In 1967 my father bought a Pontiac Catalina and a dingy old travel trailer and took his girlfriend, my brother and me on a road trip. Over the next 8 weeks we drove 13,498 miles, visited 51 parks, and saw wonders like geysers, redwoods, grizzlies, and the Summer of Love in San Francisco. The trip made an indelible impression, cementing my appreciation for the natural world and the American landscape. This summer Pamela and I hope to repeat the experience for our family.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Dave: Ups and Downs in South Dakota

The Bavarian Lodge offers a continental breakfast, but it’s a little bizarre. Sausage, cheese, and rolls. Perhaps that’s a German continental breakfast. The price was right (free), and I urged the girls to absorb some calories.

Lark had said she wanted to see the Badlands, so we decided to take a day trip out there, while still trying to be at Jewel Cave National Monument by 4:00 for a cave tour we had scheduled.

We should have studied the map more closely. It took us 2 hours to get to the Badlands. We only had time for a couple scenic overlooks, a stop at the visitor’s center (for the patch, of course), and then a drive through the park to see the weirdly sculpted hillsides.

Then we headed east again. First we stopped at Wall Drug, but again we had no time, so we got our buffalo burgers to go. By this time everyone was hungry and annoyed and we were all snapping at one another.

Finally we made it to Jewel Cave, where we took a ranger led “lantern tour.” Everyone carries old-fashioned kerosene lamps.

It was a great tour. Only 20 people could come. There was a gang of young folks, recent graduates of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, who we really enjoyed, especially one guy, John, who we all took to calling "John the dragon slayer" because he went first once down a dark passageway and declared it was safe for everyone after he had killed the dragon.

For much of the tour we had to “duck walk,” which was great fun for Lark and Linden. Not so pleasant for Pamela and myself with our aging joints.

The cave itself was a mass of strangely shaped rocks. The walls were almost all covered with crystals (jewels, that is). At one point we had to let ourselves down a trap-door like hole into the darkness, although John the dragonslayer stayed to light our way. We had to pick paths through jagged footing. At another point we had to squeeze through a tight spot called Fat Man’s Dismay. In many narrow places, the wind blew hard up the cave. On days when there is low atmospheric pressure, the cave exhales like that. When there's high pressure outside, the cave inhales.

The lanterns were cool too. They were dim, so if you walked into a big room with a lantern, it would barely cast any light. However, by the time the others joined you the whole room would light up and you could see all the strange colors and shapes around you.

All in all it was a great little trip and mostly outweighed the frustrations of earlier in the day.

Ranger Joe, our guide, said this may be one of the last tours offered in caves in this area. The white nose bat fungus, which we know well back east, is spreading across the U.S. The park service is closing caves to prevent the spread of the fungus. Within a few weeks they may close Jewel and Wind Caves. So it could be a long time before anyone takes that tour again.

A couple wildlife notes: Driving through Custer State Park we saw a bison right beside the road. It was HUGE.

We also saw a small animal (maybe a mink? Or a muskrat?) carrying a fish almost its own size. The mink was on the road, struggling with his fish. Fortunately the traffic stopped for him to let him safely cross the road. Of course, it wasn’t so safe for the fish.

No comments:

Post a Comment