We had hopes that today would be a nice easy, even BORING, travel day through some picturesque countryside.  Oh boy, were we ever wrong about that notion.  It turned into a very interesting travel day full of changing weather, dramatic vistas and unexpected plot complications.

We woke up to find our cars covered in snow and the snow still falling.  Thankfully the snow wasn’t lasting long on the ground, and the sun soon came out and melted the snow on our cars.  It seemed like a good omen that our journey today started out with cold, but sunny weather when we got on the road.  A few clouds here and there and some strong winds seemed to be all we were going to have to contend with.  Then we hit the hills…

Along the way we kept seeing signs that warned the road ahead would be closed if the lights on the sign were flashing.  Luckily we didn’t see any flashing lights, but we did start seeing cars coming in the other direction with snow on them.  This gave us both some pause, and was particularly scary to Peter as his car’s “gecko feet” don’t seem to stick so well when the road gets icy.  At first when we were climbing into the hills, the road just wound through some steeply walled canyons, but before long we started noticing snow at the higher elevations.  We stopped to take a few photos and check out some of the point of interest markers but we hadn’t encountered snow on the road yet.

As we kept climbing the snow kept getting closer to the road until finally we found ourselves driving through a winter wonderland.  Snow covered everything on both sides of the road.  At first we were just driving through areas the snow had already covered from a previous fall then the weather shifted and we were driving through snow flurries that kept getting thicker and thicker.  The outside temperature dropped to about 23 degrees Fahrenheit, the clouds got very dark, and the snow kept falling.  We wondered if we were going to eventually get to a place where the road was closed and have to turn around, but then we saw a tour bus heading in the other direction.  This made us feel much better about continuing on.  Eventually we passed out the back end of the snow cloud we were in, and started down the far side of the hills we’d climbed.  We thought the worst of the snow was behind us.  Again, we were wrong.

Once we got down out of the hills we were making good time on the highway.  Then we noticed a sign that invited us to visit Devil’s Tower National Monument.  Peter’s philosophy is that we should take opportunities to see the things we want while we can.  After all, we’re on vacation so why not?  Well, there were two things that gave me pause.  The first was that we were under a bit of a time crunch to get to our destination before it got dark.  (Traveling after dark through places you don’t know sucks!)  The second was this big dark looming cloud on the horizon in the direction we’d need to go to get to Devil’s Tower.  In the end, our sense of adventure and desire to visit an attraction we both wanted to see while we had the opportunity won out.  After all, when might we be back this way again?

We entered a waypoint for Devil’s Tower into our GPS’s and off we went.  At first it looked like we’d skirt the edge of the very dark cloud between us and our objective, but that wasn’t going to happen.  We ended up driving through some very dense snow that was more like hail than the flaky white fluff we’d driven through earlier.  For a little bit, I was worried it was actually starting to build up on the road but then the weather shifted, and we found ourselves once again driving under blue skies.  Peter and I have been remarkably lucky this trip in that we’ve had good clear weather when we’ve really needed it.  Fortune smiled upon us many times today, but we were most lucky when we got to Devil’s Tower.  The weather was clear enough to get some really nice shots of the tower and surrounding countryside.  Not only that, but today was the last day of National Parks Week and we got in to the monument for free!  Bonus!

While at the tower we got the opportunity to also get some photos of the local residents.  The prairie dogs were all over the place and were easy enough to photograph but we also got fortunate enough to run across some wild turkeys that were busy courting.  The display by the tom for his hens was particularly spectacular.

We couldn’t afford to spend much time at the tower, and had to leave not long after arriving there.  There’s not really much to do at the tower anyway, so we got a few pictures and hit the road again before the snow moved back in on us.  We had another minor plot complication to contend with as well.  My car was low on gas and we needed to find some fuel before we could push on to Custer, South Dakota.  Then the next plot complication hit.  The weather took another dramatic turn and we found ourselves driving through another heavy snow storm.  Let me tell you, there aren’t many road trip situations more uncomfortable than the prospect of finding yourself running out of fuel somewhere away from the main highway in the middle of a snow storm.  Thankfully good fortune smiled on us once again and we made it to the gas station with time to spare.

A quick refuel and we were back on the road.  We had to drive through more snow but it wasn’t very long before we finally reached Custer, SD.  We had one more plot twist in store for us though.  We’d planned on staying at the Best Western as we’d stayed at a bunch of them on this trip and have always found them to be clean and comfortable.  However the Best Western in Custer isn’t open until May 1st and today is April 25th…  We continued to drive a little farther down the main street in Custer and noticed several of the hotels and businesses were dark…  Uh Oh….!  Holiday Inn Express to the rescue!  Even though they seemed dark when we first looked, they’re actually open!  Yay!  The real funny thing was that soon after we showed up, and parked our cars out front, several other people arrived as well.  I like to think they saw us there and decided the hotel wasn’t closed after all!