Friday, July 01, 2005

Roubaix Lake Campground, South Dakota

Devil's Tower

Awoke this morning about 7:30, a view of Devil’s Tower through my tent doorway. Already warm. Shared the morning with my camping neighbors, from somewhere on the East Coast, the father loudly taking care of business on his cell phone, trying to wake his two children. “Rise and shine!” “Come on sleepyheads!” His overly-positive tone would have driven me nuts as a child. I sympathized with the kids.

The park entrance was just a quarter mile away. Joined the throng visiting this extraordinary geological formation. Rock climbers were among the "early birds". Many were already ascending when I arrived.

I fell in line with more sedentary souls, opting for the fairly level path encircling the tower's base. The tower, formed by a molten intrusion into the upper layers of the Earth's crust, or by a volcano, was gradually exposed over millennia, as surrounding sedimentary layers were eroded and washed away. The cooling and contracting rock created the mostly hexagonal columns. That's how geologists explain it.

The Indians tell a different version, in which seven sisters are pursued by a bear (formerly their brother.) The spirits advise them to climb a tree, which grows up to the sky, the bear clawing at the trunk. The sisters are then placed among the heavens as the stars of the Big Dipper (which, coincidentally is also known as Ursa Major, "The Great Bear".)

A human fly on Devil's Tower. After reaching the cut-out section some time later, he let out a yell that echoed throughout the park. "That was the greatest thing I've ever done!"

Porcupines knaw at the bark of Ponderosa Pines.

Ponderosa Pine bark.

Most impressive to me was the sheer number and variety of birds that find refuge at Devil's Tower. The air is filled with their calls. I wish I could identify them all. Most abundant are the swallows. But circling high above the tower, sunlight flashing from their white plumage, soars a flight of what look like cranes.

Visited a prairie dog colony beneath the tower. What a delight to watch these gregarious creatures. Their "homeland security" system works pretty well, with each member responsible for sounding the alarm in the event of a threat. (They don't even need a color-coded system!)

Buddha prairie dog. Apparently Devil's Tower is one of the few areas you can now find prairie dog colonies. They were subject to massive eradication programs throughout the plains.

This guy was less timid than most, and a little chubbier. No doubt there's a connection.

This kept barking out his warning alarm to the colony. I told him to keep quiet, but he refused to comply.

They apparently have different warning alarms, including one specifically for hawks.

A young prairie dog pouncing on his friend.

Seeing a restaurant sign that states "family-owned" catches my attention. It's the "Devil's Tower View Restaurant". The placemats, geared toward children, are covered with information, games and puzzles that teach the merits of “multiple use” of resources. A blatant effort to "nip environmentalism in the bud." The word "preservation" is not in their lexicon (unless it's preservation of property rights.)

Still, I needed to eat. Tried their pork loin sandwich special. Pretty good food. A refreshing alternative to the fast food chains.

From the southeast, Devil's Tower juts out of the Black Hills landscape.

Temperatures rising into the 90's as I linked up with Interstate 90 for the mad dash into Sturgis. I don't like crowds, so I'm visiting when there's NO "Bike Week" (which this year is August 7th through the 12th, I believe.)

The town was pretty quiet this day. Still a high percentage of motorcycles compared with cars, but the historic district was very quiet. Cruised past some of the "Bike Week" venues, included several huge "drinking arenas" (that's one of the main events, isn't it?) The "Full Throttle" proclaims itself the world's largest "biker bar."

Beyond these outrageous pavilions, the town looks pretty ordinary. It's main product seems to be t-shirts, millions of them. Previous years' "Bike Week" tees go for rock-bottom prices. The desperate search for individuality curiously results in dull conformity. Only the fearless dare to be original thinkers.

Stopped briefly at the library to check e-mail, then left Sturgis. "Been there, done that." (But not really! I'd be too afraid to visit during "Bike Week"!)

Driving into the Black Hills, the place was crawling (and roaring) with Harleys. So many that I grew tired of waving to passing motorcyclists. Few helmets to be seen on these riders. And I was struck by the number of women riding bikes. Deadwood, the notorious gold rush city, has been transformed into a sanitized adult gaming center, a la Las Vegas, though with some very interesting underlying history.

No parking on the main street. Huge parking structures are concealed behind the shops. (It almost feels like Disneyland's Main Street USA.) The sidewalks are crowded with pedestrians. As in the old days, when Wild Bill Hickok lived and died here, Deadwood is devoted primarily to drinking and gambling (though the other vice, prostitution, appears not so blatant these days.) A bustling town and very popluar destination, it would appear.

I stopped in at a grocery, bought a refreshment and a snack, then sat in a small park away from downtown.

Wandering deeper into the hills, it was clear why these roads are so hugely popular with motorcyclists; they're in great shape, with nice sweeping curves, forested scenery and significantly cooler temperatures than the lowlands. Couldn't get the Beatles song "Rocky Raccoon" (with its reference to "the Black hills of South Dakota") out of my head. It was driving me nuts!

I felt fortunate to come upon this campground on highway 385. Accommodations were filling up for the holiday weekend. The campground managers, a retired couple from Yuma, Arizona, greeted me at the entrance and directed me to one of the few remaining spaces.

Sat outside at a picnic table, writing notes, until a storm picked up at dusk. Crawled into my tent as the first drops started falling.

Occasionally during this trip, I've noticed a momentary reaction when starting out on my bike in the mornings: “I forgot my seatbelt!”

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