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.

Home Away From Home, South Dakota

Needles Highway and More

Neither of us had a good night’s rest last night although I slept a lot more than Jerry. We decided that we would first ride to Jewel Cave to see if and when we could get reservations for a tour. Jerry was able to secure two tickets at the first available time which was 12:45 which gave us about 3 hours, not enough time to get a hike in. While Jerry was securing the tickets, I rode around the parking lot waiting for him. There is a designated area just for RV’s and wouldn’t you know it? There’s a car parked there. Honestly people, can’t you follow rules or are you just that self-centered?

While we waited we rode into Custer and walked around a bit. Some of the stores were closed but we still got a feeling for the little town. If you want to go out to eat you can find what you want in Custer as the restaurants are plentiful. Several of the restaurants seemed to focus on beef, bison and elk burgers. Elk burgers? Um… might have to try that.

We went back to the coach for lunch and a little respite during which time I finally caught up on the blog. Why do I blog? Simply put, to remind me of things we have done and places we have been. It’s so easy for me to forget the details of each day so by blogging I keep it fresh. My blog is also a good reference point when questions are asked. We have been blessed to see much of our great country and I can safely say our country is quite diverse and it’s still difficult to remember minute details of each trip and visit.

On to Jewel Cave National Monument. We were on the 12:45 tour so after a quick lunch we headed back to Jewel Cave. The cave is the third-longest cave in the world with the first being Mammoth and then one in Mexico. There are over 202 miles of mapped and surveyed passages. Jewel Cave goes down the equivalent of 23 stories with 723 steps along a half-mile loop, equivalent to 40 flights of stairs. Some were stair steps and some were slanted ramps. The cave temperature is 49 degrees Fahrenheit and boy, was I glad I had my coat. I kept thinking about putting my Patagonia coat in the RV when packing and then thinking no, I won’t need that. So glad I had my jacket that I bought in the Grand Canyon. Between that and my Badlands shirt that I had on I was a walking advertisement!

Into every day, or least some of them, a little rain must fall and today was the day. We’ve encountered rain twice on this trip but each time it was when we were traveling. Although the weather apps had been promising rain and the skies were overcast we were rain-free until after the cave tour. As we were leaving the cave it began to sprinkle and then rain more heavily so afternoon activities were out or we thought.

We climbed even higher!
As we rode along we decided to go to Bear County USA but along the way we saw a sign for Crazy Horse with an information center. Jerry stopped to check it out and discovered that it was $30 a car no matter how many people were in the car. In other words, it cost $30 to park. We could see the carving in the distance so we elected to go on to Bear Country USA. On the way we saw a sign for Needles Highway and of course, off we went. We’re flexible if nothing else. As we rode we came to Sylvan Lake and Gift Shop. We stopped, went in the gift shop and then decided to take the 1 mile “easy” trail hike. Although marked “easy” there were places where we had to climb some rocks and then climb back down. It was not difficult but hopefully no one thought they were out for an easy stroll. We thoroughly enjoyed it though and even climbed some of the large rocks.

As we walked to the car which we had parked along the side of the road Jerry noticed what we think was a mule deer standing on the other side. He was nibbling grass and though occasionally he looked at us, mainly he ignored us. It began to sprinkle lightly as we headed to the car so we decided to call it a day but … the Needles Highway was ahead. It is truly like threading a needle, curvy, narrow, winding, 5 mph speed limit and then you hit the tunnels. There was no problem going through Hood Tunnel or Iron Creek Tunnel but Needles Eye Tunnel was a different story. Cars were trying to go both ways plus many people had pulled over to get a closer look. Someone needs to be standing on both sides with a Stop/Go sign. I am surely glad Jerry was driving.

Since it was raining a little harder, we decided to call it a day and headed for the campground. A little rest, a good dinner and we were done for the day!

Home Away From Home, South Dakota

Our First Day in Custer

Since we only had a little over 100 miles to go and we couldn’t check in until after 12:00, we took it slow this morning. Of course, we had realized that the battery was dead so we had to jump it this morning. Dead battery on the car when we arrived and dead battery on the coach when we got ready to leave. At least, we’re consistent. We pulled out a little before 10:00 and fortunately did not have to go back through the park. That had been a harrowing ride and I didn’t want to repeat. Actually, we went right by Scenic but Jerry didn’t stop this time! We did see a herd of bison finally though they were at a distance.

We left flat lands in the Badlands and suddenly we were at 5000 feet. As usual, Jerry did a good job but was glad we weren’t going very far. We got to Big Pine Campground around 12:30 and check-in was easy and quick. We had an escort to our site and that is always so nice. We can stay at this site for three days and then will have to move across the way for two nights. The owner said he didn’t have a single vacant spot for the next week so guess we were lucky to have snagged two.
As soon as we had lunch we headed out first and most importantly for gas for the car. Jerry put over 14 gallons in it. It’s a 15-gallon tank! Yikes. As we rode along, we spotted a grocery store to take advantage of later.

We ended up driving right up to Custer State Park where we paid $20 for a week pass. Driving through Custer is very different from driving through the Badlands. Our intention was to go to the Visitor’s Center but we didn’t realize that it was on the other side of the park. It was a winding, curvy road with a speed limit of 25 most of the time so it took a while to reach the center. Fortunately, the video was just starting as we arrived so we got to take that in. It was absolutely spectacular. It features the bison running and I thought they were going to run right up to me!

We talked with one of the volunteers for a while plus looked at the different displays about the bison and learned some interesting facts. First off, bison or buffalo? Both words are used interchangeably but the correct name is bison. The more commonly used name “buffalo” comes from the French word for beef, “le boeuf” which was simplified into buffalo. Bison can run up to 35 miles per hour so be warned! There is no single safe distance from a bison as they can cover 100 feet in a matter of seconds. Signs that the bison are agitated are raised tail, snorting, pawing the ground or short charges toward someone. Bison live on an average of 12-20 years. Their age can be determined by their horns and like a horse, by their teeth as well.

There are approximately 1300 bison in Custer at this time. In September a buffalo roundup – yes, they call it a buffalo roundup, not a bison roundup – is held to cull the herd. They are all vet checked, given their immunizations and then their fate is determined. Either they return to the park or are sold at auction for various purposes.

After we left the Visitor’s Center, we decided to ride Wildlife Loop Road. In a few short minutes I spotted some pronghorn sheep. Jerry didn’t see them so we turned around and went back to try to find them. There the two of them were just grazing. We took some pictures and then traveled on. Our next sighting was three more pronghorn and this time with the binoculars I looked right in the face of one. Wow!

As we rode along, we saw a lot of stopped cars and knew something was ahead. Yep, the donkeys were there waiting for someone to give them a carrot. As soon as we parked the car one of the donkeys walked up right beside the car door and wouldn’t move. Jerry got out, walked around and finally hit him on the butt to move him up. We enjoyed walking around and looking at all 11 of them.

The next time we saw a lot of stopped cars it was for a herd of bison. There were probably over 100 in the herd and three adults and one baby made their way down near the road. Hopefully, we got some good pictures of that.

We finished the Wildlife Loop and continued to ride through the park back toward Custer. It is a beautiful ride and next time we go I’ll try to drive so Jerry can see how very beautiful it is!

A trip to the grocery store ended our riding around for the day. We headed back to the coach and caught up on some computer work that we’d had to delay this week. Internet at this campground is phenomenal. In fact, I think it’s better than what we have at home. Jerry and I talked about the different hikes and sights and we mapped out a tentative plan for the next few days. Since it’s unusually cool for this time of year we don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn for a hike! Cool weather means good sleeping!

Home Away From Home, South Dakota

Our Last Day in the Badlands

The Door Trail
After a good, long night’s sleep we were still running behind but we left about 8:00. The skies were cloudy, the temps were temporarily lower and there was a nice breeze. We started with the Door Trail where you could scamper over the buttes following a marked trail. Venturing off the trail could have led to crumbling rock and it was a long way down. The trail leads to a break in the Badlands Wall and to an amazing view of the Badlands. As we walked and the sun began to shine through the clouds the colors became more vibrant. We walked back to the car, drank some water and then headed for the Window Trail.

At the start of every trail!
The Window Trail is a short .25 trail on a boardwalk that leads to a natural window in the Badlands Wall with a view of the magnificent canyon below. It was stunning. I was so glad we had waited until today to take the Door and the Window trail. Well, I’m not sure we could have completed the Door trail as hot and exhausted as we were but even at that I don’t think we could have appreciated the grandeur of the canyon. Two short hikes but two well worth seeing.

Although we couldn’t get reservations for the tour we wanted to visit the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. The museum was fascinating and the film highlighted the events of the Cold War. I vaguely remember my parents talking about the Cold War and of hearing of fallout shelters being built for our safety should a nuclear attack become imminent. Of course if a nuclear attack had occurred it would have been instantaneous death for millions. The Minuteman was built in an area with very low population, built underground silos in the American Plains. The intensity of the times was accurately portrayed in the film helping us to recognize how very close we came to war and total devastation for the world.

We had no plans for the afternoon so we decided to ride over to White. River Visitor’s Center in the South section of the park. A short ride of 32 miles turned into nearly 100. We had about 45 miles one way and then an extra 20 for passing right by the center without realizing it! The Visitor’s Center itself was underwhelming but the ride overexposed us to a vastly different terrain. We rode through the Buffalo Gap National Grassland where we saw bales and bales of prairie grass/buffalo grass, pastures with horses, lots of green growth and Jerry thought he saw a herd to bison. We decided rather than stop we’d find them on the way back to the campground – didn’t happen! No bison for us in the Badlands.

Well, I’m cooking with gas! We have never used the gas burners in our RV preferring to use the induction burners we had purchased. We have always had trouble though with the breaker flipping but we blamed it on the toaster oven that we used for baking so we put the toaster over away. Tonight we tried to use the microwave to bake the stuffed peppers and the induction burner to boil the corn. Nope, the breaker flipped so we put the induction burners in the closet and tried out the gas burners. I have always heard that food is better cooked with gas so I guess we’ll see. At least I can cook everything concurrently now instead of having to stagger using the oven and one or two burners.

After dinner we headed out to our last hike in the Badlands, the Fossil Exhibit Trail. It’s only a .25 boardwalk but with excellent views and explanations of the development of the Badlands. There were ample places to climb to look for fossils but we elected to watch the other climb tonight.

We headed out looking for the perfect place to see a beautiful sunset. We finally settled on Homestead Overlook. As we waited for the sunset we were able to see a big herd of bison although they were only visible to me when using the binoculars. We also saw 11 bighorn sheet scampering over the buttes. We chatted with a couple from upstate New York who had just finished visiting some of the places we will be going and they gave us a lot of helpful hints. The temperature dropped considerably to 75 and with the breeze it was actually a little cool but still enjoyable.

We topped the night off by visiting the gas station for the second time in one day! Our Jeep only holds 15 gallons so we refuel frequently but not usually twice in the same day.

Herd of Bison