After my last true “out West” adventure in Yosemite National Park, it was time to head back East. After leaving Yosemite, I drove as far north as I could make it after a full day in the park, and ended up in Sacramento, CA. The next few days were spent in the car for many hours. The first day I headed east on Interstate 80 through the gorgeous Tahoe National Forest and the famous Donner Pass in eastern California:
Then I continued through the horribly barren state of Nevada (seriously, there is NOTHING in that part of Nevada after Reno except one pretty little town called Elko, surrounded by the Ruby Mountains), and into Utah through the desolate Great Salt Lake Desert (I was so scared I played my harmonica for 45 minutes to lighten the mood) and spent a return night in Salt Lake City. The next day I hopped back on to Interstate 80 and drove all day through the rest of Utah and much of Wyoming. I found this southern part of Wyoming not appealing in the least – and wondered what sort of folk would want to live there. I made it as far as Casper before having to stop for the night. Close by I passed a neat little historical marker!
THE GOOD: The next day I left Casper and started the short-ish drive to South Dakota and my next destination, Custer State Park and the Needles Highway, Crazy Horse Memorial Mountain, and Mount Rushmore. I drove all back roads from Casper to South Dakota, and it felt very lonely indeed. However, once I drove into the little town of Custer, there was no lack of people. It seems like the nearby town of Sturgis has been host to motorcyclists all summer, so they were EVERYWHERE! I drove just a bit out of town and entered into Custer State Park, into the Black Hills National Forest!
Custer State Park is reknowned for its scenery and wildlife, mostly bison- I saw lots of pretty scenery but no bison! And my obsession with pretty little creeks continues.
One of the most notable features of this park is the famous Needles Highway (thanks Emily Mull!), named after the high granite “needles” it winds among. It also features several very very narrow tunnels!
After making my way through the park on the Needles Highway, I headed for the Crazy Horse Memorial. Folks, if you have not been here, GO! It was stunning – still a work in progress, but amazing nonetheless. I toured the museum and then took the little bus trip to the bottom of the mountain.
The Badlands National Park is interesting. It is an amazing contrast of about 250,000 acres of sharp buttes, pinnacles, and spires blended with the largest area of grass prairie in the United States. Very beautiful indeed! Enjoy!!!
THE UGLY: My friend Claudia urged me to take a little detour south of Badlands National Park to visit Wounded Knee. So once I made the short trip through the Badlands, I headed south out of the park into the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. After about an hour, I arrived in Wounded Knee. As I’d been advised in advance, upon arriving at the little historical marker, I was approached by no less than 8 Lakota Indians, all looking to sell their crafts. I politely declined until after I’d seen the memorial and crossed the street and climbed the small hill to that famous monument on the hill. Again, as it did at the Alamo, the sight of such a historical spot gave me goosebumps, and while viewing headstone after headstone, I was moved to tears, thinking of that ignominious massacre that late December day long ago. Here’s an overlook of Wounded Knee and the sign at the turnoff:
After that very thought provoking visit, I drove the two hours back to the interstate all through the Lakota Pine Ridge Reservation. It’s sobering to realize that this reservation sits on land so rich in beauty, yet is populated by those so poor. It made for a very solemn drive across the rest of South Dakota. Peace to you all.