Wednesday, May 27
Well, this is very irritating. This is the 2nd day in a row my motel has been incapable of connecting to the Internet. Tomorrow I will be able to get through, though; the place I am staying advertises modem connections in their rooms.
After taking some more pictures of Mount Rushmore by early morning light, I drove up through the Black Hills to Deadwood. I had feared Deadwood would be a miniature Las Vegas, but no, the historical feel of the town has been painstakingly preserved. It is a fascinating place and I'd love to have a whole day to spend there.
The Black Hills must mark some sort of geological boundary, because on the other side of them, in Wyoming, the terrain is different. No more flat plain with lush grasses; instead there are low eroded hills, sparser, clumped grasses with earth visible between them, and increasingly as you drive West, sagebrush. The hills are crowned with conifers and the eroded hillsides show bright red stone.
This area was once volcanic, as is evidenced by Devil's Tower and several lesser volcanic plugs visible. As far as I know, there never was a plate boundary in the middle of North America. So what caused the volcanism? Got to get out that geology book. For that matter, the presence of gold in the Black Hills also suggests volcanism. For certain there appears to have been a marked change at that point, from the flat deep-soiled plains to the eroded volcanic hills.
As I proceeded westward, the land grew rougher and drier and more eroded, until it was a wilderness of gullies and mesas rather than plains studded with hills. This is the country called "the high plains" but it isn't very plainlike at all. Then I came over a rise and my eyes were shocked by an incredible snowcapped wall of rock ahead -- a huge range of mountains that made the gullies and mesas seem perfectly flat in comparison. I couldn't help imagining someone in a covered wagon, struggling through the gullied terrain and then seeing those mountains -- "Oh My Gawd!!" I imagine him bursting out, appalled at the very idea of getting the wagons over it. They were the Big Horn Mts, the first forerunner of the Rockies.
My road climbed right up the face of the Big Horns -- a frightening crawl at 35 mph up twisty switchbacks, with an unbelievable gulf opening up to eastward as I rose higher and higher up that incredible face. The high plains looked completely flat and far, far below me. Then finally the road reached the top of the pass and proceeded down a relatively level high mountain upland for many scenic miles, before finally dropping precipitously -- 35 mph, 2nd gear all the way -- back down to the rough deserty land on the other side. I am staying in Cody, 50 miles east of Yellowstone.