Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Scottsbluff, NE, Fort Laramie, WY and Jewel Cave, SD

Odometer - 2332 miles

First - thank you so much to those of you who have left comments. I love hearing from you! Thank you, too, to my cousin, Sara, for leaving the poem. I loved it!

Yesterday we hiked to the top of Scottsbluff Monument - 1.8 miles each way. It was a magnificent hike and a little strenuous. Even though we're not in the desert, it sure feels like it. It was interesting to see all the different flowers, cactus and scrubby pine. The view was incredible - you could see for miles and miles. Scottsbluff is significant because the Oregon Trail traveled through this area. The bluff has been wearing away significantly over the years. Years and years ago, the whole area was the same height as Scottsbluff.

Next we drove 50 miles to Wyoming and Fort Laramie. The temperature was 101 by the van's thermometer when we concluded our tour. The tour guide, a local high school student in costume (wool pants, and heavy jacket - he must have been roasting...) was excellent. He took the us around to see the bunk houses, guard houses and officers' quarters.

Last night, we stayed in Lusk, Wyoming. A little, tiny dot on the map. There are 140 trains that go through Lusk every day. 70 go through empty and 70 go through full of coal in the opposite way. Each one is 120 cars and a mile long. Each car weighs tons and tons. They are taking coal from the Gillette mine nearby which has been much busier because of the energy crisis. The Union Pacific railroad is one of the biggest employers in this region.

This was the friendliest town/hotel I’ve ever visited. We had a cowboy dinner at the Outpost Cafe and three locals came up to talk to us. In fact, Gates and I went back to the hotel for a swim and left Robert deep in conversation with a local couple. One family heard us talking about Mt. Rushmore and stopped by to suggest we see it at night when it’s lit up. I have an inkling that this is what Alaska is going to be like and I like that!

We drove north and then east into South Dakota to see Jewel Cave. We had tried to make reservations but the line was busy, busy, busy. Fortunately when we got there, we were able to get on the next tour and only had to wait an hour.

Jewel Cave is the second largest cave in the world. We took an elevator to down 374 feet to where the tour began. We walked along cement paths and down steel steps as we toured the cave. The ranger said that calculations based on the wind that flows through the cave indicate that only about 5% of the cave has been explored. It was a cool 49 degrees - a real relief from the 95 outside.

This afternoon we drove to Custer, SD to see the Crazy Horse Memorial. Then it was onto the hotel, dinner, pool and sleep. It’s amazing how the heat just saps your energy...

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