Our frisky family of four continues to gain speed and momentum as they whirl through another day of adventure and exploration. It’s Thursday, August 19, and the Lindfors are “full-throttle” visiting Wind Cave National Park, Custer’s Battle Field, and Devil’s Tower National Monument. They’re in the car, motoring toward Billings, Montana, when Steve Lindfors calls to recap.
Before hearing the “two steps forward” update, I heard the “one step backwards” tale. “Did I tell you about the burros? They were brought to the Black Hills during the gold rush and eventually turned loose once the miners left. They have grown in numbers, of course, and now they’re ‘running all over the place and begging for handouts.’ They came right up to our car window!” He couldn’t believe he forgot to tell me this. Although not sanctioned by officials, the burros unabashedly beg for food and motorists gladly oblige. Steve confessed; the guys actually fed them Twizzlers. And, he didn’t seem that apologetic either.
So, now on to Wind Cave National Park, one of the oldest National Parks in the system and, to this day, remains sacred to the Lakota Nation. Wind Cave is known for its Boxwork formations–thin blades of calcite that project from the cave walls and ceilings and look like scrambled spider webs. Steve Lindfors is a self-proclaimed cave lover and reports being “happy as a clam” visiting yet another impressive, underground display. This remarkable cave is the world’s 4th largest and is still being mapped and explored–by spelunkers and visitors alike. Our group enjoyed touring Wind Cave but collectively agreed that Jewel Cave was a bit more picturesque.
Next stop: the site of the Battle of Little Bighorn (also known as Custer’s Last Stand). “I hadn’t seen anything like this since touring the Battle of Gettysburg site,” said Steve. Fitted with an interpretive pamphlet, the Lindfors conducted a self-guided tour, recounting the history of one of the most decisive Native American victories in the Great Sioux War of 1876-77. This battle would leave George Armstrong Custer and more than 225 of the men and commanders of the Seventh Cavalry dead. Native Chiefs, including Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, Little Wolf and Dull Knife, with their Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapahoe warriors, outnumbered Custer’s men nearly three to one and made fast work of defeating them in a battle known for its savagery and carnage. Steven reported that this is the only battlefield in the United States that has commemorated those who died by marking the spot where each man perished. There were white markers for US soldiers and red markers for Native Americans. It’s no surprise the family was in awe at what they witnessed. “It was very sobering, to be sure,” Steven concluded.
Devil’s Tower National Monument was the next destination, and love it they did. “You could see the Tower from 6-7 miles out, peeking up over the hills.” Once they arrived the family piled out of the car and hike around the base of the volcanic Tower. “It’s probably about one and half miles around. Gigantic!” Steve exclaimed. “The boys spent quite a lot of time watching climbers as they repelled down the side of the Tower.” (A little research about Devil’s Tower reveals that it’s 867 feet from base to summit and is known to geologists as an igneous intrusion, or an “ancient volcano’s core” as Steve put it. This area also remains a sacred site for Native Plains tribes. Origin stories accounting for the Tower’s deep crevices vary amongst Tribes–but they all include a very large bear clawing and gouging the sides of the rock.) Steve noted the native prayer blankets all around the Tower. “Most of them were draped over the branches of trees. You can tell this is a very special and sacred place.”
Our vacationeers are still zipping down the highway when Discoverette hears a lot of commotion in the background. “What’s going on?” she asks, thinking that maybe driving and talking is not such a good idea. “Eric just lost a tooth,” brother Steven yells from the back seat. I over hear Janet obviously concerned about the tooth and about Eric getting blood on the upholstery. Steve is laughing. I am laughing. (Ahhhhh–the family vacation! Otherwise known as “anything can happen” days!)
Trying to get focused and concentrate on driving again, Steve quickly ends the conversation with a preview of upcoming planned activities. “We’re heading to a Holiday Inn in Billings. The kids can’t wait to get in the pool. Then we’re going out to dinner. Tomorrow were going to Yellowstone and I’ll see the house I lived in as a new born.” (What?? This is a bombshell. Tell me more!)
“Didn’t I tell you that my Dad was a Park Ranger stationed at the NE entrance of Yellowstone National Park? Yep, I spent my early years living in a National Park Ranger’s house! So, I’m ‘going home’ tomorrow!”
Wow, what a story. I can’t stand it, knowing that I’m not going to get the details of this news flash until later. Waiting is not my long suit. But, wait it is. We say goodbyes and set up a time for our next phone rendezvous. This journey has all of a sudden taken a very intriguing twist. I can hardly wait to hear the “going home” to Yellowstone details.