South Dakota is about as different to Vegas and LA as fire is to water. We left the deserts behind and landed in Rapid City amongst the fields, driving 40 miles to the town of Spearfish past flat green plains (prairies) flanked by pine covered mountains. South Dakota is one of the least populated states in America, and the countryside is dotted with large properties and small towns.
We are staying with my Aunt and Uncle Cleo and Peter in their wonderful self-built house. Spearfish may be small but it is rich in history and spoilt for choice when it comes to outdoor activities and nearby tourist attractions. It is situated near the border of South Dakota, therefore on Monday we set out to conquer 3 states! We drove firstly to Wyoming – cowboy country.
The general store in Aladdin, Wyoming.
Soon we saw our first attraction rising in the distance – Devil’s Tower. This incredible geological masterpiece is thought to have formed from the solidified magma flow on the inside of a volcano, which never reached the surface to erupt. Over millions of years the earth has eroded away from around it, leaving the solid cone protruding from the much lower surrounding landscape.
Because of all the cracks in the side of the tower, climbers attempt to reach the top… but we stuck to walking around the bottom. The tower was a stunning sight, surrounded by pine forest and prairie dogs but we had to move on and drove back via Montana. We even drove past a cold war silo, with old missiles mounted for display.
Some wildlife along the trail….
The next day was another of long distances, when we drove to Wall and the Badlands. The Badlands are dry and desert like, a geologists dream with many levels of rocks as well as fossils. (Incidentally, the world’s largest T-rex was found in South Dakota.) The native Indians who were chased out of other states took refuge here and we could see how they could easily disappear from their pursuers. Past the impressive pinnacles are a campground and a small settlement, where we stopped in at a typical Western bar for a drink and at a lodge for a Buffalo burger.
In Wall, we stopped at Wall Drug – a famous store which started out as a tiny pharmacy and now owns every store on the street, with a café, gift stores, clothing, fudge, art, boots and hats, a gallery…. the success all stemmed from the original owner being cunning enough to erect a billboard stating “free ice water” to entice folks driving out of the hot and dusty Badlands to their store. Not that ice water cost anything anywhere else!
Later in the afternoon we drove to a ranch where some friends of Pete and Cleo were doing a branding. It was like stepping into a Western, with the men on horseback, skilfully lassoing calves. Traditional hot iron stamps were used to brand each calf whilst it was drenched and gelded – no rubber bands here, they sliced open the sacks and pulled out the testicles and tubules. The ranch kids went crazy for these, delving their hands into the slimy bucket. The “Rocky Mountain Oysters” were roasted on the branding oven and James was brave enough to try a couple… taste like beef apparently. I enjoyed a ride on a gorgeous horse named Heather; we took ourselves off to explore the nearby paddocks and enjoyed a good canter. I now have stiff legs and a sore backside however!
On Tuesday we took a break from the driving and went for a hike with my cousin Dylan and his fiancé Mindy. We embarked upon Crow Peak; the second highest peak in the region. Hiking here is different to at home, we traipsed through open pine forests and along rocky trails rather than over tree roots and through bush. Although steep at times, the spectacular views along the way and at the top made the effort well worth it! Dylan pointed out a nearby gold mine, which has yielded some of the world’s largest nuggets. Because of the wealth generated by the mine, this was the first state in the US to have electricity!
There is plenty left to explore this week, so in the evenings we are enjoying relaxing on the porch with beer and BBQ, and keeping up to date with emails, booking, blogging and the like. The former applies more to James and the latter to me of course!