Friday, August 19, 2016

Devil's Tower

After a day in Minnesota we got on the road early and started heading for our campsite in Wyoming, so it was an entire day of crossing all of South Dakota.

This is a good moment to mention again what good travelers my kids are.  They are no problem ever on a long drive.  It's almost spooky how good they are in the car.  They hunker down with their own projects and are happy, and they let me read to them for hours on end.  (This trip we finished reading Birds, Beasts and Relatives, and The Black Stallion.)

This was my kids' first trip west of the Mississippi that they are old enough to remember, and certainly their first time driving across the Great Plains or into the Rockies.  They were amazed at how different the landscape was, how dry and vast.  It was interesting to spend the first part of the day making our way across Minnesota which feels almost tropical by comparison to South Dakota.

South Dakota also means Wall Drug, which I'd seen the billion signs for on other trips but never stopped in.  Now seemed the time, and I'm glad we went!  It's souvenir heaven, and Quinn was able to stock up on state magnets for his collection, I got a fossil and some salt and pepper shakers, Aden got a necklace and some shot glasses, and Mona found the coolest mug ever.  (I'm glad it survived the trip.  We tried to keep it safe in the box with our Mold-A-Ramas.)  We were able to sit down for an early dinner, admire all the weirdness, and refill our water bottles.
Aden on a jackalope

Mona's mug of awesomeness

We managed to arrive at our campsite in the Black Hills National Forest before nightfall and get our tent set up.  I love that our new tent just sets straight up with the poles included, that you don't have to assemble anything, and I love the view through the top of the tent when we don't need the rain cover.  Despite the trees we saw so many stars!  And our trip overlapped with the Perseid Meteor Shower so all the kids saw more shooting stars like we did in Door Country. 

selfies in the tent
In the morning we slept in a bit, ate a little breakfast, and headed off to Devil's tower.

morning view from inside the tent

Devil's Tower was the first National Monument.  Apparently the difference between a National Monument and a National Park is that the President can unilaterally declare something to be a National Monument, but past that point I'm not sure what the distinction might be.  It's a beautiful place, jutting out in the midst of a vast landscape.  The trail all the way around it was closed halfway for repairs, so we walked as far as we could and walked back.  We could see people climbing!  We spotted deer, and we enjoyed the view just from where we were, and wondered what it looked like from the top of the tower.

Turns out we were lucky we went as early as we did, because the line of vehicles to get in when we left was huge.  We managed to beat both the crowds and the heat, so that was good.  When we arrived there was no real wait, and we picked up a military pass that gets us into the parks for free for a year.  (Although the ranger--after thanking Ian for his service--asked if we were planning to go to Mt Rushmore, because she let us know that they were the only place in the park system that would not honor the pass.  She added, "They're jerks."  So that made us laugh!  But seriously, Mt Rushmore of all places doesn't honor a military pass?  That's weird.)

The unexpected thing at Devil's Tower were the prairie dogs.  Lots of them!  We walked a whole prairie dog trail where they chirped at us in alarm like birds and where Aden stepped in a hole.  The ones by the road must be used to being fed because they were pretty brave about approaching people.  They were so cute!  We never got tired of seeing prairie dogs on our trip.

Aden and Quinn "on the town"

After Devil's Tower we spent the day driving across Wyoming.  It's just gorgeous.  Ian chose some less traveled roads and we saw lots of incredible rock formations.  It was fun to show the kids how different a landscape looks when you can't judge the size of things easily.  There aren't any tress or homes to base the rocks against, so much of what we are seeing could be huge or small.  The perspective out west gets skewed compared to our experience.

We stopped in Cody for dinner and got to see something really interesting.  There was a fire on the other side of a mountain from the town, and they were working on putting it out using planes and helicopters.  We stopped to watch the planes scoop up water from a lake and circle back to dump it on the fire.  It was pretty amazing.

We didn't arrive in Yellowstone until about dark, but we got the tent set up easily enough.  We were even there in time for the nightly ranger talk about the history of the park system, and during the talk we saw more shooting stars. 

Next up:  Adventures in Yellowstone!

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