Saturday, June 6, 2009

Day four - Devils Tower, Jewel Cave, and Mount Rushmore, oh my!

We awoke today to the aftermath of the storm that we saw roll in the night before. Remember that awesome picture we had with the tower outside of our window? Yeah, it was gone this morning. There was such a thick fog that we couldn't see it at all. One of the other couples staying there joked that we should ask Frank for a refund, since the tower was gone. In an "It's A Small World After All" moment, we found out that they were ex-Tucsonans (one was a UA law school grad, and the other was a lumberjack like Aimee). They were very cool and fit right in with everything else about the Devils Tower Lodge.

We left the Lodge, and went to the base of the tower to walk around it and take some pictures - Frank and plenty of other folks regularly climb it, and then look down from the peak to see the Lodge, the folks around the base, and the four states you can see from there (South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana) - but we opted out of climbing the 600 feet monolith. Besides, there's a voluntary moratorium on climbing during June for the six local Native American tribes (Cheyenne, Lakota, Kiowa, Crow, Shoshone and Arapaho) to use it for religious purposes. That's the real reason we didn't climb... yeah...

To give you an idea of scale, here's Aimee sitting on a piece that fell off a few hundred years ago. See where it might fit up on the side?

We wrapped up there, and moseyed over to the next national park - Jewel Cave. There was a slight problem along the way - the deer in this part of the country are.. uppity. One might think that a giant silver SUV hurtling towards you at 70 miles an hour might be a good thing to try to avoid. But no one ever accused deer of overthinking things like that. Chris had what he described as his "first real use of anti-lock brakes" also including swerving, correcting, panting, and then breathing a huge sigh of relief that we didn't roll over. We probably missed that deer by 6 inches if that. Since we were 30 miles from BFE, Wyoming, no one was behind us on the 2-lane highway to rear-end us, or cause problems as we skidded into the rumble strips, corrected back into and through our lane, and then back into it again before resuming our cruise. We thankfully made it to Jewel Cave without further incident. Surprisingly enough, we don't have any pictures of this part of our adventure.

It's the second longest cave system in the world and they offer all sorts of various tours. We took the shortest one, the 20 minute lecture that takes place a 30 second elevator ride and 250 feet below the visitor's center. Aimee's claustrophobia didn't really make this a fun experience - in her words "I hated it." Chris thought it was pretty interesting, but probably would have enjoyed a longer tour where you actually went and saw things more than just the one room where they talked about the cave formation.

They had an interesting thing out front that they use to clear the folks who want to go on the most strenuous tour. It's an example of how tight the space get in some parts of the cave. The space Chris is crawling through there is 8.5" by 24" which taught him an important lesson - his rib cage is about 8.4999" when he squeezes everything in as much as he can. Not exactly comfortable, so Chris won't be going spelunking in Jewel Cave any time soon. He did make it though, so he was very proud.

After wrapping up at Jewel Cave, we drove towards Mount Rushmore, which is only about half an hour away from Jewel Cave. On the way to Rushmore was the site where they're carving a 350 foot tall version of Crazy Horse, and we pulled up toward it to check it out. Arriving at the gate, we saw that they were charging $27 a car to go look, so we opted out, particularly since all that's carved is part of the face, and the hole under his arm. We turned around and got back on route for Rushmore.

Right as we started the drive up to the monument, which is about 1000 feet above the highway, a storm rolled in, complete with pounding rain and thick fog a la the aforementioned Devils Tower. Feeling a little miserable and more than a little concerned about being able to see anything, we parked in a parking garage (nice to be able to keep the car dry) and went up to the plaza. We had lunch and hung around in the gift shop for a while, and when we looked up again, the sun was shining and we could see the faces now! Woo! The only bummer was that since it had been raining, the faces all looked like they'd been crying. Since we can't control the weather (yet!) we have to take what nature gives us.

Not wanted to tempt mother nature any more, we drove through a little more rain on the way to Rapid City, found a hotel, and hunkered down for the night. The wifi only works in their lobby and the bar/casino downstairs, but that means that we got to use the two-for-one drink coupons we gave us at checkin while writing the blog. Yes, we're nerds and brought a laptop into the bar.

That just about does it for the day, so we'll have to catch up with everyone tomorrow!

PS - The pictures are updated in the album!

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