Saturday, July 31, 2010

Wind Cave National Park, SD


Today we drove about 20 miles south of Custer to Wind Cave National Park. Walked along the Prairie View Trail and took a cave tour. It was in the 90’s but breezy and the prairie grasses were moving like waves. Very pretty.

Since it was the next one on the schedule, we took the Garden of Eden cave tour, an hour long walk through a small section of the cave. So far they have discovered 134 miles of passages, making it the 4th largest cave in the world. What’s amazing is that it is all contained in a square mile area, like a maze.

This is a dry cave, so no stalactites, but it is one of only a few caves with what is called boxwork formations, which look kind of like honeycombs. It’s hard to tell from the pictures, but it was really interesting to look at.

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After telling us it was a dry cave, the ranger showed us the one section of the cave where a little water seeps in. Actually this looks more like the pictures of Jim’s colonoscopy.


Before this became a national park, two entrepreneurs gave private cave tours, and the guests would sign their names and dates. Don’t try this today or you could end up in National Park prison. The date is August 17, 1892!


We also drove to Hot Springs, a small town a few miles south of the park. All of the historic downtown buildings are made of native sandstone and there is a nice trail along the Fall River right through town.

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It was a cute little town but there were very few people around, and it seems that these old “hot springs” towns we’ve visited have seen their heyday. Maybe the bathhouses will get more use when the Harley guys arrive next week.

Dental Update


Well, Jim did crack a tooth. It was one with a previous filling, and the dentist thinks he will have to do an onlay or a crown. Good news since he was dreading another extraction.The problem is they don’t have any openings next week, although they may be able to get him in next Thursday or Friday. So we are leaving tomorrow for the Badlands as planned and will come back here at the end of the week if he can get an appointment.

Fortunately he is not in pain unless he chews something hard. Our only problem may be that the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally starts the 9th, and it might be hard to find a place to camp. We’ll just have to see. He really wants this dentist to do the work since they have an in house lab and can do a crown in one visit, instead of getting a temporary and having to come back in a couple weeks. Hard to believe there would be such a state of the art dentist in a small town like Custer.

Friday, July 30, 2010

George S. Mickelson Trail, SD


We finally got to ride our bikes on the Mickelson Trail, a 109 mile converted former Burlington Northern rail bed that runs from Deadwood south to Edgemont. We started just north of Custer and rode 12 miles north to Hill City.

After a couple miles we passed by the Crazy Horse Memorial, which was started in 1948. So far only the head has been completed, which is 87 feet tall. The president’s heads on Mt. Rushmore are 60 feet, so if this thing ever gets finished, it will be massive.


The trail consists of crushed limestone and gravel, and was in excellent condition. There is a tunnel just past Crazy Horse, and from there we had about 8 miles of downhill. It was fun but we knew it wouldn’t be quite as much fun on the way back. We had lunch in Hill City and the return ride actually wasn’t too bad, just a lot slower. The scenery was pretty, as the trail runs along a stream most of the way. Unfortunately, it also parallels Hwy 385, so there was lots of traffic noise.


Yesterday we finished up the list of things we wanted to do to the rig, and today we were planning to go to Wind Cave National Park. Unfortunately, Jim thinks he cracked a tooth on those little crunchy things I put in our salad yesterday, so today he has a dentist appointment. Depending on what needs to be done, we may be staying in Custer longer than planned. He is not a very happy camper!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

More Hikes and Chores


Sunday we did one more hike in Custer State Park. This time we drove along 16A to Stockade Lake and hiked the 1.5 mile trail there. It was supposed to be moderate with views of the lake and mountains.The trees were so dense there were limited views, and I guess we were tired, because as we huffed and puffed our way up to the ridgeline, we both gave it a difficult rating. The Sylvan Lake area is much more scenic.

Along the same road is the State Game Lodge, one of the several lodges in the park. We stopped in to see the lobby, since President Coolidge used the lodge as his summer White House in 1927. It was rustic but elegant, and the original fireplaces made with the local rocks were beautiful. Custer State Park is very impressive, reminding us more of a national park than most other state parks we’ve visited.

Monday Jim drained and flushed the hot water heater and we finished washing and polishing the rig. Glad to have that out of the way.

We wanted to go biking along the Mickelson trail yesterday, but winds were 25mph and it looked like rain. Instead we drove back up the road going to Mt. Rushmore in the Black Hills National Forest and hiked at Horsethief Lake. There is a very nice campground there, and we enjoyed the trail. We turned off and walked a couple miles or so on the 111 mile Centennial Trail, the longest trail in the Black Hills National Forest. We walked along a creek, under the cool shade of pines and aspens, and admired lots of rocks.

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As we were getting in the car yesterday, we spotted this rabbit laying in front of the wheel. Don’t know if he was trying to commit suicide, but he finally ran off when Jim started the car. He’s been hanging around our site the whole time we’ve been here and is obviously used to people. What a cutie.


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Cathedral Spires Trail, Custer State Park


This is another beautiful trail in Custer State Park. The Cathedral Spires are a group of granite pillars located in the Needles area that have been designated a National Natural Landmark. Besides lots of interesting rock formations, we got to watch a few climbers along the way.


The trail map said this one was 1.5 miles and strenuous, but it seemed shorter. There were some difficult, steep, rocky areas, but it wasn’t as bad as the Little Devil’s Tower trail. There were no majestic views at the end, as the trail brings you to the base of the Cathedral Spires, but we enjoyed the rocks and other scenery.

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We had to go back through the narrow tunnel on our way home, and this time the tour bus was in front of us. Yes, he made it slowly through, again with a big audience. Cheap entertainment!


We passed right by Sylvan Lake, so I asked Jim if he would mind trying to find a parking place so we could walk around the mile long lake trail. I bribed him by letting him get an ice cream cone. Also the tour bus was in the parking lot and he wanted to speak to the driver. He said the bus is 96” wide and the tunnel is 100”. At the narrowest point the mirrors touch the sides. They make this run daily so it’s no big deal to the drivers. Must be fun for the passengers, though.

This has got to be one of the prettiest lakes we’ve seen, with all the huge rocks in and around it. And it was fun climbing up on them along the way.

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We’ve got one more day left on our Custer State Park pass, so today we are planning a hike in a different section of the park. Because of the elevation here, temperatures have been quite pleasant, unlike much of the country. And no mosquitoes. We did have severe thunderstorms several evenings, along with some small hail, but we survived unscathed.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Little Devils Tower Trail, Custer State Park


These are not very good photos today, as our resident photographer forgot to bring the camera (and I forgot to remind him). We did have the cell phone, so he got a few shots but they aren’t great.

The trail description said this was a difficult hike up to the top of Little Devils Tower, and they weren’t kidding. It was only 1.5 miles but since we gained 1000 feet in altitude, it was pretty steep the entire way, especially near the top where we had to do a lot of rock scrambling. Aside from that, it was our favorite hike so far in the park.

This is part of the actual trail.


You can see the blue blaze painted on the rocks to the right. Had it not been for these, we wouldn’t have found our way up..


We had beautiful views all the way up the trail, and spectacular scenery from the top.. Even better than Harney Peak.


The Cathedral Spires in the background. Our next hike.


When we finished, we decided to drive a little farther down the road, along Needles Highway. There are these huge pointed rocks jutting up along the road. This is the Eye of the Needle.


We did get some cheap entertainment watching an RV and a tour bus slowly drive through this tunnel in the rock. They had quite an audience, and both appeared to make it without scraping the sides, but it sure looked close. The bus driver got a big round of applause.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Custer State Park Wildlife Loop

We got the front and back of the Lazy Daze washed and polished yesterday, and last night decided to take a drive along the 17 mile Wildlife Loop Road in Custer State Park. We saw tons of deer, both white tail and mule deer, several pronghorns,  prairie dogs, and then the fun stuff.
We had read about the “begging burros”, descendants of pack animals that used to take people and supplies up to Harney Peak, and were hoping to see them on our drive. We came upon a few off the road, and watched this guy trying to feed them. The burros weren’t the ones begging. He practically had to shove the food in their faces.
Then a short distance down the road, we got to see the beggars in action. Of course they caused quite a traffic jam.
These two were heading our way and we didn’t bring any carrots.
They weren’t shy about poking their heads in the car to be sure.
I was looking at the one in Jim’s window and turned my head to see one in mine. When he realized there was no food to be had, he took a little break from  mooching to scratch an itch.
They were really cute, and the park does not forbid people from feeding them, as they do with all the other wild animals.
When we were finally able to get away, we encountered several other traffic jams due to all the bison in the road. The park is home to a herd of over 1,500 bison, many of which were completely oblivious to all the cars trying to get by them. It was actually a bit frightening at times, since they are so huge when you see them that close.
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This picture is out of focus but we did get to see several of them playing or fighting, not sure which. The scary thing was when they were done they would run out into the road.
It was a beautiful drive through the park, and an entertaining way to spend a couple hours.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Harney Peak Trail, Custer, SD


It was a cool day so we decided to make the climb to Harney Peak. At 7,242 feet it is the highest point east of the Rockies and west of the Pyrenees. The trailhead starts at the Sylvan Lake picnic area in Custer State Park, a beautiful spot, but crawling with people. We drove around the parking area several times before finding a spot, almost at Jim’s limit for waiting.


The trail is 3.5 miles one way to the peak, and since the starting elevation is 6,100, it is only 1,100 feet of climbing, which is not too bad. It was a nice steady climb through the woods with intermittent views of the mountains.


We were amazed at the number of people on the trail, especially families with young kids, and lots of overweight adults who didn’t look like they could walk one mile, let alone seven. Had to give them credit for trying, though, as we passed several who turned around long before the summit. The most uphill part came near the end, where the CCC built a fire tower in 1938, complete with stairs to reach it.


It was a great view from the tower. Too hazy for good photos, as it usually is.


The backside of Mount Rushmore is in the far center. There are lots of dead pine trees from the mountain pine beetle infestation. Spoils the scenery and we’ve heard it is even worse in some parts of Colorado.


It was a pretty quick trip back down the trail, but we forgot there was going to be a long stretch of uphill on the way down. We were tired and ready to sit down at the end. Can’t imagine how some of those other people felt.

Last night we went to the Buglin’ Bull Sports Bar (smoke-free!) and watched the Tour de France, which we’ve been missing the past couple of weeks. At least Lance was in the breakaway but he just couldn’t win the stage. I’m guessing he wishes he would have stayed retired from bike racing.