Saturday, July 30, 2011

Scotts Bluff, Nebraska, and on to South Dakota

Dakotas Day 2 - Saturday July 30, 2011

6:00am - I am awakened by a text message from my little one, Grace, who doesn't realize that 8:00am where she is is only 6:00am where I am. I fitfully return to sleep for a little while.

6:50am - We wake for good, get a nice hot shower, which will be a luxury in the coming days, and load our baggage in the van. We have plenty of space as we have not yet bought our food, nor the coolers which we store it in, and a number of other "buy and leave" items; things which we could not bring on the plane, will want while we are here, and will not be able to bring back. This whole idea of buy it, use it for a week, and then throw it away, is unfortunate, but cannot really be avoided, as the cost of shipping these things to or from home would be far more than the value of the items themselves.

7:40am - We leave the hotel and Dave and I get a Colorado geocache right down the street. This is a new state for both of us, and the 5- to 10 minute detours for caches here and there will happen a number of times on the trip. We make the short drive to Walmart and shop.

9:30am - We leave Walmart $495 poorer, but with a van full of coolers, food, camp chairs, drinks, and miscellaneous minor camping items. This shopping run will carry us through most of the week, with a few small stops to replenish ice, water and drinks, and a few other essentials.

10:20am - A stop at McDonald's in Cheyenne, Wyoming for a fast food breakfast. Mine is an Egg McMuffin and a large coffee; alright if you don't do it very often. This is perhaps a precursor of things to come as we will be eating lots of fast food and quick meals while on the road, and easy things like grilled hot dogs and cold cut sandwiches in camp and on the trails. Not many green things will be eaten in the next week other than a few pickles.

Scotts Bluff, Nebraska
12:00pm - Arrival at Scotts Bluff, Nebraska. Dave and I find a Nebraska geocache, and then we proceed to the National Monument. I know almost nothing about this site other than that Ted picked it out as a place to see on the way to South Dakota, in a location that would break our drive in half nicely.

12:15pm - We can get to the top of Scotts Bluff one of two ways - driving or hiking. Everyone is anxious to stretch their legs, so we opt to hike the Saddle Rock Trail, which is an out-and-back of 1.6 miles each way. It is sunny and hot as we set out, and by the time we are done, we are sweaty, hot and thirsty. But it feels good to be here doing what we came to do - hiking and seeing the sights.

The hike itself is a surprisingly nice one. It starts with an easy walk through open grasslands to the foot of the Bluff. The trail then climbs the bluff at a moderate slope via a number of switchbacks. At the top of the near-side switchback, it passes through a tunnel high in the bluff and finishes its climb to the top on the far side. Almost all of the hike is in direct sun, and the temperature is in the high 90's, so I am sweating profusely and huffing and puffing a bit by the time we get to the top. This will be a constant in my hiking this week (and always is); I get winded easily on climbs but do recover pretty quickly.

The view from the top of the Bluff is amazing. From what I have read, you can see four different states from the top on a clear day. Today is a clear day, and it does seem like you can see forever. This is another phenomena that will reoccur this week. Big Sky country is exactly that. Flat or undulating ground and a horizon that can seem to go forever.

2:15pm - We complete the 3.2 mile round trip hike, with photo and sightseeing stops, in exactly two hours and reload the van for the drive north into South Dakota. I am hot, sweaty, and a little tired, but it feels terrific. One thing that I am adding here after Dave remarked on it in his blog is that we had a slight scare when we got back to the van after our hike. It seems that we left one of the van's side doors wide open the entire time we were gone. An entire van full of camping gear, luggage, food, beverages and cell phones and ipods was there for the taking. Nobody took anything. As Dave so rightly noted, the Patron Saint of Idiots was surely watching over us.

South Dakota
4:45pm - We stop in Hot Springs, SD for my first South Dakota geocache, making three new states today.

5:15pm - We arrive at the Elk Mountain campground, a first come first served campground, and the only one in Wind Cave National Park. We have no trouble finding a lovely spot, and set up camp for our first night in tents.

6:15pm - Camp is set.

6:45pm - Leo is making a fire to cook dinner. A big fire. Dinner is a simple one of grilled cheeseburgers, but food has rarely tasted so good. I suppose this is a combination of the earlier exertion, the camaraderie, and just something about cooking food at the camp fire. I am happy.

There is no cell service where we are, which is a good and bad thing. Even on a trip such as this I like to feel connected. Some would consider this sacrilege, but I do not think sending the occasional text message spoils the "outdoors and away from it all" feeling for me. For some it certainly does.

Warning signs on the latrine building warn of rattlesnakes and mountain lions. For rattlesnakes, the general advice is get away as quickly as you can. Makes sense to me. For mountain lions (a rarity), the advice is to "make yourself big" but do not run. This will become a running joke for the remainder of the trip, as all sorts of events and cirsumstances will met with the advice to "make yourself big".

When darkness finally comes, with it come as many stars as I have ever seen in one place. There is so little ambient light and background interference out here that the night sky is amazing. We could see the whitish band of the milky way itself, something that I have only seen a handful of times in my life. We also saw satellites in their orbits, and several shooting stars.

10:30pm - Bed time for me. What a great day.

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