Our Tour of the Northern United States (page 3)

 May 30 (continued)

Death Row InhabitantThe next day was beautiful.  First we headed to REPTILE GARDENS, the world's largest collection of reptiles.  They had lots of snakes, including the inhabitants of "Death Row," the most venomous snakes in the world.  There was also a 200-lb alligator-Snapping Turtle.  He was pretty boring, but impressive by his size alone.  It was also my first time to come face to face with several Galapagos Tortoises.  It was cool outside, so they were in their heated indoor area.  

    There was also a prairie dog habitat.  They were calling across to each other as if they were saying, "People! People! Hide!"  The center attraction was a large arboretum with approximately 40,000 flowers and orchids, several reptiles, exotic birds, and a few loose snakes.  Our final stop at Reptile Gardens was the gift shop.  We picked up some t-shirts and a few geodes.  

Bear Country
                  USA Our next stop was BEARCOUNTRY USA.  This was our first time to visit a drive-thru wildlife park.  They had lots of different mammals there including Timber Wolfs, Arctic Wolves, bobcats, mountain lions, rams, reindeer, buffalo, and the world's largest collection of black bears.  The different species were cleverly divided by electric fences and cattle guards so they wouldn't eat each other.  The end of the tour featured "Babyland" with dozens of baby bears, foxes, and wolves.  Naturally, there was a large gift shop.  It featured just about every kind of teddy bear imaginable.

We were
                  there! Next, we headed toward Mt Rushmore.  There was a turnoff for Rushmore Cave.  We had seen dozens of billboards, so we decided to take a detour.  The caves were nice, but nothing stood out as spectacular.  Most of it consisted of passageways with one large room at the end.  We had seen better, but each cave has its own features.  We left quickly and went to Mt Rushmore.  It was neat to see Mt Rushmorein person.  The mountain really speaks for itself.  Most interesting are the things that cannot be seen in the sculpture.  For example,about 95% of the sculpting was done by blasting with dynamite.  Also,did you know that Thomas Jefferson was originally supposed to be on George Washington's right side?  When it wasn't working out, his image was blasted from the rock face and reblasted on Washington's left side.  Finally, the sculpture was originally planned as a waist-up sculpture.  However, the artist died before the Memorial was dedicated.  His son saw the completion of the project, but opted to leave the sculptures as neck-up sculptures.  We returned after dark for the evening lighting ceremony.  

                  Bridges We took a scenic drive between our two visits to Mt Rushmore.  The road through the rugged mountains was extremely steep and windy.  One of the most interesting road designs is a bridge network called the "Pigtail Bridges." A way to reduce the grade of the climb was required so all vehicles could make it up.  The pigtail design was laughed at and it was said the plan would never work.  Given the fact that heavy RVs with trailers climb this area every day, I'd say it was quite successful.  Our main reason for making the tour was to see how the tunnels "frame" Mt Rushmore. 

Rare box
                  formations at Wind Cave. We were unable to see Wind and Jewel Caves in our planned stay.  All hotels were already booked for Memorial Day weekend.  Therefore, we couldn't extend our stay.  Instead, we packed up the car and made a drive to Wind Cave.  We were able to leave the cats in the car during the tour.  Wind Cave is the 8th largest (known) cave in the world.  Other than its size, I was relatively unimpressed.  The only items of interest were the "Box Formations."  These formations (pictured) are very rare.  In fact, it is estimated that Wind Cave has about 90% of the world's box formations.  After touring Wind Cave we drove to Jewel Cave National Park.  

 There were about 350 wild buffalo roaming the area as well as dozens of prairie dogs.  It was far too warm to leave the cats in the car to tour Jewel Cave.  Bummer!  We decided to bypass the tour and continue toward Helena, MT.  

                  Tower with legend interpretation inset.We detoured along the way to see Devil's Tower in WY, made famous by the motion picture "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."  We stopped, took photos, and visited the gift shop near the base of the tower.  Indian legend says that Devil's Tower was formed when a great bear chased a group of Indian children.  The children stopped on top of a large rock and prayed for the rock to protect them.  The rock sprouted to its current 1200+ feet, saving the children.  The grooves in Devil's Tower are said to have been made by the bear as he attempted to climb Devil's Tower.  The bear left when he had no more claws.  The children were saved; but I'm sure they died of starvation and exposure to the elements since they didn't have repelling equipment to get back to their homes.   ;-)

Driving on, we stopped in Sheridan, WY after my body said "Enough!"  I had developed a head and chest cold and the long days  had finally caught up with me.  We got a good night's sleep and made it to Helena by 4:30 yesterday... one day late.  Our plan is to get rested and meet the family.  We'll continue our tour on Tuesday.

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