July 20, 2022

Exploring Custer - Day 3

The morning dawned crisp and clear, it was great to sleep with the windows open taking in the cool clean air. I made my coffee, and thanks to our range extender I was even able to read the news and extend my 73 day streak on Wordle. I had just finished wordle when I heard Brian lighting the campfire outside. The plan for the day was to start with a hearty breakfast and then head out to do the Cathedral Spires and Little Devils Tower hike. After hiking we will do the black hills loop drive, including Iron Mountain highway and the Needles highway.

We began with an egg bake cooked over an open fire. Delicious and the hashed browns on the bottom of the pan were wonderfully crispy.

The Cathedral Spires hike was wonderful, but Little Devils Tower was spectacular! The Cathedral Spires were the inspiration for Mount Rushmore. The hike up there was fine but when you finally get into the spires themselves you can see how inspirational they really are.

Headed up the Cathedral Spires

We arrived at a clearing with a nice shady area to sit, but there were also trails leading off in a couple of different directions. Brian and I were convinced there must be more so we explored a bit only to realize that there was not much more to see. When we got back Jane and Holly pointed to the sign below.

Self explanatory

OK, so we were undisputedly at the end of the trail.

Just a short distance back down the trail was the turn off to head to Little Devils Tower. This was largely a climb and we were not sure where it was going to end, spoiler alert its up on top of these rocks.

Little Devils Tower

The trail was full of little chips of Mica and in some places it was so fine that the very fine sand looked muddy! We also walked through a whole section of trail full of “fools gold.” Both Holly and Jane were sporting knee braces so we were trying to take care, and in fact one elderly lady we met on the trail referred to them as “brave”. We laughed about that for a long time. Unfortunately when we got about a quarter mile from the payoff to this part of the hike it was clear that those with knee braces were not going to go rock climbing on all fours.

That left Brian and I to make our way to the summit on our own. It was definitely a good bit of rock scrabbling. But the view from the top was well worth the effort. Just imagine standing on top of that little dome of rock. Nothing to block your view for 360 degrees.

Here is Brian making his way up one of the easier parts of the final push.

Brian making the final push

And here is the best I can do from the top. Pictures do not even come close to capturing what we saw.

A different view of the spires

Incredible views

Brian and I on top of Little Devils Tower

On the way down we had one very funny moment when Brian’s water bottle slipped out of his back pack and went clattering down the granite. We thought for sure the women would hear it and think one of us had fallen down the hill. Just a little bit of extra character for the bottle.

The rest of the day we were in the car, enjoying the Needles Highway. There are three tunnels carved through the granite, but they are only 8 feet 9 inches wide and just over 10 feet tall. This is why we had to take the long way around to our campground! No way is the camper going to fit through this tunnel!

Through one of the eyes of the needle

The Iron Mountain highway with its pigtail bridges and views of Mount Rushmore is also a great part of the drive. We didn’t see any bison or other wildlife. But we enjoyed the drive and the views.

At one point near the end we got enough service for some emails to arrive. Luckily I looked long enough to see an urgent email regarding one of our grant proposals that was due in just an hour or so. Apparently our part needed to be submitted. So I tried to log in on my phone and navigate the NSF website to submit our grant. Now the NSF site is a big pile of crap from the 90’s that is hard to navigate on the best of days with a desktop browser. Trying to navigate it in a half-panic on your phone is horrible. Let’s just say there is nothing responsive about the design and the design did nothing to anticipate the use of mobile devices. In the end I gave up and sent my password to the grant officer at Michigan, who ended up having to call NSF tech support because indeed the submit button was not where it should have been. It turns out that being an administrator and Principle Investigator is not enough to submit a proposal, I needed to have a new role as Authorized Organizational Representative. Of course the site itself does not say that. Dear NSF better error messages would help…

Dinner for the evening was our celebratory anniversary meal. Steak over the fire — someone left the sous vide in California! — baked potatoes, salad and a couple of bottles of really nice wine we brought for the occasion.