Saturday, September 1, 2012

To Custer, South Dakota

Early Sunday morning found us en route to Custer, South Dakota, where we will spend the next month. We decided to take a slightly longer route from Douglas, WY, so we could see the Thunder Basin National Grassland which lies north of Douglas and west of Custer. So, we took Hwy 59 north from Douglas and turned east on Hwy 450 just before reaching Wright, WY.

That route took us through the heart of the "grassland," but as you can see from the following photos, we didn't see a lot of grass!

A lot of the way, the terrain looked like this


and this


and sometimes this.

It seems that the "national grasslands" are actually leased out for grazing, or perhaps they are owned by individuals and just designated "national grasslands,"  I'm not sure which.  I just know that they are fenced and sometimes you can see stock grazing there. 

From that standpoint, the trip was quite a disappointment to naive Texans expecting waving prairie grasses. 

We did, however, see a lot of evidence of oil and gas drilling in the area. The most interesting part is that we had expected the "oil patch" to contain tall drilling rigs, settling ponds, rusty equipment and the like. Instead, we found many small, neat, enclosures with a minimum of exposed pipes and equipment. There were a few locations like these with above-ground tanks and the large pump-jacks, but those were mostly left over from previous drilling operations. The newer sites are very different and for the most part, unobtrusive.

We also saw some coal mining operations in the area west of the Wyoming-South Dakota border. I believe most of the locations were associated with the Thunder Basin Coal Company's Black Thunder Mine. The one below is a facility where the coal is loaded onto railroad cars for transport south and east.

Alongside the road, between Douglas and Wilson, the trains were moving fast with little space in between. Northbound they were pulling empty coal cars, and southbound they were heavily loaded, like this one.


We stopped at noon for a fantastic cheeseburger at the 16 High Cafe in Newcastle, WY, then crossed the border into South Dakota. We pulled into Custer at mid-afternoon, and are now camped in Custer's Gulch RV Park and Campground a couple of miles east of Custer, and right outside the entrance to Custer State Park.  (The RV sites are just around the corner from this lovely small meadow where we can walk the dogs.)

We'll keep you updated on our adventures as the weeks go by.

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