Saturday, July 31, 2010

Black Hills, Fish 'N Fry, Pig Wrestling

Enjoying the Black Hills

It was only an 80-mile drive through western South Dakota’s Black Hills to my next RV park, but oh what a beautiful and interesting drive! The high and barren plains landscape became hills and mountains of tall pine trees, and the hot, humid air became dry and cooler. In one direction the sky was blue with fluffy white clouds; in the other direction it was gray and stormy, giving credence to the weather man’s prediction of scattered thunderstorms.

As to the name of Black Hills, the original name given by the Lakota Indians was Paha Sapa, meaning hills that are black. However, thanks to recent abundant rains, a more appropriate name today would be Green Hills. The road, Highway 36, has very little traffic, allowing me to poke along without annoying faster drivers.

My first surprise was rounding a curve to discover buffalo (actual name is American Bison) blocking traffic. I’ve since learned that there are 1,500 of these critters living here. Traffic had come to a standstill, only occasionally creeping alongside buffalo when they gave enough room. It was a very slow, nerve-wracking drive in two different places. I did not envy the few motorcyclists that were making their way among these large animals.

Remember - double-click on photos to enlarge them.

The road also took me through a portion of the 71,000-acre Custer State Park. The Black Hills guide book says “There are few truly wild places left in this country; Custer State Park is one of them. Besides buffalo, the park is home to pronghorn, elk, mountain goats and burros.” The park terrain includes prairie fields, lakes, and granite mountains and spires.

The radio programming was interrupted by a weather alert – severe thunderstorm with possibility of large hail – for much of the Black Hills, including the area where I camped last night. The sky overhead continued to be fairly bright, but there were lots of dark, threatening clouds not too far away. With no other road options, I continued on.

My route – Hwy 36, 16-A and 385 took me through the touristy towns of Custer and Hill City. I also drove past the Crazy Horse Memorial – a mountain carving to honor American Indians and show “the white man that the red man has great heroes also.” Remember your American history lesson that told about the famous Indian fighter at the Battle of the Little Big Horn against Custer and the cavalry troops? The rock carving of Lakota leader Crazy Horse is 641 feet long and 56 feet tall, easy to see from the road.

Today’s destination was Fish ‘N Fry Campgrounds just five miles south of the historic town of Deadwood. Amazingly the major part of the thunderstorm missed me; just got a bit of rain along the way.

On to Fish ‘N Fry Campground

“We furnish fishing gear. You catch them, we’ll cook them” says the promo for this Black Hills RV park. My campsite backed up to a creek among the tall pine trees – a great place to be. I was eager to explore this campground and wasted no time getting hooked up.

I was greeted by two well-fed white ducks. I later learned that these ducks do not swim; will only get into the creek in places where their feet will touch the ground. And they don’t fly, either. They wouldn’t budge from the shadows, so the photo is pretty dark.

With camera in hand, I wandered the camp store with cafe, trout pond (70¢ an inch) and creek banks. The campground did get the thunderstorm before I got there, so things were pretty soggy. There didn’t seem to be any mosquitoes! And Verizon service was poor. It was a great overnight stop.

Heading west – Wyoming sunrise

Every new sunrise introduces another reminder that
my body and a rocking chair weren't made for each other.

After a quick stop at Walmart in Spearfish to check email, I continued west toward my high school classmate Rita’s RV park (Red Water Creek Campground) just outside of Beulah, Wyoming. I’ll be here for two nights.

The surprise on this drive was the brand-new Wyoming Visitor Center – the Grand Opening sign was up and I stopped. It is a beautiful huge building with helpful staff and numerous 3-D interpretive displays.

It is five miles north of I-90 on a paved highway and then 1 ½ miles east-ish on a well-maintained gravel road. There are 10 full-hookup campsites in this high prairie location. One site is occupied by a volunteer couple; I was the only other RV.

Peaceful, quiet, expansive sky often adorned with a variety of clouds, magnificent views in all directions, green grasses, Red Water Creek – what a special place! Oh, yes, the wooden “statue” of a motorcycle with an American flag in the park’s activity area.

Shortly after I arrived, Rita and two of her girlfriends arrived – with an invitation to go to the Pig Wrestling matches in nearby Sundance, Wyoming. You KNOW I said ‘yes’!

First we went to Rita’s cabin nearby – an awesome place she built; perfect for a Wyoming setting.

Pig Wrestling!

For a $5 fee, we laughed our selves silly at this small-town event held at the Sundance Fairgrounds. Let’s see if I can describe the fenced-in arena. It is not too big, maybe 35- to 40-feet in diameter and filled with well watered bentonite (a clay-type mineral that is mined in this area). It was slip-p-p-ery! Four people made up a team, and they had peewee, junior, women and men divisions. The arena was surrounded by bleachers and the judge/announcer stand.

Each team had one minute to catch its pig and put it in a barrel in the center. Before letting a pig (small ones for peewees, a bit larger for juniors, and pretty big for adult women and men) was let into the arena, the pig was smeared with some of the slippery bentonite.

Enough said, I’ll let the pictures tell the story:

Between divisions, there was time for people watching. Our favorite sight was of this “smiling face”

Day two at Red Water Creek Campground

I did motorhome chores in the morning before Rita picked me up for a drive to nearby Hulett, not too far from the Devil’s Tower National Monument. We enjoyed lunch on the patio overlooking the golf course at the local country club. My cheeseburger (caramelized onions and pepper jack cheese) and fries were worthy of a photo!

Mileage update

So far I’ve driven nearly 5,000 miles, been through and camped in 17 states. I’ve also made a nearly 5,000-mile unplanned airline trip from Minneapolis to Reno and back.

Tomorrow morning I’m headed south through Wyoming on Highway 85.

I’m loving every mile and every adventure!