Saturday, July 12, 2008

One last National Park before deployment

We are at the Cedar Pass campground in Badlands National Park, South Dakota (map).

As I wrote earlier today, we had intended to spend the night at the Bear Lodge campground in the Black Hills National Forest. It was an idyllic spot, just a half dozen sites nestled in the pines, with only one other camper in the whole place. We had paid for one night, and I had already scoped out a dispersed site a bit further up the road to perhaps settle in for the remainder of the weekend.

We arrived early in the day, no later than perhaps 1:00. The phone rang with the deployment news while I was out hiking -- scoping out that dispersed spot and walking an old alignment of highway 24, now long abandoned. I walked back up to the bus while Louise was still on the phone with the Disaster Operations Center. So there we were, scrambling around at 3 in the afternoon, looking at possible routes to Austin, and trying to get guidance from Disaster Staffing about actual deployment orders and travel reimbursement.

I looked very seriously at turning south at Rapid City, which would shave another dozen miles off the total -- in the neighborhood of 1,300 miles or so, of which perhaps 900 would be reimbursable at the rate of 58 cents per mile (it costs us about a dollar per mile to operate Odyssey). But all the routing software was adamant that it was quicker by an hour to drive east on I-90 to US83.

Now, before the deployment call, our plan had been to continue east to Sturgis, and maybe scope out the town and the ongoing preparations for the motorcycle extravaganza that will descend upon it in four weeks' time. We planned to stay at the nearby Fort Meade National Recreation Area, then continue east to the Badlands, staying at the primitive campground on the west end of the park, down a five mile gravel road.

All of this had also been on the agenda four years ago. When we first embarked on this grand tour, departing Sumner, Washington in September of 2004, we had an October commitment in Billings, Montana, after which we intended to continue across the northern states all the way to Chicago, and then onwards to New Jersey, where I have family. I'm sorry to say that none of this is recorded here in the blog, because we did not start blogging the adventure until we were already in New Jersey, in November of that year.

We indeed met our commitment in Billings, and had a wonderful drive across Montana and a small corner of Wyoming on US212, which brought us into Belle Fourche, SD (and who can go there without thinking of that classic John Wayne/Bruce Dern film, The Cowboys). From there we drove south and did the canonical tourist loop of Mount Rushmore and the black hills. We were just about to continue east to Sturgis when we got a phone call.

That was before we were Red Cross volunteers, though. In that case, it was a call from my attorney (in a lawsuit against a former employer), saying I was needed in San Francisco for a settlement hearing. Few of the other ten plaintiffs could attend, and my presence was deemed critical to a successful negotiation, and so, somewhat reluctantly, we turned south, to Denver, which was the nearest airport from which I could get a flight at anything less than a king's ransom.

That was an interesting diversion, in part because it meant Louise was on her own with Odyssey for a couple of nights, after dropping me off at DIA. She had a great experience, as I understand, at Cherry Lake state park. In any case, when I returned from SF, we continued our eastward journey from Denver, missing the rest of South Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, and not rejoining our originally planned route until Chicago. (We have since learned how to solve this: we don't plan our routes now more than a day or two in advance.)

It was against this backdrop that we decided that, as long as we were blasting east along I-90 today, that, by golly, we had enough daylight left to loop through Badlands, and between choosing the faster route and electing to bail out of our paid-up camp site to get an early start, we'd be okay taking the roughly one hour detour through the park. Besides, we needed a place to stay tonight, and this campground was as good an option as any.

We did take a few minutes en route to actually admire the breathtaking scenery here in the park. We arrived at the campground around 8:30, just at sunset, and immediately headed up to the concessionaire-operated Cedar Pass Lodge for dinner. Unfortunately, our late arrival meant the only dinner option was the buffet, which was completely unappealing, and so we returned to the bus and I grilled a steak, despite the late hour.

We're glad we made the detour, but, just as I said four years ago, we need to come back and do it right. I am hoping it is not another full four years before we return here.

Tomorrow we will get an early start, heading south to Interior on SD-377, turning east onto SD-44 which will take us all the way to US83, somewhat south of I-90. 83 will take us all the way to Texas.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, is that grass? OMG, it was so dry and desert-looking when we were there last August. Weird!


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