Wow!! What a first week!! We’ve heard from a few of you that you would like us to blog more frequently…well, we’ll try. We have run into two challenges to frequent blogging: 1.) In order to make our reservations in Yosemite we are moving at lightning speed right now; and, 2.) We have been challenged to find internet connections strong enough to support blogging. I tried to post while in South Dakota, but despite the campground advertising free wifi - nothing would load. The campground that we stayed at in at Yellowstone gets their internet via satellite and when we went to post, they had used their allotted data for the day. And, in focusing on issue #1 above - we didn’t take time to solve the lack of connectivity. So, we’ll post when we can…
The first week has been absolutely amazing. If I could, I would post each day, because we have seen so many amazing things on each and every day. Let me give you a brief synopsis of what we have done since we left our good friends behind in Minneapolis.
Our first stop was the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. A proverbial “drive-by” attraction - made more so by the fact that they are still building the murals for 2014. It was so early in the season that not even the neighboring junk shops were open. At least they had good popcorn!
The next stop was the Badlands. We were all amazed at the beauty and size of the rock formations. The kids loved climbing on the rocks and Jack learned a valuable lesson about how tennis shoes do not provide enough traction for rock climbing. He was lucky that his slips all happened on the way down and only resulted in a bruised rear end, and nothing more. We have now buried his tennis shoes in the back of the shoe locker and told him he can only wear his hiking shoes.
After leaving the Badlands, we made a quick stop by Minuteman Missile National Park, where we got to see a retired missile silo - with a missile still in it, although, I would guess that there is no ‘boom’ materials still attached.
The next couple of days were spent in the Black Hills of South Dakota. On the first day we traveled the Needles Highway, where again we had the ability to climb on big rocks - I’m starting to sense a theme for this trip - if there are rocks, we must climb them! The Needles Highway was spectacularly beautiful and amazing. We later learned that the stone spires that rise hundreds of feet in the air were the original idea that eventually turned into Mount Rushmore. A local leader had wanted to create a monument to the west, and signed up a sculptor to turn a few of the ‘needles’ into figures of the old west. The sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, had another idea - a tribute to America and on a single mountain. I think Mr. Borglum was correct, the needles are impressive in their own right.
The Needles Highway led us deeper into Custer State Park, where we saw a heard of buffalo sunning themselves on a distant hill. It was easy to imagine the beauty the Native Americans saw in this wide open and bountiful land. We then ran into a wild heard of burrows and we joined the crowds in feeding and petting them. As we drove away, we came around a hill to find ourselves in the middle of a buffalo herd that was on the move. There had to have been hundreds of buffalo walking past us, some of them passing within 5-6 feet of the car. Since it was a beautiful day, we had the sides off of Toad, so it was just us and the buffalo - awesome!
Our last stop before leaving the Black Hills was Wind Cave. A really beautiful cave that is unique in the world for its series of ‘box work.’ Wind Cave does not have stalactites nor stalagmites. Instead it has a series of complex matrices that are not found anywhere else in the world. Really cool.
From Wind Cave, we started our journey towards Yellowstone, with our interim stop at Devil’s Tower. We saw that there is a first come, first served campground run by the Park Service at the base of the tower. We rolled in at 7:30 pm to find the campground only half full and ended up with a beautiful camp site next to a meadow with a river running through it, and Devil’s Tower towering behind us - beautiful! As we were setting up camp, a ranger came around and told us he was providing a program on the tower.
Turns out the ranger is Lakota and after a brief explanation of the geology of the tower, he went on to tell us the traditional Native American stories related to the origin of tower and its significance as a spiritual grounds for the Lakota and other tribes in the area. He also told us the story of the birth of the Lakota tribe. The Lakota were given birth by the Earth and lived for centuries in Wind Cave, until a coyote, who was a little bit of trickster, told the Lakota people that if they came out of Wind Cave he would watch over them on the plains. When the people ventured out of the cave, the coyote reduced the size of the opening of Wind Cave to what it is today (about the diameter of a cowboy hat), and the people were trapped on the plain. The coyote watched them from a distance, laughing at them. And, today, the Lakota still believe that coyotes have ‘laughing eyes’ and continue to find enjoyment at the trick they played. For us, it was a great way to connect the two sites that we had seen that day.
The next day was a grueling 10 hour drive to Yellowstone. The distance wasn’t that great, but the drive was through the mountains and speeds were usually limited to 20-30 mph. We just got to Yellowstone, so not much to report yet - other than we have been caught in the middle of a snow storm, twice. I tried to pack a few warm clothes before we left, but was told that we would have no use for those in Texas in the end of July. I got a brief admission that we probably should have packed some warmer clothes as we were freezing off our (insert your favorite body part). I would call that a victory if I wasn’t so cold!
Well, we are off to see the geysers, wildlife and all else that Yellowstone has to offer. Our nights are filled with campfires, card games and lots of laughing. With the exception of a few bickering duels by the younger members of our clan (to be expected), we are having a great time! Hope to chat with you all again, sooner than this last time!