Well, you’re gonna win or you’re gonna lose. Either way, the sun’s still gonna come up tomorrow morning.
— Connie Britton as Tami Taylor in “Friday Night Lights”
Thursday, 23 June 2022, Scottsbluff NE
As Iron Man and I neared the end of our eight days together, I sensed a change. I felt no need to rush, no anxiety about having overscheduled ourselves. Call it the Cadence of the Dakotas - we slowed our pace, lingering over breakfast, chatting with our Air-BnB hosts. Isa had many interesting stories of her horses, and of coming to America from Germany. At the time she considered emigrating, she met people at two different equestrian events in Europe, both of whom referred her to a horse breeder on the Great Plains - and it was the same breeder! Despite Jack being twenty years her senior, they are still together so many years later.
I'd made a 10:30 reservation for a candlelight cave tour at Wind Cave NP, a short drive from our cabin. Since NPS tells people to arrive a half-hour early, we timed it to get there at 9:50. The Visitor Center was abuzz with activity, with throngs of people inside and out. Bill and I marched up to the ranger desk and handed the man our tickets.
"Well, I'm happy to see that you made it!" he greeted us. "Unfortunately, we're not going to be able to honor your tickets today." Seeing the confused look on my face, he explained, "All our cave tours start with taking the elevator into the cave. And the elevator is broken right now."
So much for the signature event for this park! Hmmm... maybe my #60ways adventure here should be 'learning to cope'? 'Go with the flow'? After verifying that they didn't expect to have it fixed today - possibly days, once the repairmen figured out the issue - I scoured the map for alternatives. Ahhh, here's a possibility. I had originally planned to visit a fire lookout tower in California's Lassen Volcanic NP - but the tower there burned down in the Dixie fire last year. (I know, how ironic.) Why don't we hike to the fire tower at the highest point in this park?
Before driving to that trailhead, we took a short hike on the Prairie View trail
leaving from the Visitor Center. The trail offered good views over the mixed-grass prairie, climbing then descending the hill. Along the way, we looked down on the natural entrance to the cave, now gated off. I felt the calmness of the Dakota Cadence flowing over me again.
We took a pleasant drive to the tower trailhead (Wind Cave is not a large park; no long drives here). The trail heading up gained a little elevation to the summit, passing through sparsely-forested slopes.
At the tower, exquisite, expansive views opened up over the surrounding hills and valleys. We stayed up top for a few minutes,
then took the service road down the back side and back to the car. On our drive back, we stopped to watch the mama and baby bison pairs in the meadows.
Keeping with the leisurely day, we backtracked into Pringle for lunch at the Hitchrail Bar. The cute young waitress seated us in a near-empty dining room; only three other people sat drinking beers at a nearby table. When she came back for our order, I said, "We're in the Great Plains! I'll have a buffalo burger."
"Sorry, we're out of them."
"Oh. Well... then how about the brisket burger?"
"Sorry, we ran out of brisket, too."
"Oh. What DO you have?" Bill and I ended up with fried catfish lunches, chuckling about our turn of fortunes. Soon we saw the waitress walk up to the other table and ask if they wanted anything else. "Sure! Another beer, if you haven't run out."
The Cadence of the Dakotas. Or is Pringle just trying to be distinctive? The mountain of bicycles is likely the town's most unique feature:
and we saw this on the road outside of town, as we returned to the park:
We still had time before needing to head south, so I found another hike recommended by the ranger. Cold Brook Canyon Trail sounded placid and relaxing, 1.6 miles one-way and then back. Four other cars filled the trailhead parking, so we had to park across the road. The trail started with a gentle descent through trees, then moving onto an open prairie.
We passed one woman hiking with her young daughter, and later passed a group of people returning.
On our way down, we could see a couple ahead of us, staying the same distance from us. As we neared the end of the trail at the park boundary, here they came back on the trail. Then they started waving at us. Why are they waving? We don't know anyone from South Dakota. But wait - do they look familiar? Could it be --? Is it --?
OMG! IT'S STEVE AND TIFFANY! "Are you guys stalking us?!?" asked Steve when he got close enough, laughing. "We thought we lost you after leaving the North Unit of Teddy Roosevelt Park!"
We must be like bloodhounds, I thought, tracking their scent for the last five days. We all chuckled at the coincidence of seeing them again - they'd also hoped to tour the cave today.
After taking selfies with everyone's phone, we bade them farewell - again - and went on our ways. (Hey, Steve and Tiffany - if you're reading this, please leave me a comment on the blog. I'd love to hear how the rest of your trip went!)
That's the Cadence of the Dakotas.
And for a different cadence: We drove south to Scottsbluff NE for the evening. After dinner, as we ambled back to the hotel, we came across the community orchestra finishing up a concert in the park: