After our adventures at Wall Drug, we continued West through the Black Hills of South Dakota. By the way, we had a great time in the Badlands. It was kind of funny because it is supposed to be one of the hottest, driest places on the continent and it was rainy and about 18 degrees Celsius when we were there. It was nice, though, because the crowds were thin and we were able to enjoy the place without frying in the heat. We went for a little hike and discovered that the hard dry clay becomes something akin to fresh concrete when it gets wet. By the time we got back, our shoes had disappeared under several layers of muck and our feet felt 10 pounds heavier – but we had fun!
Next, we explored the Black Hills and visited Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse. I was prepared for cheesy tourist traps, but was pleasantly surprised by the classy tributes to America’s former leaders (Presidential and Native American) and the sculptors who dedicated their lives to immortalizing them. Our kids really enjoyed themselves, even sitting quietly through the 20 minute documentary films that told the stories of the monuments. I was particularly moved by the story of Korczak , the Polish-American sculptor who believed so strongly in his quest to create a tribute to Crazy Horse and the Native American people that he spent the last 40 years of his life on the project (7 of his 10 kids still work on the project).
While waiting for the RV repairman at the Mt Rushmore KOA (fridge again), the kids and I spent an hour and a half (it felt like a day and a half) doing the campground scavenger hunt. I guess its KOA’s way of showing us everything they have to offer because we got to see every inch of their 10 acre property. My kids practiced their bartering skills when they went to claim their prizes. Not liking the 10 cent prizes they were offered, Simon boldly asked, “What else ya got?” The lady laughed and said, “What would you like?” Simon ended up walking away with nine marbles and Alexa got six slices of crystal geode. Not bad – they should do well in Thailand.
Next, it was on to Yellowstone through the Big Horn Mountains. We stopped at Powder River Pass (9,666 ft elev) and bagged our first 10,000ft peak! It was basically just a 500ft high pile of rocks, but the kids took to it like mountain goats and the view from the top was incredible. I must admit to a few heart palpitations, myself, as well as some flashbacks to Crypt Lake (see All About Us). I was especially nervous of the kids at that height, but they were confident and fearless and conquered the mountain like pros. We started to think that trekking in Nepal might not be so unattainable.
The next several days were spent touring around Yellowstone National Park under cloudless blue skies. The scenery was spectacular, the animals plentiful and the crowds fairly thin. We were disappointed by our first campground at Fishing Bridge (basically a parking lot in the woods). We didn’t even have a picnic table or fire pit! We decided we could live without electricity for a few days and found some nice rustic campsites at other campgrounds the next two nights. We saw lots of wildlife including bison, deer, elk, a moose, a wolf and lots of ospreys. Our funniest wildlife experience happened when we were driving along looking at bison. A crow took off on the side of the road and, flying in the same direction we were driving, veered across the road in front of us. Claude slowed down to try to avoid hitting him, assuming that most birds were smart enough to avoid getting run into by a slow-moving RV. Unfortunately this crow must have missed that day at flying school because he continued to fly at a low altitude in front of us and we ended up driving right up his backside. With a thump, our windshield hit him in the ass and, to our horror, he disappeared in front of our grill. Well, I guess he was at the Indiana Jones Stunt School the day he played hookie from flying school, because a few seconds later he reemerged to fly away unscathed. I hope his buddies rib him for that one.
Apparently it’s not just the crows who are stupid at Yellowstone. At Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon (1500 ft drop) we watched one foolhardy tourist ignore the signs warning about the dangers and illegality of climbing in the canyon to climb over the retaining wall and scramble down the scree to get a picture of a pair of nesting ospreys. What some people will do to get a picture! We watched another family let their toddler run around on the unstable geothermal crust at Mammoth Hot Springs while they took pictures, despite all the signs warning about the danger of scalds from the superheated water just below the crust. Don’t worry, another watchful tourist tour a strip off them before I got a chance to.
Over the three days we spent in Yellowstone, our kids were real troopers and spent hours walking the boardwalks and trails with us with a tolerable amount of complaining. They even climbed up and down the canyon trails (600ft down and back up) three times to see the falls and the views. Of course we also had to go see Old Faithful and all the other geysers and hot springs. By day three, Alexa could be heard to moan, “Oh please, not another hot spring!” Overall, Yellowstone was a success and our kids are now experts on glaciers, volcanoes, hydrothermal phenomena and scat. Who needs school?
Check out our photos on our web album