Home, Home, (Tent) on the Range…

We haven’t yet found even one spot to add to our “settle down wish list,” but we’ve enjoyed plenty of places that are perfect for exploring!  We left Yankton heading northwest across South Dakota, at first following the Missouri River, and Lewis & Clark’s journey.  Hours and hours (about 4, to be more precise) we were thrilled when the formidable peaks of Badlands National Park came into view.  We had a great hike that stretched the legs and let us clamber among the rocks and prairie grass as we learned about the geological forces that created the Badlands.  Our first buffalo sighting of the trip, too! And then, it was on to Rapid City, for an overnight stay before our first camping foray.

Badlands Ahead

Badlands Ahead

Wall Drug is a famous stop in South Dakota, with dozens of signs posted along the high way for miles and miles before you actually arrive.  I was fully prepped for the 5 cent coffee by the time we arrived (and for those of you who are following my Instagram posts – the doughnut!) Wall Drug is a funky huge maze of a store, and worth a visit if you are anywhere in the area.

Wall Drug's A'Comin!

Wall Drug’s A’Comin!

Lassos at Wall Drug

Lassos at Wall Drug

A short overnight stay in Rapid City was the first real exploration of a possible future home…yep, but I think it was just a brief fling!  Art Alley (check out the winsome blue baby at the far end of the alley) was an unexpected and fascinating discovery as we walked to Firehouse Brewery for dinner.  There are also life-size sculptures of the U.S. Presidents scattered around the city for discovery.

Art Alley Rapid City, SD

Art Alley Rapid City, SD

Mt. Rushmore

Mt. Rushmore

We passed Mt. Rushmore as we drove towards Custer State Park, and it was a “rush” to see the massive sculpted heads hovering over the highway.  Nope, didn’t stop by to get a closer look, truthfully – because we were so taken aback by the $11.00 parking fee that would go to a private parking concession…really?

From Mt. Rushmore we drove into Custer State Park via the Harney Peaks entrance, to camp and do a little hiking.  It is beautiful – Harney Peak is South Dakota’s highest point at 7200’, and much of the rest of the park is above 5000’.  The jagged, formidable looking peaks stretched to a beautiful cloud-filled sky, and we set up our tent at Central Lake for the next two nights, at 4600’.   Custer State Park is home to thousands of free-range buffalo, and though it’s nothing like the herds that roamed the prairies in millions in the 1800’s, the sight of these huge, magnificent animals was awe-inspiring.  And it’s calving season!

Harney Peak Area, Custer State Park

Harney Peak Area, Custer State Park

Ponderosa Pine Bark

Ponderosa Pine Bark

 

Beauty on the Trail

Beauty on the Trail

Stand Off!

Stand Off!

Buffalo weren’t the only “wildlife” we saw, as we left the park – the donkeys? mules?  were pretty funny.   Leaving South Dakota, we stopped in Custer at the Bitter Esters Brewhouse, and enjoyed, really really enjoyed, the Spent Grain Crust Pizza (check out my Yelp review for more), before heading on the long, straight road to Douglas, Wyoming…more on this, next time.

Road West with Clouds

Road West with Clouds

 

 

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Periyar and Beyond

Periyar Entrance

Periyar Entrance

We had a long, meandering and beautiful drive through the hills heading south to reach Periyar Tiger Reserve, located in the Cardamom Hills and Western Ghat mountains on the Kerala/Tamil Nadu border. We’d eagerly anticipated this couple of days in the wilderness and had booked one of the Gavi Eco-tents (www.periyartigerreserve.net/cottage-tent.html) to sleep in. Almost nothing about our two days at Periyar disappointed!

The first view of the tent was just as expected – a large one room tent on a platform and suspended beneath a palm-leaf covered roof. There was a separate, private bath/shower room behind the tent, accessed through the screen door at the rear of the tent. The tent and bath area were basic, and just what we’d anticipated, although the view down to the lake was even nicer than we’d hoped for. There was electricity in the tent, though the 5 minute, unlit walk to the outdoor restaurant was quite dark in the evening (glad we brought small flashlights on the trip), and perfect for star-gazing. The deep, amazingly dark evening sky and brilliant, countless stars were spectacular.

Gavi Tent Periyar

Gavi Tent Periyar

Inside the Tent

Inside the Tent

Periyar is what I’d describe as a “forest-jungle” and many areas are quite densely forested, making it a challenge for wildlife viewing from the back of a jeep. There aren’t the “big five” to see as we’d looked for in South Africa, but we did see the fabulous Malabar Giant Squirrel, Nilgiri Langurs, Gaur (a large, endangered Indian bison), Sambar (an Indian deer, of which we saw many) and many birds. Elephants were evidently close by as the fresh dung and HUGE elephant tracks we saw in the river bank proved, and the elusive tiger was not to be seen. Our guide, who has worked in the park for 14 years, said he’d only glimpsed the tiger twice in that entire time. There are currently 46 tigers roaming the 357 sq. mile park.

We had a great 3+ hour hike with Narayan, our guide, who was in flipflops, and I don’t know how he negotiated the steep hillsides; I was very happy to have my hiking poles with me, and sturdy boots. He took us a bit off the beaten track once he realized how enthusiastic we were about the park – we hiked along the nearly dry Pamba River to one of the waterfalls, and along a tiny track where a couple of tribal families lived in makeshift tents with no running water or other facilities. They survive by harvesting wild crops and making the incense used in Hindu temples – by harvesting the bark from a particular tree and processing it into a sticky, aromatic resin.

Tribal Smile

Tribal Smile

Vista with Red Trees

Vista with Red Trees

Two jeep safaris allowed us to go much deeper into the park – and again, not much wildlife, but the scenery was spectacular, including the bright red, new leaves of one which our guide referred to as “Mora” or “Moro” – but my online research hasn’t confirmed the name or type of tree – any ideas?

Many visitors come only for a day visit, but we’d stay overnight again – the quiet night, glorious stars overhead, and thrill of knowing that we were inside a tent protected by electric fencing to keep the elephants outside the perimeter were all a real treat.

Periyar Sunset Shades

Periyar Sunset Shades

After two nights at Periyar, we loaded up the car again and headed for the Kerala backwaters for a night on a houseboat… our Kerala adventures next!