This blog is meandering off its intended course as an occasional brain dump, and becoming a travelogue like the old Tour of America blog, but I suppose I’m OK with that if you are. And wow, what travels we have had in the past few days!
We left off with you at Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming. We caught the last two ranger programs of the season on chilly evenings and luckily also got some superb weather. On Sunday things turned chilly and gray, but not before I snapped the photo to the left in the early morning. Emma picked up her Junior Ranger badge and off we went.
Our next stop was back over the line to South Dakota, and into the heart of the Black Hills. Custer State Park is the enormous centerpiece of the Black Hills, so large that it boasts hundreds of campsites, several lodges, lakes, several scenic highways, and even a playhouse. It is a truly remarkable place and well worth a visit despite moderately high camping fees.
We dropped the Airstream in Stockade Lake North campground and immediately headed north along the winding Route 16-A to Mt Rushmore. Two years ago Eleanor and I towed the Airstream up this route, which includes many hairpin turns and three one-lane tunnels. Driving just the car I kept thinking, “Did I really tow on this road?” It is possible, even with a 30-foot trailer, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Poor Emma got a little carsick along the way but recovered quickly once we pulled over. (I was NOT going to let her hurl in the back of a new Mercedes Benz. The Airstream’s carpet was never the same after that 24-hour virus she got in Albuquerque last year.)
She was well enough by the time we reached Mt Rushmore to take a ranger-led hike and complete the Junior Ranger program, which meant she had achieved a personal best: two badges in a single day. And then we tested her resolve by taking Rt 87, the Needles Highway (view from the road pictured at left), back to the campground. This road is even crazier than Rt 16-A, with one tunnel only 8 feet 4 inches wide. Don’t take the trailer on this one! It’s a spectacular drive, especially at sunset, even if it does look like a pile of spaghetti on the GPS display.
We were lucky enough to have arrived for the annual Buffalo Roundup in Custer State Park. This morning, along with thousands of other people, we arose early and drove across the park (35 minutes) to a viewing area. Once we arrived at 8:44 a.m., the road was closed and we waited in a grassy plain for about an hour. Eventually we spotted the buffalo coming over a hill, pushed by a team on horseback and four-wheel drive trucks. The rush of buffalo lasted for just a few minutes. Once they were corralled safely, the road was re-opened and we were allowed to leave. Later in the day a process of examining, vaccinating, and culling of the herd would begin, but we couldn’t stay for it.
The peculiar thing about camping in Custer State Park is the dearth of dump stations. Apparently there’s only one in the whole huge park, and it can be a 20-30 minute drive from some campsites such as ours. Devils Tower also lacks a dump station, so it had been three nights in the trailer and we were beginning to wonder when we’d have a chance to deal with the necessities.
Well, set such worries aside, because — look! There’s Jewel Cave National Monument right along the road west! Time was short but not so short that Emma couldn’t … well, you know … collect yet another Junior Ranger badge. Three in two days, another personal best.
And then we stopped in the small town of Newcastle WY to pick up our mail at General Delivery. By this time it was past 2 p.m. and we had nearly full holding tanks, very little water, and 150 miles left to drive. We did it again: we packed too much into one day and now it was time to pay the price.
Things would have worked out better if there hadn’t been so darned much road construction along Hwy 18. We had two long delays, one of over 20 minutes. Then there was that tire I’ve been watching — it finally went completely bald along the outer edge and that made me nervous, so we stopped in the tiny burg of Lusk WY and changed it. At a rest stop we discovered that Eleanor had forgotten a cup of milk in the microwave, and after 100 miles of towing we finally hit a bump big enough to knock it over, so there was a big cleanup session too. (Why didn’t it tip over sooner in all that rough road construction? Airstreams ride smoooooooth.)
There was one more stop after that, when we found a dump station at a I-25 rest area. It’s days like this that teamwork helps. With each new task (tire, milk, dump, water fill) everyone sprang into action and did what was needed. We got it all done somehow. Our last one was like a pitstop: dump tanks, fill fresh water, check lug nuts, grease the Hensley hitch, and we did it all in about 10 minutes including washing hands afterward. We may have to get team shirts someday.
So we made it to Glendo State Park in eastern Wyoming as the sun was setting. That’s cutting it a little fine, but good enough. This park surrounds a man-made lake and features zillions of random unnumbered dirt sites all around the perimeter, much like its neighbor a little further south, Guernsey State Park. Camping-wise, it’s the wild west because the campgrounds are really just zigags of dirt trails running amongst the trees. Some sites can be identified by picnic tables and fire rings, and many others seem to be just spots battered out by the herd. Fortunately, there’s no competition for the sites. It’s late in the season, weekday, and the lake is mostly dry (whether by intentional action or drought, I don’t know). We will likely be completely alone with the wind tonight, and tomorrow we’ll be off early to get to our major stop, Denver.