June 3, 2010

We left Nebraska for South Dakota and stopped in Hot Springs when we noticed a little natural foods store. We were still craving hot dogs and planned to camp and were hoping to find some buffalo dogs. We had to wait a half hour for the store to open so we wandered a bit and found a very colorful quilt shop that was being run by a couple from West Palm Beach. Ingo pointed out that several shop owners that we have met along the way have been transplants from the south. The natural food store had buffalo dogs after all and we left there with a lot of goodies including hot sauce from Boulder, pale ale flavored mustard, eggs from free range chickens and cans of organic black and butter beans.

It was getting late by the time we pulled into Custer State Park and we took one of the more narrow and curvy roads into the park. It was beautiful and reminded me a bit of North Carolina. We saw a lot of buffalo in the south end of the park and several little prairie dog towns. They had informed us at the park entrance station that the park was no longer allowing self-registration for camping and that we would have to call a 1-800 number to reserve a site for the night. We were charged an extra $7 because we’re not residents of South Dakota, so between the entrance fee for the park and the campsite reservation, we almost paid as much as a local motel room would have cost.

At least the site that we were assigned was within a tent-only area and was right next to a creek (pronounced ‘crick’ in the Midwest). I set up the tent and we sat down to enjoy a few beers before preparing dinner, when all of a sudden our neighbors called out to us and told us to look back. There were two buffalo who had roamed down from the RV site across the road and were standing within 20 feet of our tent!

A state park employee had pulled up and was wielding a bull whip which he cracked toward them a couple of times. The bulls turned their heads in slow-motion and grunted and basically ignored the whip. Ingo climbed up on the picnic table when the bulls started stomping down toward us and I wasn’t as much afraid for myself as I was afraid for our tent! They rounded the campsite and walked the narrow path between the creek and our tent and moved along. We passed it off as being a normal thing for the buffalo to roam through the campgrounds and went about making dinner.

We had leftover couscous from the previous night and added some lima beans to mix it up a little. We grilled the buffalo dogs and slathered them up with mustard and hot sauce. The fire lasted just long enough for us to finish cooking which was perfect because we were both a bit exhausted. Ingo had wandered up to the bathroom to brush his teeth and I followed him shortly after. I nearly bumped into him standing in the path to the facilities and found that he was panting and a bit shaken up. He asked if I had seen what just happened.

Apparently, as he was walking toward the bathroom he felt a quick gust of wind and was pondering about how the wind had picked up and realized there was a snort at the end of that blast of air. There, near the entrance to the men’s room, stood one of the buffalo bulls that had earlier passed through our campsite. Ingo said that once it lowered its head and gave him a hairy look, he freaked out and ran around the building as quickly as he could.

By the time I walked up, the bull had started plodding off across the street and Ingo told me he had dropped the headlamp and lost the back, the strap and the batteries somewhere. He had also sprained or broken his big toe because his flip flop had flopped the wrong way during his getaway. Our tent neighbors asked if everything was all right because they had seen the buffalo and heard someone making noise and running around and we assured them that everything was okay. I happened to sleep really good this night.

June 4, 2010

The morning air was crisp and cool and the ‘crick’ was bubbling and rolling just a few feet from our tent. I was able to find the batteries and the strap for the head lamp that was dropped when Ingo was accosted by the local wildlife the night before. There was a rather fresh buffalo pie next to the batteries and seeing it made me chuckle a little.

We made coffee, bacon and eggs over a fire and we decided we liked the site so much we hoped to reserve it another night. I got on the phone with the reservation office as early as they were open but they told me there was only one site left in our campground that was amongst the RVs. We decided it would be best to just take our chances that the next state park we reached would have first-come sites so we packed up and left.

Ingo’s foot had swollen up like a sweet potato so hiking in the area was out of the question. The only thing I could think of on my list of things to check out while in the Rapid City area was to take a look at Mt. Rushmore. After visiting the Presidents, we drove north toward Sturgis to find another place to camp.

The state park we had in mind was Bear Butte State Park and there happened to be a sweet tent area right next to Bear Butte Lake. It was really windy and the sky was getting very dark so I set up the tent with the tarp ready to throw over in case it started raining. We were visited by a ranger who told us that if it happened to rain it wouldn’t be much and wouldn’t last long so we didn’t worry much about exactly when to get dinner started.

We heated more of the leftover couscous and threw some andouille sausages on the fire. The wind had really picked up at this point and the sky darkened and we started seeing some lightning headed our way. And then it started sprinkling. By the time the sausages were ready, it was raining pretty steadily. We had donned our rain jackets and sat at the picnic table eating dinner in the rain. Once we were finished I threw everything important in the car and we dove into the tent. There were a few scary cracks of thunder and it rained longer than I would have expected, but I fell asleep anyway, wet clothes and all.