Friday, June 26, 2015

So far this spring has been one of the wettest ever recorded here in the Black Hills, .... just our luck ...
Fortunately I'm a kind of overcast-cool-weather loving gall (James not so much) so I'm good. I especially love fog, everything looks so mysterious ....


Rain, just like most of us, I can do without though, and man, did we get some (and than some, and than ... well, you get the picture)!
That's why, on one of the drier Saturdays this month, we drove about 80 miles south to visit The Badlands National Park, into the more desert-y, thus drier and sunnier, plains of South Dakota.

Just before you get there, in the town of Wall, you'll find the most well-known, family-friendly attraction of the Black Hills, the Wall Drug Store.

It's impossible to miss, since big billboards all along the freeway announce it's upcoming arrival, already for miles and miles before you get there:



In the 1930's, a pharmacist moved to Wall and opened up a shop during the Great Depression.  They struggled for several years, until his wife hit upon the idea that they should advertise on the highway that they offered "Free Ice Water."

'The rest is history', as they say .... and the offer still stands! 

The family-owned and run Wall Drug Store isn’t just any other drug store anymore – it draws two million visitors every year! 

 The 76,000 square foot attraction houses a cowboy-themed shopping mall filled with gift shops, restaurants, and plenty of photo opportunity with an amazing assortment of props and souvenirs:

The actual drug store, where it all begun, has been turned in a little museum.


And the restaurant still offers, besides free coffee, free donuts (!) to honeymooners, veterans, hunters, truck drivers, and priests.

We had lunch there before we headed out to the Badlands. Unfortunately, this was nothing to write about, and very pricey (for what you got). Too bad ...
All in all, we found it to be too much of a tourist trap, but funky enough to spent a little time stretching our legs, looking around and grab a bite to eat.

About 5 miles from Wall we entered the Badlands National Park at it's 'Pinnacle' entrance.

Described as a 'moon-scape' on earth, the rugged landscape suddenly breaks up the flat grassy plains of the prairies.
The Lakota gave this land its name, “Mako Sica,” meaning “land bad.”


It consists of 244,000 acres of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires blended with the largest protected mixed grass prairie in the United States.

This land has been so ruthlessly ravaged by wind and water that it has become picturesque. It's a wonderland of bizarre, colorful spires and pinnacles, massive buttes and deep gorges. 

The Badlands Wilderness protects 64,144 acres (100.225 sq mi; 25,958 ha) of the park as a designated wilderness area and is the site of the reintroduction of the black-footed ferret (in 1994), the most endangered land mammal in North America.
Being nocturnal animals, they are rarely seen by the visiting public.

The 40 mile 'Loop' that leads you through the Park has plenty of turn-offs and overviews, with parking that allow you to walk out into the formations or just enjoy the stunning views!

Halfway this loop, you'll find the Ben Reifel Visitor Center.

As always, the center gave us an excellent overview of the Park's very interesting history.
In addition to it's amazing landscape it also preserves the world’s greatest fossil beds of animals from the Oligocene Epoch of the Age of Mammals. The skeletons of ancient camels, three-toed horses, saber-toothed cats and giant rhinoceros-like creatures are among the many fossilized species found here.
Doesn't this look like an ancient castle at the top, like something out of "Lord of the Rings'?

As you can see, I couldn't stop making pictures, there was something spectacular around every corner!

One particular area towards the end showed a lot more colors in it's rock layers.

The purple and yellow is shale, the tan and gray is sand and gravel, the red and orange, iron oxides and the white is volcanic ash.
The pictures don't do it justice ... just gorgeous ...

We spent a total of about 2 hrs, just driving half of the loop and stopping at almost all turn-offs. 
Unfortunately, we didn't see too much wildlife, other than some prairie dogs, small birds and insects ...


Big Bumble Bee ...

This is the only place in South Dakota that you might see these .... fortunately, we didn't ...

After 20 miles of the loop, we left the park and turned onto the I-44, back towards Rapid City, which leads you smack through the middle of the Buffalo Gap National Grassland.


This second largest National Grassland surrounds the Badlands on all sides and basically consists of ... wait for it ... grass!


In it's own way it's quite beautiful, especially if you have some cloudy skies. Wide open prairie with windblown grasses ...


Some wildflowers:


It's amazing how late spring is coming this year, even here ...

One lonely hill:

 And an, ominous looking, developing storm in the distance:

Fortunately, we kept it dry that day, and after stocking up on groceries at Walmart in Rapid city and dinner at a close-by Chinese buffet (we love those buffets!) we got home around 8 pm.

Phew! Quite a long day, but well worth it. So far we really like this State, lots to see and do! 
And much more to come of course. Until next time!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

On the schedule for last weekend, if the weather was going to be nice, was a trip to Mount Rushmore. 
There's of course no way you can stay in the Black Hills and not visit this most famous symbol of the USA.
Well, the weather turned out to be gorgeous, so we set out early to drive the 50 miles south to Keystone, the town closest to the monument.

This time around, we took the fastest route down, along the I-385, but previously, when we drove down to Custer National Park, we'd taken the Iron Mountain Road and, as promised, I'll include the pictures of that beautiful drive here.

Known for its “pigtail” bridges, climbing 17 miles from Custer State Park to the entrance of Mount Rushmore National Memorial, you’ll wind your way over stacked loops of wooden bridges and through one-lane tunnels. 

One of the 'pigtails'

Iron Mountain Road is part of a highway trilogy—along with Custer State Park’s Wildlife Loop and the Needles Highway. The three together are called the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway, a route that was proclaimed one of America’s top 10 scenic drive by the Society of American Travel Writers.



Great care was taken not to disturb the landscape, and some sections of the road actually divide into one-lane, one-way ribbons that wind their way through mixed pine and deciduous forest.

The road is famous for its scenic, one-lane tunnels:

We were definitely pushing the width and height limits ......

What makes this road really unique and memorable, is that the one- lane tunnels were built and aimed specifically so, to showcase Mt. Rushmore in the distance.
They frame the Memorial like a picture frame and are a spectacular site.

It was our first view of the sculpture and it couldn't have been a more 'fitting' one! 

So exciting to see them 'life'!

We slowly wound our, very windy, way to the 5,445-foot summit. 
All in all you encounter 314 curves, 14 switchbacks, 2 splits, 3 pigtails and 3 tunnels. All deliberate 'features' of the design that forces you to slow down to 35 miles an hour. 

A small parking lot at the top allows visitors to get out from behind the wheel and enjoy a panoramic view of the mountains ....

And all the way down the other side, you'll catch glimpses of those 4 most famous presidents ...

OK, that was than, and only from a distance,  ...

Fast forwarding to the here and now, (right, that also being a week ago already) and after driving through the tiny town of Keystone, we were almost there ....

The road leading to the monument is such that you you can see it get larger and larger as you approach. Somehow, this adds to the excitement!


Although admission to the monument is free, the parking will cost you $11. People complain that it's expensive but we thought it was very reasonable for 'what you get'.
I find all of the national parks and monuments very well done and this was no exception. The area around the monument is meticulously maintained and very attractive and the monument itself is of course just astounding.

The entrance

All of the states are represented with flags, that lead up the pathway to the carving.

One for the scrapbook ..

The monument, as seen from the viewing terrace, is as impressive as you would imagine. Just awesome, what can you say ....

Led by the sculptor Gutzon Borglum, the carving of the four gigantic carved sculptures depicting the faces of U.S. Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, began in 1927 and was finally completed in 1941. 

Over that time period, some 400 workers erected the sculpture under dangerous conditions, removing a total of 450,000 tons of rock in order to create the enormous carved heads, each of which reached a height of 60 feet (18 meters).

The museum in the bottom of the viewing veranda is very interesting,
and the movie there is a must see, in order to know the history. We always go and watch them, they're usually well worth it.

I never knew that in the original design, the four presidents were meant to be represented from the waist up, but insufficient funding brought the carving to a halt after completion of their faces.
As it is, the face of Lincoln isn't even completely finished, his right ear is missing and the top line of his hair is not finished.

Nevertheless, it was an absolutely spectacular visit and one we can check off our bucket-list! Been there, done (seen) that .....

For lunch, we drove into Keystone, about 1 mile from the monument. It's a teeny, tiny, western themed town (what else is new), catering to Mt Rushmore's visitors, who practically have to drive through it, in order to get there.

Peggy's place served us a tasty Cuban Sandwich and an incredibly delicious sausage-cheese soup. Oh my, it was out of this world ...!

We spent the afternoon shopping at Walmart in Rapid city (while we were in the neighborhood) and dropping into CampingWorld to pick up a few items for the RV, before calling it a day, and making our way back home to Lead.

Like I said, the weather was gorgeous, and even the next morning, when we went to play a round of golf at the Lead Country Club, which is only a couple of miles away from where we're staying.
Very convenient, and a fun little course. We've become members for the season and hope to be able to play it a lot ....

Let's hear it for a dry(er) summer!