, and I have to confess, I almost liked it better than the Grand Canyon. Maybe because we hit it at the perfect moment in terms of light (late afternoon), but there's something dramatic and poignant about the place, maybe in the context of what the pioneers must have felt when they first saw it. Their hearts must have sunk. It's so desolate, and yet so beautiful at the same time. I really liked it, and was glad we made the detour to get there.
We found a campsite deep within the park and got a space, actually seeing a couple that we saw in the Black Hills. We chose a spot and pitched the tent. The wind was blowing pretty hard and we began to worry about sleeping, but it died down, eventually. Since it was late, we ate supper in the dark, by flashlight, and fires were not allowed. We couldn't see much around us, so we ate and then went to bed. For whatever reason, even though we hadn't move around much because we were in the car, we were exhausted, and fell asleep quickly, excited about seeing what our campsite looked like.
Until the next time, thanks for reading.