Home Away From Home, North Dakota

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

The best-laid plans go awry. We decided last night that we would not sleep past 6:45 and would not spend an hour drinking coffee. Well, we didn’t spend an hour drinking coffee after I woke up at 7:15, a little later than planned.

We headed out for the Theodore Roosevelt National Park and took the 36-mile Scenic Loop Drive. We decided that we would stop at each interesting overlook. Our first stop was Skyline Vista, a short .2-mile loop trail on a short, paved path. It led up to a viewing area overlooking the Little Missouri River.

Our next overlook was at the River Woodland where we could see a portion of the Little Missouri River bottomlands. Cottonwoods lined the river course where their roots got abundant moisture. Juniper trees were abundant.

As we traveled on, the road was lined with cottonwood trees on either side and it was quite shady. The diversity of the park is quite obvious as we see prairie land, Badlands and then verdant grazing lands.

As we wound around the road, we saw a lone bison on a hill at a distance and then when we got to Prairie Dog Town, very appropriated named by the way, we saw another lone bison lumbering along. We slowed down and then stopped as he crossed the road right in front of our car. Naturally, we gave him all the room he wanted.

Next up was Wind Canyon. Labeled a moderate hike with gravel and dirt surface with stairs it was only .4 mile round trip. As we walked up we could see people on the left of the path climbing the rocks and sliding down the sandy dunes. While it looked like fun it was too early in the day for that messy walk for us. We continued on to the top of the high bluff where we were overlooking the Little Missouri River. At the edge of the river, we could see hoof prints but we couldn’t determine what kind of animal made them. As we stood there looking, we started chatting with a couple, Pam and Brian, from Florida who are staying at Medora Campground and leaving tomorrow for Glacier. We chatted for a few minutes and then headed on out.

We saw a dirt road, East River Road and decided to explore a bit off of the beaten path. It actually led out of the park and we ended up on grazing land, land if damaged was punishable by law. We did not see anything grazing though. Kind of a bust.

We ran into Pam and Brian again at our next overlook and chatted for about 20 minutes exchanging ideas and travel information. Further on down the road, we stopped at Coal Vein Trail and there we met up again so all four of us took the trail. It’s a mile loop with numbered posts that explain how the trail has changed since an underground coal vein fire in the 1970s. We saw examples of brick red rock or clinker which formed when the coal veins caught fire and baked the rock above changing it into much harder rock. Sandstone, siltstone, and mudstone are sediments washed down from the Rocky Mountains. We also saw bentonite clay, a substance made of ash from distant volcanoes. Fortunately, the area is dry because the bentonite is very slippery when wet. We caught a slight whiff of something that smelled good and though we finally identified the source we didn’t know the name of the shrub. We had a very enjoyable hike albeit a very hot one. When I got back in the car I checked the temperature and it was 95 degrees!

We quickly got in the car and turned on the AC, then headed on around the Scenic loop until we reached the “Closed” sign. We later found out that the highway from mile 24 to mile 28 had collapsed and it is going to take an engineering feat to repair it and it could take a couple of years. It is the original road that was built from the Old East Entrance.

We then decided it was time to either find a place to picnic or head back to the coach. We had already seen a small herd of horses and a couple of bison so we could leave the park if necessary.

Suddenly as we rode along, we saw a lot of bison on either side of the road turning into the Peaceful Valley Ranch. Of course, we pulled right in and joined the long line of traffic. Since we were either moving slowly or not moving at all we enjoyed our sandwiches right there in the car. Another picnic plan foiled!

As we were returning to the entrance of the park we stopped by Visitor’s Center and got some of our questions answered. There are approximately 400-500 bison in the area and around 200 wild horses. Originally there were many more feral horses in the park but the National Park Service decided to remove all the horses from the park. However, in 1970 a change of policy recognized the horse as part of the historical setting so new policies were written to protect and manage the herds of horses. Now, the park conducts a roundup every three to four years to herd the horses to a handling facility. There they can be sold at public auction and the cost ranges from $400 to $2000 each. More recently, the park is trying other means for herd management including contraceptives, low-stress capture, and genetic research. They also partner with some nonprofit advocacy groups.

We also visited the replica of the cabin where Roosevelt lived. It is located in the back of the Visitor’s Center. There I got one of my earlier questions answered. I knew that Roosevelt’s mother and wife died on the same day, the wife in childbirth, but I never heard anything about the baby. It was a girl and she did survive. Six months later Roosevelt left his daughter in the care of his sister while he returned to his cabin at Maltese Cross Ranch in North Dakota where he began the healing process from his crushing losses.

The park is very close to our campground so we rode back to the RV for a little respite and some ice cream. We couldn’t quite decide what to do with the rest of our day as it was getting too late to go to the North Side of the park. We decided to take a short ride to the Painted Canyon Visitor Center and Overlook. It is a nice center with good information. We happened upon a ranger talk and I got to ask him about the flowers that I had been walking through for the last couple of days, both in Devils Tower and here. They are indigenous sweet clover. Good to know. We decided it was too hot and too late to venture out on the one-mile hike.

After the Painted Canyon, we rode back to Medora and walked around for a few minutes, in and out of shops buying nothing. I think we were both so tired from the morning that we just needed to be seated in air condition whether it was inside a store, a car or our coach. It’s difficult for someone who lives at 43 feet above sea level to hike at 2600 feet in 95-degree weather.

As we rode back into the park for our final trip we saw bison several times but the most outstanding sight was at a distance. Two bison on top of a hill at Wind Canyon. We never could get quite close enough for Jerry to get a great picture though he did capture a few shots. We had hoped to see some wild horses but instead saw lots of prairie dogs with a coyote stalking them. Prairie dogs are not actually dogs but a kind of rodent. They get the name of “dog” from the dog-like bark they emit to warn others of danger. I had earlier asked the ranger if they managed the scads of prairie dogs and she said it was not necessary due to the natural predators in the park such as badgers, coyotes, etc.

As we neared the end of the road suddenly, we saw three horses, a mare and a nursing mare with her baby. As we sat there and looked at them eight more mares with babies emerged from the other side of the road. What a treat and what a memorable way to end our visit to Theodore Roosevelt State Park.

Home Away From Home, North Dakota

On to North Dakota

Twenty-one days and almost three weeks on the road. Wow! Things started out a little auspiciously this morning. I slept until after 7:00 which put us later preparing to leave. Jerry went out to move the car to the back of the coach because we could easily hook up right at our site. Then I tried to put the jacks up. Dang it, the battery was dead AGAIN despite have started the coach twice yesterday. Guess we’ll be using the battery disconnect at each stop which means we put down the front shade and it stays down for the duration of the stay. Kind of feels like a tomb inside because it’s so dark. Jerry moved the car back to the front of the coach and we jumped it again. Then I moved the car to the back to hook it up. The car was on a slight downward slope and Jerry couldn’t get it close enough to the coach to hook it up so I had to go in and back the RV up “just a little bit”. That’s scary. We finally got it attached, came in prayed and checked our Departure list and then Jerry looked at the dashboard only to see the check engine light on. The gauges were all reading fine so he decided to soldier on and keep a lookout on the gauges. About an hour into the 250-mile trip the tire pressure monitoring system began to beep. What now? We stopped in Belle Fourche for gas and Jerry checked the air pressure. It was perfect so he thinks possibly a bad battery in the sensor caused the alarm to go off. Guess we need to carry spare batteries for the TPMS.

When we finally entered North Dakota, our 31st RV state, the land just went on and on. We saw gently sloping hills, vast grasslands, hayfields, occasional oil rigs (think that was South Dakota as well as North Dakota) and open land as far as the eye could see. Obviously, the land was farmed but we saw few structures. Sixteen miles per hour winds buffeted us some but otherwise, it was an easy drive. Although our four-lane ended in Belle Fourche, the two-lane was an easily traveled road, wide enough with no drop-offs. And then we ran into road construction. Of course, but it was just a brief section.

As we neared Theodore Roosevelt State Park, we could see that we were entering the end of the Badlands. Two weeks ago we were in Interior in the Badlands and today in Medora, ND in the Badlands. As we were driving along just seven miles from our destination someone flagged us down and told us to pull over. Uh o – what? One of our locked bins had come open. That’s the first time that has ever happened. I was afraid something was wrong with the car. I am very leery when putting the car into towed capability and always doubt that I have done it correctly. You would think that after four years of towing flat down I would be an old pro but not so. I have an instruction list and I “try” to follow it line by line every time. This morning I couldn’t get it to work because I had skipped a step and you can’t do that.

We safely arrived at Medora Campground, a city-owned park and as I was checking in a guy from Georgia was checking in also. As I was walking out of the door, I commented that I was from North Carolina. The fellow checking him in said he lived in North Carolina for a couple of years, in Greenville which is about 30 miles from our home. He had been to Kinston several times. Again, small world. As I was checking in Jerry was outside chatting with the fellow who had flagged us down when he saw the bin opened!

We got set up and decided to take a quick ride over to the Teddy Roosevelt National Park which was only a mile away. We went to the Visitor’s Center, walked through a very interesting museum and talked with a ranger who gave us some ideas of what to do tomorrow.

Just laying around not paying us any attention
We took the Scenic Highway and were absolutely amazed at the breathtaking beauty around us. As I said earlier every park is unique. Every park is special and this one is no different. Just before we got to Wind Canyon where she had suggested we hike we saw a large herd of bison, probably a couple of hundred. The ranger had advised us about getting to close as it is rutting season and the bison are a bit, rowdy. Despite that there a man out of his car walking around taking pictures. Unbelievable! We rode on to Wind Canyon but decided that since I had on sandals we would forego the hike today and come back tomorrow. As we were leaving the park Jerry spotted a coyote near the wild horses and scads of prairie dogs.

We made a hasty decision to go to the Walmart in Dickinson which was 30 miles away. We were in need of the basics like milk and bread so off we went. The highway to Dickinson was mile after mile of land, hayfields sprinkled in between oil wells and grazing cattle and sheep. Thought we were told it was 30 minutes away it actually took us longer plus when we got in line to pay, we were behind a couple with a problem so we were over 20 minutes in line. Knowing we had tickets for the Medora Musical at 7:30 we sped back to Medora hurrying into the coach to put away the groceries and grab something warm to wear. No dinner tonight.

The Medora Musical is absolutely fantastic and a must-see for anyone in the area. It’s held in an amphitheater that is accessed by riding an outdoor escalator. The show revolves around the history of Medora and Teddy Roosevelt. Despite the misting rain, the performers did an excellent job. The weather forecast was calling for a thunderstorm around 9:30 so they shortened the show some so everyone could get out before the storm. Side note – it never stormed despite the weather predictions!

On another note, we have done our part for North Dakota extermination of bugs program. Jerry cleaned the windshield of the motor home yesterday so it was clean when we pulled out this morning. He commented just before we got to Medora that if we didn’t get somewhere soon he wouldn’t be able to see where he was going. The windshield was that dirty! When we went to Dickinson in the Jeep we had the same problem. In fact, I thought at one point it was raining as it sounded just sound big fat raindrops hitting the windshield.

Home Away From Home, Wyoming

Devils Tower, Wyoming

We got out quickly this morning to go up to Devils Tower. We had been advised to get there early as throngs of people would begin to quickly arrive. Fortunately, we did get there early and got a great parking spot in a pretty limited parking lot. We went to the Visitor’s Center first to acclimate ourselves to the area and learn what we could about the tower.

Devils Tower was the nation’s first national monument proclaimed so by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. It is an amazingly powerful monolith whose appearance changes as much as the weather and the time of day. To some, it is a fascinating geological formation. To others, it is a traditional sacred place and still, for others it provides recreational opportunities but obviously to the approximately 500,000 visitors a year it is a very special place.

It rises 1,267 feet above the Belle Fourche River but the base itself is some 4,200 feet above sea level. For someone who lives at 43 feet above sea level hiking can sometimes be a challenge. Many Northern Plains Indian tribes view the area as sacred and oppose climbing on the tower. In fact, there is a voluntary climbing closure in June out of respect for the American Indian beliefs.

We decided to first take the Tower Trail, a paved 1.3-mile easy walk. It started at the parking lot and after a short, steep climb we were on our way around the tower. There are boulders all around, some good for climbers like me. And then, there are the real climbers. We saw several as the morning progressed and watch their progress. We briefly chatted with a few before their ascent. I asked them how long it took to climb – about six hours to go up and about two to go down. I did hear that climbing up took longer but climbing down was more dangerous. I can’t imagine!

The tower is composed of symmetrical columns, some as tall as 600 feet plus and as wide as 20 feet. The columns are 4, 5, 6, and 7 sided. As we walked along the tower changed minute by minute. Each step we took gave us a different view. On the North Side, it was much cooler and quieter. In fact, as we sat and rested we could hear the sound of birds in the air. We never saw any of the animals that live there.

We passed through three habitats – of course, the beautiful lumbering ponderosa pines, the open prairie and then the rightly colored mud and sandstones of the formation. As we walked along we saw remnants of prayer cloths tied in trees and left by the Indians. Out of respect, we did not touch them and they also request no photography of them.

Walking along we were able to gaze out into the valley where vast herds of bison used to live. As they were hunted to near extinction the habitat changed to ranch lands. Cattle ranching remains the primary industry of this area although we didn’t see a sign of any ranches.

When we finished our hike, we went back into the Visitor’s Center for a few minutes and discussed what to do for the rest of the day. Since it was nearly lunchtime we decided to go back to the campground, have some lunch and then go back up later in the day when hopefully the crowds would be smaller and it would be cooler as well.

Note the tall grasses
We left about 4:00 to go back up and hike Joyner Ridge Trail. It’s a 1.5-mile loop trail along the north boundary of the park and then dips down into the draw below the ridge. It’s one of the more scenic but less utilized trails in the park and true to its reputation we saw no one. It’s a narrow foot trail better suited to someone in long pants. We both had on shorts! The trail was lined with wildflowers, sedges, western wheatgrass, and needle and thread grass and it hit our legs nearly every step we took. Occasionally there was a slight breeze that felt like a gift but otherwise, it was pretty warm. The first half of the trail is mainly a walk through the foliage but the last part is a bit more challenging but still an easy hike. When we hit the ravine though we could feel the difference and apparently so could the animals. We were gifted with seeing a large buck with a very large rack. That’s the first buck we’ve ever seen and we have seen more than our share of deer through the years. It definitely was the highlight of the hike although the scenery was amazing as well.

Nearly done!

We finally returned to the campground around 6:00 and started preparing dinner and discussing the route to take to Medora tomorrow. Onward to North Dakota, our 31st RV state.

Home Away From Home, South Dakota, Wyoming

South Dakota to Wyoming in a Day

How could we leave Spearfish, SD without going to the number one attraction in the city? With an 11:00 checkout time we realized we could make a quick visit this morning. It was not far from the campground so off we went to the D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery.

It was a fascinating place and yes, it smelled like fish! From the parking lot, we crossed a small bridge which took us to a large pond filled with hefty fish. They obviously thought we were going to feed them because they all gathered up closely. Our next stop was the Aquarian downstairs which was stocked with rainbow trout, brown trout, snake river cutthroat trout, and brook trout. The brown trout and the rainbow were very easy to spot. It was also easy to distinguished between the male and female as the male have a hooked lower jaw. There were many more females than males. Another interesting fact was that trout grow about a half an inch a month. Although there are approximately 32,000 different kinds of fish in the world trout are one of only 800 freshwater species found in the United States. The trout are not native to the Black Hills. In the late 1800’s Congress appropriated funds to investigate the possibility of placing a hatchery near the Black Hills to establish trout populations in the area. The area was chosen due to its pristine water, habitat and food sources. Because the Black Hill streams have clean, cold water and vegetated shores the waters are ideal for stocked trout to do well.

We were able to tour the Booth House where D.C. Booth and his family eventually lived until his forced retirement. Subsequent families who lived in the house had to rent it and when they left, of course, they took their furniture thus only one piece of the original furniture remains in the home. Everything else is a replica but very nicely done.

The Museum
The museum was small but very interesting with a video to explain the beginning of the hatchery. One of the pictures on the wall featured a tombstone for a worker who died in 1916. His cause of death listed was “Overwork at the Fish Hatchery”!

We also visited a replica of the railcar used to quickly move fish from hatcheries to lake and rivers across the country. Everything in the car was used to transport fish but of course, they had to have personnel. The foldup beds for the personnel were suspended from the ceiling so that every available space was used.

Of course, the volunteer asked where we were from and when I said North Carolina she remarked that she used to live in NC. Oddly enough she had also been to Kinston and visited our son’s brewery, Mother Earth! Small World.

The grounds including Ruby’s Garden are lovely but we didn’t have to explore them much. We did see the life-size bronze sculpture depicting the important role fishing plays in American society and culture today.

We hurried back to the campground and completed breaking camp. Then because we have a faulty coach battery we had to jumpstart the coach again. Jerry drove to the only accessible gas station we had seen and I followed in the car.

Our first look at Devils Tower! Wow!
After getting the gas we hooked the car up to the RV and took off for Devils Tower, Wyoming. It was a short drive although a bit harrowing at time. A 10% grade is a lot to climb in a gas RV not to mention the few u-turns. We arrived and were checked in at Devils Tower/Black Hills KOA very quickly.

After lunch, we headed out for Sundance. Sundance, Wy on a Sunday afternoon is one quiet town! We rode around looking for the Crook County Museum and the Sundance Kid statue. Around and around the blocks we went until we finally stopped and realized that we were right at the statue and the museum. The museum closed at 3:00 on Sundays so I just got a picture of the statue and then we headed on to Beulah to the Vore Buffalo exhibit.

Welcome to Wyoming!
On the way to the Vore Buffalo exhibit, we stopped by the Wyoming Welcome Center where we were able to garner a lot of information plus enjoy the many displays they had. It is a warm welcome to Wyoming.

We learned even more information about the bison at the Vore Buffalo exhibit. Years and years ago in order to kill the bison, the Plains Indians and other tribes from the Northern Plains would gather for a communal hunt to drive herds of bison over a cliff. The bison would either die from a broken neck from the fall, bleed to death or be suffocated by the others on top of them. Right there at the bottom, after the bison were dead the tribes would butcher and process nearly all of the bison. At that time the Plains had no horses or guns so herding was the only way they could get the bison which supplied the food, clothing, tools, fuel, ceremonial objects, and even toys. Can you imagine trying to herd bison on foot? Scary but that was their only option as hunting individually was much more dangerous. Jerry suddenly developed a headache so we did not take the tour which would have been interesting but instead got a brief introduction to the exhibit by a very knowledgeable young lady working in the gift shop.

Since Jerry’s head was hurting guess who got to drive back? Wow, it really wasn’t that bad even though we had a 9% grade at one point. It surely is easier and quicker in a car than in a motor home – not that I drove the motor home!

We arrived back at the campground, had dinner and then headed over to the campground office where they show the movie, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. Much of the movie was filmed at Devil’s Tower and we could plainly see it in the movie. As we watched the characters climb up the tower Jerry remarked to me twice that we wouldn’t be taking the same trails!

This morning when I woke up, I checked the weather. One source said it was 62 degrees and the other said 75 degrees. Since I don’t like to travel in shorts, I went with 62 degrees and put on my jeans and a long-sleeved tee. Guess which one was correct. Yeah, it was 75. The first order of business when we arrived in Devils Tower was to change clothes. I put on some shorts for the afternoon and then changed once again for the movie. With jeans and a sweatshirt that I put on shortly after the movie started plus the blanket Jerry brought, I was comfortable with the 52-degree temps! We’ll sleep good tonight!

Home Away From Home, South Dakota

Roughlock Falls Trail

We took off and rested some yesterday afternoon so we made up for it today. The first order of business was the Roughlock Falls Trail. Yesterday we had lunch at the top of the falls so today we hiked from the bottom to the top. Marked as a moderate hike the trail was well marked and mid-morning it was not too crowded. It’s a beautiful waterfall as are the others. Only when we got to the very top did we realize that we were at the spot where we had our picnic yesterday. By the way, on our way in today we did see Victoria’s Tower, the 11th Hour Gulch and the Kissing Rock. Obviously, they were not very remarkable.

Leaving Spearfish Canyon, we headed on to Deadwood. I was hoping to see some of Deadwood before our 1:00 scheduled presentation at Tankana: The Tale of the Bison but everyone in South Dakota decided to see Deadwood today. We knew there was a morning parade and perhaps that was why there were so many people and slow traffic. We decided that we had better go on rather than risk being late. We actually got to Tankana a little after 12:00 so of course we had our picnic lunch – yep, in the car!

As soon as we went in, we were directed to a 20-minute video by Kevin Costner giving the history of the center. Kevin Costner tried for some years to at first build a hotel and then later the center. He remarked, “These Black Hills gave me the feeling I was a part of history”. The center explores the lives of the Lakota and their relationship to the bison.

The traditional belief of the Lakota was that the buffalo people emerged from the “hole that breathes cool air” otherwise known as Wind Cave. The buffalo people lived in the cave but were tricked into coming up into the wonderful land above and wonderful it was in the summer. But then winter came and it was cold and food was scarce. Thus, began the difficulty of life.

We listened to a Lakota Indian talk about the bison. As long as there were bison, things went well for the Lakota. They only killed what was necessary to meet their needs and they used over 90% of the bison for various purposes. Buffalo robes were very valuable and no wonder since a buffalo hide was comprised of ten times the number of hairs per square inch as a cowhide.

Buffalo hides provide extraordinary insulation. Although a bison’s winter coat may be a body temperature next to the skin the outside may be below freezing. A buffalo may have a foot of snow on him but has no problem with that.

Thus, bison adapted well to the Great Plains. It is said they are the only animal that will face a blizzard head-on. The Lakota interpreted this as bravery and fortitude and it was an inspiration to them. Not as fast as the pronghorn who is the fastest mammal on the North American continent (they can reach speeds of fifty-five miles per hour) the bison can still run thirty to forty miles an hour. In addition, their instinct to form herds provides safety in number. There is no known predator except possibly the wolf who could possibly bite a bison in the leg as they passed by.

Unfortunately, while we were there, we had a heavy thunderstorm with thunder, lightning and heavy rain. In fact, we were stuck there for a while but finally decided to dash to the car amidst the rain. Jerry got the car and I ran to meet him. It was a cold rain with some hail in the area. The downside was that we did not get to go outside and see the bronze sculptures.

Our next stop was Sturgis – just because we could. Wow! I’m sure my jaw was dropped enough for people to realize we were not from the area. It was already a bustling town filled with people and motorcycles and the big event was still a week away. I can’t imagine how crowded it will be in a week.

We headed on to Deadwood and despite the heavy traffic finally found a parking place. We walked down the main street until we reached the gunfight area. We stood right across from Saloon No. 10 where Wild Bill Hickok was shot on August 2, 1876. After the gunfight which was entertaining, we entered the saloon and our eyes were immediately drawn to the top of the room where buffalo heads, moose heads, and deer heads were mounted. We saw a gift shop toward the back so we headed there and got our refreshment for the afternoon. Not a round at the bar but cones of ice cream!

We returned to the car and rode the winding, very steep streets up to Mt. Moriah Cemetery. Jerry elected not to go in but I did and walked up to the graves of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. Although Calamity Jane died nearly 30 years after Wild Bill her dying request was to be buried next to him. The cemetery has a number of infamous people buried there but as Jerry was waiting I didn’t want to walk all over looking for them. I did get to see two adult deer and one baby deer bouncing around the grounds.

A ride back to the campground and we were done for the day. Tomorrow, Wyoming!

Home Away From Home, South Dakota

Spearfish Falls

Sometimes you just need to slow down and that’s what we did today, eventually. We decided that we would drive Spearfish Canyon and stop whenever we wanted to. Spearfish Canyon is absolutely beautiful and waiting to be photographed. Our first stop was Bridal Veil Falls and Jerry realized immediately that his camera battery was dead so back to the campground we went. He got a charged battery and I took two ibuprofens for my back which was better but not 100%. We returned to the canyon and rode on past Bridal Falls as the parking lot – and I’m using that term loosely – was full so we went on until we reached Homestake #2 Hydroplant. The plant was opened in 1917 using the water of Spearfish Creek to create electricity for the huge gold mine located in Lead. This plant is no longer in use but its older sister plant which was opened in 1911 and located near Spearfish City Campground is still operational and providing power.

Before we knew it, we had passed Victoria’s Tower, a large mass of limestone, the 11th Hour Gulch, a narrow slot and Kissing Rocks. There were no obvious signs and very quickly we were at Savoy. The parking lot was full but we managed to snag a space near the restaurant and the trailhead for the Spearfish Falls. Although it’s described as a moderate 1 ½ mile hike I’d categorize it as easy and not nearly 1 ½ miles. It was a clearly defined path which led to the floor of the canyon and the beautiful Spearfish Falls. Even though it was a warmer day it was so cool at the bottom. There were several people there and a few of the younger ones actually got in the stream which was moving pretty rapidly. In fact, one young boy fell over and was completely wet. No one seemed to sense any danger of trying to go beneath the falls.

We returned to the car and after realizing that it was nearly noon we decided to go up to the top of Roughlock Trail where there was a picnic area. Our fourth attempt at a picnic – the previous three had been either in the car or the RV – was a success. We found a lovely place with shaded picnic tables and enjoyed our lunch. It was so peaceful that I just laid down on the bench and quite frankly it made my back feel pretty good. We talked about hiking to the falls but decided that we’d wait to do that tomorrow.

Since we had entered from the North Entrance, we decided to follow the road to the South entrance. We had a beautiful ride as we wound through the forest. We had entered through the Northern Great Plains Grasslands, traveled through Eastern Deciduous Forest and then ended the drive in the Northern Coniferous Forest. Continuing on we passed through Lead and then before we realized it we were in Deadwood and there we came to an immediate stop. It seems they are celebrating Days of ’76 and there was a parade going on. The fellow redirecting traffic sent us back to Maitland Road, a graveled, dusty, fairly well-traveled road of about nine miles, or so they say. It felt like much more. Interestingly enough when I told our campground owner about the ride she told me that we were actually on Maitland Road. We took a left when a right would have led us to the campground. But as she said, we didn’t know.

We made a stop at Walmart for hamburgers for dinner and then decided to call it a day. We both were running on low energy so we just needed to slow down a bit. We both took a little nap and then sat outside. The downside to being outside is that our neighbor in his really, really nice Essex is having a power problem so his generator is running. So much for our quiet time but it was still nice to be outside just sitting. Jerry worked on his painting and I read.

Home Away From Home, South Dakota

Arriving in Spearfish

Although we had planned to leave about 9:30 for our short drive to Spearfish we decided this morning to do some house cleaning. We had all of the laundry caught up but it was time to clean the coach. That put us leaving around 10:30. Now we can guess why the couple we were waiting for on Tuesday waited until 10:30.

Big Pine was the perfect place for us to stay as it was centrally located for the places we wanted to visit. Rapid City was not very close but we had not planned to make two trips there. We didn’t use any of the amenities of the campground so cannot comment on them. The only negative and I’m not sure that anything could be done about it was the one-way road around the campground. There were pullouts so traffic wouldn’t be blocked too long. At night the road was a little more confusing as last night I guess we ended up in the tent area where no cars are supposed to go. Oops, we slowly backed out hating shining our lights on the tent campers. As we were leaving today, we blocked a truck for a few minutes while we were hooking up the car. When we finished I waved at the couple and they just smiled and waved back. Part of Rving!

Of course, our two GPS’s gave us two different routes. Mine was a bit longer and was going through Rapid City where we could get to a Flying J. Jerry’s was shorter and agreed with RVTrip Wizard. I think mine would have been an easier drive for Jerry but he chose his, a two lane, curvy, mountainous highway. Is there any other kind of South Dakota? It was a lovely ride and actually quite enjoyable. At times it felt as though we were flying but when I checked we were only going 51! If I had a dollar for every motorcycle I’ve seen today, not to mention the other days, we could well pay for this trip and more.

We arrived at Chris’ Campground around 12:30 and check-in was the easiest I’ve ever had. They only take cash or check so I had to return to the coach to pick up a check although Lana, the owner told me not to worry, that she’d get it later. After checking in I went outside and Jerry was gone. There was a gentleman there in a golf cart who told me to hop on and he’d take me to the coach. When I got to our site Jerry was already parked and was unhitching the car. Thirty minutes from the time we pulled in the park we were fully set up and level!

We had lunch and then I finally found a chiropractor who would be able to see me, Nelson Chiropractic. I made an appointment for Friday morning. Kathy, the receptionist told me I would need to fill out some paperwork in the morning but I could run by this afternoon and pick it up and fill it out at home. Jerry and I decided that was a good idea so off we went. When I went in there was the paperwork lying on the desk with my name on it. I timidly asked if there had been any cancellations and bless Pat, they worked me in. Dr. Bjorn Nelson, his mom Deb and Kathy could not have been nicer. They knew that I would not be a returning patient but still treated me as though I would be. After a treatment on the Tens machine – oh, that was wonderful – and some adjustments I felt like a new woman. The pain is not gone but it is so much better. Thank you Nelson Chiropractic!

After a quick run to Walmart we returned to the campground. Jerry grilled some pork chops and we had a delicious dinner. The day surely didn’t work out like we had planned but there is always tomorrow!

Home Away From Home, South Dakota

So Long Custer

Dragging – that’s what we were today. A little tired and me still with a bad back though it’s better. We finally left the campground around 9:30 headed for the Stockade. It’s a small stockade with just a few cabins. Some were closed off to the public but we were able to enter several others. Those were made of heavy logs with lovely fireplaces and dirt floors. Otherwise, they were empty. Around the stockade were lookouts carved into the walls where one good lookout and then shoot if necessary.

Moving on we were looking for the Badger Clark Trail. While we were rambling around we discovered Hidden Valley. Although there were RV’s parked there, they seemed more permanent than transient. We finally found the Badger Clark rustic home. Despite having no running water or bathroom facilities, it was still a lovely small cabin. Everything in it was original even down to the tattered American flag with 48 states represented hanging on the wall in his bedroom. There is now a heating system there but during the winter it is turned off causing problems for the many books that Clark had. The volunteer there told us that they were in the process of obtaining a grant that would let them replace the books with cardboard look-alikes while the actual books would go to the archives.

We made a short stop at the General Store and then headed for the Wildlife Loop Road, not because we were looking for animals but because Jerry had decided to go off the main road onto some of the dirt, graveled roads. Before we could venture there though we saw lots of stopped cars which I knew, of course, meant animals somewhere near and there they were. We saw a huge herd of bison, not in the road fortunately but traveling across the hills grazing. Taking an idea from someone we saw yesterday we opened the sunroof and I stood up in the seat to catch some beautiful pictures. Earlier we had seen a lone bison and I had gotten a pic of him the same way. We wondered why a buffalo would be traveling alone.

Continuing along we turned on Fisherman Flats Road and rode through the less-trafficked part of Custer State Park. Beautifully green rolling hills are juxtaposed with hundreds of dead trees either by disease or fire we were not sure. The campground owner told us yesterday about the infestation of the pine beetle. Once the pine beetle is discovered in a tree the tree has to be cut down immediately. Otherwise, neighboring trees will be contaminated and there apparently is no way to eradicate the disease. We happened upon a couple of what we think were deer. Unlike our deer at home, they had black on their faces.

How many shades/hues of green are there? We were treated to numerous shades from dark green to emerald to cyan and on and on. What a panoramic and beautiful sight.

As we continued to wind around the park we came to the exit – how did we get here? No idea but we saw a sign indicating Wind Cave National Park was five miles away so that’s the way went. Five curvy, slow miles later we entered the park. Wow! How pretty. Once again, we saw a lone bison that plodded along beside the car. He was quite large and appeared to be older. Then we saw another and then a herd. Bison everywhere. It slowed us down just a bit but nothing like the traffic jam we were in yesterday. And to think when we didn’t see any on our first day in the park I incorrectly assumed that we wouldn’t see any for the rest of the week. Now we’re on bison overload!

Hot weather had arrived!
We finally arrived at the Visitor’s Center for Wind Cave National Park. Since we had not found a shaded place to picnic and we were way past lunchtime we parked the car and just ate our sandwiches sitting in the air-conditioned car.

Despite the star attraction, Wind Cave itself being inoperable due to an elevator malfunction, the center was still a busy place with rangers hustling everywhere. There were several demonstrations going on and a fantastic film showing the history as well. What a difference in how one park handles a problem and then another ignores it. Mt. Rushmore and Wind Cave both had problems this year but while Rushmore did nothing to enhance a visit, Wind Cave surely did. Kudos to Wind Cave National Park.

Wind Cave was described as where the land above meets the land below, where the Great Plains meet the mountains, one park, two worlds. One of the rangers had a display of fur – one badger, one pronghorn and one coyote. Interestingly the badger and the coyote hunt for prairie dogs in tandem. The badger will run the prairie dogs into their holes with their huge claws and then as the prairie dog tries to escape the other end there is the coyote with his long fast legs to capture the prairie dog.

We also learned one reason why we had seen lone bison. Apparently, there was a problem with only one being an Alpha male so one must go. As we left the center, we saw another large herd of bison and interestingly, these seem to be paired up, one bull and one cow. It is rutting season but other than the pairing we didn’t see any indication of mating.

We returned to the coach for a little while before leaving to go back to Rapid City. Jerry had mentioned returning to the Chapel in the Hills for their 7:30 evening service so off we went. We went back through Custer State Park one more time though, bought a pullover and started on the Iron Mountain Road. This time I was driving! After we passed through Keystone, we decided we had enough time to grab some dinner before the church service so since I was driving Jerry started looking for places on Yelp. He found Adrian’s Place which just happened to be in Keystone. Since it had four and half stars we turned around and headed there. Adrian’s Place is not exactly haute cuisine nor is it fine dining but the food was OK. It’s located in a strip mall along with a Dairy Queen, an old photo shop and a pizza place. Like I said … We both had buffalo burgers and quite frankly I can’t tell the different in a buffalo burger and a beef burger.

We got to the Chapel in the Hills just before a storm with thunder, lightning and rain hit. The pastor for this week was from outside Omaha and was volunteering for a week. He gave a lovely message and we sang some hymns ending with the Lord’s Prayer.

A ride back to Custer and our time in Custer is almost over. It’s been a lovely week. Custer State Park is wonderful. The Black Hills are stunningly beautiful. Wind Cave National Park is extraordinary and the bison are roaming!

Home Away From Home, South Dakota

The Chapel in the Hills

We got off to a very slow start this morning. First, I slept until nearly 8:30, totally unheard of for me as I am generally an early riser. I asked Jerry why he didn’t awaken me and he said he figured I needed the rest. Perhaps I did. The other thing holding us back was changing RV sites. When I had made the reservations earlier the only way I could get five nights was to split up the stay into two sites. Fortunately, the site we were headed to was right across so we could easily get in. The problem was an 11:00 checkout time which the folks there took full advantage of. No problem though, I understand. They pulled out about 10:30. By that time we had had our showers, breakfast and had gotten the coach ready for the short ride. Interestingly enough the same things that we do for a long ride we do for a short ride across the street. I drove the coach across and up the incline as Jerry directed me. We were parked and set up in no time.

We had decided to ride over to Hill City and Rapid City today so I took some things out to the car in preparation for our little jaunt. I went back into the coach, leaned over to pick something up off of the sofa and was gripped by the most intense pain ever in my back. I fell to the floor remembering labor pains. Jerry walked in the door and unfortunately, I scared him to death. He was wondering where the nearest medical facility was. I laid on the floor for a few minutes and then hobbled to the bed and got on a heating pad plus I took two aleve. Jerry had earlier prepared our picnic lunch to go so about an hour later we had our picnic – it in the coach.

My back eased off some so we headed to Rapid City with our first stop being Hill City. Hill City seems to be a small town with little shops and several restaurants not to mention breweries and wineries. We walked around for a few minutes, went in the Farmer’s Daughters shop, an eclectic shop with outdoor ornaments, lots of cute signs for indoors like “Be strong I whisper to my WiFi” and made in the store cotton candy! We also saw some pretty cool metal sculptures made from scrap metal. Along with farming tools and implements placed throughout the sculpture, we could see five horse bronze sculptures, a man’s face, and some flowers. Supposedly there were also iron feathers but we didn’t’ find them.

Jerry chatting with President Calvin Collidge
Next, we headed to Rapid City where the temperature had climbed to 86 degrees, quite a difference from the cool temps we’ve been enjoying in Custer. Of course, 2000 feet in elevation could make a pretty big difference. In Rapid City, we were lucky to snag a parking place right on Main Street. We walked down to Main Street Square, took a seat in the shade and watched the young children enjoy the water park. Then we walked a couple of blocks each way looking in the various shops and stopping at each presidential statue. It was just too hot to find all of the presidents!

Our next stop was the Chapel in the Hills which made the visit to Rapid City worth the ride. What a peaceful, calming oasis in the middle of a city. The Chapel was built in 1969 as a ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It is an exact replica of the famous Borgund Stavkirke of Laerdal, Norway which was constructed in the 1100’s.

You enter the chapel by the ambulatory, a walkway that encircles the chapel. The ambulatory was used during inclement rain or for men to leave their guns there as guns were not permitted in the church. At the altar there lies a Bible, a cross and candles symbolizing a Christian church. To the left is a sliding door used by Lepers. They were not permitted to enter the church but were not excluded from taking communion.

As we entered the Chapel, we pressed a button to start a CD which explained the significance of each part of the chapel. At the end, we listened to a hymn sung as we very reverently lifted our eyes and hearts heavenward.

At the apex of the chapel is a rooster illustrating Peter’s denial of Christ by the time the rooster crowed three times. Outside is a prayer walk which is set aside as a place of meditation, a silent nook. We did not take the walk as I was hesitant to go too far with a bad back. There is also a museum there with many relics from days gone past.

Afterward, we made our first visit to Walmart since we left home. Guess we prepared pretty well but we are finally needing to restore our depleted supplies. We were getting warnings for a severe thunderstorm warning for Pennington County so I asked at checkout where Pennington County was. The lady informed me that I was in Pennington county. I must look like an RVer because after she asked where I was from she said if I was in an RV I better take cover. We ran into some light rain on the back to the campground but nothing severe.

We thought we might get some rain so we nixed our plans to grill pork chops and instead had leftovers. Tomorrow is our last day in Custer so I pray my back will allow us to do everything we plan to!

I got a visit in with George H.W. Bush.
Home Away From Home, South Dakota

Traffic Jams!

We just couldn’t decide what we wanted to do today. Jerry didn’t want to take a hike that ended in a view just like he had already seen – he wanted something different so we ended up at Legion Lake Trail. It was an absolutely beautiful hike. The sign at the beginning stated it was rated as “Easy”. The newspaper, The Tatanka rated it as “Moderate to Strenuous”. Actually, I thought neither was correct. To me, “Easy” should be flat land that handicapped could access. “Moderate to Strenuous” means hard work. In this case, it was neither one but it was a fun one-mile loop. There was a little beach at the end with some people sunning and kids swimming yelling “it’s cold”! The temperature was supposed to get down to 49 last night so I guess it was cold.

We got in the car and continued our ride to the gift shop where we bought a couple of shirts, one for Jerry and one for me. Because we didn’t know what we were going to do when we left home this morning, we had not brought our usual picnic lunch so we bought a hot dog at the gift shop. It was filling. That’s all I can say!

Next, we got caught in a traffic jam – a bighorn sheep traffic jam. They were just standing in the road not paying much attention to anyone. We were only there about five minutes before someone nudged them out of the way however that was not to be our only traffic jam of the day.

We continued our ride through the park and saw some of the most amazing views, rolling hills of green growth topped by the majestic Ponderosa Pines. Kind of made me want to jump out and sing “I go to the hills” from the Sound of Music. It looked just like that final scene in the movie.

Before we knew it, we were on Iron Mountain Road and headed for Mt. Rushmore. We hadn’t intended to go there today but I’m glad we ended up there and didn’t make a special trip. Due to construction the Walk of Flags and the theater are closed leaving only the gift shop and food mart open. We walked in, took some pictures and then ate some ice cream! We took the .2-mile walk to the Sculptor’s Studio and enjoyed talks by two different rangers. Since Jerry didn’t want to make the .4-mile trip up the rest of the Presidential Trail I decided to do it alone. I went about halfway up, decided I could see all I needed to see and then went back down.

After we left we decided to go back to Wildlife Loop and somehow ended up on the Needles Highway AGAIN! Poor Jerry. When we got to the Needles Eye Tunnel we parked, got out and walked around some.

Still headed to the Wildlife Loop we continued on forward. Shortly we saw a car stopped which always indicates animals of some kind. Sure enough, there were a couple of mountain goats on the hillside. Those are the first mountain goats that we’ve seen. That added to our repertoire of animals seen on this trip: chipmunk this morning, pronghorn sheep this afternoon and of course bison.

We finally got to Wildlife Loop and slowly made our way in. We saw one pronghorn sheep and of course the donkeys. We were about to decide that we wouldn’t be seeing any more animals today when suddenly we surrounded by bison! We were definitely in a bison traffic jam. There were bison everywhere, at least a couple of hundred and boy were some of them big! They were so close to the car we could have touched them. I kept my window rolled up! Fortunately, we were going in the right direction because the other direction really had a traffic jam. There were probably a hundred cars waiting and almost certainly some of them had no idea what was causing the problem.

When we finally got through the morass of bison we wound our way through the exit of the park and the eleven miles to Custer. A quick stop at the grocery store and we were headed to the campground with grilling on our minds. Jerry cooked some delicious steaks, and with a baked potato and salad one would think we were at home – and we are, just not in North Carolina. That’s one of the nice things about taking our home with us.