Saturday, July 14, 2012

Bike America Day 28: Big Beautiful Bison

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Day's distance: 64.35 miles
Overall distance: 1,413 miles

I woke up on Wednesday morning to a huskie named Bambam poking his head at my tent screen. My mom said from across the campsite, "there's a dog out there, don't want it to scare you'. It's almost as if she knew I had dreamed about a bear in the night. Bambam was extremely pleasant and friendly, giving me just the energy I needed to kick off what would be a beautiful day.

My mom and I left camp at 7:25 am and rode 9.5 miles on the earth in Wyoming to the South Dakota border. We took some pictures and continued on. The terrain was hilly in my favorite kind of way and we started to see trees pop back into the landscape. I'd forgotten how much I love trees but Wednesday made me realize what a difference they make in my happiness on a bike. I know that could be a problem when we get to the midwest but lets not think about that right now. Trees bring a sort of mystery and excitement that you don't have when you can see all around you in every direction for miles. It's fun to not know what's waiting around every hilly curve.

My mom rode to mile 17 where she and my dad switched. I told him what good spirits I was in and he shared my sentiment. 

A few miles later, on a long climb, we passed a sign that warned of a narrow road ahead with no shoulders. As we approached the narrowing of the road, we checked out what seemed like hundreds of signs warning of the danger and commanding cars to slow down. It was a little unnerving to ride into something that warranted so much warning but we had no other option. It was called “Hell Canyon” and it turned out not to be so hellish. It began with a descent around many S curves into the canyon. On the way we passed old forests with trees burnt out and cut down. The rock along the road was coral colored and very pretty. But we had to focus our attention on the ground in front of us and ride our brakes down the hill.

As we climbed out the other side, we began seeing signs for Jewel Cave. When we came upon the entrance to the cave, my dad declared that we had to try and get a tour. He asked a woman driving out how incredible it was and she said it was worth seeing. But you usually need reservations and the tours can last anywhere from 20-90 minutes. Nevertheless, we rode the mile down to the parking lot. As soon as we saw the line for ticket purchases, though, my dad admitted that it wasn’t the best idea and we turned around to ride uphill an extra mile. When we got out of the canyon, we had some steady downhill riding into Custer and caught some pretty views of the Black Hills ahead of us. 

Despite its being a touristy town only 18 miles south of Mount Rushmore, Custer is a super cute and kind of showy western town. We stopped for lunch at The Purple Pie Place, a dessert and lunch spot that was adorable from the outside. I had a veggie Panini which was pretty average and a slice of strawberry rhubarb pie a la mode which was amazing. My mom had a cup of huckleberry ice cream, possibly for the last time, and I decided that the desserts and the purple walls are definitely the appeal of this place.

A little after 1, my dad and I got back on our bikes and headed east. We rode by a sign for Golden Valley Road and, with Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land" as the top song running through my head all summer, I had to stop and photograph it.

In no time, we were inside Custer State Park, where we’d be spending the night. The gorgeous park in the Black Hills was full of trees, water and wildlife and we couldn’t have had more fun riding through it if we tried. After some short climbs, we had miles and miles of downhill riding that eventually led us alongside a flowing creek. My dad made a comment about how lucky we are to live in DC. Here we were in love with the beauty around us but, when you think about it, the trees, the deer, and the valley alongside a creek was very reminiscent of Rock Creek Park at home. Good point. But, unfortunately, I don’t think we’re likely to see any mountain goats in Rock Creek like the ones we stumbled on just a few miles later.

As we rode out of the park, a strange rain started to fall. It wasn’t super heavy in volume but the drops were all huge. It was definitely refreshing. My mom caught up with us and she and my dad switched for the last 7 miles of the day. They were mainly on flat farmland. Just as I had all day, I stopped often for photos. It’s a very good sign of my mood when I’m snapping a ton of photos. On the days when all I want to do is finish, I usually skip all of the stops to keep pedaling toward my destination. Wednesday wasn’t one of those days.

Around 3:30, my mom and I arrived at a gas station at the corners of Highway 36 and 79. This was our destination for the day. We would be driving back to a campground in Custer State Park to spend the night.

As we rode to our campground, with the brochure we’d been given by a park ranger, I oohed and aaahed at all the amazing things there were to do. Rock climbing! Kayaking! Safari jeep tours! Western cookouts and singing around a campfire! I half-jokingly proposed that we take an early rest day and stay in the park to take advantage. After two minutes of discussion, we all decided against that.

The one thing we would absolutely do before leaving this place was drive the 18 mile wilderness loop through the southernmost part of the park. On it, the brochure assured us, we’d be likely to see bald eagles, wild turkey, prairie dogs, bison, donkeys, deer and more. Sign me up!

It started to rain again at the beginning of our drive and I made my dad pull off so I could take pictures from an overlook.

At the beginning of the wilderness loop, we'd only seen some wild turkeys but decided early on that, wildlife or not, this drive was well worth it for the scenery alone. We were surrounded by bumpy green hills, like some of the ones we’d seen in Washington and Montana and, with the sun setting over the back of them, they were really pretty. 

There were a few cars in front of us and we eventually came upon one that was stopped. We couldn’t see any sign of wildlife but, as we approached, we noticed a whole field of prairie dogs that the map had marked “prairie dog town”.

A little further on we saw a doe and a deer running through the trees. We eventually came to the bottom of the loop where the bison typically hang out and there were none nearby. We could see little dots of them far off in the distance and were disappointed not to get a closer look. We kept driving and came to a pile-up of cars where a bunch of people were petting and feeding donkeys. We drove by a few but didn't get to touch any because I refuse to disobey the signs and mistreat the wildlife by feeding the animals processed snacks made for humans.

As we made our way back along the loop, it seemed as though we wouldn't see any bison up close. We talked to a woman on the road who'd walked over the hills to get a better photo but I wasn't feeling that. Around just one more bend we were in for a surprise.

Herds of bison had wandered down toward the road and were feeding and watering on either side of it. Many cars were parked beside them with people hanging out their windows snapping photos. My mom and I got out and wandered around with our cameras. It was really cool and pretty unreal. The bison went on forever.

After many minutes of marveling at buffalo, we drove back to camp for dinner. I had a tomato, smoked turkey and swiss cheese sandwich with potato salad and a beer brewed in Kansas City. I couldn't find any from South Dakota and this was the only one in the store that I hadn't tried so I went for it.

As I shut my eyes for the night, more rain started to fall. Thunder and lightning were crashing in the distance and drops of water crashed on my tent so loud that my parents and I had to yell loudly to barely communicate with my parents. I felt comfortable and safe inside my little shelter and fell asleep happy before the storm died off. A wonderful day had come to an end and I could only hope for more like it.

1 comment:

  1. This is my favorite post so far because of all the animals! Although I'm pretty sure Bambam is not a Husky, just a Collie with short hair!