We had made arrangements to meet up with Laura, a friend of ours from Amazon, at the welcome center outside of Sundance. She has worked as a camphost at Cook Lake Recreation Area during the summers for the last ten years. When I found out she was still in the area, we decided to spend the day together. She is headed to Campbellsville soon, as she starts a month before we do.
On the ride over to Sundance from Spearfish, we stopped at an attraction called the Vore Buffalo Jump. I wasn't sure what it was, but the interpretive displays explained it all. Buffalo was a primary staple of the Plains Indians, but naturally they were very dangerous to hunt. The Indians ingeniously used this natural sinkhole as an aid to hunting the buffalo.
Using disguises of buffalo pelts, they would begin to round up a herd a distance away from the sinkhole. They would drive the herd towards the sinkhole, and as it got close, they would spook the herd, forcing it to stampede towards the sinkhole. They would flee right over the edge, hurtling to the ground, killing or injuring them. The Indians would then swarm into the sinkhole, killing the injured ones, and the whole tribe would immediately go to work butchering the carcasses. Every single bit of the buffalo was used, nothing went to waste.
This building was erected over the dig site in 2010 to protect it as the excavation continues. It is considered one of the most important archaeological sites of the Late Prehistoric Plains Indians. It was very interesting to see, and worth the stop for sure.
We met up with Laura and headed into Sundance to pick up some sandwiches to take to Devils Tower with us. Of course, while there, we had to visit with one of the area's most famous characters, the Sundance Kid. The Sundance Kid (AKA Harry Longabaugh) had his first known brush with the law near here in Crook county for stealing a horse.In 1887, Harry Longabaugh was convicted of horse theft and sentenced to 18 months in the Sundance, Wyoming, jail. Because of this jail time he was called the Sundance Kid. Longabaugh likely met Butch Cassidy (real name Robert Leroy Parker) sometime after Parker was released from prison around 1896. They formed the "Wild Bunch Gang." Together with the other members of the gang, they performed the longest string of successful train and bank robberies in American and Old West history. Little is known of Longabaugh's exploits prior to his riding with Parker.
Laura also pointed out the Dime Horse Shoe Bar across the street. This bar is host to the Sundance Burnout and Wet Tee Shirt Contest during the Sturgis Bike Rally. If you wish to read about this, google it, ( I had no idea what a burnout was, but now I do!) but I won't post the link being that this is a family friendly blog :-). Suffice it to say, I don't plan on being here for this event :-)! We also just watched a show on the Travel Channel about the Sturgis Bike Week Rally, and again I say, I DO NOT plan on being anywhere near this area during that time!!
On to Devils Tower. You can see it from a long way off. Unfortunately it was extremely hazy yesterday, and the views from afar were not that great.
As we got closer, the views were better, but still not the awesome blue sky one would have liked. Devils Tower became the nation's first National Monument on September 24, 1906, under President Theodore Roosevelt. Not only is the land surrounding this prominent geological feature federally protected, but it is considered sacred ground by many Indian tribes.
Inside the Visitor's Center is a painting of the most common Indian legend surrounding the Tower:
One story, common to the Kiowa, Arapaho, Crow, Cheyenne and Sioux tribes, concerns a group of seven small girls pursued by a giant bear. According to this legend, the girls were one day playing in the forest. A great bear came upon them and gave chase. The girls swiftly fled through the trees but the bear slowly gained on them. Recognizing the hopelessness of their situation, the girls jumped upon a low rock and prayed loudly to the Great Spirit to save them. Immediately the small rock began to grow upwards, lifting the seven girls higher and higher into the sky. The angry bear jumped up against the sides of the growing tower and left deep claw marks, which may be seen to this day upon the rock walls. The tower continued to soar towards the sky until the girls were pushed up into the heavens, where they became the seven stars of the Pleiades.
After entering the park, the first area you drive through is a prairie dog town. There are signs all over telling you not to feed them, they can bite and are known to carry disease (bubonic plague for one), it is fairly obvious that they are used to being fed...several actually run out to the cars begging!
They are very cute though :-)
The Tower has been a National Monument since 1906, but the landmark vaulted into national headlines in 1941. This happened due to the foolhardy stunt of a professional parachutist named George Hopkins. Without consent or knowledge of National Park Service officials, on October 1, 1941, Hopkins parachuted from an airplane to the top of the Tower. His plan was to make a descent by means of a one-half inch 1,000 foot rope which was also dropped from the plane. However, the rope landed on the side of the Tower, and he was unable to retrieve it. The Park Service now had the daunting task of figuring out what to do with him. Six days later, an experience mountain climbing team was brought in, made the ascent and rescued Hopkins. The stranded stunt man and the rescue operations received wide publicity and attracted over 7,000 visitors to the monument.
As is the theme at National Park sites, the dogs are welcome in the parking areas, campgrounds and roadways, but not on any trails. We poked around the visitor center, taking turns going inside to see the exhibits, and Al did walk part of the trail at the base.
Can you see the climbers here on some of the columns? Climbing is an activity allowed by the Park Service, but it is strictly regulated and monitored in order to protect the climbing environment, the heritage and culture of the American Indians, climbers and the general public. There have been 5 climbing fatalities since 1937.
We took our picnic lunches down to the picnic grounds, and had an enjoyable couple of hours catching up with Laura and talking about our plans for the next few months. It was a beautiful afternoon, and we all marveled at our good fortune that landed us here, having a picnic lunch on a beautiful day in view of a fabulous landmark. All by ourselves, too! At the picnic area there's a really neat sculpture called The Circle of Sacred Smoke. The circle of sacred smoke sculpture honors the American people as a gesture of world peace by sculptor Junkyu Muto. The sculpture is designed to help raise visitor awareness of the importance of the tower to over twenty affiliated tribes. It is the third of seven works planned by the sculptor around the world. The first two are located at Vatican City and Bodhi, India. The sculpture represents the first puff of smoke from a newly lit pipe.
The afternoon slowly faded away, and it was time to head back home to Spearfish. It was great seeing Laura again, and with fond farewells, we parted ways, knowing we'll be back together at Green River Lake State Park the end of October. We took the scenic highway back to Spearfish, going through several small towns such as Aladdin, population 15...really!! and rolling ranch lands. We had an excellent dinner at a Chinese restaurant (haven't had Chinese since leaving Florida back in April) and packed it in early, knowing we were headed out in the morning, for an excruciatingly long drive of 90 miles, down to Custer, S.D. I think this will be our shortest hop between campgrounds ever since we started out on this journey! So our next adventures will involve Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park, Mammoth Hot Springs, and whatever else we can find over the next four days!