We started in the evening on August 22 and drove through the night. A little stress, anticipation, Taco Bell, and sitting upright all night meant misery in Missouri and bad times in the Badlands. You have to have one bad experience, right? It all seems like a distant memory now, and the good memories have taken over mostly. As we left the east, I watched as the landscape flattened, emptied, rolled, filled, and emptied again. Our first stop was Badlands National Park in South Dakota. It felt like we were just cruising along, 80mph in some places, then all of a sudden there were badlands. Although I was reaching the climax of my discomfort at this point, I was able to enjoy this strange landscape. This was also perhaps the first interesting mammal spotting, bighorn sheep.
From the Badlands, we drove to the Black Hills and spent the night. The following morning we visited Mt. Rushmore and headed on to Wyoming for Devils Tower and our first night of camping in the Bighorn Mountains. Devils tower is another example of an abrupt landscape change. It seems so random! Below Devils tower, we got to see a bunch of prairie dogs. I'm sure they are pests to those who live in the area, but they are so cute!
In the Bighorn Mountains, I witnessed several new things. First, I witnessed free-range cattle and cattle guards in the roads. I will insert here that I had some misconceptions about Wyoming and cattle stemming from the song "Get Along Little Dogies." I assumed cattle to be abundant, but alas the sparsely brush covered hills are nutrient scarce, requiring more range per cow than I am accustomed to. Second, I witnessed what I thought was a momentary lapse in judgment in my husband who decided to make the cows get off the road. His excuse? He didn't want to hear cars honking at them all night (debatable). His technique? Run at them, throw some rocks, yell at them. Was he successful? Mostly. Meanwhile, I was somewhat apprehensive and stricken with slightly irrational thoughts. After all, these are free range cattle. They might not be as predictable as Tennessee cows, a bit more fierce perhaps.
After camping Friday night next to a man who talked to himself and had a Doberman with questionable temperament, we got up to go explore the Medicine Wheel. Here, I experienced mild elevation sickness for the first time. It was well worth it though because we got to see a pika!!!! It was by far my favorite animal of the trip I believe. I thought the prairie dogs were my favorite until I saw that little pika. Can there be anything cuter? We also saw some yellow-bellied marmots at the Medicine wheel which were also cute.
As thoughts about pikas and marmots were running through my head as we headed back to camp, something caught my eye...some horse trailers and some very excited dogs. Could it be? David answered my unspoken thought with "I bet it is a cattle roundup." We got to see the whole shebang. Cowboys, cowgirls, herding dogs (Australian shepherds and border collies), horses, and of course cows. This was such an exhilarating experience to me that I considered moving to Wyoming to become a cowgirl, but my dislike of the cold and being a vegetarian brought me back to reality.
From here it was on to Yellowstone! More pictures and long narratives to come!