Day 12 – Thursday, July 11

Today’s highlight: Two Dairy Queen visits!

We woke up this morning after spending our first night camping, which was quite nice; clear skies and temperatures in the upper 50s / low 60s.  Shortly after midnight I had gotten up to go to the bathroom (a much better alternative to going to the bathroom without getting up), and when I stepped out of the tent I was amazed at the sky; even at night without my glasses, I could see thousands of stars, with the Big Dipper clearly visible through some trees.  It was pretty stunning, and it made me remember how much I absolutely love camping in the West, far from large cities.

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Crazy Horse Memorial

Our first stop this morning was at the Crazy Horse Memorial, in Crazy Horse, South Dakota.  Although not nearly as famous as Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial is — in my opinion — far more impressive and grand, even though it likely won’t be completed for several decades (and it’s already been 65 years since carving began).  Not only will the finished memorial dwarf Mount Rushmore in size, but it’s being created solely by private enterprise (originally just Korczak Ziolkowski and then his family), with no government assistance.  And instead of celebrating four white guys who had little to do with the land on which it stands, it celebrates a great Native American leader (and warrior) on his land.  Enough said — if you plan a visit to southwestern South Dakota, you owe it to yourself to visit Crazy Horse.

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Inside Wind Cave National Park

After Crazy Horse it was on to our first of two National Park/Monument visits of the day: Wind Cave National Park, in Hot Springs, South Dakota, which is the first cave anywhere in the world to be designated a national park (in this instance, in 1903, by Teddy Roosevelt).  The cave has well more than 100 miles of tunnels (estimates range as high as 1,000 miles, but only about 140 miles have been identified so far), and the tour we took, at just over a mile or so, was barely the tip of the iceberg.  One of the nice perks of the tour in the summer is that the cave remains a constant 53 degrees or so, which was a great escape from the heat today.

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Devil’s Tower

As soon as our tour ended we hopped in our car for the 130-mile drive across state lines to Devil’s Tower National Monument in Wyoming to see — you guessed it — Devil’s Tower.  Made famous by Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” Devil’s Tower  is an amazing site, rising more than 850 feet.  We took the loop hike around the base of the tower, which covered a bit more than a mile.  Along the way Aytan and Toby scrambled along some of the large boulders surrounding the base of the tower (climbing the tower itself is allowed but requires a permit).  Although there is little else in terms of attractions/sites to see in the area (other than the beauty of the land) — and no cell service for miles, at least with my Verizon Wireless phone — I found our visit to Devil’s Tower well worth the detour.

Our day ended fairly late at a Rodeway Inn in Gillette, Wyoming, which was as far as we could manage before nightfall after leaving Devil’s Tower.  Camping was great last night, but we all felt the need for a bathroom with a sink and shower so that we could brush our teeth and clean the sweat off our bodies (ok, TMI).