WOW! The corn and soybean fields and farming communities are gone, as is the humidity and flatness of the Midwest. We are in the West, Baby! Proof? “Mountain Time Zone”, and cracked, dry lips! This corner of South Dakota is filled with ponderosa pine, bison, prong-antlered antelope, elk, prairie dogs, and lovely Sylvan Lake, below.
The land surrounding Custer State Park is pastureland, small ranches with appaloosa, paint horses, and range cattle grazing, including some Texas Longhorns; ornery and ornamental, no respectable rancher chooses this breed when there is ample green pastureland. I grew up spending weekends and holidays on my grandmother’s cattle ranch in Beaumont, CA so it feels so welcoming to be back with horses, cattle, and ranchers. It has been unusually wet here this summer, providing sufficient range feed; the ranchers have not had to begin”haying” the cattle as they usually do in July. Of course, the cowboy theme is starting to surround us, as bars welcome “Cobs and Hogs”…horse and Harley Davidson riders. Thanks to the Harley riders, we got our broken vehicle diagnosed and a referral to their local mechanic. This guy was a F#&%ing people person, despite his protestations to the contrary.
There are also real mountains, like Mt. Rushmore…
…and tortuous roads cross this state park with apt names like the eponymous “Needle Highway”, “Wildlife Loop”, and “Tunnel Road”. The tunnels are only 12 feet high and 8 feet wide so we breeze through in our tiny RV. We were surrounded by bison at one point, driving Lety insane with joy, and allowing us to shoot photos 2 feet away from these gnarly creatures.
In Rapid City, we got a kick out of the “Presidents”, sculptures of the U.S. Presidents in casual poses, especially Harry Truman laughing as he displays the newspaper that erroneously reported his demise to Dewey in the election.
With abnormally high temperatures for the last two weeks, the locals and our friend Leah directed us to “The Plunge”, where 5,000 gallons of water an hour gush up through the rocky floor. Recently, the City of Hot Springs bought this business to keep it open, so it lacks renovations and likely always will. It will likely continue to resembles this old-time photo. The water replaces itself 16 times a day so there is no chlorine smell. If my eyes were closed and I tuned out the sound of kids enjoying the water slides, water volleyball and basketball, I could imagine I was in one of Florida’s Warm Springs, basking in 87 degree water…minus the alligators and manatees, of course.