September 8-15, 2018
I am in love with South Dakota! Grab and cup of coffee and settle in, this post is long! We made it to three national parks, a state park and a national forest. We watched shows, ate out dinners, played golf, camped in the tent and hiked some great trails. We decided to make this our ‘fall break’ from school because there is so much to do this week, grandma was in town and we are ahead of schedule in school work.
We stayed at American Buffalo RV Resort just outside of Rapid City on US Hwy 16. They have very sweet owners that just took over in March. We had to rush there because of how dark the park gets at sunset and the fact that they won’t park you in your spot after 7:00 pm. We made it right at 7:00pm. Chris went to go pick up Francey from the airport while I set up camp.
The girls and I camped outside this week because the dark skies were gorgeous and the weather was perfect for camping.
We had fun playing putt putt at the campground.
Our Jacks decided not to work so we spent the week trying to get a new motor and leaning to the left.
We did find a place that could order the motor but there was a part that was stuck that Chris had a hard time getting out. We left this spot with a motor in a box. Hopefully, he can get it fixed next week.
Wind Cave National Park
Wind Cave National Park is the 6th oldest national park. It is considered a sacred place for the Native Americans so in 1903 Theodore Roosevelt created it a NP.
Under the vast prairie lands is one of the longest and most complex cave systems in the world. Above ground you can see bison, elk and prairie dogs, below ground you can see special cave formations, like box works.
Wind Cave was an hour from our RV park but so worth it! The only way to visit the caves are with the guided tours and are on a first come first serve basis. Depending on the time of year you visit there are several different tours. Each one costs $10-$12, unless you have a Senior Pass (half off) or the Every Kid in a Park (free).
We tried to enjoy our picnic lunch while dodging bees then went on the Natural Entrance Tour. This tour had about 300 stairs and lasted an hour and 15 minutes (2/3 mile). This one took us to the middle level.
Then we took the Garden of Eden tour which was only 1/3 mile and lasted an hour with 150 stairs. This one took us to the upper level.
We were starving after this so we headed to Hill City and ate at Desperado’s. We celebrated Francey’s birthday with a free cheesecake. This building is the oldest hand-hewn log building in South Dakota. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.
Even though it was Francey’s birthday…she brought gifts for us!
Custer State Park
Custer State Park is right next to Wind Cave. There is a herd of 1300 bison that roam this park. Did you know that the Bison is a walking Walmart? Every part of this animal is used, provided food, clothing, shelter, tools and weapons. Even the bladder is used as a water pouch.
Gold was first discovered in 1874 near the city of Custer.
Ever since I was in 5th grade and chose to do a report on South Dakota, I’ve wanted to see Mount Rushmore and the Badlands. I squealed like a school girl as we drove up the hill to the entrance and I saw it for the first time.
They charge $10 to park ($5 for seniors) for an annual pass and surprisingly do not accept the national park passes.
Gutzon Borglum, along with 400 workers, carved the 60 foot faces of four United States Presidents into the side of Mount Rushmore from 1927-1941. These are my favorite presidents. They four men played an integral role in the birth, expansion, development and preservation of our great nation.
Gutzon Borglum also sculpted the carving on Stone Mountain, GA. We have been to this a few times when we lived in Georgia, so this was a great connection.
I was sad that the presidential trail was closed from the Youth Exploration area to the Sculptors Studio so we could only explore part of the trial. You do get a closer view point of the carvings from this section of the trail.
We had a great view for dinner! We stayed for the night program and lighting at 8:30pm. I highly recommend! They did a very patriotic program which was a perfect way for us to end 9-11-18.
Dinosaur Park is a free attraction established in 1936. Once you climb the 100 stairs you get a 100 mile view of Rapid City and the 7 concrete steel dinosaur statues. It’s a great way to experience the size of the dinosaurs that roamed South Dakota during the late Cretaceous Period. The girls had fun climbing on them. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Not far from the park, dinosaur tracks have been found.
Chris played at The Golf Club at Redrock. It’s the #1 public golf course in South Dakota.
The old Bob Ingersoll Mine
You have to drive through Keystone to get to Mount Rushmore. One day we had met a lady, with two boys about the girls age, in the parking lot of the Journey Museum (see information further in the post). She stoped us to ask us if we wanted to pick out some prairie agates (the state’s rock) from her car. If a stranger asks you come to their car or candy or a puppy you should refuse, but free prairie agates- indeed you should trust the sweet mom. Ha! After chatting with her for a few minutes I discovered she and I are cut from the same mold. She told us about a cool hike to an old abandoned mine and mill near Keystone. She said it was about a mile of rocky uphill gradient so just the girls and I dove out to find and hike it. So apparently a company used to take people up there on tours but no longer- it was a perfect quiet hike. We didn’t see a soul and got to explore without ‘restrictions’ which is exciting. They mined lithium, beryllium, and mica. There is a ton of mica all along the hike. I guess it’s kind of a secret so if you are interested the directions are: From the stop light in Keystone, drive 2 miles down Old Hill city rd, once we passed K Bar S lodge and Kemp’s Camp on right and then Echo rd on the left, we pulled over to a small pull out on the right. The hike was a little over a mile up hill on rocky terrain.
The Main Street Square, in downtown Rapid City, has a beautiful interactive fountain. Rapid City might be the most patriotic city in America. They have life-sized bronze statues of our nation’s first 43 presidents on all the street corners in the downtown area.
We had dinner at Que Pasa’s and browsed a quaint bookstore before hitting the fountains where the girls got soaked.
Walk of Presidents
Journey Museum Learning Center tells the history of the Black Hills, including its geology, archaeology and people. They even have a scavenger hunt which helps keep kids focused. We learned fun native America games and loved the dark sky exhibit. Francey and I did a wine tasting in the gift shop. Yep, wine tasting in a gift shop- never done that before. We tried Red Ass rhubarb and some other fruit wines.
Geographic Center of the Nation
In Belle Fourche (pronounced ‘Bell Foosh’) there is a 21 ft compass rose monument made of South Dakota granite that you can take pictures with denoting the geographic center of the nation. This is just the location of the monument because the true center is on private property. There is also center of the 48 contiguous states in Lebanon, Kansas.We met a family of 4 that were running 6 half marathons in 6 days in 6 different cities.
They have a cool old log cabin on the property that you can explore.
The actual geographic center of the nation, which includes all 50 states is located about 20 miles north of this one. Of course we had to drive out there also!
From Belle Fourche, drive 13 miles north on hay 85, turn left onto Old Hay 85 and drive 8 more miles until you see the flag pole in the middle of a pasture on your right. The owners allow anyone to walk out and take pictures.
I had fun taking pictures in the middle of this prairie.
On our drive back to the RV park we drove through Sturgis- home to an annual motorcycle rally that draws hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world.
We stepped back into the days of the Wild West as we entered Deadwood. This city is a National Historic Landmark because it showcases how it was to live back in during the goldrush of the 18070’s. They replay the murder of Wild Bill Hickok daily. Do you know where the Deadman’s Hand of Aces and Eight’s comes from? Wild Bill was holding this hand when he was shot to death.
We found this….Adams House- maybe we will just move in- I’m sure we are related somewhere down the line.
Tatanka- Kevin Costner has a tribute to the Bison and northern plains people on the land that was used to film Dancing with Wolves. This was somewhere we had not researched and set out to see so we arrived close to closing time therefore we didn’t stay and explore.
There is a tower on top of Mount Roosevelt that Teddy Roosevelt’s best friends built for him. I had see this tower on Instagram and really wanted to find but didn’t research it so when we were driving out to Deadwood and I saw the sign for Mount Roosevelt I quickly turned and headed up the mountain with no cell service and just followed signs. We found it!
Upon coming to a fork in the road, we had to decide which way to go… in a yellow wood. We were reminded of the Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken” that we had recently studied.
The girls each found painted rocks on this hike and we tried to find a geocache with no luck.
We think we saw Devils Tower from there.
We got a little lost after Rapid City when we lost cell service and couldn’t get gps to work. We ended up driving the Black Hills national forest- it was such a unexpected lovely drive. They are called the Black Hills, because when traveling from the east, the evergreens and peaks appear black.
In 1939, Henry Standing Bear, asked a sculptor to create a memorial depicting his cultures heroes. The Lakota warrior Crazy Horse sitting on his horse is the imagine that Korczak Ziolkowski envisioned when he started carving this mountain in the Black Hills back in 1948. He carved it alone and then with help of his family. This is why it is still being carved 70 years later. His head is 87.5 feet high (higher than the presidents on Mount Rushmore) When it is completed, it will be the world’s largest mountain carving, 563 feet high and 641 feet long.
They charge $30 for a car of 4 or more people or $12 each. It cost extra to take a bus tour to the base. The VC is open until 8 and the lightshow is at 8:30pm. We had planned to eat dinner upon arriving at 7pm but the hostess was so rude and said that she couldn’t serve us. We headed over for snacks and that lady was rude also- but at least we were able to get some sort of food. I don’t recommend eating there but do recommend the laser show.
We wished we could have been here on September 30th for the annual Volksmarch, a 10K hike to the top.
The Buffalo Gap National Grasslands surrounds the Badlands National Park. The drive out the North unit of the Badlands took about an hour and a half.
Badlands National Park
We stopped at the Ben Reifel VC to get maps, advice and junior ranger books. This park is 244,000 acres of buttes, pinnacles, spires, and canyons.
We drove the Badlands Loop State Scenic Byway where we stopped at a few small hikes. The loop would take about 30 miles to drive without stopping.
I loved Door Trail because after the boardwalk section, you are allowed to explore at your own risk among the badlands. We walked Fossil Exhibit trail and had a taco picnic dinner bundled up at a loving table with panoramic views.
I really enjoyed watching the colors come alive in the layers of formations and canyons.
We saw bison, bighorn sheep and pronghorn antelope.
Signs, Signs, Signs…Block up the scenery…wasting my time. Well these lyrics must have been written while the band was driving though South Dakota on Highway 90. But these signs weren’t a waste of time for the Husteads, it saved their business.
In 1936, the struggling drug store in the tiny town of Wall found a way to get guest to come to their store. The Husteads put signs out on the highway advertising Free Water to all those driving to see the newly built Mount Rushmore or even out to Yellowstone. It worked! They have grown from a small pharmacy to a popular tourist attraction that can draw up to 20,000 people on a hot summer day in July.
The donuts pair well with the Free Water or their cup of coffee for a nickel. When the United States Air Force operated the Minuteman missile silos east of Wall, the Hustead family offered free coffee and donuts to the service personnel as they traveled to and from Ellsworth Air Force Base near Rapid City. Wall Drug honors the men and women in the armed services by providing them free coffee and donuts to this day.
It’s more than just a Drug store with Free Water… there is even a church inside the complex.
There is so much to do in the Black Hills, we should have planned two weeks!
Playing ‘Shut Your Mouth’ is always a good time!