Neat Rocks

††††††††††† August 20 Ė We got up early and hit the road.† Our itinerary called for us to make it to the Black Hills and see Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse carving.† We still had to hit Devilís Tower which we were supposed to have done yesterday.†† While zipping along on I-90 we saw our first Wall Drug billboard.† Shortly thereafter we turned off the interstate and started on the local roads to get to Devilís Tower.† As we wound our way up the hills and through the valleys we were surprised to see more Wall Drug billboards since the road we were on really didnít lead towards Wall.† After forty minutes of driving the tower loomed ahead.† We stopped off at an overlook and took our first of many pictures.† At the overlook was a sign with some information on the tower.† Devilís Tower is the name given by white explorers.† The Indians had several different names for it but they all related the tower to bears.† One creation story has a group of seven Indian girls chased by a bear.† One of them threw down a magic stone and the tower grew out of the ground and lifted them to the heavens where the girls became the seven stars of the Pleiades.† Another (more popular) story has several warriors chased by a giant bear after they rescue a woman from its lair.† One of the warriors is a shaman (magic man) and he causes the tower to rise, lifting them to the sky.† The giant bear is able to climb the tower (giving it the scratch marks on the sides), but upon reaching the top the bear is repelled by the warriors and falls back to the earth where it broke into a hundred little bears.† The warriors killed all of the little bears except for two.† The warriors cut the tails off these bears, warned them to never bother man again and then cut their ears short.† The bears ran away and thatís why bears have no tails and short ears.† Geologists say that long ago when the ground level was much higher a vein of magma shot up to the surface through the softer surrounding ground.† The magma cooled quickly and crystallized, creating the five and six sided needles that make up the sides.† Over time all off the softer surrounding ground has eroded away, leaving the imposing tower to dominate the landscape.† We havenít decided on which version to believe.

††††††††††† We arrived at the tower and were impressed by its size and shape.† Our only previous knowledge of Devils Tower was from Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the movie certainly didnít convey just how big it is.† The exposed part of the tower shoots straight up 800 feet from the top of the hill that itís on.† The hill is 400 plus feet above the river that has caused all of the erosion.† They say that the tower is still slowly growing as the hill continues to slide away.†† There is no crater at the top, rather a flat grassland about the size of a football field.† There are cracks between all of the crystal needles which make climbing the tower easy (in climbing terms) and over 5,000 people have made it to the top this year (we saw two groups climbing).† The cracks, though, are also proving to be the downfall of the tower.† Water seeps into these cracks and the freeze thaw cycle slowly works like a wedge prying the massive needles off of the tower sending them crashing to the ground.† A needle hasnít fallen off in modern times, but in theory it could happen at any moment.† Knowing we could be crushed we tempted fate and hiked the one mile trail that runs around the tower.† The trail got us very close to the base where we climbed on broken remains of fallen needles.† There also was a spot where we could view the remains of the ladder used by the first people to climb the tower.† Taking advantage of the deep cracks between needles they pounded posts horizontally into the side of the tower and built a ladder to the top rung by rung.† Having been truly awed by the tower we got back in the truck and headed out of the park.† At the base of the towerís hill there was a large colony of prairie dogs.† We stopped for pictures and Stacie really wanted to get near them but signs warned us not to feed or approach them.† Just outside the park entrance a small town of souvenir shops has sprang up.† Stacie stopped in and found a pin for her collection (she likes to by the pins issued by the Park Service, but there isnít one for Devilís Tower).

††††††††††† We were going to return to I-90 for the trip to the Mount Rushmore area, but a billboard (painted trailer) for the Rushmore Borglum museum indicated that there was a route using the back roads.† We checked our map and not only was it shorter to drive the back roads, we would go by Jewel Cave National Monument (whatever that was) on the way.† We ambled along the back roads and after a few hours we saw signs for Jewel Cave.† We both like caves so we decided to see what it was about.† As it turns out Jewel Cave is the third largest cave complex in the world (Mammoth Cave in Kentucky being the largest).† Our magic park pass didnít work here (something about it only works on entrance fees and they charge a userís fee), but we decided to take an hour and a half tour anyways.† The cave complex was originally discovered when some boys riding horses heard a whistling sound coming from a hill.† Upon investigation they found the cave opening (the only known natural opening to this day) which was a hole too small to enter.† Being curious they went home, got some dynamite and blasted away until the hole was big enough to let them in.† Since that day over 127 miles of the cave system have been mapped, and more passageways are explored every year.† The complex covers several miles and based on measurements of the air flow through the natural opening geologists believe that only a small percentage of the cave has been mapped.† In the 60ís the Park Service made the cave ďmore accessibleĒ by building a visitorís center and putting in a set of 400 foot deep air tight elevators that go to one of the larger rooms where they built a covered viewing deck.† The cave floor is very uneven and the rooms and shafts all slope so there is a system of steel catwalks and stairs on the tour route.† There is also a lighting system that gives of just enough light to see, but not enough for good pictures.†† On our tour through the massive rooms we saw typical cave formations such as draperies, stalactites, stalagmites, and cave popcorn.† For the more adventurous there is a much longer ďspelunking adventureĒ that takes you off the catwalks and into the deeper reaches of the cave (be warned you have to fit through a 8 Ĺ by 22 inch space to do it).† There is also a lantern light tour that enters the cave through the natural entrance which is miles away from the area we toured.† Our tour ended at around 6:45 and we had learned that the Crazy Horse monument was only 20 miles away.

††††††††††† The Crazy Horse monument is a rock carving like Mount Rushmore but much larger.† It was started a few years after Mount Rushmore and if it is ever completed it will dwarf Mt. Rushmore.† The carving will portray Crazy Horse atop his horse pointing at something in the distance.† After over forty years of carving the face on the head is done and you can see where the outstretched arm will be.† Dave had visited the memorial when he was in his teens and he remembered it having a tiny visitorís center with all of the money collected going towards funding carving.† The brochure we saw showed a massive visitorís complex with a museum, cafeteria, movie theaters, a carving in the distance and plans for more expansion of the visitorís center.† While the project has not for profit status it looked like a giant tourist trap and we decided to get a picture from the road (which they have made almost impossible) and save our money for a cause that needed it.† While entering a small tourist town near Mt. Rushmore we saw what we believe to be the tackiest (and most out of place) tourist stop on the trip Ė the Bedrock City Theme Park and Campground.† Here preserved in fiberglass and concrete is a fanciful recreation of the town of Bedrock.† Fortunately they were closed for the evening so we didnít get a chance to fully appreciate this gem.

††††††††††† We continued on and arrived at our campground a few miles and a few wrong turns later (it was a Forest Service campground after all).† We were quite surprised that there were still a number of sites available since the campground was only two miles away from Mount Rushmore.† We talked for a while with our hosts and they mentioned that there was a lighting ceremony each evening, but to arrive by 8:00 to get seats for it.† It was 7:45 so we skipped setting up camp and headed for the Monument.† On our way we spotted a family of mountain goats dining roadside and stopped for pictures.† When we arrived at the Memorial it didnít look too crowded so we grabbed a reasonably priced dinner from the cafť and then headed to the amphitheater where we found good seats.† The ceremony started out with a ranger talk which focused on Teddy Roosevelt, pointing out many of his accomplishments.† The presentation was followed by a fifteen minute video on the Memorial.† The ceremony concluded with the singing of the National Anthem.† The Memorial takes on a different look with the night illumination, however the lamps they used give it a ghastly orange glow.† After a brief eternity we made it out of the parking garage and were back at the campground where we still had to set up the tent.† The set up went quickly and we crashed for the night.