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phoebus - The Amazing Adventures of Sid - Week 7
Rocky Mountain NP, Cheyenne, Scotts Bluff NM, Chadron, Wind Cave NP, Needles Highway, Keystone, Mount Rushmore NM, Sundance, Devils Tower NM, Worland
Horseshoe Park
Looking across Horseshoe Park from the Trail Ridge Road.
West on Old Fall River Road
Driving west along the Old Falls River Road. That's a sheer drop on the left.
Driving out of downtown Denver going north and onto I-25, I discovered that the area immediately around downtown is the only unpleasant part: the suburbs are much nicer. I turned off after a little while onto highway 66 west towards Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. The road was initially completely flat prairie style, but quickly became hilly as it made its way into the Rockies. As I drove further into the mountains the road gradually increased in gradient and sharpness of turns and the scenery gradually got more and more rocky. After a while I drove into a town called Estes Park, a fairly small but extremely pretty town. It was rather like an ideal alpine town from Europe, consisting of lots of
View Southeast from Alpine Visitor Centre
The view southeast across the park from the Alpine Visitor Centre. You can see the Old Falls River Road going along a mountain on the left.
shops selling skiing, climbing, biking, kayaking and other gear for all the types of sports available in the area. I found a motel just outside town and checked in, then went for a drive into Rocky Mountain National Park. The park is not a huge one - about 25 by 30 miles - but has a number of roads winding their way around the many mountains encompassed by the boundary. The main road is the Trail Ridge Road, which I followed for a little while until coming across a much narrower gravel track called the Old Fall River Road, one of the first tracks to be cut through the park at the beginning of the last century. The track was one-way due to the very small width - sometimes barely enough room even for one vehicle. The track went up and up and switched back on itself over and over eventually climbing 3500 feet to a
View East from Rainbow Curve
The view east across the park from Rainbow Curve on the Trail Ridge Road. You can see the road curving three times around the mountain on the right, then across the valley and down the left hand side.
Elk in Horseshoe Park 1
Elk crossing a river near the road in Horseshoe Park.
visitor centre on the top of one of the mountains. The view was excellent, looking through a huge valley surrounded by several mountains over 12000 feet high, each with a patch of snow near the peak on the side shadowed from the sun. I took the paved road back down from the visitor centre and as I was coming back towards the area where I previously turned off, I noticed lots of people gathered by the side of the road looking at something. I parked and walked to where they were collected and saw that there were 30 or 40 female elk (cows) and a stag standing around drinking water. Suddenly a huge bellow and scream came from the trees and another stag rushed out towards the herd near us. Pandemonium ensued with the cows running across the road and a number of other stags running around. Their calls sounded more like a high-pitched bear roar than what I'd expected, and there were many of them at once making quite a racket. After the excitement was over I drove out of the park and back through downtown Estes Park, which was quite dark by now and so everything was lit up - the only thing missing was snow. Another thing I discovered is that it gets cold here at night; by the time I was back at the motel around 8-ish, it was 9° C and falling.
Moraine Park
A view across Moraine Park.
Moraine Park
Some elk in Moraine Park.
I drove down through Estes Park to pick up some food and drink and then continued on into the national park. I stopped off at the Fall River Visitor Centre, which wasn't actually
Moraine Park
Some more elk in Moraine Park.
as interesting as almost all of the other national park visitor centres I've been to, although it did have a model of the park with all the trails and roads mapped out. I continued on into the park and turned south to go to an area called Glacier Basin that sounded quite interesting, but turned out to be closed due to an extensive road improvement scheme.
Moraine Park
More elk in Moraine Park.
East from Rainbow Curve
The same view from Rainbow Ridge as yesterday, this time without the large mountain shadow.
Instead I stopped off by the side of the road in a wide, long grassy valley in which several elk were eating and playing (I think this was Moraine Park). Lots of people were standing around watching the elk, including many with extremely large expensive lenses on cameras - professional wildlife photographers I guess. Since the closed off areas of the
North from Lava Cliffs
A view north from the Lava Cliffs. You can see quite clearly the line where the trees stop and the alpine tundra begins.
park had cut short my journey, I decided to drive back up to the Alpine Visitor Centre on the top of the mountains that I went to yesterday and then on past it up to an area of the road called Milner Pass, through which the Continental Divide runs. Having admired the expansive views across vast valleys and huge mountains I headed back again. The Trail Ridge Road follows a path along the ridge of several mountains adjoined to one another, and so remains in the
Northwest from Lava Cliffs
The Lava Cliffs, near the Alpine Visitor Centre. For scale the cliffs are around 70 feet high.
Southeast on Trail Ridge Road
Looking southeast along the Trail Ridge Road near the Alpine Visitor Centre.
alpine tundra for quite some time, in fact its highest point is 12,183 feet (the Old Fall River Road is even higher). Up on the tundra the temperature is much lower than below, and the wind is much stronger, in fact during the winter the wind has been measured at over 100 mph. The cold and wind, coupled with the thin air, made the going pretty tough as I walked along a ridge to an area that looked out over valleys on three sides. I drove back into town and picked up some food for dinner and went back to the motel. It was very cold during the night - we're only just coming into October and the temperature has dropped below zero. All night I could hear the bugle calls of elk around the edge of town.
View from Gore Range Viewpoint
A view from the Gore Range viewpoint near the Alpine Visitor Centre.
Medicine Bow Curve
Medicine Bow Curve, after the Alpine Visitor Centre. The red sign is warning of high winds and lightning.
I left Estes Park and decided to drive all the way through the park instead of going up to Wyoming on the interstate. There were more patches of snow on the upper mountain peaks than yesterday, testament to the low temperature last night, and even a few small patches by the side of the road. I stopped off at the Alpine Visitor Centre at the top of the park (at an altitude of 11,769 feet) to have another look around, and it was even windier and colder than yesterday. Looking at the view the line where the trees stop growing was clearly evident - the trees in this part of the country cannot exist above 11,500 feet, above which is the alpine tundra (making up one third of the park), where only small hardy shrubs and grasses can grow. In the transition zone - from 11,000 to 11,500 feet - the trees are bent and twisted in an attempt to grow and look slightly eerie. From 11,500 feet down to around 9,000 is the
Continental Divide Sign
The sign at the Continental Divide.
subalpine ecosystem where Douglas and subalpine fir and Englemann spruce are the dominant trees. Below that is the montane ecosystem where ponderosa pine and juniper grow on warm south-facing slopes in the areas east of the Continental Divide, and lodgepole pine dominate the west. At the very bottom (although still at an altitude of around 8,000 feet) is meadow-like parkland with large grassy areas, lakes and groves of aspen. Around the visitor centre were warnings of things to avoid in the park, such as bears, elk during rutting season (i.e. now), mountain lions and lightning. Their best advice when being attacked by bears or mountain lions is to fight back - not something I'd like to try (although with hindsight, everyone seems to have slightly different advice on this). As I drove out of the centre and down the other side of the mountain there were wooden poles all along the side of the road around 10 feet or so high - apparently to guide the snow ploughs after the winter season. On my way down to the other side of the park I crossed the Continental Divide (also known as the "Great Divide". I was listening to a Sarah McLachlan song and she sang "across the Great Divide" as I crossed it, strange eh?)
Poudre Lake
Poudre Lake to the northeast of the sign. The lake drains into Cache la Poudre River, which drains into the Missouri...
Aspen in Kawuneeche Visitor Centre
A lone aspen amongst the lodgepole pine next to the Kawuneeche Visitor Centre.
The Continental Divide separates the Atlantic drainage from the Pacific drainage, i.e. all water east of it goes to the Atlantic and all water west of it goes to the Pacific. The divide runs from Alaska all the way down to near Cape Horn, mostly along the Rockies. On the way towards the western exit to the park I drove along the Kawuneeche Valley, a massively long grassy valley surrounded by mountains, with the Colorado River running beside the road. The river begins in Rocky Mountain National Park and receives 75% of its water from snow and rain in the mountains in the park. It was quite tame there in comparison to the raging torrent that carved the Grand Canyon over 600 miles downstream. At 1400 miles long it is still only the 5th longest river in the US. I then stopped at the Kawuneeche Visitor Centre where I watched a video presentation of the park, which was very good. I headed out of
Sunset from Wyoming Information Centre
Sunset from the Wyoming Information Centre, which was closed.
the park onto highway 128 and passed through a vast flat basin over 70 miles long with the mountains in the distance on either side (during which a bald eagle carrying something that looked like a rabbit carcass flew straight over the car), shortly after which I drove over the border into Wyoming and almost instantly into a huge thick forest. I saw my first oil wells of the trip dotted around the landscape, gradually increasing in number as I went further into the state. Highway 128 turned into highway 230 and met up with I-80 in Laramie, which I considered staying in but it looked a bit small and industrialised so I passed through and on to Cheyenne (pronounced shy-ANN), Wyoming's capital. I drove around the town for a little while looking for places to stay and not seeing any I drove a little way out of town and booked into the cheapest place I've found yet - $39 a night. The guy at the front desk was very friendly and gave me maps and directions to several places to visit in Wyoming and other states. Needless to say he has lived in England and knows Teddington; he's also lived in Australia and informed me that I sounded Australian. The place was a little dilapidated but perfectly fine for one night and close enough to downtown to explore the next morning.
Cheyenne Capitol Building
Cheyenne Capitol Building.
South along Central Avenue
Looking south along Central Avenue in Cheyenne.
Drove to the Capitol Building in the morning (can't give up the habit) and had a look around. It's quite a nice building although smaller than most of the others I've seen and surrounded by less parkland but has the golden roof and an old style about it. The rest of town was quite small but relatively pleasant. Having seen the building I headed out of town, as there was little else to see.

View from County Road off SH-71
A view from one of the county roads off SH-71. That's flat land! In the distance you can see Australia.
I headed east on I-80 and over the border into the Nebraska Panhandle. I like the Prairies, you can see for miles and miles in all directions. The Panhandle is typical of Prairie land and is almost completely flat with the occasional undulation here and there, and consisting mostly farmland. In fact it is identical to most of the area that I visited when storm-chasing in Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas - completely flat and covered with oil wells, windmills and cattle. It's also very easy to find your way around because all the roads are pretty much dead straight and perpendicular to one another, forming a giant grid across several states. Having driven over the border, I drove into a town called Kimball, a proper old western-looking town with diagonal street parking and wooden buildings with boardwalks. At Kimball I turned off I-80 and onto state highway 71 north after seeing another national
Scotts Bluff & VC
Scotts Bluff National Monument and the visitor centre. The towering cliff on the left is Eagle Rock, the northern part of the Mitchell Pass.
South Bluff & VC from South Overlook
A view from the South Overlook of the visitor centre and South Bluff. The road up to the top of the bluff curves down to the right and on its left is a long hiking trail that also goes to the top.
monument marked on the map. After a while I drove into Scottsbluff, just outside of which is the Scotts Bluff National Monument, a 500-foot high range of sand hills. The area is actually a cross section of high plains - hundreds of feet higher than the current Great Plains - that formed in the US's interior after the uplifting of the Rockies. The high plains have all but eroded away, leaving only these steep-sided sandy bluffs surrounded by the now flat prairies. The area is not only significant geologically, but also historically as it served as one of the easiest routes for passing
Mitchell Pass from South Overlook
Another view from the South Overlook. The road on the left follows the old trails going through Mitchell Pass between Eagle Rock and Sentinel Rock. The road to the top of the bluff tunnels through Eagle Rock on the far right.
through the badlands (vast areas of virtually impassable, chiselled land). The famous Pony Express passed through here, as did the Oregon and California Trails. The area through which they passed, a break in the bluff called Mitchell Pass, looms above the road like the vast entrance to a fortification. At the base was a visitor centre, inside of which were some excellent displays describing the local history, such as this being one of the areas where bison were hunted to near extinction by white hunters. After perusing the centre I made my way along the road up the side of the bluff, which passed through a few tunnels before appearing at the top. There were two trails to follow at the top, one to the North Overlook and the other to the South Overlook. I followed them both (although not at the same time) and they gave excellent views of the surrounding landscape and towns of Scottsbluff and Gering. There were warnings of rattlesnakes everywhere and it seemed that at every turn I could hear the rattling of an angry snake, but I was probably just being paranoid. Also from the overlooks could be seen the rest of the bluff and the badlands, which from the top looked like an area of densely packed mini canyons. The bluff is protected by a cap
Saddle Rock from South Overlook
Saddle Rock from the South Overlook, with Gering in the background. The hiking trail goes along the talus from the bottom of the picture and then comes out again on top of the rock to run along the side of it.
Badlands from North Overlook
Part of the Badlands from the North Overlook, with part of Scottsbluff in the background. This is actually a relatively flat area of badlands and it gets steeper and hillier to the north and south. For scale, the greenery at the bottom is large trees.
rock that acts as a sort of roof, preventing the rest of the sand underneath from being eroded quickly. But it is eroding, and will eventually flatten out the bluff to the same level as the rest of the plains. Incidentally, Scotts Bluff (named for fur trapper Hiram Scott) was originally named by Indians in the region Ma-a-pa-te, which means "hill that is hard to go around".

After leaving the monument, I headed north through Scottsbluff (why the town is one word and the monument two, I don't know) on SH-71 and out the other side and on through more vast areas of grass and cornfields. I had the intention of turning off SH-71 where it turned sharply east 30 miles up the road and going to the Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, but completely missed the turning and ended up going into the amusingly named Box Butte County (which I have since discovered, much to my disappointment, is in fact pronounced bute). I guess I could have pulled a u-turn since there had been practically no cars on the road all day, but instead I decided to keep going. I turned off the 71 where it turned sharply north again, onto SH-2 and then onto US-385 north, which I followed until about 15 miles short of the border. I turned east onto US-20 and drove into a town called Chadron, a couple of miles from the junction, where I decided to stay for the night.
East from US-385
Looking east from US-385 in Wind Cave National Park. This is typical of much of the area of South Dakota that I saw.
Wind Cave
The roof of one of the caverns in Wind Cave. You can see the crystalline formations and a little of the boxwork.
I left Chadron going west on US-20 and met back up with US-385 north to cross the border into South Dakota. The road took me through Hot Springs, a nice little town with diagonal street parking and frontier type shops made from wood and local red sandstone blocks. After it meandered through the town a little, the road left the town northwards past Battle Mountain and onwards into the Black Hills National Forest, an area that covers a small part of northeast Wyoming and a large part of southwest South Dakota. After a little while
Wind Cave
Some of the members of the tour I was with going into the depths of another level down some very slippery steps.
I entered Wind Cave National Park, one of the oldest national parks in the US and containing Wind Cave. Wind Cave is the 7th largest cave in the world and the most complex found so far, with 112 miles of explored tunnels. It is thought that the tunnels explored so far constitute only 5% of what's there and that the various levels of tunnels and caverns go to a depth of over 600 feet - and all this under a surface area of a single square mile. I stopped off at the visitor centre for a look around and discovered that there were guided tours of the caves, one starting only an hour after I got there. I decided to wait and spent the time looking through the various exhibits and surrounding landscape, which was populated with low hills covered in brown and yellow grass and occasional patches of pine trees. The tour lasted an hour and a half and covered a relatively short distance,
Wind Cave
The best picture of the boxwork I managed to get. This was spread all along the low roof of this cavern. The flash has dulled it slightly, it was quite redder and sparkly.
Wind Cave
A long horizontal tunnel, the sort of thing that loony potholers scramble through, although the tour guide said he'd been through tunnels much smaller.
most of it steep. The starting point for all the tours available was at the bottom of a long lift, the entrance to which was a 500-yard walk from the visitor centre. The cave was incredible - limestone walls in red, orange and brown with "boxwork" protruding from practically every surface. When the land was uplifted 60 millions years ago, during the creation of the Rockies, the limestone was cracked like a car windscreen and calcite seeped into the cracks and solidified. Then the water table rose and dissolved the limestone creating the cave, but was unable to dissolve the calcite, leaving the thin delicate fins
Bison in Wind Cave National Park
A bison (the one that started walking towards me). Although it might be difficult to see, his head is in the foreground and he's munching grass. Bison have massive shoulders, which makes them look a little strange.
protruding from the walls. The ranger directing the tour compared it to removing all the bricks from a wall and leaving the mortal in place. The effect is quite strange - almost alien like. It is also quite unusual of cave features, in that it was created before the cave formed, whereas features of other caves, stalactites, stalagmites, and such like were all created after the caves formed. The fins of the boxwork are incredibly fragile, some seem as thin as paper and just touching them can cause them to disintegrate, so you are unable to get too close to it. Incidentally, the name Wind Cave comes from the cave's only natural opening, a small hole in a hillside no more than 18 inches wide. When the atmospheric pressure outside rises and falls, air rushes in to and out of the hole to equalise the pressure in the cave, creating a whistling noise and a fast jet of air. There is
Bison in Wind Cave National Park
Another bison, this one having a scratch on a post.
Prairie Dog Town in Wind Cave National Park
A prairie dog near the entrance to a tunnel. These are very difficult to photograph as they all scarper at the first sign of trouble (i.e. me). I guess this one was slightly more courageous than the other ten that ran away when I got there.
another cave, Jewel Cave (so named because the minerals have crystallised giving the appearance of diamond-encrusted walls), that I would like to have visited as it is rumoured to be spectacular, but it was unfortunately too far off the route I was taking. A destination for my next trip, perhaps.

I left the visitor centre and continued on US-385 for a short while before turning off onto state highway 87 north, which continued to the top of the park and into Custer State Park. As soon as I had turned onto SH-87, I rounded a bend and was immediately confronted by a bison standing beside the road and munching grass. I pulled the car up next to him
Needles Highway
A needle on the Needles Highway. The road had to curve around several of these obelisk-like structures.
but didn't get out due to the innumerable warnings I'd seen about their unpredictability. Bison grow to around six feet in height, weight up to a ton, have large, thick horns and can run at 30 mph. He looked up at me and began to saunter towards the car and even though he looked cute and fluffy I wasn't keen on letting him tip it over, so I drove off slowly. There were a couple more at other points along the road but they weren't as bothered by my presence so I stayed a little longer watching them snuffle the grass. Bison (or buffalo, as they are also known) were hunted almost to extinction by white settlers at the beginning of the 20th century, but have been gradually reintroduced to the area so that now almost 350 inhabit Wind Cave National Park alone. A little further along the road was a prairie dog town - a large flat expanse of grass with what looked like molehills everywhere. Literally hundreds of prairie dogs
Southeast from Needles Highway
A view southeast from the Needles Highway at dusk.
Tunnel on Needles Highway
The entrance to one of the tunnels on the Needles Highway. It looks narrow...
(small fluffy animals like large guinea pigs) were running around all over the place barking at each other with high-pitched yips, the characteristic that gave them their name. The towns consist of a network of tunnels dug by the dogs with entrances all over the place, around which they gnaw the grass short to see better from their hideouts. Photographing them is very difficult as they are very wary and as soon as you go anywhere near them, they bark at each other and dive below ground. SH-87 was a wonderful road for viewing wildlife, at every turn there appeared to be yet another animal - bison, prairie dogs, pronghorn deer, mule deer, bighorn sheep - and this continued all the way through Wind Cave National and
Tunnel on Needles Highway
...and it is. Not a very good picture, but it's tricky to do whilst driving through a tunnel in the dark.
Custer State Parks.

Near the top of Custer State Park the road met a larger main road, US-16a, before turning off again to go through a thin extension of the park and taking the name Needles Highway. There was a fee of $5 to travel along this part, which I duly paid using the scheme of posting money in an envelope into a box by the road. The highway was amazing, with tight twists and steep hills, and extremely densely forested. It was also getting dusky, which coupled with the dense forest made it difficult to see the odd deer leaping out across the road, which I fortunately missed at all occasions. The road eventually entered an area of tall spires of granite, the needles, with very narrow tunnels cut into the granite cliffs. At times
View from Top of Needles Highway
A view from the top of the Needles Highway.
Rotated Needle's Eye
The Needle's Eye atop the Needles Highway. This is actually on top of a large granite block right next to the road.
there were no more than six inches of space either side of the car, and my car was of average size so I don't know what SUV owners did. At the top of a large hill the road curved around a series of tall needles and then gave an excellent view out over the park, which was getting quite dark by now. After a couple more tunnels, which seemed to get narrowed and darker all the time, the road exited the park and met up with US-385. I took this for a few hundred yards before turning off onto state highway 244, which curved up and around Mount Rushmore National Monument, where the four presidents' heads are carved into the cliff, the entirety of which was lit up for a night time show. Since it was dark and I decided I'd rather see the monument in the light, I drove past it and into Keystone where I checked into a Motel 8. I went for some dinner, but since the main part of the tourist season had ended, everything was closing at 9, so I grabbed some takeouts and ate them in my room (it being very cold outside). The day was effectively closed at 11 o'clock due a planned power cut of the entire town.

Apologies for the blueness of some of the photos, I had the camera set to night shots after being in the caves and forgot to reset it.
Avenue of Flags
The Avenue of Flags through the main entrance with the talus of Mount Rushmore in the distance.
Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore. The trees directly below the heads give an amazing sense of scale.
As I was checking out this morning, the woman behind the desk showed me a few routes that I could take on the way to my next destinations, Mount Rushmore and Devils Tower, that looked quite nice and scenic. I left Keystone in the direction I had entered and back along SH-244 until arriving at the Mount Rushmore National Monument. The first obstacle to overcome was how to go about navigating the six vast, multileveled car parks, which I eventually managed to work out and end up relatively close to the entrance to the memorial
Mount Rushmore
A closeup. I thought the eyes were ingeniously done.
itself. As I walked across the car park and towards the entrance, the cliff face with the four faces loomed up over the various gift shops and visitor centres at the base. The whole place was well laid out, with a central corridor of granite pillars, the Avenue of Flags, at each end of which were the shops, museums and restaurants. Each of the pillars in the Avenue had four of the state, district and territory flags and a little placard giving the name and other information related to the area. I spent a little time reading a few of the placards, which turned out to be quite interesting, and whilst doing so noticed that there was absolutely no-one else paying any attention to them whatsoever. This, I suppose, goes some way to explaining why most of the people I had met so far had very little knowledge of anywhere outside their own little world. In fact, many had never even travelled outside their home state. Anyway, that revelation aside I continued along the Avenue (priding myself on my new, extensive knowledge of America) and to the end where it opened out to look over a huge granite amphitheatre, where it seems concerts and other large displays are performed, although it was empty at the time. I descended a flight of steps to the large Lincoln Borglum Museum, which contained several displays of information
Mount Rushmore
The same view but an hour and a half later. The new angle of the sun makes quite a dramatic change.
Washington Profile from Viewpoint
Profile of Washington.
about the monument, and an excellent history of the USA from colonisation all the way to the mid-20th century.

The monument was designed and carved by a chap called Gutzon Borglum between 1927 and 1941, with the likenesses of, from left to right, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. Borglum had originally planned for an 80 by 120 foot entablature to be carved to the right of the heads, with Jefferson's head to the left of
North through Hill City
Driving north on US-385 through Hill City (which is neither on a hill nor, to me, a city).
Washington's. Unfortunately, the granite for Jefferson was inferior and had to be completely blasted away, leaving only the area to the right of Washington available and no space left for the entablature. Instead, he designed a massive Hall of Records to be carved out of the mountain, where another wall of granite rose up just behind the heads. It was to have a doorway 12 feet wide and 20 feet high, an entrance hall 28 feet long, and a main room 100 feet long, 80 feet wide and 35 feet high. The intention was to leave a record of why the memorial was created, and also records of all the documents pertinent to the creation of the United States and democracy. His ideas of the size of the Hall grew and he once stated that it would also have another floor below it with six more rooms, showcasing the wonders of electricity, American literature, immigration, religions, governments and women. In 1941, however, he died, leaving the work of the heads to be finished by his son, Lincoln Borglum, and the Hall of Records uncarved, except for a short entrance hall. The hall was completed, albeit in a much smaller form, in 1998 and a teak box in a titanium casing was set into the tunnel's floor containing 16 porcelain panels reproducing, in text and pictures, the Declaration of Independence and United States Constitution, biographies of the four presidents, a biography of Borglum, and technical and interpretive descriptions of the mountain memorial.

West across Pactola Lake
View west across Pactola Lake.
Sailing Boat on Pactola Lake
A little sailing dinghy on Pactola Lake.
Having exhausted the wonders of the memorial (I don't mean to sound cynical, it really was excellent) and grabbing some lunch, I navigated my way out of the labyrinthine car parks and back onto the highway. A little way along the road, where it curved round to the west of the memorial, there was a turnoff point with a good view of the profile of Washington's head. I parked and while taking photos was engaged in conversation, at least I think that's what it was, by a large seemingly drunk man with long scraggy hair and filthy clothes,
Spearfish Canyon
Looking south along Spearfish Canyon.
driving a beaten-up wreck of a car. Not wanting to enrage him I attempted to look like I was paying attention, but obviously didn't do a good enough job of it as he started insisting that there was a white mountain goat on a cliff side somewhere and I must be blind not to see it. After he suggested I give him my camera so that he might point it out more effectively, I decided it was probably time to leave and made a quick getaway, smiling and laughing at what I took to be jokes he was practically spitting at me.

SH-244 continued west and met US-385, where I turned off yesterday, and I noticed on the map that there was an attraction just to the south called Flintstones Bedrock City. I decided to give this enticing opportunity a miss and went north on US-385 through Hill City until stopping off at Pactola Lake. The lake is a result of the Pactola Dam that, I believe, serves electricity to Rapid City, a large town to the east, and is a nice, large, pristine, blue lake, surrounded by hills of dense forest and the occasional marina of small boats. I continued north on the
Spearfish Creek
Looking north (downstream) along Spearfish Creek.
North through Spearfish
A nice little town - driving north through Spearfish.
highway for a while and ended up in a town called Lead (pronounced either led or leed, I don't know), which was right next to another town, this one called Deadwood (which, I have since discovered, contains the grave of Wild Bill Hickok - was that Billy the Kid?) Neither town looked particularly interesting so I drove straight through and out on US-85 until it met up with US-14a, the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway. The byway was indeed scenic, being set in a deep gorge at the bottom of which was Spearfish Creek. The
East through Sundance
Driving east through Sundance at dusk. The restaurant I ate at is on the left.
steep canyon walls were limestone and had yellowing aspen all along the sides, with huge lumps or rock having fallen off and landed in the river. There were several places at which to stop off and admire the view and go down to the rushing river beside the road. At the end of the road and next to the junction with the I-90 was the town of Spearfish itself, just outside the boundary of the Black Hills National Forest, which I had been in for the last two days. Unusually for a river, Spearfish Creek doesn't actually empty anywhere; instead most of it is used for domestic purposes, and the rest simply disappears into sinkholes, leaving a dry riverbed going through the rest of the town. I drove through Spearfish and past some quite frankly enormous houses (this is obviously a town for the rich) and onto I-90 west, which took me over the border and back into Wyoming. Wyoming, incidentally, has a population of less than half a million, which is quite small considering it covers an area of nearly one hundred thousand square miles. I continued on I-90 for a little while until entering the town of Sundance, just to the south of an area rather confusingly called Black Hills, but which is not connected to the National Forest. I drove along the main strip looking for somewhere to eat dinner and having found one (the Aro Restaurant, which was quite good) I headed back to the Best Western I had seen near the interstate exit and checked in for the night.
Devils Tower from SH-24
Devils Tower from SH-24, still about five miles away.
Devils Tower from SH-24
A closer view from further down SH-24.
I left Sundance (from where the Sundance Kid got his name: he was once tried there), driving back through the town and out the other side, and turned onto US-14 west towards Devils Tower. Around 15 miles away, I spotted the tower on the horizon and it slowly got bigger and bigger as I approached it. I turned onto SH-24 that went north towards the entrance station for the park, which was off another turning onto SH-110, the road that goes around the tower. The tower began to loom up out of the landscape and looked quite unnatural and out of place. Along the way I stopped at a sign that explained the Indian folklore behind the tower.

Tower from VC Car Park
The west side of the tower from the car park. You can just see the specks where people are climbing.
It seems that seven sisters and their brother were at play when the brother suddenly and inexplicably turned into a bear. Perplexed by this unlikely metamorphosis the girls ran away and soon came to a tree stump. Unusually, the tree stump spoke to them and bade them climb upon it. Haven given up any expectation of a normal day, they did this and the stump grew, rising up into the air. The bear came to kill them but they were just beyond its reach so it reared against the tree, again and again, scoring the bark with its claws. As if they hadn't had enough, the seven sisters were borne into the sky and became the stars of the Big Dipper.

Since reading this story, I have seen several variations, one in which there was no stump, the girls just prayed and the gods (or god, I'm not sure whether the Indians were monotheistic or not) made the ground rise up. Also, in most other stories the girls became the Pleiades, also known as the Seven Sisters. I think this is most likely since the Big Dipper is correctly known as Ursa Major, which means great bear. Either way, the gist of the story is the same. That aside, I entered the park and immediately came across another prairie dog town, this one larger than the others. There were a few people wandering amongst the burrows and waiting for the dogs to come out, despite the numerous warnings
Cropped Rotated Tower from VC Car Park
A closeup of people climbing the west side.
Rotated West Side from Trail
The west side from the start of the trail.
not to go anywhere near them. Beside the several stopping places along the road, little metal boxes held leaflets that could be bought for a 10c donation, the leaflets giving an in depth explanation of the dogs, their habits and habitat. It seems that if you get too close to them they'll bite, although how you're meant to get too close I don't know since they run away at the first sight of anyone. They carry diseases, fleas, ticks and lice, some of which have proved fatal to humans. On the other hand, humans feeding them has also proven fatal since the dogs live on water derived from plants, whereas human food contains salt, sugar and preservatives, which disrupts their water balance. You are also warned not to put your hand into a prairie dog burrow (why anyone would want to do this is beyond me) since rattlesnakes and black widow spiders hide in there to escape the sun. Anyway, since it became obvious that no one was going to be bitten, I continued along the road around the base of the tower and into the car park next to the visitor centre.

South from Trail
The view south from the southern part of the trail.
Devils Tower was the first National Monument in the US, designated in 1906. The tower is an igneous intrusion - an injection of magma forced into the surrounding sedimentary rocks - and not the core of a volcano as was originally thought. It was created 60 million years ago and as the magma cooled, it contracted and fractured into columns. Over millions of years, erosion of the sedimentary rock exposed the tower and continues to affect the it, occasionally breaking off the columns and creating the talus around the base, although I believe the last column to fall was around 10,000 years ago. The tower rises 867 feet from its base and is 1,267 feet above the Belle Fourche River that snakes its way around the surrounding land. Its total elevation is 5,112 feet and it has a diameter at the base of 1,000 feet. The 1.5-acre top is teardrop-shaped and covered in trees, bushes, shrubs and various small animals and birds. How animals like ground squirrels, snakes and chipmunks managed to get to the top is unknown, although one theory is that birds dropped them there by accident (which sounds funny, I know). Standing at the
East Side from Trail
The east side near where I saw the rattlesnake.
Aspen and West Side from Trail
The west side with some colourful aspen underneath.
bottom of the tower as it looms monolithically over you is very strange; it doesn't look real until you start to spot the large number of climbers making their way up the sides. Because the columns are shaped with five, six and seven sides and absolutely huge - up to 10 feet wide - they together make an excellent device for reflecting sound; as you walk around the base the conversations of the climbers can be quite clearly made out even though they are up to 800-odd feet above you. The Tower Trail, which traces its way around the base and through part of the talus, was an excellent walk and at 1.3 miles not too long in the beating sun. Climbers were on all sides except the north, due to the smoothness from lack of erosion - the temperature changes aren't great enough to have an effect. The trail also takes you through different areas containing every phase in the process of
Cropped Prairie Dogs near Devils Tower
Definitely the best shot of prairie dogs I took.
establishing a forest, from bare rock to pines. I even saw my first rattlesnake, although it didn't seem particularly pleased to see me and I walked hastily past as it rattled at me. Having arrived back at the car park I took a few more photos and drove back out and along SH-110, passing through the prairie dog town and managing to snap a couple of better shots of the somewhat tamer dogs.

I turned back onto SH-24 and followed it all the way down to I-90, which I took west. The landscape remained pretty much the same as it had been for miles - quite hilly with deep valleys and canyons between the hills and populated with low grasses and shrubs. The road went through Gillette, apparently famous for three golf courses where the main obstacles are the many hundreds of pronghorn antelope that wander freely about. Gradually, the hills got higher and the valleys deeper until it became apparent that I was entering the foothills of a mountain range, specifically the Big Horn Mountains. A little while after passing over the beautifully named Crazy Woman Creek, I turned off the I-90 at Buffalo and
West from I-90 rest Stop
Looking west towards the Big Horn Mountains from a rest stop on I-90 between Gillette and Buffalo.
Sunset onto Big Horn Mountains 2
Sunset onto the Big Horn Mountains near Ten Sleep Canyon.
onto US-16, which went up and through the mountains into Big Horn National Forest, while the interstate curved north and along side them. To the north of Buffalo, near the border with Montana, is a town called Sheridan where Buffalo Bill, a famous buffalo hunter, once lived. The road became extremely steep and curved around a number of large mountains and the sun was sinking to quite a low elevation, which caused problems since I was heading directly towards it. In fact at one point I ascended a hill to find the sun sitting right on the brow, making it impossible to see anything at all such
Ten Sleep Canyon
View along Ten Sleep Canyon with the road along the canyon on the right. Strangely it was actually quite dark but the camera has compensated for the lack of light.
that I had to pull over and drive very slowly along the shoulder. It didn't help, of course, that the windscreen was covered with dust, making it an impenetrable shield when the sun shone on it. As the sun descended below the horizon, the wildlife once again emerged into the dusky light - cottontail rabbits and white tail deer in this particular area; apparently the rabbits thrive on the pale green sagebrush that covers the hillsides. The road eventually crossed Powder River Pass at an elevation of 9,666 feet and then descended very steeply into Ten Sleep Canyon. All along the roadside were signposts informing drivers of the types of rock they were passing through and the period of their creation (Ordovician, Cambrian, Jurassic, etc.), which I thought was quite interesting (but then I would). The road continued to descend, following the Ten Sleep West Fork River, until it emerged from the Ten Sleep Canyon, a drop of 5,500 feet from the pass, and into, you've guessed it, Ten Sleep the town (once they find a name they like, they stick with it). Since it was dark by then, I didn't really get a look at Ten Sleep and drove straight out the other side. After a while I came to another town, Worland, and realising that I had only made it half-way across the state and that I quite obviously had no chance of getting to Yellowstone in one day, decided to call it a night and booked into a Comfort Suite.
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