The next morning we packed up our campsite at Custer State Park and hit the road. But before we headed west, we had one more stop in South Dakota: The Volksmarch up the side of the Crazy Horse Memorial.
I had to do a little research before we arrived to figure out what the heck a “volksmarch” even is! I learned from the American Volkssport Association, who hosted this event, that a volksmarch is an organized, noncompetitive 5k or 10k walk, with origins in Europe. The Crazy Horse Memorial hosts two volksmarches each year. The spring event is in its 31st year and hosted 15,000 walkers one landmark year! The fall event we attended was in its third year, and was a good bit smaller, but still well-attended.
We were a little unsure what to expect. Basically you just show up (normal memorial entrance fees are waived for volksmarchers), turn over your $3 and three cans of food, and check in at the starting line. There’s no organized start time; at this particular event, hikers could start anytime between 8am and 1pm. By the time we arrived, the trail was full of hikers but not overly crowed.
We got a bit of a kick out of the website’s admonitions about preparing for the hike, full of warnings about dressing for the weather, pacing yourself, and wearing sturdy footwear. We were even more amused when we showed up to see people ready for the hike — which really looked like a pleasant stroll — wearing CamelBaks and carrying sturdy walking sticks. One woman was even stopped for a snack on a rock … in sight of the starting line!
I’m not sure how long it took us to hike the memorial, as I didn’t have the foresight to look at my watch before we took off, but we kept up a steady clip and reached the top in no time. The views were truly phenomenal and we got a whole different perspective on the huge face on the mountain!
Once we were finished hiking we planned to visit Jewel Cave National Monument, the third longest cave in world. Ryan wasn’t feeling very well, though, and almost instantly passed out once we got in the car, so instead we drove on into Wyoming.
We had one more stop to make before finding a hotel: Devil’s Tower, a crazy rock formation which is also the first United States National Monument. The “tower” rises 1,267 feet above the surrounding terrain, is steeped in Indian legend, and is ascended by hundreds of climbers every year. (We were content to take pictures from the bottom.)
We’d be spending the next night in Buffalo, Wyoming — the small town in which author Craig Johnson based his Longmire mystery series. Once again, Priceline came to our rescue and we booked a lovely, affordable room at the downtown Buffalo Inn. We rolled into town later than we expected due to the rain storms — totally worth it for the crazy sunset afterwards — but ready for a good night’s sleep after camping four nights in a row.