The crew and I tumble out of the Best Little Trailer to a fresh, new morning.
The cool air surprises me, especially when compared with yesterday. I walk around savoring the breeze until I notice Larry hunkered down at the next campsite. I get the feeling he’s been waiting for us to come out.
“Good morning, Sue!” He calls out on his way over. “I’ve got something to show you.”
I slip my shirt on over my camisole as he approaches.
He opens up the palm of his hand.
“What d’ya think that is?”
“I don’t know,” I reply, studying what looks like a dead bug or something. “What is it?”
“They’re rattles,” he announces proudly.
“I got him on the road down over there.” He points to the road which winds up the hill to this campground. “He was a little guy, but they can bite, too.”
Oh-kay. Good morning to you, too, Larry. Geesh, I need a cup of coffee. Now.
Later I detect a bit of activity over by Larry’s fifth wheel.
Larry and another guy are hanging out talking to the park ranger who is sitting in his official, white pickup. I go over to join in. Immediately I can tell there’s nothing of any substance being discussed. The Camp Host from Cold Brook Campground, not far from here, is apparently pals with Larry.
A lot of ribbing is going on.
As soon as I find an opening in the jokes, I ask the park ranger if he could do me a favor. “I’m on my way to Box Elder to get a South Dakota driver’s license. That’s where my legal residence is with America’s Mailbox . . . .” I can see from the park ranger’s face that he’s aware of the situation of people claiming residence in South Dakota.
“I need to bring a paper proving I’ve spent at least one night in South Dakota. Could you get me a paper like that?”
Let me stop right here in the telling of this tale.
I’d like to point out that the park ranger is a comely lad of about twenty or so. Comely isn’t the word. This adorable creature in his tidy, tan uniform and precious little cap with Corps of Engineers embroidered on it is drop-dead gorgeous. About forty years ago those big blue eyes and perfect, white smile would’ve melt me right down to my shoes. Anyway . . .
“Oh sure. I’ll make a copy of your camping permit and bring it back to you this afternoon,” he responds without hesitation. Oh my. There’s that smile again.
No one seems in a hurry to go anywhere.
I ask Camp Host of the Other Campground what it’s like over at his campground. “You have a swimming beach over there, right?”
“Oh yeah, but you don’t want to move over there. It’s really crowded right now. Not with campers, with day people.”
Big Blue Eyes points out that there were over a hundred people at the beach yesterday. “Two busloads came in. You don’t want to go there. People driving in and out all day.”
It isn’t long before the conversation turns to the topic of rattlesnakes.
Oh boy, here we go. After a minute or two, I broaden the topic to wildlife. Larry says, “Did you know there’s elk around here?”
“No, I didn’t know that. Well, I’ll never see one. I’ve been looking for elk in six states and I haven’t seen one yet. I’ve come to the conclusion that elk don’t really exist. They’re mythical creatures, like unicorns or something.” The guys chuckle.
I’ve got their attention which encourages me to expound on my theory.
“I was camped near a guy in Arizona who’d come back from his morning walks with his dog and tell me how many elk he saw. I’d go the next morning to the same place at the same time, no elk. I’m always hearing somebody tell me about elk they’ve seen. I never see any. I have not seen one elk. And those road signs. What is that? A joke? ‘Frequent elk crossing’ . . . . “Pffft, give me a break. I haven’t seen any unicorns either.”
This amuses the trio.
Now Larry’s primed to tell his own elk story. Seems he was fishing over at the lake one morning when he turned around and saw, this is no lie, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, ten, bull elk. “No kidding. Ten of them. They were just standing there, staring at me.”
“Oh, right,” I react sarcastically. “And I suppose Bigfoot was sitting at your picnic table, too.” This gets a laugh out of all three guys. I’m on a roll. “Why, just last night I saw ten leprechauns scampering around my trailer!”
By this time the crew is howling in the BLT.
Spike and Bridget obviously don’t think anything is funny. “I’d better go and let them out.”
I sit in the patch of shade under our campsite’s pine tree and ruminate on our choices.
Well, apparently we’re not getting that early start to see Mt. Rushmore. Let’s see . . . I could haul the BLT up near Keystone and Hill City and boondock on National Forest land, and be closer to Rushmore. Higher elevation, too. And step out our door in the morning to a bed a rattlesnakes under the BLT.
Or I could go to a campground and pay $20-$30 a night plus “$2 per dog.” At the very least, it’d be double that, because you’ve got the night before doing the tourist thing and then the night when done doing the tourist thing. I’d be dropping fifty dollars, easy. For what? A drive-by of Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse and a tour of the area.
Or we could stay here. $3.50 a night with the town of Hot Springs right up the road. It’s really nice today, cool and breezy. The campground is empty. Not like the other one. No hordes of people in bathing suits swarming out of cars and buses. Plus, here, I’ve got Larry the Rattlesnake Hunter. Hmmm . . . I think we’ll stay here a few days and make day trips.
I know one thing for sure.
I don’t want to do a thing today! And when struggling with a decision, I rely on an old, time-tested strategy. I take a nap. As I’m coming back to Earth, I hear a low voice, “Sue . . . Sue.”
Well, that’s all it takes to turn Bridget and Spike into hopping, yapping, whirling dervishes.
I come out of the BLT and see Larry and Camp Host of the Other Campground . . . gee, is that guy still here? Don’t you have a camp to host? . . . coming around.
“You just missed them!” Larry tells me. Camp Host of the Other Campground elaborates. “A turkey hen and her babies were walking over there, right behind your campsite. Your dogs scared them off.”
“Really? Over there?”
Larry confirms it’s true. “Yep. A mother hen and eight babies. Right over there.”
“And I missed it.” Sure. Santa and eight tiny reindeer walked right behind my campsite.
P.S. Late in the afternoon the crew and I went for a drive and explored the town of Hot Springs. We saw a prairie dog but no elk.