This was a one night stopover on our way south out of the Black Hills. We had no trouble getting a walk in site at the first come first served campground. After dropping off Dory, we went over to the Visitor Center and signed up for a cave tour.
Your choices of tours have to do with how many stairs you want to climb and how much of the caves you want to see. We opted for the max package, called “Fairgrounds.” The remarkable feature in these caves is something called “Box Work.” There are no stalactites or stalagmites in this system because it is a dry cave formation, so no dripping water to carry minerals through the rock. The Box Work is the result of cracks having formed and filled with calcite way before the actual caves had opened up. Some of the openings were created by steam slowly eating away at the rock, some by the dissolving of the surrounding limestone due to acidic seeping water. What remains is a truly beautiful crisscross patchwork of delicate calcite. The sides of the walls glisten with “cave popcorn” and little embedded geodes. It is well worth the 450 steps it takes to witness it. There are shorter tours with fewer stairs too.
We then headed up to a lookout trail, because why not do some climbing after going up and down a whole bunch of stairs? I’ll admit that the view was worth it, plus, we got really strong LTE at the top and Richard was able to make a belated birthday call to his mom from the top.
Then dinner, and a 9:00 ranger talk in the campground. This one was not as geeky and scientific as we tend to like. In general, we appreciate park rangers who just throw way too much geological or zoological information at you, with less regard for whether you are “inspired.” The rangers who seem to need you to demonstrate enthusiasm are less our speed. And really, if you’re going to ever lead tours for groups of people, it’s probably not advisable to tell them they are a “boring” group, even if they are. Just pretend every group is the best you’ve ever had the pleasure of leading. That’s my advice anyway.
We experimented with some shading in the afternoon. First, we put up a sheet of Aluminet on our new port side keder rail. The purpose of this is to reflect light away from the outside wall on the refrigerator side so that the fridge does not suck up all the battery power as it’s trying to cool. This seemed to cut down on heat, but we can’t really be sure. We also put up a visor on the door side to see how that would work just for shade. The first thing we realized was that our poles seem to be missing something. We got the visor from an Altoiste who’d never used it, so we’re not totally sure we have all the pieces. I butter knifed a solution by putting rubber bands on the inner poles so they’d stay up. I also didn’t put on the small keder rail pieces at the bottom that are supposed to secure the guy lines. We had bets on whether it would still be up after we came back from the cave tour and hike, but it was standing! Unfortunately, by morning it had come completely off and the poles were lying on the ground. Not a fair test, to be sure, and our chairs had also blown over, so there must have been some good wind. I’ll call Pahaque to see what I need for the poles and try again with the bottom keder in place. I liked it for shade and it is certainly easier than the awning. Plus, it does not obscure the view. No bug netting, but you know, get over it. The quest continues…
Total miles from Custer: 43.9, 14.6 mpg, 2 hours 44 min (including long Bison traffic jam). D loop, which was empty except us. Flush toilets, no electric. Some sites are like turnouts, some are back in. Some are level, many are unlevel. Weak service, 1-2 bars of 4g for both.