I’ve traveled all over the world and to all seven continents, but this fall I had to check out a place that’s just down the road from my home in Golden and yet I’ve never been to…South Dakota. Our plan is to explore the Black Hills of South Dakota, head east to The Badlands, then spend some time in Wyoming with a stop in the Bighorn Mountains, where I used to live in my younger days. The weeklong journey starts in some place new and ends in a place I once called home and hadn’t seen in nearly 30 years.
My wife and I began our journey very early on a Sunday morning. Heading out of the Denver area, we drove through fog-blanketed plains for several hours until we finally exited the dreary skies of the lowlands for the blue skies of the Black Hills. Our first stop was at the second longest cave system in the world: Jewel Cave. A fascinating 1 ½ hour ranger-guided tour takes you through a labyrith of tunnels and massive caverns all covered in intricate layers of crystal. One could spend months or even years exploring the network of tunnels, but this pleasant walk was enough for me. Chronic clautrophobia will always prevent me from doing much spelunking.
That evening would be my first visit to Mount Rushmore. Our goal was to get some interesting sunset photos with the presidential carvings. There weren’t enough clouds for a decent sunset, but after the sky grew dark, the view of the carvings gently illuminated by a waning moon against a background of brilliant stars was nothing short of perfect. The park service gave a short presentation in the amphitheater, followed by the shining of bright spotlights on the statues. The light show was OK, but I think the moon was doing a nice job of it on its own.