Today is all about driving toward Rock City to connect back up with Interstate-90 toward Wyoming. However, the biggest advantage of independent travel is that you get to set your own pace and route. That means we will leave enough time to stop at smaller attractions along the way. We have seen the billboards for Sitting Bull’s Crystal Cavern and Bear Country USA. Who could leave without checking those out, right?
First, we stopped at the nearby Christmas Tree/Quilt store. Two of my favorite kinds of stores to dud through, in one! Rob noticed on our first stop that the shop was taking up a collection to help defray the cost of batting. It seems a group of local women are making quilts to donate to Hurricane Katrina victims. We made it a point to stop off again to put money into the kitty.
The woman at the nearby register was shocked that we tourists had seemly only stopped for this purpose. We explained our situation a bit and that led to me meandering through the fabrics. No willpower at all. I picked out a few fat-squares for Rob’s mother who is also a quilter. We’ll send them as a gift along with a box of supplies to be kept for safe keeping before getting on the freighter in Long Beach.
Sitting Bull’s Crystal Cavern
One of the secrets to happy traveling is that your companion/s enjoy the same types of things you do. For us, the list includes aquariums, planetariums, gardens, small themed museums, and caves. So the signs advertising Sitting Bull’s Crystal Cavern had us turning off the main road a mere nine miles from Rapid City.
We followed the entrance drive, obediently honking the horn as the signs instruct before edging around some of the sharpest switchbacks we’ve ever seen. Eventually we turned into a parking lot. It must be a couple of hundred feet drop from the main highway.
As we walked toward the building, some kids got up from a picnic table. One boy chatted us up as we neared. It turned out he is the ticket salesman. He warned us the entrance is steep and involves, if memory serves, 165 steps and the temperature will be cold. We already have our jackets out. We are no novices to caves. We know how cold they can be and since the day is already hot, it will feel even colder.
The entrance drive and the ladder explain why this particular attraction is interesting but not on the most seen lists. As to the steps, we decide going down a ladder will be easier than going down the incline into the pyramids in Egypt where we were bent over at the waist in a near 90 degree angle.
We are game for it and follow the path to the entrance where, we are told, a party is getting ready to descend. The party turns out to be one woman and her (maybe) 10-year-old daughter. The guide appears. No burly mining type, but a teenage girl who grabs a flashlight, discusses cave etiquette and starts off down the stairs.
The World’s Largest Dog Tooth Crystal Awaits
This particular limestone cave boasts the world’s largest dog tooth crystal. These types of crystals appear chocolate brown in color. Triangular in shape, they sort of have a folded fabric look, too. Hundreds of them cover a concave surface that is alongside our pathway. It feels as if we are inside a giant geode. Cool, indeed.
A dog tooth is not the kind of formation the masses gasp over. It is far smaller than giant stalactites and stalagmites. One, among the array, however, is impressive in its own right. The largest in the world clearly stands out among its smaller kinfolk. This is a lot like looking closely at an open-mouthed shark with rows and rows of teeth.
If you are the kind of person who seeks out the easily accessed touring caves (like Mammoth or even our local, upstate New York’s Howe Caverns), this place will seem crude in comparison.
Overall, we had a good time, learned something and enjoyed the company. The little girl was very inquisitive and bright. She found lots of things to look at and ask about. It was nice to see her curiosity.
Sad to say that after 82 years, the family who own this land have spread far and wide. Today’s descendants don’t have the interest in maintaining the cavern so in September 2015 the cave was closed down. This place was thought to be the winter home for Chief Sitting Bull long before the property opened to the public in 1934. Now, as the former manager said, “…it can become a cave again.”
More than just bears at Bear Country USA
You drive your own vehicle through Bear Country USA although no convertibles or motorcycles are allowed. That is a good thing since the animals roam free. During normal times they provide drivers and vehicles for those who arrive on motorcycle but that service has been temporarily halted due to the Coronavirus.
The looping road is a well-marked, one-way drive. Various wild animals loll around, munching delivered meals and looking rather bored in the mid-afternoon heat. The animals all look up as if to say, “Howdy.” I think they have become so used to cars, they pose as we stop, roll down a window, snap a photo and then move on – being very careful to roll that window back up, mind you.
These puppies may seem bored, but that doesn’t mean their fangs and claws wouldn’t do a lot of damage. Arctic wolves and bears each have their own, unique scratch and bite instincts. I have to temper my desire to coo, “Cutie pie.”
After the drive, we stopped to walk through the gift shop and then out to a pool area where the year’s crop of baby bears frolicked in a giant pool aka/pond. They are so cute you want to wrap your arms around them until you get a look at the claws.
Driving across the United States
PART 7: Rapid City is only 30 miles from Hill City; we checked out some local spots on the way to Wyoming