Monday, September 6, 2010

Guest Post from Sara

Hello everyone!  I think most of you know me (or at least of me) but in case you don't, I'll introduce myself.  My name is Sara, and I'm Scott's girlfriend.  I currently live in North Carolina where I am in graduate school, and I have a blog of my own called Running with Teaspoons.  As the name suggests, it's a blog about running and cooking.  Anyway, as Scott mentioned, I was able to fly out to Rapid City, South Dakota to join Scott and Meagan for a few days.  It was a blast!  I arrived on Wednesday night (Sept. 1st) late at night, and we rolled into a Walmart to park for the night.  Who knew that Walmart parking lots were party-central for RVs?

Anyway, we went to bed pretty soon after I arrived so we could get a relatively early start the next day.  For those of you who don't know - Scott is not a morning person.  (To be fair, neither am I).  So basically, every night Scott and Meagan decide "we'll get up at7am tomorrow" and then Scott sleeps until at least 7:30 or 8.  So it goes.  Anyway, the pro to not being ready to hit the road until 8am today was that McDonald's opens at 8am, and McDonald's breakfast is delicious.  In South Dakota, you get hot sauce served with your breakfast burritos... how sweet is that? Mmm, hot sauce.  Anyway, I'm sure you don't care about McDonald's and would much rather hear about our first destination: Wall Drug!  Wall Drug store is ridiculous.  Their history page will tell you that the way they became a success was advertising free ice water on the highway.  Now, they have advertisements for literally EVERYTHING on the highway.  Fresh brewed coffee, homemade donuts, whatever.
We stopped in Wall for about twenty minutes to wander through the "drug store" which is really like a small mall.  They have trinkets of every kind, typical drug store supplies, restaurants, jewelry stores, clothing stores.... everything.  We mostly just wandered and took some pictures before heading back to the RV.

Onto the BADLANDS.

We arrived at the Badlands in the mid morning and drove the scenic route through, which was awesome!  First on the list: the visitors' center.  Scott and Meagan love visitors' centers.  I think we went to at least three or four over the weekend.  Anyway, this visitors' center had a video that was about 20 minutes long, which I liked a lot!  It featured prarie dogs, which I think are totally adorable.  After watching, I seriously contemplated trying to find and steal one as a pet, although I was warned that they bite and are often rabid.  Details!  Anyway, the video also was the first of many times this weekend we were reminded that much of the land in South Dakota that we enjoy as national parks really should not belong to the United States.  Hearing for the first time on Thursday, and many times later on, how both parts of the Badlands and the Black Hills National Forest was stolen from the Lakota (and other Native American tribes) despite multiple treaties signed by the US government promising that land to the Native Americans was.... disheartening.  After the video we chatted up one of the rangers, who told us that we were allowed to go off-path and hike/climb wherever we would like in the park.  In the same breath the ranger was sure to note that the cell reception is not very good, and you are putting yourself at risk when you go off trail and decide to start climbing up rocks that are not very stable.  He also made sure to tell us that going down is often more problematic than going up.  Did this deter the Edmond children from wanting to climb multiple rocks, mounds, and mini-mountains?  Of course not.

So, after chatting with the ranger, we picked a nice four mile hike: out via the Medicine Trail and back on the Castle Trail.  Right at the outset, we were warned:

The beginning of this hike was... well... kind of boring!  That sounds terrible, I know.  But we were walking on a vary narrow path through grassland meadows that seemed to never end.  The views from the plains were kind of cool - we could see lots of the Badlands mountainous structures in the distance... but that was about it.

In the mix of grass and grain, we did see many cacti growing.  I love taking pictures of plants - whether they are cacti or flowers, so I had to get at least a few shots.

We also saw a few holes that most certainly housed prairie dogs at one point, but there were no prairie dogs to be seen!  I was sad - I wanted to see my cute furry friends!
Anyway, after a good while of walking, Scott and Megs picked out a relatively small rock formation to climb.  Being 20 inches shorter than Scott and 10 inches shorter than Meagan, I was a little hesitant to climb with them, and at first opted to photograph them from the ground.

But, Scott did eventually convince me to climb to the top... Glad I did!

Then we continued onto the Saddle Pass Trail, which we were told gave us a fabulous view of the park in all directions.  It did not disappoint!  We stopped to eat our snacks and took in the view, which was partway up one of the rock formations.  After eating, Megs and Scott decided we ought to climb all the way to the top of said rock formation - which was easily three times higher than the first formation we conquered.  I was... skeptical.  But, all three of us made it to the top, and it was SPECTACULAR.

In addition to being beautiful and amazing, I think I have failed to mention how WINDY it is in the Badlands. Starting with our drive in, every moment of Thursday was filled with wind.  The park video informed us that it is pretty much always windy in the Badlands, nonstop.  It made the hiking and climbing more challenging, but it was also cool and refreshing!  I was definitely enjoying the drop in temperature, coming from the 95 degree heat and 100% humidity of North Carolina!

After hanging out at the top of the rocks for a while, we began our hike down and our journey back to the RV on the Castle Trail.  The Castle Trail was way cooler than the Medicine Trail, thank goodness!  I was getting pretty tired by mile 3 or so, but the views kept me going.

We also saw several places where people had collected rocks to spell out various messages...

We got back to the RV and decided to take our time on the drive from the hiking location to our camping location - stopping at about every other pull-off view point.  By this point, we had seen about 20 signs warning us of rattlesnakes, at which point Meagan commented, "I kind of want to see one now!"  Both luckily and unluckily for us, we did not see any rattlesnakes during our trip.

After seeing most of the views from the scenic route, we headed to our campsite.  We had to turn down an unpaved road, and the RV was not happy at the next TWELVE MILES sanz pavement.  Let's just say it was... slow going.  But, along the way we DID see rams:

Prairie dogs!!!


and BISON!

The funny thing about the Badlands is how different they are... just 5 or 10 miles down the road!  The area we hiked in had very little vegetation, and few signs of life outside of bugs.  But, as you can see, as we drove closer to the campsite, we saw many animals, trees, and vegetation.  Finally, we arrived at our campsite, where the wind made it challenging to put up the tent... but we managed!  It probably was the most remote place I have ever been in.  And it was awesome.  We had some pretty sweet neighbors for the evening as well:

The stars were INCREDIBLE, but I did not even attempt to take any pictures of them, unfortunately.  I can honestly say I have never seen so many stars, or seen the milky way so clearly. It was amazing.

Friday morning we drove from the Badlands to Black Hills.  We stopped at the visitors' center right off the highway, and met a women who at first seemed quite helpful... but quickly turned obnoxious!  When she found out that we were in an RV she was quite annoyed, and told us we needed to "save our beer money" and "stop drinking just for one night" so we could afford to rent a car to drive through the park instead of driving the RV, since one scenic drive that she highly recommended does not allow RVs.  She also was completely useless in suggesting any hikes we ought to go on, and instead told us that "there are great hikes everywhere."  Thanks, lady, I figured that in the several thousand square miles there would be at least a few good hikes.  But she couldn't name any trails or tell us where any specific trailheads were.  Grr.  We took a few brochures and headed on our way towards Mount Rushmore.  About ten minutes later, we officially entered the Black Hills National Forest, where we saw another visitors' center.  It was at this point that we realized we must have stopped at a fake visitors' center.  So it goes.

We arrived at Mount Rushmore shortly after noon and decided to go on the 30 minute tour/talk around their short trail.  I really liked our tour guide:
...but I guess I never realized that the main reason Mount Rushmore was commissioned was to bring tourists (like ourselves) to South Dakota to stimulate their economy.  Well, South Dakota, I hope you enjoyed my business!  Haha.  Anyway, it was cool to be reminded about (and learn about) the four faces on Mount Rushmore and what they meant to our country - it was quite a patriotic experience!  But, we were once again reminded of how these lands were promised to the Sioux Nation of Indians in a treaty and then taken away unjustly.  It sort of made me want to evacuate the whole area and not let anyone back in.  Which of course is not at all feasible, so, I figure the best I can do is try to be respectful from the area and enjoy its beauty!

Mount Rushmore also has a cool walkway with pillars that have one state or territory engraved on each side of them, and all of the state flags at the top.  It was pretty sweet, and I was excited that Maine and Maryland were next to each other... and obviously made Scott pose with me.

I also decided I needed a picture with my current home as well:

And of course took approximately 100 pictures of the actual mountain.

After Mount Rushmore, we drove over to Crazy Horse.  We didn't actually pay the entrance fee and go in, since we had already paid $10 to park at Mount Rushmore and it was pretty easy to see from the road.  It was pretty cool, but I expected it to be... more finished?  Haha.

After Crazy Horse, we decided to head up to Spearfish Canyon to try to do some afternoon hiking and camping.  On the way, we drove through Lead and Deadwood, which are both fairly small but cute towns.

Spearfish Canyon has a scenic highway that runs along the creek... and it is incredible.  We also stopped to take as short walk/hike down to Roughneck Falls, which is one of several falls along Spearfish Creek.

Unfortunately, we were not able to get into any campsites in the park, so on the advice of our (fake) ranger from earlier that day, we drove up to Spearfish City to try and stay in the city park.  We got one of the last of their 163 campsites, and found out that although all the sites with power were already reserved, the campsite had SHOWERS we could use.  Hooray for showering!

I'm going to have to stop at this point and let everyone know that despite their irregular showering schedule, I did not think that Meagan, Scott, or the RV had any sort of bad smell while I was there.  They smell just fine.  Also, they have a sweet little set up so they can wash their hair every day, which if you know Scott very well, you know is an absolute necessity.

So, for anyone who is concerned - don't worry!  They don't smell!  And they manage to shower pretty frequently.  Anyway, back to Spearfish City.  This town was HOPPING.  I am being 100% serious.  They had a concert right next to the campgrounds, and in the down town area they had a "First Fridays" festival including another band and street vendors!  We walked down to their main street to check out the festival, and saw an amazing sunset on the way.
And checked out the festival....

By then it was dinner time, so Scott asked a group of locals where we ought to at dinner.  She responded by telling us that she had just had dinner at a place called Stadium, and they had great steak tips, but it was packed right now because of the game.  (Hmm... Friday night.... what game is she referring to?  Scott and I both follow sports pretty closely, so we were confused...) She proceeded to tell us about two steak houses down the road that were also nice.  Scott responds, "So, basically, there is steak?" and she said well, yes, I mean, I guess it depends on what you like... if you walk a mile down that road, there's a Chinese place.  At that point, we just assured her that we like steak and thanks for the advice.  So, puzzled about "the game" we decide to check out Stadium.  As we walk towards it, I see a sign for Black Hills State University, and remark that it must be college football.  Scott responds, "But it's Friday... college football, on a Friday?"  As soon as we walk into Stadium, my suspicions were confirmed.  They were broadcasting the BHSU game live, and BHSU was winning 7-0 in the fourth quarter!  FEAR THE STING!  Ha.  Anyway, the place looked nice enough and all, but it was PACKED and I wasn't sure how long it would take us to get a table.  So we walked a few blocks down the road towards where steak house #1 should have been.  On the way, we passed two or three pizza joints, a fast food Mexican restaurant, a different Mexican restaurant, and a Quizno's.  I guess our friend only wanted to let us know about the fine dining available in Spearfish City.  Which was fine.  We arrived at the restaurant and enjoyed a very delicious of meal of steak and potatoes.  All three of us were quite full, and I was glad to have a nice long walk back to camp after dinner.  By the time we got back it was after 10pm and we were pretty tired, so we just headed to bed.

Saturday morning we all enjoyed a shower before packing up and heading out.  The destination: Devil's Tower.  One of the pros of driving up to Spearfish City was that we were much closer to Wyoming than we would have been had we stayed near the monuments in the more southern parts of the Black Hills.  So, we were only 20 or 30 minutes from the Wyoming border.
And then after about another 30 minutes, we could see Devil's Tower!  Rising 1267 feet above the Belle Fourche River, it is awesome and impressive.  There's a great story told by Native Americans about how Devil's Tower was formed, which you can read here if you are interested (or try to read in this plaque:)

Geologists have some debate over how they believe it was formed, and I don't completely understand the science (read here if you want more details), but basically it is thought that a volcano erupted, the lava cooled forming columns, and over time the surrounding rock eroded, "revealing" the tower.

Once we arrived at the park, we took a look at the various hiking options.  Basically, we could either hike right around the base (~1 mile) or do a wider loop around (~3 miles) called the Red Beds Trail.  We opted for the longer route, and I am SO glad we did.  This area of Wyoming is amazing. The Belle Fourche River is gorgeous.

There's such a variety in the landscape, too.  You've got the Black Hills Forest

And the red colored clay hills
I have to say, as beautiful as some of these pictures are... when Scott says "the pictures don't really portray it" he's NOT kidding.  Everything is so much bigger, more vast, and more incredible in person!  I feel like these pictures only show a small sliver of what I actually experienced.  I say that now because these cliffs really were so much richer of a red than my camera seemed to pick up.  So it goes.  Anyway... next, we have a Prairie Dog Town!
And for good measure, some more close ups of the tower itself:
 After our three miles, we had lunch in the RV and headed back to South Dakota, where we planned to camp near the Mount Rushmore area in the Black Hills.
We made it to our campsite at Horsetheif Lake in time to relax and make dinner, which included the famous Edmond Family Mac Salad - yum!

After dinner, we decided to drive back to Mount Rushmore to see their evening program.  It was... not what I expected.  I guess I thought it was kind of a light show, but really that's what is done at Crazy Horse.  Instead, it's really a 30 minute patriotic movie followed by lights shining on Mount Rushmore.  As Scott said, it was a little cheesy, but I still liked it.  And, at the end of the movie they invited up anyone who had ever served in our military to honor them, which was really nice - especially it being Labor Day weekend and all!

Thank goodness for the RV... the traffic getting out of Mount Rushmore was atrocious so we just sat in the RV for about 30 or 40 minutes before even trying to leave.  By the time we got back to camp, everyone was tired so we decided against having a campfire and headed for bed.

Sunday was my last day on the trip.  I had high hopes for waking up right at 7am so we could do the 6ish mile hike that is Horsethief Lake Trail.  Unfortunately, we did not get up until about 8:30am.  So, we took our time with breakfast and whatnot before going for an abbreviated hike.  We walked down by the lake before getting onto the trail, which we hiked on for about 45 minutes before turning around and heading back.  I got some sweet pictures of the plant life and scenery along the way:

After hiking, we drove closer to the airport and back to our first destination: WALMART! Haha.  We had lunch in the Walmart parking lot and Scott and I got to play some games (Note: We are 1-1 in Dominion and 1-0 me in Cribbage for the weekend) before it was time to take me back to the airport.  It was sad to be leaving Scott, Megs, and such an awesome place, but unlike SOME people, I have responsibilities to get back to!! (Just teasing!).  I hope you have all enjoyed my (very long) recap of my time on the cross country trip!  Thanks for reading :-)


  1. Thanks Sara for the indepth update. It was great seeing a lot familiar places. You are absolutely right the pictures show some of the greatness but being there is amazing. Nice to see you in some of the pics...

  2. Sara,
    I am finally getting to catch up on my reading today. Thanks for the awesome guest post. You definitely gave Scott a writing break! Glad you were able to be part of the adventure and confirm that Scott and Meagan are surviving ( and not too smelly either!) Good luck with the new semester, Barbara