Way Out West: Day Three (27 July)
Hot Springs has a picturesque main drag, and we couldn’t leave town without some pictures. At one of our photo-op stops near the end of town, we went into a little guitar shop run by a woman named Allison Swan. She was standing outside the front door smoking as we walked up but finished her cigarette and went inside with us. She had some sweet-sounding guitars, no doubt, but I wasn't tempted—my old Guild suits me just fine. The best that Ms. Swan had to give us was her suggestion of a little side trip along a dead-end road just at the end of town. It led to a beautiful canyon colored with that reddish rock and soil that characterizes so many western landscapes. As we made our way out of the canyon, Leesa called to say thanks for the suggestion, which shocked Ms. Swan, I think. She says she often advises people to take that short drive but never gets a thank-you call.
Our next stop was Wind Cave. Of all the typical touring things we did on this trip, this one was probably our favorite. The cave is a sacred site to the Lakota, but of course that means very little to white America. A couple of cowboys "discovered" the cave—a small hole in the ground was the only visible entrance—back in the late 1800s. You can read up on the whole history if you like, but suffice to say that it is now a national park and a wonderful experience.
We took one of the three tours offered, lasting close to an hour and a half. The temperature outside was approaching the 90s in the early afternoon, but underground the temperature is a steady 53 degrees. Leesa had her hoodie that she wisely carries into restaurants and grocery stores, so we bought me a long-sleeved t-shirt. The design on the back is a map of the known 200+ miles of Wind Cave. Below the map is a caption, a quote from the earliest and most avid explorers of the cave; he says that he has given up on finding the end of its passages. Scientists measuring the volume of air moving in and out of the cave—the characteristic that gives the place its name—and determined that there are likely 1,000 to 1,200 miles of passages that make up Wind Cave. Amazing!
We continued throughout the afternoon to explore the southern portion of the Black Hills, which includes some prairie dog towns, the town of Custer, the in-progress mountain-sized sculpture of Crazy Horse and, of course, Mt. Rushmore. That evening we checked into Big Sky Lodge, located on a ridge looking over Rapid City and out across the plains and badlands to the east. Bob and Sonia came to pick us up and take us to supper at the Golden Phoenix, where we had a good meal and a good time for a couple of hours. We left there around 10:00 (MDT), after making our plans for our Saturday.