Sunday, July 6, 2008

Over the Fourth

It turns out the horse ranch across the road from us is a breeding ranch. We were able to monitor the progress of a stallion and mare Friday morning. That stallion was a-snortin’ and a whinnyin’ up a storm before the mare was brought over. Then he was pretty quiet for a couple of hours.

We also watched the colts during nap time.

In the afternoon some friends dropped by for a social hour, and we all had so much fun it lasted about three hours. We had first met Art and Lois five years ago in the produce department at Safeway in Hollister, CA. They saw our Escapee membership badges and came right on over and gave us hugs. We hadn’t seen them since then, except at the steak dinner Thursday night here at this park, but Suzy recognized them right away.

Saturday was our day to visit Devils Tower in Wyoming. This was our early view from the highway.

We got a fairly early start and arrived at the entrance to the National Monument about 11:30, had lunch at a little restaurant (buffalo burgers - delicious, and shaped like a bison with cheese, but priced like a T-Bone), then entered the park.

We do like our Golden Age Passport! Instead of paying $10, we got in free with a smile from the gate Ranger.

Have you been to Devils Tower? If not, did you ever see the sci-fi movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind? The movie, starring Richard Dreyfuss, was made there. Here’s part of the National Park Service’s description:

Devils Tower is a unique and striking geologic formation that has attracted people and captured their imaginations since prehistoric times.

The nearly vertical monolith rises 1,267 feet above the mean-dering Belle Fourche River. Once hidden below the earth’s surface, erosion has stripped away the softer rock layers revealing the Tower.

Known by several northern plains tribes as Bears Lodge, it is a sacred place of worship for many American Indians. Part of the Black Hills in northeastern Wyoming, the 1,347 acre park is covered with pine forests and prairie grasslands. Deer, prairie dogs, and other wildlife are abundant.

President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed the ‘lofty and isolated rock … known as Devils Tower’ as America’s first national monument.”

Here’s another description from writer N. Scott Momaday:

“A dark mist lay over the Black Hills, and the land was like iron. At the top of the ridge, I caught sight of Devils Tower upthrust against the gray sky as if in the birth of time the core of the earth had broken through its crust and the motion of the world was begun. There are things in nature that engender an awful quiet in the heart of man; Devils Tower is one of them.”

Many Native American legends have been passed down through time, but this one seems to be the most popular:

“One day, an Indian tribe was camped beside the river and seven small girls were playing at a distance. The region had a large bear population and a bear began to chase the girls. They ran back toward their village, but the bear was about to catch them. The girls jumped upon a rock about three feet high and began to pray to the rock, ‘Rock, take pity on us; Rock, save us.’ The rock heard the pleas of the young girls and began to elongate itself upwards, pushing them higher and out of reach of the bear.

The bear clawed and jumped at the sides of the rock, and broke its claws and fell to the ground. The bear continued to jump at the rock until the girls were pushed up into the sky, where they are to this day in a group of seven little stars (the Pleiades). The marks of the bear claws are there yet.”

Our visit was delightful! After seeing the Visitor Center, we took the 1.3 mile Tower Trail, that circles the base of the Tower, on a paved path.

Suzy mounted Big Red (her high-powered mobility scooter) and I trotted along behind. The Ranger had told us the first hundred yards of the trail were the most arduous, and he was partly right. There were some pretty arduous sections beyond, as well.

As we circled the Tower, we got some wonderful views of it from all sides.

We were even able to track a few climbers moving on the face of the Tower. This group seems to be waiting for another climber higher up the chimney.

In this picture, the group is about 1/4 of the way from the bottom, and the single climber is halfway up the chimney. (To get a bigger view, left click the photo. To get back here, click your left or "back" arrow.)

Over 5,000 climbers from around the world come here each year to climb the Tower.

There were a few places on the trail where I had to assist Big Red, places where the trail was steep or bumpy. At one point, Suzy actually got off the scooter to help move it along, until a young lady hiker and her friend coming the other direction grabbed on and helped us.

I took an opportunity to rest beside a burned tree stump. The National Park Service does allow and even encourage "prescribed" fire in order to protect the ecosystem.

Here are some more views of Devils Tower.

Suzy and the Thistle: "Passion Flower meets Wild Flower!"

There is a campground in the park available to RVs, however, with no electricity, water or sewer hookups. We drove through, and assessed that most of the sites would be amenable to our Rocinante (our motorhome) moving in. Maybe another day?

Leaving the park, we couldn't resist the red earth and the sage.

The trip back to Sturgis took us through the Bear Lodge Mountains of Wyoming and across the state line into South Dakota.

Along the way we visited the 110 year-old Aladdin Store in the town of Aladdin. “Town” is a strong word for a community of 15 people. Suzy asked the ladies at the counter if it was true there were only 15 people. They replied, “Yes, in the town. We’re from the ‘burbs!”

Crossing the state line, we pondered the wonder of our freedoms here in the United States, and the impression they must make on people coming here for the first time. The back highway we traveled was just that, a back highway. The state border was marked with a “Welcome to South Dakota” sign and a slight change in the highway paving style. No armed crossing guards, no barbed wire, no checkpoints, not even a weigh station for commercial trucks. We can move from one government’s jurisdiction into another’s without hesitation, without challenge.

Yay! for the USA! And Yay! for … Our Life on Wheels.

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