Mostly clear skies with a few blotchy looking storms are what the weather called for today. Suddenly we were in the midst of a nasty hail storm. It was coming down so hard the motorhome shook. The hail was only dime to nickel sized but it was like driving marbles on the road. Dad did an amazing job of getting us through it safely. We arrived in the desert at our “lush” campground. It was dry and barren. Thankful to be out of the snow and in the desert we went tobed looking forward to off road jeep adventures, hiking and exploring in the morning. We woke up to this! You have got to be kidding me!?We had some snowball fights. You can see the depth on the hood of the jeep. The ground was so warm it was melting quickly. We figures it was around 3-4 inches total overnight. Even Luna had icicles! We loaded up and headed into see the sand dunes. We couldn’t find them! They were blanketed with snow! A LOT of snow! Ugh! We took the off road jeep trail anyway. We slid around in the snow but the jeep handled it all very well. Dad was a great driver. Normally Mom drives the jeep but wasn’t feeling like she needed to drive this today! We forded a few smaller rivers but got to one we felt was a but deep and backed out and turned around. Glad we did because apparently the snowmelt caused the pass to be closed the next day. We sniffed the trees, they smelled like butterscotch. We walked out to see if we could get to the dues but the river was running a bit high for such a frigid day. More hiking and exploring needed to be done. It is so strange to see all the cacti blanketed with snow. Emmerson loved throwing snowballs at us, constantly! Dad and I hiked a longer trail back to the visitor center and Mom and E took the jeep, they saw a LOT of mule deer on the road. We earned our Jr Ranger badges and called it a day. The weather warmed up a little and the snow melted away. We could see the dunes in the morning. Dad had to work but we explored anyway without him. We hiked all over the dunes. The wind was quite strong and then temps were still in the low 50s. You have to go barefoot across the river to get to the dunes. We slid down, ran down, ran up and rolled down the dunes for hours. Mom almost lost sight of us once or twice!We left our shoes empty and 5 minutes later they were being burried and full of sand. The wind was whipping around a lot. We finsihed up and had to fact the river again, which was now a few inches higher. The water was near freezing and would come in pulses. You had to cross between the pulses or else the current was very strong for shallow water. Exhausted yet hungry for more we drove up to another hike but E got something in his eye and we had to reroute to town to get to the eye doctor!
Colorado Springs was not on the plan for this trip but since the weather in Wyoming was getting sketchy we headed south through a massive hail storm, pelting rain and snow. We landed at Cheyenne Mountain State park. We managed to get a campsite for a few nights, normally this place is booked solid all summer! Someone was looking out for us! Little did we know the mountain behind us is where NORAD is located! So in that mountain is a huge bunker!
Our campsite was beyond amazing! Emmerson was promoted to fire tender for this trip and was happy to start his first fire. We hung our and enjoyed the cool evening with the campfire. I took to the rocks looking for insects. Mom and Emmerson looked for rocks. We had a fun evening after a long day of driving. On the way into town E said he say a sign for Gardens of the Gods. We both remembered it from the Percy Jackson books. Mom looked it up and it was close by so the next day we went exploring. We saw lots of balanced rocks. The sandstone formations were striking against the lush flora. We climbed as much as we could! We were hiking the flats and saw tons of deer. We popped into the visitors center and earned out Jr Ranger badges for their state park system. Up next we raced up the road a few hours to Florissant Fossil Beds. They have the claim of the most invert fossils! I had to see this! We learned all about the formation and layers present in the area. I was lost in the fossils for hours! Fossils and insects at the same time, my head was going to explode! As we were getting out Jr Ranger badges, Mom was talking tot he staff member about our weird weather vacation. She asked if we knew we were under a winter storm warning! WHAT! Mom popped online and sure enough we were. We hightailed it out since the roads back to ColoradoSprings were in the direct path of the storm.
We started off okay for the first 30 minutes then hit the wall of white. No blizzard but pretty close. The snow certainly was coming down quickly.
We made if safely back to Dad at Cheyenne Mountain, hitched up and hit to road towards the Great Sand Dunes. Happy to be away from the snow and heading into warmer areas and dunes of sand!
We had a long drive to Devil’s Tower but arrived early enough to head on over and check things out. I am really glad we did. We have been before and we were looking forward to rock scrambling. The tower stands out amongst the prairie landscape. The tower is made of a rare igneous rock, phonolite porphyry. It is the largest example of columnar jointing in the world. The rocks erode off and gave rise to some spectacular rock climbing. The weather had other ideas about our trip. It was rainy when we arrived.
All checked in and settled at our camping spot. What a great view of the tower from the front of the coach! For those readers that have seen Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind, this was the filming site for most of the movie, now a KOAWe headed over to poke around in the rain. We got a few photos and it started to rain more. We scrambled for a while until we were all exhausted. As we were leaving we overhead a ranger talking about the weather warnings. Ugh. More bad weather? We woke up to slight snow stuck to everything. We did some laundry, made a quick drive back into South Dakota for a part for the jeep and some engine coolant. Then we decided that we would pack up and leave first thing in the morning, 2 days ahead of schedule. We were really glad we did because the snow storms were coming. After we left if dropped 4-6 inches of snow at Devil’s Tower.
Mom, E and I took a drive up to Sylvan Lake. This is a manmade lake created in 1881 when the build a dam across the creek in the area. The lake creates a great getaway in the shadow of Mount Rushmore. The elevation in this part of the park is much higher than near the campground and wildlife loop. We prepped to hike the Sunday Gulch Trail. We arrived, hiking sticks, lunch and water in tow, to signs that said the trail was closed. So instead we opted to circumnavigate the lake over the rocks. There was a LOT of snow still on the ground but the temperatures were in the low 60s so it was great hiking weather. This is May 2019! I built a little snowman! Hi little guy! We started on the tail end of the Sunday Gulch Trail, knowing it was closed, but also knowing it was the only passage that could take us around the lake. We his to hike through some icky snowpack and between the rocks to get to the trail. E found all the ledges with the ice packs. I played with the rocks while E explored the small spaces. I am getting too tall for the tiny spots now. 60s suddenly started to feel really warm. We all cooled down by putting snow under out hats! I think it froze Es brain as he started to act really weird! Life finds a way… there are some large trees growing between the rocks in this area. We hiked for a few hours, had lunch at the highest peak we could find and then continued around the lake.Someone we had run into earlier on our hike kept chatting with us. He was from rapid City. Anyway, he asked if we were trying to pick a snowball fight with him. Ummmmm, NO! Next thing we knew he was hurling snowballs at us, which of course gave us permission to fire back. This went on for 20 minutes with a stranger. It was fun! Drying off with a lovely lake view. I really with I could see what it looked like before there was a lake here. We drove the needles highway and then looped the wildlife road to find the burros to feed them our carrots. I was rightfully terrified of the burros! We saw lots of pronghorn. We picked up Dad after work adn headed out on the Chuckwagon Cookout ride. We listened to Mr. Keith sing and tell stories as we bumped along in the pouring rain. The rain was coming down so hard at times. Thankfully they have a shelter for times like this. We had a great steak dinner and sang lots of fun songs. Besides our small family group the rest of the pe ople were all part of a huge tour group. We were the total outsiders! eWe take a picture everytime we see Keith! These are things the nightmares are made of… burros! The following day was our last in the area. Mom took us to Rapid City to the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology to the Museum of Geology.
It was quite an impressive museum. One side of the museum was dedicated to paleontology and the other to mineralogy. The top things to see included many fossils from the White River Formation. The fossils are quite abundant in the shale layers around Rapid City. This was a very neat and extensive collection of fossils. I am really glad we got to visit this museum. We then stopped at a place called “Dinosaur Park”. It was basically a giant hill with 13 dinosaurs that spanned the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. They were all painted with the same green and white paint. It was quite un-impressive. The view of Rapid City was spectacular so that made up for the dismal dino display. We picked up Dad on the way back in for one last loop of the roads. The weather observation station was finally open so we drove up the mountain to see that. There was a LOT of fog and cloud cover and it was super chilly.
We started our day at the Minuteman Missile NHS. This was home to the Delta 1 rockets. For over 30 years rockets were kept at the ready during the Cold War. There were well over 1000 ready to launch at any time. We toured one of the launch facilities on the visit. We laughed at the Domino’s Pizza spoof. It is terrifying to know that we had to and still haveto be this guarded in our county. We learned a lot about the security systems and what protocols had to happen to launch the missiles. He even found a spelling error “Emergancy Exit”. The building is exactly the state it was in when it was shut down in the late 1980s. We got to go down into the launch pod. The men would spend a few days down in the pods. I am sure they would go nuts with all the buzzing and flashing lights. If the center got a bomb threat call this was the list they had to complete for each call. After the tour we drove through the Badlands and took several hikes. We hiked the Window and Door trails. It was quite warm compared to the last few days. We only hiked out a mile and then back since we didn’t have water with us. The Badlands are the result of deposition and then erosion events. Sand, silt and clay pressed together to form the sedimentary rocks during the late Cretaceous period. When you look out further you can see all the different colors in the rock layers. Based on the color you could tell if the rock was 35 millions years old or 75 million years old! Pretty cool! Next we hiked the Cliff Shelf Trail. It was a much different terrains. It was rich with flora and fauna. We took Buff-a-duck on a tour! Again we were nearly beat out by the elevation changes but stuck with it for the amazing hike! After a lot of hiking and exploring we stopped at Wall Drug for lunch and silly exploring of all the shops. We enjoyed donuts, chicken and lots of cold water! And of course I rode the 12′ jackalope! Our final stop before returning to Custer was at the Ellsworth AFB Air and Space Museum. We have been here before too. We were hoping to get a tour of Delta 9 but since we were off season they tours only ran on the weekend. We explored the center and headed home after a long, yet amazing, day of exploring.