We enjoyed our visit to Scotts Bluff National Monument. At the visitor’s center we looked at the displays and watched an informative video. This distinctive formation was in Indian Territory and a landmark well known to many tribes. The pioneers followed the North Platte River as they journeyed westward. They could see these formations for days as they traveled across the prairie. This route is known as the Oregon Trail and was also part of the Mormon Trail. The Pony Express also rode through the area. As many travelers before us, we could see the Bluff as arrived in the area, and as travelers have for generations, we camped near the base of Scotts Bluff. Unlike those early travelers, though, we drove a twisting road through tunnels and with increasing vistas to the top. The view is amazing. We walked to various overlooks, thoroughly enjoying the scenery spread out below. I’m glad we were able to visit a place we have heard of most of our lives.
Mount Rushmore is spectacular and I would come again to see this monument honoring our country. The size and detail are amazing in the daytime and beautiful at night. After dark we saw a short movie about the monument, heard stories from a park ranger, and watched the lowering of the American flag by ex-servicemen from the audience. This monument is cared for by the National park Service and includes a visitors’ center, gift shops, and museum where we watched a movie telling the story of how it all came about. The artist, Gutzon Borglum, was a first generation American of Danish decent. He began the project in 1925 and it was completed by his son Lincoln shortly after his father’s death in 1941.
We also enjoyed going to the Crazy Horse Memorial. This is a family owned monument and the ongoing work of Korczak Ziolkowski and his family. There are American Indian artifacts and items on display as well as a gift shop and a restaurant. Ziolkowski and his wife have passed on but his children continue the sculpting. We were lucky enough to be there for not only one of the nightly lazar light shows but also one the two nighttime dynamite blasts that are done each year. Although it was extremely crowed we found indoor seating that allowed a great view of the light show and blasting. We’ve never seen anything like the blasting, as over 100 charges were set off in rapid succession, each one with a “boom” and fiery flash of light.
Both of these monuments are worth a visit and both should be visited in the early evening so they can be seen in both daylight and under lighting.
We’ve enjoyed tours of both National Park caves in the Black Hills. We took the Historic Lantern tour of Jewel Cave. The park ranger was in Historic costume with a fitted coat and riding pants. That was the standard uniform of the 1930’s. We met at the log cabin rebuilt to the specifications of the cabin lived in by the first Park Ranger and his wife. Half the people were given kerosene lanterns to carry just like they did in the early days. We were warned that the tour was considered strenuous, we would climb up and down about 600 steep wooden steps (some ladder-like) and be required to bend and stoop in some areas.
Our guide was very knowledgeable about the history of the cave as well as providing plenty of information about the crystals on the walls and the various bats that inhabit the cave. It was interesting to see how the early cave explorers saw the caves and fascinating to think they could see so little of the path ahead as they went through the cave. I was very tired when we finished but glad I took the tour.
Our second cave was Wind Cave and we took the Fairgrounds Cave Tour. We enjoyed this hour and half tour. The cave continually equalizes the atmospheric pressure of the cave and outside air causing it to “breathe” in or out. Our tour was part of the upper and middle levels of the the cave. It is considered the most strenuous walking tour of the park with 450 stair steps along the 2/3 mile hike, but there are rails to hold on to. One flight has 89 steps going up. Our tour guide was a young lady in her first year with the Parks service. She was very knowledgeable about the cave, its history, and the formations. The major attraction of this cave is the Boxwork formations found in the middle level of the cave. We also saw popcorn and frostwork formations. This is an excellent tour and I recommend it for anyone who doesn’t mind a strenuous hike.
After a short move we arrived in Wall, S.D. We decided to have lunch at the famous Wall Drug that is advertised on hundreds of billboards along the highways across South Dakota. Even on the state highways between Pierre and Wall I saw about 40 signs for Wall Drug. The store is huge, taking up a city block. Even on a weekday afternoon it was full of people. We had their famous hot roast beef sandwich with mashed potatoes and gravy, and of course, their much advertised free ice water. For dessert we had apple pie and a cup of the 5 cent coffee. Again it was excellent! I had seen how large the sandwich was so we split the meal and were satisfied. There is a wide variety of shops with every kind of tourist item you can think of. It is very family oriented place with a play area and free water park for kids along with an animated dinosaur that opens its mouth and roars every 12 minutes.
The Badlands National Park is a very different experience. We have an America the Beautiful Pass for those of us over 62 so we avoided paying the $20 entry fee. We arrived midmorning and it was already getting warm. There is a wide variety of wildlife here. We saw some Bighorn sheep, several prairie dog towns, an antelope, and a few birds. Although the loop road was busy we had no difficulty finding parking at the overlooks. We stopped at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, had our picnic lunch in a covered shelter, watched the movie, refilled our water bottle, made a few purchases, and headed on out.
On our way home from the Badlands National Park we stopped at the Minuteman Missile National historic Site. There is a variety of hands on displays showing the significance of these sites in the Cold War and the arms race. The memorabilia is a reminder of those who served and the effect of the Cold War on the civilian population. There are actually three sites in the area, but we only stopped at the visitor center.
As you can tell, we enjoyed our time in Wall and especially, Badlands National Park.
Just south of Knoxville is Marble Springs Historic site. It’s the last remaining home of John Seiver, first Governor of Tennessee and Revolutionary War hero. The buildings are representative of his life and times. They include a tavern, loom house, smoke house, spring house, and the John Sevier Cabin and detached kitchen. The large loom in the picture is over 100 years old. The tour guide shows how they prepared and spun wool, cotton and flax.
While looking for a good place to take our morning walks we decided to visit the University of Tennessee Arboretum at Oak Ridge about 20 minutes from our campground. I was looking for a place to walk on flat trails through pretty gardens at this working University Research and Education classroom. It is set up to be a natural laboratory and wildlife area. There are plenty of hiking trails but they steeper and rougher than I expected. At the visitors’ center there is a large collection of walking sticks for visitors to use as they hike the trails and enjoy the beauty of the great outdoors. It was an interesting place to visit but the trails are a bit more challenging than I wanted for a morning walk! We did find a great, paved walking trail along the Clinch River in nearby Clinton. We enjoyed walking there several times.
The highlight of our time in eastern Tennessee was two especially enjoyable day trips. One was to Pigeon Forge where I wandered through the shops and enjoyed seeing the old mill. The other a fun and beautiful drive up to Newfound Gap high in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We drove to the top, right on the Tennessee/North Carolina state line. However, we were up in the clouds and the view was lost in the fog. A bit lower down the mountain we ate a picnic lunch by a beautiful stream. The weather was cool and cloudy but it didn’t take away from the beauty of it all.
We picked a pretty day to visit Knoxville’s Market Square for the Dogwood Arts Festival. There was a wide variety of items for sale there including jewelry, pottery, photography, metal art as well as a booth you could have a Henna design applied. There were many food trucks there providing a variety of tempting treats as well as local restaurants doing a brisk business. My favorite thing was the music stage where we heard the Empty Bottle String Band performing.
Nearby Oak Ridge is famous for its part in the Manhattan Project where uranium was enriched to be used in the first atomic bomb ever made to end World War II. We visited the American Museum of Science and Energy and did a bus tour of various facilities where scientists searched for ways to quickly produce what was needed for an atomic bomb. At the Graphite Reactor we heard a lecture on how it worked. We could walk around some and saw the actual log entry made when the enrichment was finally achieved. We were surprised to learn that several other buildings still being used for research and by the Department of Energy. Along the way we saw two original churches with their cemeteries that were part of the rural community before the area became a research area in World War II. The American Museum of Science and Energy has many hands on activities relating to atomic energy as well as information on the coal mining done in the area.
As you can see the Knoxville area has a lot to offer sightseers. It’s no wonder that it’s such a well known and loved area.