I had set the alarm for this morning for 6 am, and when it went off, it was still dark. The sun had not yet risen over the mountains just to the east of us. We had slept fairly comfortably given that our tent was set up on soft grass, but it seemed very early and we were really tired. I hit snooze a few times, but we finally got up and got ourselves going, and were able to enjoy a lovely sunrise. Dave took lots of photos of the early morning sun on the Crazy Horse Memorial.
About an hour later I looked at the clock on my phone and had to double-check twice.
“Dave, I have to tell you something that you’re not going to like,” I said. “What?” he asked. “I accidentally got us up at 5 am. Sorry.” All he could say was, “I love you, I love you, I love you.”
Obviously we had reset all the clocks for Mountain Time *except* for the alarm clock. I made sure not to let that happen again.
The dew had started to fall last night before we were even done eating dinner. At 6 o’clock in the morning, as the sun started to rise, our tent, camp chairs, and the picnic table were soaking wet. It was apparent that it would take a while for it all to dry out.
Once we got ourselves together, we drove back to the Crazy Horse Memorial, which opened at 7:00 am. Even though we were there a half hour after opening, the woman at the entrance gate made a comment about us being early birds. I told her, “We’re awake, we figured we should take advantage of it!” We were glad we did, too, because there were very few people when we arrived, and it started to get really busy as we were leaving just a couple of hours later.
We watched the orientation video about the Crazy Horse Memorial project’s history and current status. We wandered around the visitor center for a while. At 8 am, Dave went out to make a few phone calls to try to organize our next activity. We were hoping to visit Jewel Cave, but as Dave made phone calls, we found that all the morning tours were booked. He also called Wind Cave and learned that we could get in on a first-come, first-served basis. We decided to take our chances with that.
Once we had that straight, we spent a little more time at the visitor’s center facilities at Crazy Horse. The place is laid out so that you drive up from the main road to the visitor’s center, which is a mile or so from the base of the mountain itself. The initial entrance fee is $10 each (or $27 per car if you have more than 2 people in your vehicle). Once you get to the visitor’s center, you find that you can pay an additional $4 per person to take a bus tour to the base of the mountain. And, if you really want to see Crazy Horse up close and personal – and really feel inspired enough to support the project – you can pay about $150 to take the special tour up to the top. This all sounds really outrageous until you learn that this multi-million dollar project is being funded exclusively through entrance fees, donations, and profits made by selling items in the various stores at the visitor’s center. Apparently the foundation has been offered federal funding at least twice, but the founder of the project was a free-market libertarian, so they will never accept government funding. It will probably take 200 years (my estimate) for the thing to be completed. Fascinating.
All that to say, Dave and I limited our enjoyment of Crazy Horse to the terrace at the visitor’s center.
We left Crazy Horse around 9:15 am and went back to the campground to take down our now-dryish tent.
Then we drove down Rte 385 south to Wind Cave National Park. We got there around 10:15 am, and the tour we wanted to take (the “Natural Entrance Tour”) was at 11 am. So we poked around in the visitor’s center a bit, learning about the history of the cave, etc. Then we went outside under a shelter, where the group gathered to begin the tour. As we headed to the cave entrance, I noticed a black line of clouds heading our way.
The park ranger, Justin, was personable and knowledgeable. He showed us the original entrance to the cave (the natural entrance) which was a hole that couldn’t have been more than 24″ wide. It was amazing to think that the original explorers of the cave would give tours to groups and require them to squeeze through such a tiny space. Needless to say, Justin didn’t guide the tour group down this entrance.
The cave itself was pretty cool. Wind Cave is very unique for several reasons, the most geologically interesting of which is that it has formations seen in very few other caves. These formations are called boxwork. There are none of the stereotypical stalactites and stalagmites – mostly just lots of boxwork.
Another aspect of the tour that was fun was toward the beginning, when Justin gathered the entire group into a large space, and showed us what the lighting would have been like for the original explorers, who used a candle bucket. You can’t see much detail carrying just a candle, or even much of the floor. Dave and I were glad that we didn’t end up taking the Candlelight Tour, which we had been hoping to do rather than the Natural Entrance tour. After Justin showed us the lighting with the candle bucket, he then blew out the candle, and we got to experience the cave in complete darkness. It was remarkable – you can’t even see your hand a centimeter in front of your face. As Justin explained, this is complete darkness – your eyes can’t adjust to this kind of darkness.
The tour was about 1 1/4 hours long, and we were glad we took the time for it. After we came up (exiting the cave via elevator) and went outside, we found that it had rained, but was now clearing and becoming beautifully sunny. Perfect timing for us!
On our way toward the visitor’s center, we passed some prairie dog colonies, so of course I wanted to stop and watch them for a bit. As we drove back, we noticed a mule deer buck with a beautiful set of antlers. Dave took some photos and he stared at us the entire time.
We watched the prairie dogs play for a bit, then stopped at a turnout to have some peanut butter sandwiches. It turned out there were prairie dogs right at the parking lot there, so we watched them a bit and took a few more prairie dog photos.
Then we headed toward Montana via Wyoming. We stopped briefly in Newcastle, WY to take photos of the Anna Miller Museum, to amuse Dave’s mom (whose name is Anna Mary). By now it was past 3 pm, so we didn’t have the time to enjoy all that the Anna Miller Museum had to offer. Instead, we got back on the road and headed back to I-90, which took another hour or so.
Once on the interstate, we drove through Wyoming for about 3 hours. We saw many incredible vistas in Wyoming as we headed west toward the Rockies, and then stayed north as the interstate worked its way along the feet of the great mountain range. As we cut across the northeastern part of Wyoming, the corn and soy fields had pretty much disappeared. Most of the land we drove through was grazing land for cattle – not many crops being grown there. It has a very wide-open feel.
We crossed into Montana around 5:15 pm, and fortunately didn’t have much further to go to get to our friends’ house in Hardin. We got to their farm just after 6 pm, after managing to just avoid being struck by a long train hauling tons and tons of coal. (There are no RR crossing gates here in Hardin to warn you not to drive across!)
We spent the rest of the evening relaxing and hanging out with our friend Kristen, her kids Hannah (7), Caleb (5), and Toby (3), and her parents Dave and Bonnie. We had a delicious home-grilled steak dinner, played with the kids, and had a late-night philosophical talk with Kristen. We stayed up a bit later than we should have, but it was great to have a chance to spend time with good friends.