Sunday, July 31, 2011

Morning in South Dakota

Dakotas Day 3 - Sunday July 31, 2011 (Part 1)

5:33am - I hear Leo and Ted get out of their tent, and I am lying awake in my sleeping bag, so I get up as well. It is light out, but the sun is not over the nearby hills yet. It is nice in the early morning hours. I slept better than I expected to, partly I guess because I was tired, but also because the overnight temperatures were cool making for perfect sleeping weather. One thing I did not notice here that I did on our Pennsylvania backpacking trip last summer was critters rooting around camp during the night. Something may have come by, but I certainly didn't hear it. Soon the sun does come up over the hills and it is a beautiful and peaceful sight.

7:01am - Camp is dismantled since this is the only night we will spend here. Leo and Ted are cooking bacon and eggs in a frying pan over the fire, and the results are fantastic. As simple as the food is, I am becoming convinced that everything tastes better outdoors. While they finish cooking, I take a "shower" in the sink of the men's latrine, and get changed into clean clothes. I am a bit finicky and this whole lack of a real shower thing is going to take some getting used to. In retrospect, at the end of the trip, this is the one thing that I never really will have gotten used to at all. I don't feel entirely human until I get my shower in the morning. And by shower, I don't mean dumping water over my head from an empty Gatorade bottle.

We had two choices for what we could do with the six or seven hours we could spend here before needing to head to the next stop at Sylvan Lake campground via Mount Rushmore. Option one was to take a ranger-led tour of Wind Cave itself, and the other option was to do a short hike. Looking at the timing of things, we all decided that rather than each person choose which they wanted to do, we would all squeeze in both. I will admit to being apprehensive about the idea of being underground for an extended period of time. I have been on a couple of geology field trips in college that went into old coal mines, but that was for short periods of time and the spaces were never that enclosed. I am not claustrophobic as far as I know, but this would be a bad way to find out.

8:00am - We have an extra 20 minutes or so before we need to get to the Visitor Center to sign up for the 8:40am tour (which would last 1 hour and 15 minutes), so we drive around the area, and I get to see my first view of real bison in the wild (or semi-wild...). They are big from a distance, and downright huge when they are playing five feet from the side of the road. This was the first of several occasions on this trip when I would have to get by bison blocking a road, and it was nerve wracking. You would be waiting forever if you waited until they wandered off, and they tend to be fairly docile in general, but I always had this fear that at the exact moment that I chose to try to sneak slowly by them some big bull would decide to charge the van. I don't know if this ever does happen, but it didn't happen to us.

We also see a few different kind of deer, something that looks like an antelope, and lots of birds. There is a lot of wildlife active on the grasslands this morning, and it is great to see.

Next... Wind Cave

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