After thoroughly exploring Badlands National Park, I continued west toward Yellowstone. On the way was South Dakota’s scenic Black Hill National Forrest. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time for the pretty forest, because I was on a tight schedule.
I had time for the highlights. No trip to the Black Hills is complete without a visit to Mount Rushmore National Monument. I was lucky to have perfect weather, and the stone presidents looked good against the clear blue sky. Walking the short trail was fun, and provided the opportunity to photograph the famous sculptures from different angles.
I wanted to stay the night, which would allow me to shoot the monument during sunrise, nighttime, and sunrise. But my schedule forced this to be one of the most hectic days of #TerryTreksUSA. After spending only about an hour here, I got back in the car and headed south.
The Black Hills are a big area, and it was a long drive. It was a scenic drive, which several viewpoints of the forrest. Many large stands of dead trees were visible. An invasive species, the Mountain Pine Beetle, is killing the trees.
Wind Cave was the second national park on #TerryTreksUSA. I’m not much of a cave enthusiast, but I took the tour anyways. While not a famous cave, Wind Cave is the only cave to have so much “boxwork.” These are intricate honeycomb patterns of minerals lining the ceilings.
After the tour, I was excited to finally have a chance to camp in the wilderness. Above ground, the park is 70% mixed grass prairie. I got my free permit from the visitor center, packed up, and headed out on the well-marked Centennial Trail. I was immediately alone in a peaceful grassland nestled in a valley.
I got a late start, so could only walk about an hour before I had to set up camp. This was good practice, since it was my first night alone in the woods. I was deep in the backcountry, with no sign of civilization anywhere. But if I had to, it would be a quick walk back to my car.
Before it got dark I climbed up the ridge and looked into the next valley. It looked really wild and remote.
Nothing went wrong, and the night passed uneventfully. Except for all the growling. It sounded like there was a lion outside. I didn’t think there were any lions at Wind Cave, so I wasn’t too worried, just curious.
The next morning I looped back via the Lookout Point trail. This went up to the top of the valley, where there is a large prairie. It wasn’t quit as interesting as the grasslands in the valley. But I did discover the source of the growling. A small herd of about a dozen bison were running around, making all the noise. A bull stood guard on the trail. The last think I wanted to do was anger a bison, so I went far around.
When I got back to my car and looked at a map, I saw the Crazy Horse Memorial was on the way. But first I stopped for a big breakfast at a diner. It’s hard to eat enough food while traveling and trying to cook for myself.
Crazy Horse Memorial probably wasn’t worth the price of admission. Maybe it will be in a couple hundred years. What they are doing is beyond ambitious. I don’t think it’s even possible.
I regret not spending more time in South Dakota’s beautiful Black Hills. I didn’t even have time for Custer State Park. Wind Cave National Park turned out to be a gem. It’s not known for backpacking, so it’s very easy to have a crowd-free wilderness experience there.