The National Park Service was celebrating its 100th anniversary on August 25th and we were looking for a place to celebrate with them. At Teddy Roosevelt South they were having a celebration to release the TRNP quarter, but since we didn’t feel like sticking around there for another 5 days we had to make a different plan. Looking at my trusty map of National Parks we had just a few options within a reasonable distance and not too far off our route. And so we ended up at Wind Cave National Park. Yes, I know we already learned that I don’t do caves, but it’s right near Mt. Rushmore National Monument which is run by the park service and they were supposed to be having cake and ice cream for the anniversary. So from the badlands of North Dakota we dipped down into South Dakota.
Getting another early start we saw deer, pronghorn and coyotes in the fields on the drive south. We drove through Sturgis (thankfully the big motorcycle gathering was a couple of weeks ago) and on to Rapid City. Heading south we entered the Black Hills and the views changed as huge chunks of granite appeared.
In Elk Mountain campground in the park we found lots of open sites. Most of them were small tent sites or narrow pull offs on the side of the camp road, but we picked one in the back of a loop with some afternoon shade and a little privacy and set out to make camp. Well, 45 minutes later we were still trying to get the trailer level. We tried putting the trailer more to the left, more to the right, further back, further front. Seemed like no matter what we did we couldn’t get it to work. The site was just too far off level and we couldn’t back up onto the huge stack of blocks required. (Seeing the other trailers who came while we were there and talking with the hosts, it seems this is a common problem for this hilly campground.) Well, it was hot and we were getting cranky so it was time to find a new spot.
We ended up in a site on the side of the entrance road. To it’s advantage it had a nicely mown, green grassy area right outside the door and some afternoon shade. It was just a bit disconcerting when a car or trailer zoomed by just a couple of feet from the window. Luckily this was a pretty quiet campground so it didn’t happen too often. As a bonus we had bunny friends nibbling away at the grass every day as well as deer in the campground one evening.
While we didn’t take a cave tour, we did view the exhibits and check out the buildings made by the CCC. We hiked to an old fire lookout with great views.
We drove into the nearby town of Hot Springs for lunch and groceries and spent lots of time relaxing at the campground. One day we watched the rain come down, continuing our streak of bringing rain with us wherever we go.
This place brought back memories of a trip to Mt. Rushmore with our daughters in our very first travel trailer and we enjoyed reminiscing as we looked at the old photos. I was in awe of the monument then, and still am now. There’s something about it, perhaps it’s the way the eyes stare out so seriously, or the grand scale of it, or the amazing detail carved out of the rock, but it is awesome.
On the 25th we were surprised to find free parking at the monument (there is no entrance fee, but parking costs $11) and light crowds. We spent a couple of hours walking the Trail of the Presidents, enjoying the views from different angles, reading about the Presidents, watching the movie and walking through the museum. It was all really cool, but we never did see that cake! Still it seemed like a fitting place to be for the 100th anniversary.
Back at the campground I noticed a sign for a special evening program. The Friends of Wind Cave was sponsoring an actor who portrays Seth Bullock, US Marshall of the Dakotas, friend of Teddy Roosevelt and the first supervisor of Wind Cave National Park in 1902. His show was part story and part song, with a good dose of humor thrown in. It turned out to be informative and enjoyable and they had cake! A nice way to cap off the 100th anniversary and our last night here.