Day 3 Drive: Touring South Dakota

Never thought I’d be practicing my Spanish in Keystone, SD, but there was no mistaking the accent of Miriam, the muffin warden at the continental breakfast. She’s from Mexico City, and filled out an application for Best Western there. Next thing she knows, she’s in the Black Hills. This explains how a town with a population of three hundred staffs a dozen hotels and restaurants, plus gas stations and gift shops. She just started two weeks ago, and it’s a summer position only. The season hasn’t really kicked off yet, there are maybe four other cars in the parking lot, and we didn’t see another guest until breakfast.

First stop this morning was Mount Rushmore. Although this is a National Monument, the government has subcontracted the parking concession, and it’s $11 to park your car. We were lukewarm on the visit anyway, and decided to move on to other things. 

Caroline with small Crazy Horse in foreground, big incomplete version further back.

Specifically, Crazy Horse. Very good museum with Native American art and artifacts from all over the continent. This entire site is operated by the family of the man who started the statue, but the entrance fee goes to keeping the work going, so this time we ponied up. The parking lot was a licence plate bonanza. LLLPotD: New York. We saw many others but mostly from the midwest. There is a bus tour that takes you to the base of the hill, but when they announced it was leaving in three minutes, we were at the wrong end of the campus, and got there just in time to see the bus pull out. Next tour was hours away, and we still had lots to do, so we moved on.

Next stop, Wind Cave. Got thoroughly lost trying to find the place, because Dingbat only took us to the entrance of Wind Cave National Park, which is where the prairie dogs are, but the rangers are not. Did eventually find the place, and were able to join a tour with Gerri. I think there were just seven of us in the tour group, and one was a new park employee on her orientation tour.

The only natural entance to Wind Cave.
Yes, the little hole near Gerri’s left hand.

Had a fascinating tour, walking about half a mile of the hundred and thirty some that have been mapped so far. It’s like being inside a giant sponge. Few of the spaces are large enough for more than two or three people to stand together and talk. Many of the passages are so small you have to duck or lean over to fit through. You get to descend some three hundred stairs, but at the end there’s an elevator back up. Anyway, Caroline liked it, so we decided to do another cave tour after lunch. 

Picnicked near wind cave and broke the 12v cooler that I repaired just days ago. Also, I forgot to pack the picnic kit, so our only knife was my leatherman from the car. And Caroline found a tick crawling up her leg.

Drove to the Jewel Cave, main rival to the Wind Cave, and on our way to the building saw a sign that says you can’t take bags or packs into the cave except really small ones. Caroline totes a purse the size of a cat kennel, so we hiked it back to the car. This caused us to miss the tour by about thirty seconds. At first we were told there wasn’t another for an hour and a half, but actually they just added a third ranger to the schedule, and the wait was about half that. We had a nap in the car. The Jewel cave is considered more strenuous. First you take an elevator two hundred feet down, then you hike down and up some seven hundred stairs in a loop that brings you back to your starting point, then you take the elevator back up. Late in the day, but early in the season,  our tour group consisted of Ranger Lydia and Tim and Caroline. Without having to stop and wait for everybody to catch up, we did the seventy five minute tour in thirty five minutes. Including all seven hundred stairs. Luckily, it’s very cool down there, so overheating wasn’t a problem. Also the passages were much roomier, with only one place where I had to duck.

Decided a thousand stairs were enough exercise for one day. Pity the rangers, who do three or four tours a day. No stair-climber in their basements.

Drove back to Keystone. No time for the Hot Springs or the Mammoth exhibit because we were meeting someone for dinner. Maybe next time. Despite spending most of the day in parks, we counted only five RV’s and two trailers.

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