I got so caught up in dealing with the aftermath of our garage fire, and insurance inventory, I totally lost track that the Wyoming cleanup event was moved out 1-week for a COVID off-again-on-again wedding situation. Suddenly I found myself a week ahead of schedule instead of a week behind! Time to hit the Dakotas! I was further south than I would have been had I planned this but nothing like making the drive through Montana longer than it already is! I specifically did not dive in Montana this leg as I want to hit Glacier and Flathead towards the end of summer, so I just meandered through enjoying the scenery. Next stop - Lake Sakakawea in North Dakota.
First, what's up with the spelling - is it Sacagawea, Sacajawea or Sakakawea? "Sakakawea" spelling, use and meaning are based on the fact that Charbonneau told Lewis and Clark that one of his wives’ name was “Bird Woman” which translates to Sakakawea in Hidatsa. The three affiliated tribes, Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara, concur that this is the correct spelling and it is widely used in North Dakota. Certainly not what I was taught in history many years ago.
I found my way to Lake Sakakawea State Park and got myself situated. I planned to dive the next morning however I woke to a crazy thunder and lightening storm so I made more coffee and decided to wait it out. As I ventured around looking for the best dive site I started to get a little confused (a large do not scuba sign). So I contacted Randy at Scuba One in Bismarck to get some information on diving Garrison Dam. Randy happened to be in the area and met me at the dive site and provided a great dive brief. Later he called me to see if I wanted a "job"!? Apparently a gentleman lost his wallet at the marina and I was the only diver he knew of in the area. Long story short, it was in the other State Park so I agreed to retrieve it the next morning and hoped to be able to get back in time to still dive Garrison Dam.
The next morning I was off to Fort Stevenson State Park, about 5-miles as the crow flies but a good 40-minute drive. I got lost in the sunflower farms for a bit, they were too beautiful to pass up. When I arrived at Fort Stevenson Marina, I checked in with the Ranger on duty to get his okay for me to dive the marina. After receiving my green light and a sarcastic "good luck in that muck" I found the location and gathered my gear. There were definitely a couple of dock lines to avoid but the water was still and the shoreline was rip-rap, so I thought there might be some hope in finding this wallet. Hot as can be already and guess who brought her dry suit! As I dropped below my buoy, I certainly did not experience a chill - it was more like bathwater. I positioned myself and shined my dive light. It was a nice rock bottom, very silty and BOOM - there's a wallet, a fishing pole, a reel holder, etc. I checked my dive computer and sure enough I was 1-minute into my dive! Now what to do? My dive light was attracting lots of little fish so I played for a bit, collected a couple items and then decided it was just too boring to waste any more air on. I ascended and made my way to shore with buoy in tow (cause that law). Getting out was the hardest part as I climbed the rip-rap rockery in my gear. I called the owner of the wallet and we rendezvoused just outside the park. He was happy, or maybe his wife was happier since he blamed her for dropping it! Unfortunately, it was getting too late to pull off a second dive considering elevation and my need to checkout of the campground timely, so I just stopped by and did my dive site cleanup and off to shower and pack up camp.
As a was pulling out and rounding the corner I saw something in my rear-view mirror that I didn't recall being in the roadway...but what could I have dropped?? I parked and took a quick shower, then to the garbage and dump facility where I spotted my DIVE boot on the rack of my truck! Oh crap - now I know what I saw! So around the park with the trailer again, only no boot! I talked to a couple of different campers but nobody saw it. I stopped by the Ranger Station where Ranger Greg called around to the camp host and then after no luck he took down my information and said he'd send it my way if it turned up. Two-days later Ranger Greg called me to let me know it was found! Ranger Greg to the rescue!! I guess I'll be diving a wet suit until I get back to Spokane.
Next Stop - South Dakota and Pactola Lake Reservoir
I found my way to Rapid City, South Dakota, crashed at Cabela's for the night before heading out to Mount Rushmore. Maybe it's our divided nation or just the crowds but I just wasn't into it. So, I took a few photos and hit the road after a much needed coffee refill. Then I made my way to Whispering Pines Campground in Black Hills. Did some dive site recon, found groceries, a cave to explore, and did laundry, just not necessarily in that order! The next day I made my way over to Lake Pactola Reservoir to clean up the shore and meet my group for an evening dive around "Alcatraz Island" which was a large rock formation near the dam. The surface elevation is 4,580' and water temperature was around 65°F. I think we hit a mild thermocline and it dropped to 62°F somewhere around 48' below. I literally saw two fish, and the shadows of a school of sunfish up in the murky shallows. We ascended to a breathtaking sunset, although there was a cost since it was the result of the smoke from the wildfires. Might say I'm a little hyper-sensitive to the destruction fire can cause.
I can't thank Jim enough of Black Hills Aquatic Adventures in Rapid City, South Dakota!! Not only did he get a few of his dive masters and friends to come out and dive with me, he also delivered me a new pair of booties since I remembered the wet suit but forgot the wet boots! Such a gear intensive sport and expensive when you have to keep buying what you forgot!! Thanks to my dive buddies - Carol, Shawn and Rob. If you are ever in Washington - look me up and I'll happily return the favor. Fair warning, the water is just a little colder!
I contemplated hitting Nebraska but my trailer brakes were acting "odd".... more on that next time....
On to Wyoming by way of Devil's Tower!
Pamela Treischel is a SCUBA diving enthusiast, underwater photography hobbyist and Ambassador for the Inland Ocean Coalition. She is currently recovering from a mild traumatic brain injury.