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Adventure 10: 1st Camping Trip – Part I – SD

July 5, 2012
It has been quite some time since my last post, a few months at least. I’ll use the term “on sabbatical” as a substitution for “being lazy” and hope you don’t ask any follow-up questions. So why the out-of-the-blue return to the blogosphere? An adventure, of course.Before I get into the details, let me give you a little background about my camping experience: Zip. Zero. Nada. De Rien. Absolutely no experience whatsoever. Of course, I don’t want to start with some sort of loser camping-in-the-backyard trip, so my husband and I set off for a ten-day mid-May camping trip in the Western United States with nothing but a tent, two sleeping bags, one lantern, some extra clothes, and a lot of bagels and peanut butter stuffed into our little Prius. Oh, yeah…and bear mace, because I’m a wuss.Prior to the trip, many experienced campers warned us about going out west in May. “There will still be snow on the ground,” they said. “I hope you’re prepared to freeze,” they said. Unfortunately, our work schedules don’t allow for many ten-day excursions, so changing plans was never an option. We’d just have to tough it out and hope they were wrong. Besides, the average temperatures for mid May for South Dakota, Yellowstone National Park, and Glacier National Park (our itinerary) were all above freezing.

Days One and Two:

We set out from Michigan after work on a Friday afternoon, heading to LaCrosse, WI to stay the night with my brother and get a head start on driving before the long haul out to South Dakota.

Total driving time from Michigan to the Black Forest: 16 hours. Yikes. But we softened the trip with a plethora of comedy routines on CD. (Thank you, Louis CK. I owe a small part of my sanity to you.)We arrived at our campground around 7:30pm — I want to say it was called Grizzly Creek Campground, or something like that — only to find that we are the first and ONLY campers to stay there this season. All those threats about the weather starting looming in my brain. Were we crazy? Would we freeze to death? Only one way to find out…so, for the first time ever, we pitched a tent at a campground.
Once the tent was all squared away, we decided to take a quick drive on the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway, rated one of the top ten scenic drives in the United States, before the sun went down. The view was absolutely beautiful as the sun set behind Mt. Rushmore. For those of you who are curious: No. You cannot see the Presidents’ butts from the backside of the mountain.The drive was great and all, but I was focused on something I found much more exciting: my first night in a tent! I couldn’t wait.I knew it would be cold, so I got all bundled up in a couple layers of pants and shirts, all the while, my husband is looking at me like I’m crazy. “You have to sleep bare ass naked,” he told me. “Your body heat will keep you warmer than those clothes.” This sounded insane to me, and I chose to ignore it. I froze my ass off all night as the cold air seeped into my clothes. My husband slept like a baby.
Day Three (and also my birthday):You can’t take a trip to the Black Forest without seeing Mt. Rushmore, right? After all, it was the ideal 50s family vacation spot! We saw the whole deal, complete with a hike around the monument and a grandiose high school graduation. I still can’t believe how much of the carving was done with dynamite. Very cool.
But once you’ve seen the monument, you’ve seen the monument — not a whole lot to it, but at least we can cross it off our list now. We spent the rest of the day doing exactly what we wanted to do on this trip: hiking! There are a million trails in the area, and we only had one day to explore. We selected Horsethief Creek trail — a nice four-mile-or-so jaunt through the forest and around some very nifty rock formations.
The forest was lush and green, green, green. The weather was perfect, probably 80 degrees and sunny. Not a cloud in the sky. We followed the creek for a couple miles, stopping here and there to crawl down to some mini waterfalls. Eventually, the trail split away from the creek and wound further into the forest. One of the things that is so amazing about South Dakota is the combination of beautiful, enormous, elaborate rock formations combined with thick pine and birch tree forest. I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere else. We couldn’t resist doing a little spontaneous rock climbing, pulling ourselves up ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty feet. The views at the top were gorgeous, and I felt like a rugged hiker! Plenty of scrapes on the hands and knees to prove it.
At the end of the trail, we met up again with the creek where dozens of bright purple butterflies were skimming the water in the sunlight — a photograph I really regret not taking, but a memory I’ll never forget. We started the long return walk, stopping only once to try to hunt down the most unusual sounding bird we’d ever heard. We both stopped in the middle of the trail when we head the oddest faint screeching sound. Trying to spot the bird, we walked into the woods a ways, just close enough to scare the ever-living shit out of a woodpecker, which, in turn, scared the ever-living shit out of us when bolted off the tree not three feet from us. Only then did we realized the screeching sound wasn’t a bird. It was the sound of the beetles under the tree bark as the woodpecker tried to eat them. It was one of the most disturbing things I’d ever heard — a nice, sharp contrast to those beautiful butterflies.
We spent a little time in town. Caught some crazy Japanese tourists taking pictures of our car (maybe because it was such a mess in back?). And washed up in the coldest well water on the planet. We finished off the evening with some birthday s’mores for me over my first ever campfire. We went to sleep completely exhausted that night. And yes, I slept bare ass naked.Stay tuned for my next post: First Ever Camping Trip – Part II – Yellowstone National Park. Bison, Below Freezing, and Bubbly Acid.
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