Maryland 2018 – Day 5

This seems like a long time ago now because I am so busy with sheep and farm stuff, but I do want to finish my Maryland story. I left off at the Sheep and Wool Festival on Days 3 and 4. On the first day I had explored a bit of the C & O Canal System and I wanted to see more on the day that I had left in Maryland.

I had spent quite awhile studying the maps and the website to figure out how to best spend my time. The whole length (184 miles) of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal is part of the National Historic Park. I like the National Park Visitor Centers and there are several along the canal, but I found out that not all were open. I decided to drive to the Cumberland Visitor Center which is at the end of the canal in Western Maryland. DSC_0733                                                            This map shows just the western half of the canal and it really should be turned 90 degrees because the canal runs east-west. I was staying in Frederick which is about a half  hour from the Potomac River and the canal. I headed for the canal at a place called Four Locks.

IMG_6980                In this area the roads cross back and forth under the railroad which also follows the river. In fact a lot of the story of the canal is about the competition between people who thought the canal would serve as the best way to transport coal to the west and those who supported the railroad.IMG_6984                   The railroad goes over the road here and the creek runs through the tunnel.DSC_0721                  I followed my phone directions and found myself turning off the main road onto other narrow roads that wound through the woods.DSC_0722                                                              This is a detail of the stone fence in the previous photo…DSC_0723                       …and this is the abandoned house at the end of that driveway.DSC_0717                    I found Four Locks, so named because the Potomac River makes a large loop here.DSC_0725             View of the Potomac River.IMG_6997          Rather than build a canal the length of the loop, the canal makes a short cut, necessitating four locks (#47-50) all within a half mile. DSC_0719             The locks were built in 1836-1838 and until the canal closed in 1924 there were two general stores, two warehouses, a dry dock, mule barn, post office, school, farms, and houses in this community.  DSC_0703                    The lockhouse at this location is available to rent for overnight stays.DSC_0711                    That is the mule barn in back. I read that there were 3000 mules working on the canals moving boats between the locks.  I found it fascinating to imagine the effort that went into this endeavor–not only the construction but also moving boats up and down the canals. I  hadn’t made it to the Visitor Center yet so didn’t yet have the full story.DSC_0714            Virginia bluebells.IMG_6999             After walking around Four Locks I wound a few more backroads to find McCoys Ferry, a crossing on the Potomac. That is the railroad passing overhead. Then I got back to the freeway to head to Cumberland.IMG_7004             This is Sideling Hill Visitors Center, a rest stop along the highway with a great view over the pass and interesting geology in the road cut.

There is too much to see so I’ll need another blog post or two.


…From the Redwood Forests…

…This land was made for you and me…

Thank goodness for the people who, decades ago, had the foresight to conserve and preserve some of the most spectacular (and vulnerable to human destruction) ecosystem you can imagine.

We had two days to spend in the old growth redwood forest along the northern California coast. IMG_4770                Mini Road Trip!Shearing-GB-199               From the Central Valley you need to drive through the hills to the west. We turned onto Highway 20 at Williams. You can see a slight tinge of green if you look hard but this time of year they should be emerald green. That green is the grass that began to grow after our early January rain. We have had negligible rainfall since and there has been no more growth. This is the time of year that ranchers in the non-irrigated hills count on abundant forage for livestock. Very scary to think of another year of drought to this degree.

Shearing-GB-200                   This is a view getting closer to the hills. The almond trees are beautiful this time of year but I am disturbed at how many acres of land all over California have been put into almonds now. That’s a story for another time however. It seems I didn’t take more photos until we got to our first stop.

IMG_4771              From the Humboldt Redwoods State Park website: “In the early 1900s, loggers came to what is now Humboldt Redwoods State Park to cut down lofty ancient redwoods for grape stakes and shingles. The founders of Save the Redwoods League thought that was akin to ‘chopping up a grandfather clock for kindling.’ From the acquisition of a single grove in 1921, the League has raised millions of dollars to build and expand this park. Today Humboldt Redwoods spans 53,000 acres, an area almost twice the size of San Francisco. About one third, or 17,000 acres, of the park is old-growth redwood forest—the largest expanse of ancient redwoods left on the planet.”IMG_4774                                                What is special about an old-growth forest?IMG_4776                  The size of the trees.

IMG_4791                                                 The mix of tree sizes. Unlike a reforested clear cut, there are trees of all ages and sizes and this makes for an open forest instead of a monoculture of trees and brush that you can hardly walk through.

IMG_4787               The ecology. When old trees fall they open up space for light to reach the forest floor and opportunity for new growth of other species.

IMG_4785                                                      The grandeur.IMG_4773


Shearing-GB-202              We drove through The Avenue of the Giants, stopping along the way to get out and walk on the trails.IMG_4798                  We ended the day at the beach. IMG_4800

Visit to Texas – Day 6

We got to Big Bend National Park at dusk (this blog post). We quickly ate our beans and some kind of quick-cook rice dish, put all the food in the bear boxes (which made Matt think twice about his sleeping accommodations), and went to bed. It was COLD. I understand that we were not in Wyoming or Alaska or Antarctica. We were not in blizzard conditions. I can’t even imagine that. But this was plenty cold enough for me and, looking ahead to a whole night, I was turning into a real weenie. I eventually warmed up in my sleeping bag, but I had a realization about winter road trips. It gets dark at 6:00 and when it is really cold and you can’t have a fire there is nothing else to do but get into a sleeping bag. During our summer road trips we may go to bed at 9 or 10 and then read for awhile. But 6:00 is a full five or six hours earlier than my normal bedtime. I have decided that any future winter toad trips may include motels. But I digress…

2017-12-TX-314       Sunrise from the campsite in the morning. I wouldn’t have seen that from a motel room.

2017-12-TX-317              We spent the night in the back of the truck. Notice Matt’s cot and sleeping bag. Fortunately no one was bothered by bears.

2017-12-TX-320             …although we saw this sign at the trailhead right near our camp.

2017-12-TX-327                                                 We left camp early and went for a hike up the Lost Mine Trail. I was glad that I had a walking stick with me because much of the trail was icy and slippery.


2017-12-TX-335            This is the view to the south from where we were standing in the last photo. The southern border of the park is the Rio Grande but I’m not sure which of these mountain ridges border the river.


2017-12-TX-340                 We had only a day and a half to spend in this area so we didn’t plan to do any long hikes, but instead see as much of the Park as we could and get out where there were signs and shorter trails.

2017-12-TX-356              This stop was at the Sam Nail Ranch where there is a short trail to the remnants of an adobe dwelling built around 1909 when the Nail family lived here.2017-12-TX-352             The family planted fruit trees and raised livestock, living here until the 1940’s.




2017-12-TX-357            “Matt, hold still.”

2017-12-TX-360              View from Sotol Vista. Do you see that slot in the middle ridge, just left of the photo’s center? That is Santa Elena Canyon, about 12 miles southwest of this point, where the Rio Grande slices through the mountain, forming a narrow canyon with 1500′ walls. That will be for the next post.

2017-12-TX-364                The Mule Ears View Point was the next stop.

2017-12-TX-371                    I didn’t identify all the different kinds of cactus, but noticed some that were distinctly purple.


2017-12-TX-376               We walked into Tuff Canyon, so named for it’s volcanic origins.


2017-12-TX-386 Spectacular!



We stopped at the Visitor’s Center at Castolon on the southern border of the Park. We planned to stay at one of the “primitive” campsites on this site of the Park that night but were told that they were all reserved so we started thinking about Plan B. There was more to see though before we really had to worry about that.

2017-12-TX-394          There were a lot of interpretive signs at this point. Castolon was first settled in 1901 and became a destination for refugees fleeing the Mexican Revolution. Barracks were built but never used by the army and in the 1920’s the La Harmonia Company established  a trading post and started growing and ginning cotton. That venture ended in the 1940’s.

2017-12-TX-395             This is the modern day view of that same landscape.

2017-12-TX-398            One of the old building that still remains at Castolon.


2017-12-TX-402                  I think this statement is true.

2017-12-TX-406              We stopped at the Dorgan House Trail, where there were more ruins.

2017-12-TX-403                 It felt like lunch time. Dan couldn’t fit all the way in where he had stashed the box with my granola. Eventually I squeezed in there and he pulled me out by my feet because I was laughing too hard to get out myself.

Next post: Santa Elena Canyon.

Road Trip to SD – Day 6 – Following the Pioneer Trail

At the end of  Day 5 we had stopped at the Horsethief Lake Campground in the Black Hills National Forest, still in South Dakota.

Black Hills NF, SD

We had looked at the map and planned the direction to start for home, wanting to roads that we hadn’t traveled before as much as possible.


We headed toward Wyoming…


…and saw this along the road.


I had been collecting postcards to send to my 3-year-old granddaughter but hadn’t mailed many yet so today I was going to search out post offices in the small towns along the way.

Newcastle, WY

A gorgeous building across the street from the post office in Newcastle. From there we took Highway 450  west through the Thunder Basin National Grassland toward Wright.

Thunder Basin N Grassland

We were driving through the country where huge herds of cattle had been driven as far north as Canada, grazing along the way, and then shipped by railroad to eastern markets. Belle Fourche, where we had been a couple of days before was one of the important shipping points. (Lonesome Dove fans, note the sign on the post.)

Thunder Basin N Grassland

According to the sign 2500 head of cattle strung were strung out for a mile, traveling 10 to 15 miles per day. They could gain weight over the 300 to 500 mile trip.

Thunder Basin N Grassland

Alternatively picture the thousands of bison that once roamed here while the Native American’s called this home. Same place. Different eras.

Thunder Basin N Grassland

Thunder Basin N Grassland

Black Thunder Mine,WY

Before we got to Wright near the western edge of the Thunder Basin National Grassland we saw the first glimpse of a major industry in Wyoming…and the sky was more gray.

Black Thunder Mine,WY

According to Wikipedia, the Black Thunder Coal Mine is the world’s largest coal producer.

Black Thunder Mine,WY

This is an immense operation.

Black Thunder Mine,WY

I couldn’t get photos to show the scale of what we were seeing. You can see a tip of the excavator down in the pit. Wikipedia says “Black Thunder’s dragline excavator is the biggest in the world and produces enough coal to load up to 20-25 trains per day.”

Black Thunder Mine,WY

The excavator fills this truck with one pass of it’s giant scoop. This is a huge truck–the driver is sitting in that little cab above the wheel.

Black Thunder Mine,WY

Take a look at the photo below to see the true size of this structure.

Black Thunder Mine,WY

east of Edgerton, WY

More of Wyoming prairie. This is between Wright and Edgerton.

near Edgerton, WY

Someone has decorated their oil/gas well.

near Edgerton, WY

I have included this photo because of the two dinosaurs and it reminded me of a photo op that I missed earlier in the trip. The dinosaur seems to be the mascot for Sinclair gas stations. We passed a gas station somewhere along the way  where they had a dinosaur the size of these and it was tied to a fence post with a rope around its neck. I still think it’s one of the funniest things I saw on this trip. It would have looked natural to have a horse tied up right next to it.

south of Casper, WY

We drove through Casper and took Hwy. 220 towards Rawlins.

south of Casper, WY

We watched lightning in the distance. Do you know how hard it is to take lightening photos?

Independence Rock, WY

We were still following the trail of the pioneers…

Independence Rock, WY

…and we stopped as they did when we reached the Independence Rock, which is now a State Historic Site.

Independence Rock, WY

In one of the earlier posts (Day 2) we had stopped at South Pass. Then we were heading east, backwards from the direction the explorers and pioneers travelled. They would have been at Independence Rock first, looking west towards South Pass, 100 miles to the west.

Independence Rock, WY

Independence Rock was the first major landmark after leaving the North Platter River to follow the Sweetwater River to South Pass.

Independence Rock, WY

There is a trail around the rock for modern day visitors. You can see where early travelers left initials and names scratched into the rock.

Independence Rock, WY

This is the remnants of the trail heading on southwest.

Great Divide Basin, WY

We were back on our trail towards Rawlins.

Great Divide Basin, WY

We crossed the Continental Divide.


I used to think that you crossed the Continental Divide once and then were on the other side. I found out that there is an exception in Wyoming (and when I looked at a map of the Continental Divide, also in Mexico). Wikipedia again: The Great Divide Basin is an area of land in Wyoming’s Red Desert where none of the water falling as rain to the ground drains into any ocean, directly or indirectly.” I highlighted this on the map so that I could see it more clearly. South Pass is near that northern route of the Divide.

Rawlins, WY

We found the Post Office in Rawlins (this was across the street)…

Great Divide Basin, WY

…and then crossed the Continental Divide again…

Great Divide Basin, WY

…and again.

East of Green River, WY

Near Green River on I-80. From here on we were backtracking where we’d already driven.

Evanston, WY

It was dark when we got to Evanston, just on the edge of the Wyoming-Utah border. Looking at the map book and trying to find somewhere to spend the night I had found one more point of interest for the next day. We still hadn’t figured out a good place to camp so we stopped here for gas and Subway sandwiches and took the maps inside for closer scrutiny.

To be continued…

Road Trip to SD – Day 5 – Mt. Rushmore

After driving through the Badlands we decided to continue on the scenic roads rather than go to the highway. Some of them were a bit of a guess since all we had was a road map of the state.


Not far out of the National Park we stopped to watch a herd of bison. This is not much of a photo but it give you an idea of the number in the herd.


Then we headed west on a gravel road that went through another part of the Buffalo Gap National Grassland. Most of the National Grasslands are located in or around the Great Plains and they are managed in the same way as National Forests. Until I looked up this information I didn’t know that there is a National Grassland in California. In fact it is near the Klamath National Forest where I worked when I was in college–but it was designated as such until after that.


As I had seen on a map in one of the Visitors Centers, the public lands are interspersed with private lands. We saw miles of one of my favorite crops.

Leaving the grassland we drove into the forest again. The engineering of the road to Mt. Rushmore is a marvel in itself. From Custer State Park you drive 17 miles on Iron Mountain Road to Mt. Rushmore. There are three pigtail bridges and three tunnels that were engineered to frame Mt. Rushmore.


This very poor photo shows what I mean by framing the mountain. Each of the tunnels is aligned to present the view of the mountain.DSC_3209

I was surprised when we arrived to be directed to the roof of a parking garage built into the mountain. It makes sense–they have to do something with all the cars that come here.


I knew what to expect of the mountain itself because I’ve seen pictures. But I didn’t know about the infrastructure built around this National Memorial.


There is an amphitheater facing the mountain. From there you can walk on the Presidential Trail around the base of the mountain (or the rubble left from carving the sculptures) and then to the Sculptor’s Studio, where there is a plaster model and tools used by Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor of Mt. Rushmore. DSC_3212

This was an amazing feat in the 1930’s. It took 400 laborers to do this work. DSC_3213

Look at the detail on Lincoln’s face. The noses are about 20 feet long and the eyes are about 11 feet wide. Can you imagine what it would be like to be hanging in a basket here drilling holes for dynamite?


Time for us to move on. It looked as though there were several campsites in the nearby forest and I didn’t want to have a repeat of the night before. We stopped at the first one that we saw and found a good spot. We had time that evening to relax and read.

I finished a book called A Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks.


The author grew up on the family sheep farm in the Lake District of England.  At the beginning of the book he describes how he felt as a boy when it was assumed by “outsiders” that he would (or should) want to do something better with his life, but all he ever wanted to do was to continue with the sheep farm. Also he was resentful with the interest that others (non-residents/city people) showed for the landscape but in a way that he didn’t understand–they didn’t respect the farms and the farming life but looked at the landscape as something with a “higher” purpose. I’m not explaining this very well, but as I was reading this book in the evenings on this trip I found similarities in his description of the visitors to their farm land and the fells above and to us in taking this trip and the others we’ve taken. We are grateful that there are National Parks and other public lands so that we can explore these landscapes that we’d never have a chance to see in depth otherwise. In this landscape we were the visitors, admiring the stunning views, the wildlife, and the agriculture. But we don’t live the life there, don’t have to deal with weather challenges, prairie dog invasions, etc. As an adult Rebanks learned to see the other side and understood the appreciation the “city people” had for the land, albeit without the understanding of the integral part that centuries of farming had played in those landscapes. He found a way in his career (second to shepherding) to promote the importance of farming and shepherding on this land while allowing tourism to benefit the communities as well.

I couldn’t help but find parallels in this book to the experiences that we were having during this week vacation.

Road Trip to SD – Day 5 – Badlands in the Morning

I wasn’t very complete in my description of Jewel Cave from Day 4 of this trip. I usually get out the brochure and re-read the info that is there. Those formations in some of the photos are called Dogtooth Spar, 6-sided calcite crystals formed completely underwater, and Draperies, formed as water trickles down, leaving deposits of calcite crystals. The brochure says that while the cave was forming it was completely submerged in groundwater that was rich in dissolved calcium carbonate. As conditions changed the calcium carbonate precipitated and formed calcite crystals off various depths and shapes on exposed surfaces.


Here is one more photo from Jewel Cave. There is another cave nearby–Wind Cave National Park but we just didn’t have time for everything.


I left off the last post with heading to a Rest Stop in the dark. That was not our best night but at least we slept. However we had chosen this plan after passing up the trailhead parking that said “No Overnight Camping”. We didn’t want to be federal criminals. I will admit here that we are now criminals in the State of South Dakota. The rest stop had a sign posted about a SD rule that you can’t stay more than three hours at a rest stop and there was video surveillance for our safety. I keep expecting to get a summons in the mail.  The photo above is what we woke up to. That weather system was in the west, where we were headed to see the Badlands.


We first had to drive east to find a place to turn around. We commented that South Dakota has big raindrops.


Now heading west.


Eventually we drove through the storm, or it passed us over as it was heading east.  This was the first time that I’ve been “on the ground” in the Midwest and I found this side of South Dakota as beautiful as the Black Hills in western South Dakota, although very different.


Change of pace. A bit of commercialism near the entrance to the National Park.


Now there was someone at the entrance station (it had been closed the night before) but there were no maps. It seems they had run out with all the motorcycle traffic. (We were able to get one at the Visitor Center.)


The first view of the Badlands, although we had a glimpse from the other side just before dark the night before.


The previous night we had driven through the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands on that road south of the Badlands NP, through the eastern end of the Park and north to the highway. If we had more time we could have gone to the National Grasslands Visitor Center further west on Highway 90 in the town of Wall and the  Minuteman Missile National Historic Site just north of the Park. (Note to self: take another trip to SD and buy the Map Book first.) We planned to explore the trails here at the west end of the Park and then drive through the Park, starting our drive home.


We stopped at an overlook. You can’t tell from this photo but the wind was blowing and it was cold. And what was weird is that this fog was rolling in. That sounds like something I would say standing over the San Francisco Bay. Fog rolling in here in the Badlands? In August?


Maybe its not “rolling in”. But it sure settled fast.


The distance view was gone within ten minutes. In fact these photos were taken ten minutes after the first one right after the National Park sign.


We drove on. The formations were stunning but the surroundings did seem cold and gloomy.


At the next stop we saw bighorn sheep! Yes! This was the clearest photo I had of them as the mist seemed to get thicker. “Sheep in Fog”. The sheep stayed around, in fact bedding down right there while we hiked on a short trail on the other side of the road.

Then we went to the Visitors Center to get warm, pick up a brochure and map, and see the exhibits.


Did you know that my background is in Range and Wildlands Science? That’s what the UCD degree was called after it changed from Range Management before I graduated. I admit that I can’t identify most grasses anymore and certainly not these of the Great Plains, but I am interested. The grass is an extremely important part of an ecosystem, whether its these prairies or our irrigated pasture back home. This is a great exhibit.


Remember the Dust Bowl? Well, most of us don’t remember it, but we know about it. This explains why, when you plow up the prairie you have set up the system for disaster. The Park brochure explains that “the Badlands prairie contains nearly 60 species of grass, the foundation for a complex community of plants and animals. The prairie once sprawled across one-third of North America.” Today there are only patchwork remnants of this prairie that “occurs in areas that are too dry to support trees but too wet to be deserts“.


We drove on to the Fossil Exhibit Trail. This area went from being a under a shallow sea, to a jungle after the land lifted up, and then covered with sediment and volcanic ash that turned to soft rock. Eventually erosion exposed all the colorful layers and the fossils they hold, so the SD Badlands in known world-wide for it’s fossil record.


From information found on this website: “Although by definition badlands contain very little vegetation, some plants, particularly prairie grasses, are found in South Dakota’s badlands regions.  Sod tables, remnants of the prairie that have resisted erosion, provide platforms for vegetation.


You can see the layer of soil that held by the roots of the vegetation but that isn’t enough to prevent the sides of the sod table to continue to erode. In fact, the Badlands are retreating to the north in general as natural erosion occurs. Notice the holes at the top of this sod table. We thought that maybe birds used these holes.


Then we saw that these are rodent tunnels that have opened as the erosion occurs. You can see that in this photo.


Beautiful landscape. What would an early explorer have thought, having just ridden over miles of grassland?





Here is a different landscape.  I might not have known for sure what this was except for having visited Devils Tower NM two days before. (By the way, there is a pronghorn in the photo but I’m talking about the mounds and the lack of grass.)


Here is the culprit. I can see how prairie dogs are considered a nuisance. The road took us past  acres and acres of this devastated landscape. As usual there are two (or more) sides to a story. I have to get on with other things right now and won’t try to research this one. Here is one article that gives various perspectives.

The day wasn’t over. We had another stop before camping for the night. That will be in the next post.


Road Trip to SD – Day 4 – Belle Fourche and Jewel Cave NM

We started Day 4 of our adventure after a restful night in the Black Hills National Forest in Wyoming. (Here is the campsite in Day 3.) I was up before Dan and walked off with my camera. Wildlife!


So what if it’s just chipmunks! They were close enough for me to get decent photos.


And they were fun to watch as they ran in one side of the cattle guard rail and out the other.


This is a view of some of the forest outside the campground.

We got on the road and looked at where to go. Now I’ll tell you why I had originally chosen South Dakota as our destination for this year’s trip. Months ago I was reading a sheep magazine and saw a reference to a Sheep History exhibit in South Dakota. I looked it up and it was in an Ag Heritage Museum in Brooking, SD. There was a lot to see along the way so I suggested that as our turn-around point. However, Brooking is on the far eastern side of SD. After the first two days of driving and looking at all the things we wanted to see where we were now and our limited time I pulled the plug on driving clear across the state to see that one place. It seemed kind of silly to add another two days of driving to the trip just for a few hours in a museum (or to not add two days and be driving for that long a stretch).

So, back to the map. There was plenty to see in western SD: Mt. Rushmore NM, Jewel Cave NM, Wind Cave NP, Buffalo Gap National Grassland, Badlands NP. Dan still wanted to avoid Sturgis with all the crazy motorcycle stuff. So we looked for a road around it. I saw on the map “Geographical Center of the United State”. Really? I looked at the U.S. map. That didn’t look right. I googled it.


If you include Alaska and Hawaii, yes, there is a place, not too far over the border of SD, that is the Geographical Center of the U.S.


It turns out that the real center is in a privately owned pasture 20 miles north of the town of Belle Fourche.


The town decided that there should be a more memorable and accessible monument for something as cool as being the Georaphical Center of the U.S. …


…so this was created in 2008. It is at the Belle Fourche Visitor Center and Museum.


The museum turned out to be very interesting (and maybe a smaller scale of the one that we were going to miss in Brooking) and we spent some time there. There were exhibits about the cattle drives from Mexico to Canada, the importance of the railroad station in Belle Fourche (4500 train carloads of cattle per month in 1895), the Old West in  movies and TV, early settlers, rodeo history, wartime, and old-time bad guys. There was also an exhibit about the importance of the sheep industry in South Dakota. DSC_3074

This is a sheepherder wagon that is outside the museum. There were a lot of photos of the sheep history of the area.


South Dakota is currently fifth in the U.S. for sheep production…


…and the sheep industry is an important part of South Dakota’s agricultural economy.


This isn’t a very big museum but there was a lot to see in the small spaces. In the area that showed something about life in “the old days” there was this device used to do something to women’s hair. An early perm?


it’s kind of hard to see this bicycle but I thought it was interesting in that the handlebars, seat, and wheel rims are made of wood.


After a few hours we decided that we’d better get on the road again. This is a view before we left town.


What do you think of this one? It was kind of scary to have this view on the highway   but that truck was going the same direction that were are because it was being towed behind another.

South Dakota was not what I expected.


We had camped in the Black Hills National Forest in Wyoming but it continues in South Dakota.


We were headed now to Jewel Cave National Monument and took a road designated a “scenic drive” and it was. Beautiful country. This is an area known as Spearfish Canyon.


This National Monument as well as many of the others we planned to visit are all within this area of the Black Hills National Forest.



I continued to find the scenery breathtaking. Too bad the drive-by photos can’t really show that.


We signed up for a cave tour but had some time in the Vistor’s Center first. Jewel Cave was discovered by two prospectors in 1900. Only a mile of it had been documented when it was made a National Monument in 1908. Now it is known to be the third longest cave in the world with over 180 miles of passages that have been mapped and more that have not. The cave extends beneath about four square miles of land but there is only one known entrance. The areas in yellow are closest to the surface and the redder the color, the deeper the passage. The deepest point is 749 feet below ground.

Thirty of us gathered with our Ranger and rode an elevator down to a double set of doors that created an airlock when entering the cave. I am not a big fan of dank, underground place, preferring wide open spaces and sun. Nevertheless, this was a cool (no pun intended although it was sweatshirt weather below ground) tour.


It was OK to take photos. I can’t tell you what any of these formations are because (although once, for a very brief period, I thought I might be a geologist) I don’t ever remember rocks and geologic time.IMG_1499

I can admire them however.


There were lights placed strategically along the mile-long tour route and lots of walkways and stairs.


At one point the Ranger turned off all lights and that is very eerie. I think of Tom Sawyer and Becky in the cave and running out of candles. Yes, I prefer wide-open spaces and sunlight. (By the way, no photos of lights-out in the cave.)


This one reminds me of an ocean scene.



Here is an example of the one of the walkways. The tour was about an hour. After that I bought my patch at the gift store and we spent a little more time in the Visitor Center.


We read about the ecosystems we were traveling through. I have lived most of my life in California, have traveled in many of the western states, including the desert southwest (where I lived for a couple of years) but have never been in the prairie. This sign and others explained a bit about the difference between the Short Grass Prairie and the Tallgrass Prairie, where we’d be traveling next. The Black Hills are in between.


Bison grazing.



We planned to visit Badlands National Park the next day. We knew that it might be tough to find a camping spot on a weekend without a reservation in the National Park but we thought that we’d be able to find a place to pull over and sleep somewhere in the National Grassland that surrounds the Park. We had been told by a couple of people that (as we know is true in the National Forest) if it’s public land you can stay there. This sign indicated that we were in Buffalo Gap National Grasslands…


…complete with buffalo.

My big mistake was not getting the map book for South Dakota before we left. I realized too late that we didn’t have it and thought that we might be able to find one on our trip. Since neither of us like to spend time driving through cities even if its to a bookstore, we never got one, and instead had to rely on a road map of the state. That was totally inadequate for the way we are used to traveling. We couldn’t tell where there was private land and public land and we had no idea where the little dirt roads went. Later I saw a map that would have been even better than the map book for our purposes. There is a map available of the Grassland that shows land ownership. No wonder we couldn’t figure it out–it’s all a big checkerboard of private and public land. We’ll know for next time.

So we drove through the Grassland as it was becoming dusk. We couldn’t identify anywhere that looked like we could stay. It is after all, grass, and all fenced. We’re used to driving through the forest or even the desert and being able to drive off on a dirt road away from the main road and camp. Eventually it got dark and we continued driving into the Badlands NP. As we thought the campground was full. We continued on, entering  the Grassland again. We pulled off on one possible road that was clearly marked as a trailhead on public land. But law-abiding citizens that we are, we left when we saw the sign that said “No Overnight Camping”. I was feeling less law-abiding than Dan, but I was not the driver. We tried another road that was still part of the Grassland and passed another place, Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, that would be interesting to visit in daylight hours. This gravel road was on our map and continued for a few miles. However, every time we turned on what looked like a possible side road, there was a gate, or an obviously cultivated field. We finally went back to the highway and drove east.

You might be wondering, why don’t they just get a motel room? The first answer is that there were none around. However, eventually we got to the highway, and, yes there would be motel rooms. But, this was a camping trip and we had comfy sleeping bags and I had a sheepskin to sleep on and we could sleep in our truck. All we needed was a place to park. We saw a rest area on the map so we went there.

To Be Continued.