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Last of the Badlands; Oreodonts! Nice Folks; Wall Drug; Mount Rushmore; Bison!

We only had two days and nights in Badlands National Park, and we made the most of them. Our second day’s hikes were long, but again, very scenic. Here is My Lovely Bride trudging up a very steep, scree-filled chute on the way to Saddle Pass. What a view from the top! It was a very warm, sunny day, up into the low 90s, and we both had mild sunburns.

One of the stops on our hike was the fossil exhibit, and we were fortunate to find Volunteer Ranger Paul giving a fascinating talk on the animals that once lived here which are now fossils. He  noted that only mammals are found in these geologic formations; they came much later than the dinosaurs found elsewhere in the west and southwest.

In fact, the second subtitle of today’s blog relates to a fossil, although one might think of a delicious, double stuffed chocolate cookie with with cream filling… and that was indeed my first thought when Paul started talking about a prehistoric mammal called an Oreodont, a sheep-sized grazing critter back millions of years ago that lived here in South Dakota. He held out the jawbone of an Oreodont; I think the black stuff on the rear molars must have been cookie residue…

One of the best parts about traveling is meeting new people. Just in Badlands National Park, we met several folks we’d have loved to have gotten to know better, but alas, time was short, and we were all going in different directions… First, Bruce and Lavette stopped to pet Rudy and Gretchen. Bruce is a retired  nuclear electronics technician and Limited Duty Officer (LDO), a sub-mariner with 30 years aboard several subs. He has a great sense of humor, unusual for a “nuke”, but I think Lavette has mellowed him over the years; her job as a Navy wife is one of the hardest in the world (especially when you’re married to a character like Bruce). We were amazed to find that we actually had mutual acquaintances, a couple in Tampa with two Dachshunds named Tank and Rambo!

Next, as we were getting ready to leave our campsite in the Badlands, a friendly young man named Abdiel stopped by; he was a very outgoing guy wearing a Tufts tee-shirt. Abdiel is a recent grad in Childhood Development who is moving back to L.A. to work with kids with autism. He and his girlfriend Carla were packing up their tent and heading west; we hope to catch up with them when we visit L.A. next summer.

Then as we were waiting to pump out our coach’s holding tanks, we met Justin and Monica, an Army couple on their way from Fort Lewis, Washington, to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Justin is a Staff Sergeant, a Ranger-qualified paratrooper, who has deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan. We continue to be impressed by the young men and women who serve our country, both in uniform and their spouses who have equally difficult challenges back at home.

We hit the road, only stopping briefly in Wall, SD, to look into the famous Wall Drug. I was looking for a barber, but the one barber in town only worked on Wednesday. Even worse, their soda fountain didn’t have cookies and cream ice cream; Sheesh! The drug store itself was a bit over the top with tourist goods, so we didn’t stay for long…

Our next stop was Mount Rushmore, which neither of us had visited before. This iconic sculpture in granite displays the heads of four presidents, Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. It was an amazing experience, and it was notable that most of the tourists there were foreigners.

Our campground was in Custer State Park, in the Black Hills of South Dakota. It was a relatively short trip, and we had time for a walk before dinner. Here is MLB with beautiful Legion Lake behind her.

I wanted an extra hour’s hike, so I took off up the Centennial Trail. I had to turn around a bit early, though, because the trail was getting too crowded… the seven bison I encountered definitely had first dibs on this trail.

What was really surprising was that an hour later, as I was washing up dinner dishes, who should come strolling through our campground but those same seven bison… they did not hang around for dessert, thank goodness.

Finally, I’ll leave you with this scene of a young boy fishing at Legion Lake near our campground. He wasn’t catching fish, but who could argue that his time was ill-spent? What a beautiful view he has while wondering what adventures life has in store for him…

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