Thursday, June 7, 2012

Adventures in South Dakota!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012: on the road again and what a windy day!  The wind was from the northwest and kept pulling our slide awning out just enough to drive us crazy as we headed north to I-90 in southern Minnesota.  Once we turned west, no more problem.  We had stopped in Iowa Falls at the truck wash, so the rig and car were clean again after the gravel roads.

After pulling into the Yogi Bear Camp near Sioux Falls, SD, we got set up.  Tired after nearly 300 miles – more than we normally do!

The next morning, May 30th, we hopped in the car and headed to downtown Sioux Falls.  First stop: the prosecutor’s office.  John actually had two cousins working there!  One is a grand-daughter of John’s sole remaining aunt and the other is the daughter of one of John’s dad’s cousins.  If I’ve got this straight, one’s mom is the cousin of the other’s grandmother.  Confusing, huh?  But the really fun part was seeing the reaction when they realized they were related after working in the same office for several years!  It seems to us that past generations kept in touch with relatives much more easily because of living closer to each other.  Nowadays, everyone is so scattered out across the country that even first or second cousins don’t usually keep in contact.

We had interrupted their work long enough, so we headed over to see the falls that the city of Sioux Falls was named after.  Beautiful park and we enjoyed walking the paths and scrambling over the rocks.

Then we backtracked a little less than 50 miles and drove back to Minnesota to see Pipestone National Monument.  Another sticker for our National Parks Passport book!  This is pretty small compared to some of the National Parks, but we enjoyed watching this native American working on the local pipestone. 

Natives have been quarrying the pipestone from here since way before the 1700s and currently, between 30 and 40 permits are issued annually.  There are approximately 37 tribes (including a couple from Canada) who currently quarry here.

Many of the local buildings have been built from the local quartzite and have a similar color to the pipestone.  Here’s a link to the interesting history of this area:

On Thursday, May 31st, we pulled up stakes again and drove the 295 miles to that famous Americana icon, Wall Drug.  John had been here in 2009 with friend Curt and couldn’t wait to show me!  There was way more to see than I expected.  We mostly skipped the touristy trinket stores and spent more time looking at the historical pictures and info and had dinner at the Cactus Cafe.  We were parked at Sleepy Hollow Campground which was only a couple blocks from all the activity.

New month and time to settle in for more than a day or two…  After one last visit to Wall Drug and a short sightseeing trip to the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands Visitor Center down the street, Friday, the 1st of June found us about a hundred miles down the road at the KOA north of Hot Springs, SD.  Pretty, wooded campground and nice owners.  John had had computer issues when we were back in Iowa.  Best Buy there had replaced the hard drive, but it still didn’t work, so we opted to wait to get it fixed.  Since we were settled in for a week, we moseyed up to the Best Buy in Rapid City so they could get started on installing another hard drive.  On the way home, we took the alternate route through the eastern portion of Wind Cave National Park.  It was awesome seeing all the animals – especially the buffalo calves – out for their pre-bedtime stroll!

The next morning, bright and early on Saturday, June 2, we drove down to Krull’s Super Market in Hill City to do our first ever day tour with Discovery Tours.  Fun and a great way to get an overview of the Black Hills area, but probably not our cup of tea on a regular basis, although we certainly enjoyed the very nice lunch at the Custer State Park Game Lodge!  We were in a van with two other couples (both very nice) and made brief stops at the Mount Rushmore Memorial…

…the as-yet uncompleted Crazy Horse Memorial (on the day of the annual Volksmarch – if you enlarge the second picture you’ll probably be able to see lots of people standing on top of Crazy Horse’s “arm”)…

…the Needles Highway (where we coerced our driver into hanging out longer just to watch the large tour bus get through a VERY narrow tunnel – no motorhome trip through here for us!)…

…Sylvan Lake…

…and ended the day at Prairie Berry Winery for a wine tasting, where I – of course – was more interested in the flowers.

And, back at our campground after dinner, we enjoyed an amazing light show!

Sunday, June 3: Time to go explore Badlands National Park.  We entered from the south at the White River Visitor Center which is manned by the Oglala Lakota Sioux Tribe.  Across the road, we observed a Sioux round-up in progress.

Interesting tepee…

…but????  I know, these things don’t preserve very well, but it was still a little disappointing.

We weren’t as impressed with the Badlands as we thought we might be.  I think it might have had to do with the fact that we’ve already been to Zion, Arches and Canyonlands – all of which are way more colorful than here.  I’m sure late afternoon or early morning might have been more beautiful, but we were there in mid-day.

We did take a short hike, however, on the 3/4 mile Door Trail and enjoyed that.

Cute little bunny near the boardwalk as we neared the parking lot…

This young Bighorn Sheep posed for nicely for our camera!

We really enjoyed Mt. Rushmore on the tour we did last Saturday and didn’t get as much time there as we wanted, so on Monday June 4 we headed back: at our own pace this time!

We took our time wandering through the exhibits and then took the trail to the Native American village where we enjoyed visiting with a park ranger who made Native American flutes and played them pretty good, too!

On down the trail for more views…

…before we toured the studio of the creator and sculptor, Gutzon Borglum.  The history of this sculptor is pretty interesting.

Hot and kind of tired by now, we headed home by way of Custer State Park’s Wildlife Loop Road.
Pronghorn Antelope…

…“wild” burros…

…and, of course, the ever-present bison.

Time for a road trip!  On Tuesday, June 5th, we headed for the historic town of Deadwood.  We wandered around town for a bit before discovering something we’ve wished for for years: a totally non-smoking casino!  Didn’t end up staying long at the Silverado but the fresh air in there was awesome!  Now, if we’d only won a little money…

On to Spearfish Canyon.  This was probably one of the prettiest little stream/waterfalls we’ve ever seen.

We had a nice peaceful picnic lunch there and then drove farther down the narrow gravel road to see the site of the final scene in the movie “Dances with Wolves”.  Try as we might, we couldn’t quite picture how it looked in the movie.  Lots more vegetation now, I guess.

On into Wyoming where we visited Devil’s Tower National Monument.  Loved this place! 

We did the 1.3 mile Tower Trail and I could really understand why this place was, and still is, a sacred place for the native American peoples. June is supposed to be a voluntary climbing closure out of respect for the American Indian beliefs, but we saw some climbers anyway.  It looks totally different when viewed from various angles.

On the way home, we took in the lighting ceremony at Mount Rushmore.  It was amazing; the pictures don’t even begin to do it justice.

Waiting for dark…

The huge amphitheater was pretty much full by the time the program started.  They even asked all veterans to come to the stage for a very moving tribute.  Poor John, we were clear up at the top so he had to do all those stairs back up afterwards!

Long, long day and we were bushed by the time we got homeSmile

We didn’t venture far on Wednesday June 6th, as we drove the five and a half miles into Hot Springs.  Our goal was the Mammoth Site.  What an amazing place!  Gotta bring the grandsons here someday… 

This place was “discovered” in 1974 by earth-moving equipment preparing for a housing development.  The owner immediately stopped the work and brought in an expert who ultimately ended up being the director of this world-class research facility.  The visitor center is built right above the dig, so the tours are up close and personal.  To date, remains of 57 Columbian and 3 woolly mammoths have been discovered, along with other animals – including saber tooth tiger and several as-yet unidentified insect remains.

If you’re interested, check out this link: and if you have kids, check out the Jr. Paleontologist Program if you’re ever in the area.

Almost time to leave this beautiful area and we still haven’t toured Wind Cave, so on Thursday June 7th off we went.  This national park has been a favorite of ours for seeing wildlife and the cave was OK, but probably not our all-time favorite.  In fact, there wasn’t even much that was very photogenic down there…

Glad we didn’t have to enter through the original entrance…

Well, tomorrow we head further west.  We’ve really enjoyed the Black Hills and surrounding area and it seems odd that we never got out here all those years we lived in Iowa.

1 comment: