Our Lewis and Clark Journal – Day 15
Day 15: Discovering our National Parks (August 10)
After our adventure on Needles Highway last night, we found ourselves at the Trailside Park Resort in Hill City, South Dakota. As soon as the sun was up, August was in the camp playground exploring a replica tee-pee. August has invented a game called “Indian Roundup,” which was initially really disturbing to us, but more often than not the Native Americans win. August calls out each tribe by name and they resist the soldiers and settlers. August has been deeply inspired by the solidarity visions of Sitting Bull! This seems an important way to deal with history he is learning: play it out in every conceivable way.
Over a cup of coffee, our camp host helped us make our plans for the day and verified the proper way to get to Sylvan Lake this evening. The resort sits adjacent to a stretch of the George Mickelson Trail, a rails-to-trails project with over 100 miles of walking through the Black Hills. We took a short stroll over a couple of bridges and then got our day underway.
First stop was Mt. Rushmore National Monument. Despite warnings that it would be a disappointment, this park was every bit as impressive as expected. Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln, our first, third, twenty-third and sixteenth presidents, all carved by Gutzon Borglum. We arrived at the monument signing “Four Presidents on a Hill in South Dakota,” one of the catchy tracks on the Songs for Junior Rangers CD we picked up at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis. During this visit (and still wearing his bison horns) August earned his first Junior Ranger certificate (and badge and patch). He was very serious about the work. This was a dream fulfilled.
This was also one of the few parks where we saw Park Rangers everywhere, running programs and fielding questions. Sequestration has hit our national parks hard, especially on top of years of frozen budgets. Inflation plus budget freezes amount to more than an 8% loss of revenue, and sequestration has added an across the board cut of another 5%. But you would not know it here – which is unfortunate, given that Mt. Rushmore is one of the more visited parks. Visitors to our parks need to know what is happening to them.
On the way out of the park we fulfilled another goal of our trip – to eat bison. We all shared bison burger and bison sausage, which was overpriced but delicious.
Our next stop was Wind Cave National Park, south of Custer State Park. Wind Cave is the single largest underground network of caves in the world which contains about 90% of the worlds calcite box work. (Another 5% is in nearby Jewel Cave). We took the Garden of Eden Tour in order to add spelunking to our modes of activity on this trip. Here we are checking out some this unique stone before turning our the lights and imagining the early explorers who brought in nothing but candles. By paying close attention, August earned his second Junior Ranger badge at Wind Cave.
Wind Cave is also where we saw our first bison. This guy stopped us in the road. He may look lonely, but there are dozens of his buddies just out of the frame to our right. And prairie dogs everywhere.
A scenic ride through Custer State Park brought us back to where we were last night – climbing our way to Sylvan Lake Resort. This time we had no trouble, though we still had to ignore lots of signs warning large vehicles to turn back because of narrow roads and low clearance tunnels. This time they DID refer to tunnels on either side of the camp.
August and I took a short hike before bed, stretching our legs and our patience till we were really ready for sleep. Tomorrow will be a big day. We have an 8:00 AM meeting with the guide who will take us rock climbing for the day.
Now if only that guy in the tent will turn off the stereo on his bike so we can get some sleep. Oh no! Now that he’s turned of the 80s rock ballads I can hear the dance music from the wedding reception at the resort. It’s going to be a long night…
Recommended: Songs for Junior Rangers: Volume One, songs inspired by our National parks on a CD available trhough the National Park Foundation, featuring such “hits” as “Humps, Hooves and Horns,” “Explore, Learn and Protect,” and “Spelunka Funka.”