These past couple of days have been consumed by 8-hour-plus drives moving from the Rockies into the upper reaches of Minnesota. No single theme seems to have emerged but there are still a few thing worth mentioning and quite a few good photographs to share.
The first animals I saw after crossing the state line into Wyoming from Colorado were camels followed by llamas but I didn’t stop for photos. They were just past the sign welcoming visitors into the state displaying the state motto “Forever West”. This was followed closely by a billboard pointing out that hunting Wyoming’s oldest citizens (a picture of a Native American was displayed on the board), is ‘abuse’. My general thought is that lacking Yellowstone and Teton National Parks there is very little reason to be in Wyoming and and this sign, if I understood it correctly, did little to dissuade of that. Having said that the prairie land in this southeastern part of the state is beautiful, especially to my eye having spent the previous two weeks mostly in the desert. There’s a little sagebrush here; it’s mostly prairie grass and rolling hills, albeit at 5000-6000 feet. I suppose it could also be referred to as high plains. It’s worth seeing.
After Leaving Estes Park, CO my next scheduled stop was Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota. It’s one of three NP’s that I’m aware of that features caves (Carlsbad Caverns and Mammoth Cave being the other two). I had over looked it last I was in the area in 2011 which is why it was on the list this time through. I camped at the park – nice campground; I recommend it – and took the basic “Natural Entrance” tour. The cave contains about 140 miles of explored tunneling on multiple levels compressed into an area of one square mile. The multi-colord map of these tunnels bears resemblance to an electro-cardiogram. At its deepest the cave is 530 feet. And that level is restricted to use by research scientists. There are some unusual rock formations, principally boxwork, found in very few other places in the world.
I thought about hanging around for one more day and taking a couple of the extended tours but concluded that I just wasn’t all that interested. So I decamped and moved on. Thirteen hundred miles stood between me and my next stop at Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota.
Wind Cave NP is contiguous with Custer State Park about which I knew nothing. So I drove through on my way north and east. From what I could observe Custer is on a par with any National Park and – in my book – easily outshines Wind Cave. It’s set partially in prairie and partially in lush forest areas and is chocked full of wildlife the most prominent and prevalent of which are bison. They are everywhere.
As are elk and antelope
I wound up spending more time in Custer than I had planned and left wishing I had swapped the visitation slots between it and Wind Cave. I’m pretty sure I’ll find Custer on one of my future trip plans. it adds to the park paradoxes in SD: Crazy Horse Mountain is far more interesting than Mt Rushmore (almost anything is) and Custer State Park easily overshadows Wind Cave and on a good day is more than competitive with Badlands NP. But if you listed all these parks and asked almost anyone to to rank them for name recognition I’m virtually certain Crazy Horse Mt and Custer SP would consistently place last. Maybe if you threw Little Big Horn in to the mix….
Oh, did I mention this is Wall Drug Country?
I did stop at Badlands long enough to wade through the summer Sunday crowds to get my passport stamped, (I had not had it on my camping visit two years earlier) grab a bite to eat, and get back on the road east. Even though most of this leg of the trip is mapped along the blue highways, this section was on the I-90. You get the feeling that when the engineers who constructed this road were doing their preparations they pinned a chalk line in rapid City, ran it 350 miles east to Sioux Falls and set up a sky hook near Pierre, and snapped it. I passed through Pierre for the third time in two years with the idea of making Jamestown, ND and camping for the evening.
I’m now getting into the latter part of the day and beginning to get some decent light. I hadn’t snapped much during the middle of the day – it always seems like a waste of pixels to me – but now I was off the Interstate and shadows were softening. And there was virtually no traffic allowing me to stop and park and start again, sometimes in the middle of the road, without concern. I really enjoyed this part of the trip. This action series illustrates just why:
And this one:
By this point the pastoral scenes just seemed to appear in my lens
I had lost an hour on the segment crossing from Mountain to Central Time but I had also moved north to the 44th parallel where this time of year the day is longer. I managed to make Jamestown just as the sun was setting.