Go: South Dakota | Day Drunk: Go: South Dakota

October 24, 2014

Go: South Dakota

Feeling inspired, I thought I would add a few more chapters to my nearly vintage travel-epic, 'Go' (<-- catch up on the story by clicking on the link). Even though this adventure happened two+ years ago (my, where has the time gone?!), it gives me a chance to get all nostalgic on South Dakota whilst gazing fondly at my feline stowaway. Also, I haven't traveled in a bit, so I want to live vicariously through my former self.

To recap lightly, AGP and I have just exited Nebraska and entered South Dakota during our three month long cross-country road trip. We are on our way to the Muddy Pumpkin Farm in Oacoma where we are WWOOF-ing for a few weeks. You should probably know that at this point in time, pre-Muddy Pumpkin Zy is in LOVE with the romantic ideals and mysterious depths of the prairie. This is my second time in South Dakota. Onward, prairie schooner!

With my nerves a-tingle and still high on Nebraska, AGP and I crossed into the shadowy southern reaches of the Black Hills of South Dakota.

First stop: Wind Cave National Park, where we took a short hike to soak up some of the sights and sounds of the last largest mixed-grass prairie in the nation. And I hate to get all geo-nerd on you, but Wind Cave is cool. I wish we had longer to check out the yawning cave considered to have the most passages per volume in the world. Shit's dense, ya'll. However, we were eager to get into the heart of the Black Hills and didn't feel like hanging around to go on a guided tour. We are very independent and impatient like that. 

So we set the tent in Custer, South Dakota, at Custer's Gulch where General Custer himself once camped! We got serendipitous with another spectacular atmospheric event as we set up in rain that eventually turned to pulverizing hail. Suddenly, behind the veil, a beautiful rainbow made only more beautiful by the bright white clumps of sky ice illuminated by the sliver of sun. Of course, cameras are inept at capturing such rapture, but hopefully you can get the gist:

Even the camp host who was hanging with us was in awe!

We spent the next day touring the Black Hills in our car, checking out the Crazy Horse Memorial, Mount Rushmore, and even catching the vaguest glimpses of what we are definitely calling a mountain lion. The following day was going to be a big one; we were going to hike Harney Peak, which is not only the highest peak in South Dakota, but also the highest peak east of the Rocky Mountains! And like true mountaineers, we weren't going to take the easy way up, so we kind of wanted to lay low the day before.

The next day, we started our trek from the Willow Creek Horse Camp for the epic 5-mile up and 5-mile back hike to the summit to check out the view Sioux Medicine Man, Black Elk, called "the hoop of the world."

Then I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being. And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy. (Black Elk)
The journey was a challenge to say the least, especially considering AGP and I are amateur backpackers at best, but we inevitably made it to the fire lookout tower at the top and soaked in the astounding 360 degree views beyond the Black Hills, across the plains, and on and on into infinity. We of course did that thing where we slung our arms around each other happily and patted each others backs while congratulating ourselves on how strong and unique we are for having ascended the summit. Of course, the peak was swarming with tourists in flip flops since there is a shorter hike from a closer campground, but we just ignored those fools.

Once we dragged ourselves back to the bottom, we headed up to Deadwood, South Dakota, to check out a little history and drink a little beer before making a last second camp decision at the Rush No More Campground in Sturgis. And even though we had to camp on an incline in the "tenting field", they had a live band playing cowboy music and a wildly unexpected hot tub, which felt absolutely luxurious to our tired bodies.

Come the next morn, it was time to bring AGP to my beloved Badlands National Park. Having been brought to tears my first time through, I was eager to recreate some of the same stunning moments with my love.

We circumnavigated the park, dually admiring buffalo roaming in the hundreds under the lemon sun and watching lightning strike the dusty valleys until we got down at the blessedly free Sage Creek Campground. Thankfully, we arrived on the early side because the campground field quickly became crowded with campers. And buffalo.

Since we had already done a big hike through the Nebraskan Badlands at Toadstool Geologic Park and were still a bit achy from peak-bagging Harney, we opted for the more scenic interpretation of the park via car window before heading west towards central South Dakota, where we were a-twitter with excitement for our first experience WWOOF-ing which for those unaware is a program that pairs volunteers with needy organic farms.

We just had one more day until we were due, so we skipped our way down the Recreational Areas of the mighty Missouri River's eastern banks until we found a campground that was able to accommodate us for the Father's Day weekend.

We made a hasty camp while looking nervously forward towards the upcoming agricultural obligations in our new life as farm volunteers. We had agreed to stay and help out for at least two weeks and for a pair of people who had just spent the last month zooming around the country, two weeks in one place suddenly seems to loom statically.

I can remember climbing back up the Missouri the next day through windy grain fields with anxiety blossoming in my gut. Perhaps I had been romanticizing the prairie all these years, I worried, and maybe this was a little too out there - even for me. The beautiful fields that used to placate now inspired nervousness as they whipped in the relentless winds. Gray clouds crawled into the sky and the quaint prairie towns took on an unattractive, gritty quality. An empty quality. We stood in a grocery store on the outskirts of Oacoma, South Dakota, and guessed helplessly at the supplies we might need and hopelessly at the stark options. Even though we were in the right town, the directions still said we had thirty minutes to go and adopted prominent landscape features as turn guidance instead of street names. And it was HOT. Draped over I-90, the landscape gave the suggestion that all we were going to find at the end of these directions was a gnarly old farmer man and arid, windswept fields.
Well, we were mostly right. Stay tuned.

(I have decided to forgo including a map because Google Maps is making it hard for me to customize the winding journey we took through western S. Dakota. Maybe I will try Roadtrippers.com...)

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