We left Colorado ready for some open spaces, no traffic and more National/State Parks. Bingo!
Anyway, we were off at our usual pace of ‘slow’ in Yogi and the camper to Devils Tower in Wyoming which was the main geographical feature in the famous film Close Encounters (well famous to anybody over 40). It is also incredibly famous as a climbing venue and we had both seen so many pictures of it for so many years – we were excited! Then we heard on the local radio that the park was closed for camping and visitors until they could get a bush fire under control…..bummer. However, out of the rain comes the rainbow and we decided to use the enforced delay to go and visit Mt Rushmore in South Dakota which was only about 3 hours drive away.
I don’t know about any of you but I have to admit that I was an adult before I realized that those huge faces of the 4 founding father presidents carved into a granite mountain……were real. I thought for years that Mt Rushmore was part of some Disney creation. So, as we drove around the corner from Keystone (local version of Blackpool dedicated to tourists with insatiable appetite for memorabilia, ice cream and all things bad/good ), I got a real buzz to see this magnificent display of craftsmanship which took 14 years to complete. George Washington’s face is over 60ft high from chin to hairline – I know all the important details. Interestingly, there is Crazy Horse Visitors Centre only 30 miles away which is in the middle of creating the largest sculpture in the world in the form of the American Indian leader, Crazy Horse. Seems fair to me, it was their land in the first place.
So, while we were at it, Phil did his usual superb research into climbing areas in the Black Hills around Mt Rushmore and found gold. It is the self proclaimed mecca for sports route climbing. We went to the only climbing shop in Rapid City to buy a guide book, but they had sold out. However, that doesn’t appear to be a problem over here as Eric – our new hero and shop assistant– said that he would lend us his personal copy as he was not using it for the next few days. Yet another unexpected and totally spontaneous gesture of goodwill from another great American guy. It really made our day as not only had we saved $35 ( Phil was smiling lots as he thanked Eric), we could go climbing in this beautiful National Park. It gets better though as the Black Hills has a free campsite in the quietest wooded area we could have hoped for. Bliss!
The climbing was fun but the rock was so sharp – granite with loads of quartzite – that you really had to climb a couple of grades lower than normal as you are scared of falling and losing your first five layers of skin. The climbing was literally 5 mins from our camper. The furthest climb was only 20 mins walk into the woods. There are large, huge pieces of rock spread among a wooded area so it makes for great shade in the sun and fab views from on top. Our best climb was on Mt Old Baldy which made us want to dedicate it to a few of our favourite bald mates – no names but your know who you are. Take it as a compliment.
Then we decided to do a few bike rides. One of them involved cycling 57 miles through 2 state parks on a scenic route designed specifically for people to take their time. There were switch backs, pigtail bridges which not only allowed you to swing back on yourself (hence pigtail) but were also a beautiful pieces of wooden engineering. There are also small tunnels made through the mountain but too small for any big trucks etc. There was hardly any traffic either as it is early season. Then the scenery was so varied and stunning but the highlight was going past a very big sign saying ‘Buffolo are dangerous wild animals’ – then about 200 metres later we saw one, then two, then three buffalo just in the woods to the side of the road. My gut reaction was to stop and take photos, but being married to a farmer he knows that these were beasts to be respected so – keep peddling! Then we saw some more in the middle of the road. We had to stop, we had no choice. Then a loud couple of motorbikes came from nowhere and this was enough to move them on. The next time we saw them was only minutes later and in that short period of time all anxiety had gone and we just wanted a close up – they looked mellow enough so I stage managed Phil as he cycled past the buffalo who was happily munching away. Just to be sure I made him do it again. What is the worst that could happen? He was on a bike – just peddle!
As well as our fascination for these amazing beasts, we got to see loads of antelope, mule deer, mountain goatsand twitchers would have a field day as there are loads of birds. As rides go it has to be in our top 5 of our American trip so far.
Next stop – back to Devils Tower. We arrived in the early evening, which was the perfect time of day to catch our first close up of this magnificent piece of rock. We had both expected a desert like surrounding but far from it. This is cattle country so the grass was green and earth has great shades of red and white, which are like features on the landscape. There is a mass of cottonwood and pine trees too. The campsite is inside the National Park and is down as one of our favorites to date. This is probably helped by the fact we are still in the early stages of the season so it is really quiet, stunning location and the birds are in full Spring chorus. It just feels special and having Devils Tower as your backdrop is awesome dude! There is also a good area to practice our new past time of throwing ball – yes we bought 2 second hand baseball gloves and spend time each day looking like true Americans, including wearing our baseball hats. It can get scary if Phil gets too excited……it is a hard and fast ball!
We just walked around the tourist route of the Tower on our first day to take in the scale and beauty of it all. It also gave us time to assess how many prairie dogs were part of the scenery….1000s! They are like ginger moles on steroids. They are everywhere and we stopped counting after 50 in one small area. They are hilarious to watch. They have the meerkat stance when they come out of their burrow, ‘simples!”.
The next day we managed to do one of the classic easier routes as we had no idea how different the style of climbing would be. Phil was his usual self and got us up and down with no problem at all. I managed to strain or do something to my rotary cuff in my shoulder, which meant an enforced no climbing day the next day.
We went for a local bike ride to the nearest town to entertain ourselves which is small and full of quirky things like skulls on the front of the bank and shops with wild west frontages next to a modern café. We are definitely in love with the ‘small town’ feel and I our cowboy hats are going to be out soon as Wyoming is cowboy country and we have a truck so we can just blend in…..as long as I keep quiet. Bring on the line dancing!
We are now in a great small town called Ten Sleep with a population of 260. Despite small numbers it still has a café, 2 saloons and its own rodeo stadium, which we are currently camping next to. We saw a couple of cowboys herding cows on horseback through town this morning on our way to go climbing, as you do.
That’s it for now folks! Off to the saloon for a drink – yee ha!