The plan today was big. We would take I90 to 16, cross into South Dakota and see wild donkeys and bison in Custer State Park and then the granite presidents. We didn’t do none of that. We got off I90 and were on 16S for less than a minute before coming across the West Texas Trail museum in Moorecroft, Wy. A sign said it was free and we were out of the car not thirty minutes after leaving Gillette. By the way, Corey said I was to hard on that town so on the way out we detoured through their downtown. It was clean, had several stores, no resteraunts, coffee shops or book stores though. Still not my favorite place, but not the worse place either. Anyways, many attics made up this museum. There were coffins, pianos, WWI uniforms, various mounted cow heads, and short histories of the families making up Kirk County. There also was a very articulate and knowledgeable man with nothing else to do but answer my questions concerning ranching, the west Texas Trail, the history of Moorecroft, and dinosaur bones. It turned out he was friends with the family who once owned the land where the dino tracks were found. He talked about being a kid on his grandparents ranch and finding twelve or more arrow heads a summer. He also said that ranchers are suppose to tell people when they find stuff, but that means strangers coming on to their land. People in WY do not like that, but then again I am not a big fan of the meter man coming into my backyard. One sentence on the West Texas Trail: Cows were brought north from Texas to populate ranches in MT and Canada from the mid to late 19th century.
We then stopped for gas, made lunch at a rest stop, and traveled a few more miles on 16 into South Dakota. Corey hates caves but I made her pull into the Jewel Cave National Monument visitor center. Cave tours were sold out for the day but there was an enticing hike into “Hell Canyon” past the historic cave opening. Three and a half miles long and flat, this seemed easy to us mountain people. There was a big fire ten years ago which caused lots of stumps, no shade from sun, and a beautiful meadow filled with butterflies, wild flowers, and interesting birds. Henna tripped twice and skinned one knee. She also was stung by a bee. The sun and humidity (which us mountain people are no longer used to) was brutal. The hike, although gorgeous, became monotonous after the first mile or so. We saw one family at the onset of the hike, but then no one else and Corey was convinced we had made a wrong turn. But after climbing out of the canyon (it was a pretty small indentation by the way) we came across that historic opening and it was awesome. Cold air came out of one hole and there were small openings that a stupid man could venture into and then die a lonely death. The rocks here have a crystal sheen that rubs off and we felt this sense of discovery that often eludes us in more crowded places. The trail then took a bend around the corner and we found ourselves in a parking lot with maybe twenty people waiting for a cave tour. A few more steps and we met a ranger dressed in 1940s garb (that is when the rangers first gave tours) who showed us the origional cabin. Again, there was no one else around to compete for our attention and I asked him about the area, the canyon, and the CCC corps (who built the cabin and highway 16 that takes you to the cave). The trail from that point to the visitor center ventured on high ground and offered shade and cool breezes. Along the way Henna gave me the “prettiest acorn in the forest.” At the gift shop we bought a sticker and the ranger wannabe said “tell me you did not get that from the forest.” You can grab fossils from WY but do not take acorns from S. Dakota. A few more miles down the road was the Custer KOA where I write you these words. Total distance for the day: maybe a hundred twenty miles. Tomorrow we hope to see Custer State Park, Mt. Rushmore, and Wall Drug. But who knows, maybe a county fair will intercept us a mile east of here.