We had another 05.30 alarm this morning, in preparation for a long day of driving across Wyoming. Before we left South Dakota behind, there was one more attraction we wanted to see: Needles Highway.
Needles Highway is a 14-mile stretch of road within Custer State Park which, from what I'd read about it, sounded like it was going to be exceptionally scenic. In addition to a number of sharp twists and turns, the road passes through a couple of narrow tunnels in the rock.
Quite apart from the fact that we had a long way to drive today, I wanted to make an early start anyway because the tunnels are one lane only and traffic jams can build up at peak times. When I saw how narrow they were, I could see why.
Luckily, at around 06.30 in the morning, we didn't have a lot of competition on the road
The road is named after the Needles, a series of eroded granite pillars which loom above this region of the Black Hills. After driving upwards on the road for a few miles, we emerged out of the trees and got our first glimpses.
Soon there really were some spectacular views from the road.
We parked in a small car park and got out to stretch our legs and admire the scenery.
I learned yesterday that the Needles were actually the original site proposed for the Mount Rushmore carvings, but the quality of the rock turned out to be unsuitable for sculpting.
I think they probably look better without faces carved into them. And I think I look in this photo like I'm regretting getting up at 05.30
After the viewpoint we jumped back in the car and continued along the road.
We passed through another incredibly narrow tunnel.
This one is known as the Eye of the Needle and I can see why.
The route comes to an end at a place called Sylvan Lake.
I'd read that there was a 1-mile trail around the lake, which sounded like an easy walk for us to do.
The trail certainly started out flat and easy.
The views as we hiked around it were superb.
Initially I thought these rocks marked the end of the lake but it's actually an illusion and the lake carries on behind them.
Looking back towards where we'd parked the car, the scenery was less rocky but still beautiful.
The second part of the walk around the lake was a bit more interesting. We walked through narrow paths in the rocks...
...had some more spectacular views...
...and ultimately had to clamber over some rocks when the path became slightly more challenging than I expected from a 1-mile stroll around a lake!
It was all worth it for the views
Eventually we made it back around to where we'd started.
There was just time for one last look at the lake and then we were back in the car, heading towards the town of Casper in Wyoming.
Much of the drive was very similar to yesterday, taking us through grassland...
...and more grassland.
We later read that Wyoming is one of the least populated US states. It definitely felt like it!
We reached Casper mid-morning and stopped for some food, then popped into the local Walmart. Our accommodation for the next two nights is quite remote but has a kitchen, so we wanted to stock up on some supplies for breakfast at least. While we were there, we thought we might pick up some wine for the evenings too.
We walked around Walmart and successfully found everything we wanted, except the alcohol. It was a very big store, so we figured maybe we'd missed it on our first attempt and decided to do a systematic walk around the store. We found everything but alcohol; there were clothes, children's toys, enough furniture to kit out an entire house, camping and outdoor supplies, even a hairdressers... but no wine. In the end Tim asked an employee and she informed us that they didn't stock alcohol
Not sure whether this is a general Walmart thing or something specific to Wyoming, but in order to buy alcohol we needed to go to a liquor store. Luckily there was one just around the corner, although in true American fashion we found out that we couldn't walk to it and had to drive a few hundred metres to it instead. Never mind, we found it in the end and stocked up
After Casper we still had a another few hours of driving towards the place we're staying, which is a bit south of the small town of Dubois. As we got further through Wyoming we began to see some mountains on the horizon.
It was a pretty hot day; the car informed us that it was 100 F.
The further we drove, the better the views of the mountains were. Unfortunately our windscreen was starting to look like the scene of an insect massacre, so the photos aren't very good...
...but we could even see snow on some of the mountain tops.
Eventually we made it to the Airbnb where we are staying. It's essentially a shed. Quite an expensive shed, but still a shed.
It's surprisingly spacious inside though. We've got a bed, a rocking armchair...
...and a very well-equipped kitchen area.
The location is so remote that I can't even get a single bar of signal on my phone But luckily the Wi-Fi is really fast so it's been nice and easy to do the blog