Each location we visit somehow is equally if not even more magical and beautiful than the last. We thought it would be hard to beat the Badlands, however, we ended up at Wind Cave National Park also located in South Dakota and were so very impressed with this small and understated national park that we set up shop for the next three days. What is unique about Wind Cave is that it is home to a cave that houses 144 miles of tunnels underground in the area of approximately one square mile of land above ground and is the sixth longest cave system in the world. While this cave had been revered by the Lakota for years as the birthplace of the bison, it was rediscovered by two young brothers in the late 1800's and really explored by Alvin McDonald who, with candle light alone (crazy thought) discovered the first 10 miles of the cave from 1889-1893. One interesting feature inside the cave that is quite unique to Wind Cave is known as boxwork. A very intricate and delicate lace-like structure, 95% of boxwork found in all the caves through out the world resides in Wind Cave National Park.
Cave or no cave, I think the real reason we liked Wind Cave so much is that it felt like our very own personal national park. We housed the Careyvan at Elk Mountain Camp Ground which was located in the national park and lived off the grid using our mountain bikes as our primary mode of transportation. There were very few people and tons of wildlife and it felt like we had the whole place to ourselves. In addition to earning their Junior Ranger Certificates at Wind Cave, I am confident that Ethan and Grant won the Guinness Book of World Record for longest distance of biking with no hands going both up and down hills, and some big ones at that. Plus we had great access to several other locations including a day trip to Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse as well as Custer State Park. Custer State Park was truly something spectacular from the incredibly small tunnels we had to drive through to the granite spires that reach up for the sky. Hopeful to get some climbing in, we took an exploratory hike through the Cathedral Spires with our gear and found a spot that was perfect for setting up some top ropes and getting in some amazing climbs in one of God's most beautiful additions to this earth. From spelunking, to listening to elk buggeling under the stars, to mountain biking and local exploration, Wind Cave and the surrounding area won a very warm spot in our hearts.
While it was hard to pack up our stuff, both because we didn't want to leave and because we still really had no idea how to put everything back together, we successfully left Wind Cave and a few hours later ended up at Devil's Tower in Wyoming for the weekend. The KOA located right outside of the park entrance had our name all over it and we (read Ryan), quickly parked the rig, and all of us jumped on our bikes and rode along the base of the tower eventually ending up at the Visitor Center. If I haven't said it already, exploring a park by mountain bike has to be the best way to take in all the sights and sounds. Plus it makes me feel good and justified that we just bought four completely new mountain bikes. Three equally awesome events we experienced while at Devil's Tower were the crazy vulture tree we passed that looked like it came right out of a Halloween horror sci-fi movie, the viewing of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" that we all watched due to the lucky fact that KOA plays it every single night, true indeed, under the shadow of Devil's Tower itself, and an excursion to the town of Hulett where we highly recommend you visit Bob Coronato's very informative Rogues Gallery and Native American Museum.
Officially two weeks into our trip, perhaps the thing I am personally most pleased about is that we have finally accomplished all the things that we were supposed to accomplish before we left on the 1st. We at last have an official license plate on the Careyvan, (thank you, South Dakota), and we know how to use all the inner workings of the camper van from hot water heater to sewage, (thank you, KOA). The ever too practical person in me can close my eyes tonight feeling content!
We didn't really our trip started until we actually used (i.e. slept in) our camper, so even though we left Deerwood on the 1st of September - as we had planned!- our first RV park was "The Wilds" located south of Council Bluffs, Iowa on Saturday the 5th of September.
Prior to that we had wonderful, though quick, visits to the Wilhelms in Cleveland (with the Twells), Doug and Catey in Indianapolis and Aunt Eileen Barry in St. Louis. It was great catching up with everyone and seeing the Barry girls (Colleen, Anne and Kelly) with the full Vulin Family to boot! Of course, we spent two nights with the Hales as we had to buy new bikes - OH, we didn't mention that we lost ALL four bikes somewhere on the NY/VT border?!? Trooper McDaniels thought it was somewhat comical in Pattersonville, NY. But after that 3 1/2 hour delay, we ended up at the University School's campus at, uh, 4:30AM...."Scheviti Horsin Nesin!"
After literally buying 'the cart well before the horse' (we bought the camper - the Careyvan - in May and the truck - the Bumble - in July), we pegged September 1st as our starting date and then tried to figure out how we were actually going to make that happen. We eventually realized that we would probably figure out a few things on the road and that once we got up and running our learning curve would start to mellow out. Well, yes and no, but we made the September 1st starting date without really understanding how our camper worked.