Day whatever: Custer to Cody

We planned two days of beaches and buffaloes at Sylvan Lake Lodge in Custer State Park. And God laughed. The first peal of thunder as a black cloud appeared from the western side of the lake sent parents and children floundering toward shore in a rolling wave of  overweight humanity. It was kind of adorable to watch; it would have been sad had the temperature not dropped so fast that no one wanted to swim any more anyway.

Did you know it hails a lot in South Dakota in the summer? Tourists like us driven by rain toward doing the Wildlife Loop, in hopes of observing happy woodland creatures cavorting in the drizzle, were suddenly inundated with baseball-sized ice from heaven, some of it big enough to dent hoods and take out tail lights. People were startled but cheerful as they pulled off into park service areas, dashing in shorts and sandals to buy up the CUSTER STATE PARK hooded sweatshirts. The temperature dropped about 30 degrees in an hour; park restaurants began a brisk trade in hot coffees to go.

The park was eerie and beautiful because the narrow asphalt roads, hot from the sun an hour ago, steamed upward as the hail came down, creating a mist that rose from the ground and a fog that descended from the clouds. We started watching weather instead of buffalo–although we still saw several white-faced antelope with curly horns, who seemed to be enjoying the ice as they ate leaves. Perhaps hail turns salads into mojitos.

As evening turned to dusk, we decided to drive back “the shortest route” along the Needles Highway, eleven miles of mostly single track with four tunnels between us and the lodge. It was just after we’d committed to this that the heavens cracked open with pink-white lightning and rain came down in sheets of water rather than individual drops. Visibility at about four feet in front of us, we negotiated up the mountain switchbacks and hairpin curves to our hotel. Funnily enough, we were the only people on the Needles Highway that night. But it was all right; Jack and Barbara began to sing rousing campfire songs to keep our spirits up–which had the unfortunate element of backfiring when I laughed so hard the car jerked once. That shut them up for a bit.

Everyone got into clean underwear and gathered in B&O’s room, lights off, to watch the lightning–which was ever so much prettier now it wasn’t directly overhead as we passed through rocks. Really quite the show.

The next day we drove through Tensleeps Canyon, one of the most beautiful places on Earth, and ensconced ourselves in Cody with time to spare for making the evening gunfight. As Quakers, Jack and I might not have done this, but it was cheesy and community and fun, and Oliver the dignified English gentleman with the handlebar mustache turned into a five-year-old fanboy with a beer, laughing and hooting as Butch and Sundance (who according to the town’s merchandising department did not die in Bolivia but returned and lived quiet lives into the 1920s just outside Cody) went up against Wyatt and Virgil Earp. A good time was had by all, including Butch, who delighted the children by giving them money he stole from the bank, and taking about ten minutes to “die” amid various leg kicks and one-liners.

All very incorrect for Quaker non-violence practices, but the Sangria was good and the town needs the money, so what the heck. B&O had the time of their lives. Nothing like a good gunfight before bed.

Once again, just stringing the photos here as you can tell which is what.

4 thoughts on “Day whatever: Custer to Cody

  1. Oh, Wendy, what a marvelous tale you weave. I can see it all now–but glad we didn’t find ourselves on the Needles Highway during a blinding thunderstorm! Are you going from Cody to Yellowstone? We did that drive in reverse after dark in a foggy rain, so we missed out on what I hear is one of the country’s most beautiful drives. Question: was the lodge you stayed at in the park boundaries?

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