Exploring the Badlands – Mysterious and Beautiful

Badlands National Park in South Dakota is a wondrous delight and truly a spectacle of nature.  This park features rugged scenery of layered and weathered rock formations, buttes, steep canyons and towering spires.  Over many, many years, water has cut through the rock layers carving fantastic shapes and eroding the rock.  A variety of colors can be seen in the Badlands which also adds to the immense beauty.

We had a three day stay in the Badlands area.  From the weather forecast I feared we were in for cloudy, rainy weather most of the time.  After checking in to our camp site several miles from the Badlands, we drove over to the park to drive the scenic roads before the weather turned wet.  The first order of business though was lunch at Cedar Pass Lodge located at the park entrance.  I was looking forward to an Indian Taco which is a specialty served here.  For those that are not in the know, the bread dough for the taco is deep fried and puffs to a golden brown.  At this restaurant they called it a Sioux Indian taco and the bread is topped with refried beans, buffalo meat, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, olives, salsa and sour cream.

When we were done eating, I was so pleased to see that the sky was clearing and turning blue.  We had a beautiful drive on the park loop road, stopping at all the overlooks, walking on a few trails and exploring the eroded landscape.  With the clearing skies, we were treated to far ranging views of stretching for miles.

The area in the picture below was one of my favorite stops.  I really liked the pink and mustard colored hues together!

The Badlands has extensive prairie grass which supports an array of wildlife.  During our drive we saw deer, big horn sheep, prairie dog towns, pronghorn antelope and even a coyote carrying off a poor prairie dog for supper.  Below is a picture of a group of bighorn sheep near the road.

The next day found us enjoying a quiet day in our trailer with no trips planned to explore.  It was rainy and a perfect time for catching up on emails, writing blog posts, researching on the internet places to visit and stay, texting family and friends.   Unfortunately, due to the remote location and staying in a campground that was down in a river valley, internet and phone service was intermittent at best.  This was the worst connection we had experienced since being on the road.  Although we were disappointed to be without technology for a few days, we used our time to do other things we enjoyed and it was probably a good break for us to be cut off from the internet.  It was nice to do some walks (damp and chilly) around our beautiful and large campground filled with cottonwood and other mature trees.  We also had a chance to do some reading, knitting and cooking up our meals.  Some how the days go by so fast that we are never bored.

This was the most remote location of any place we have stayed so far.  The closest town to our campground is named Interior and boasts a population of about 94 people.  The town has from what we could see a motel, campground, a church, school, a store, a few bars and to our relief, one gas station.  The gas station also has a mini store and several tables inside.  This place has small town charm that I love to come across on trips.  We had a little chat with the lady who owns the Cowboy Corner.  She said she enjoys running the place.  When I mentioned that I had read that meals were served she said she fixes a daily special at lunch, chicken fried steak on Friday nights and prime rib on Saturday nights.  She also said that in the mornings she will “rustle up” some biscuits and gravy for anyone who stops by wanting them.  Below is a picture of Mark at the Cowboy Corner pumps.

We were able to have another half day exploring the Badlands before leaving the area.  Although it was gray and cloudy, we enjoyed seeing some different areas of the park and I got to get in a little wandering.  The park has a great trail called the “Cliff Shelf Trail” which has an elaborate set of stairways that you climb up to the side of a large butte.  From the top there are expansive views and you get to walk back through a lovely juniper forest.  Below is a picture of Mark enjoying the views.

I will close with our mysterious cabbage story.  Before coming to our campsite near the Badlands we bought some food including a cabbage.  Getting up on our first morning Mark found the cabbage on the floor next to his side of the bed.

I was very surprised as I remember clearly putting that cabbage in the refrigerator with the rest of the vegetables.  How did it end up rolling into the bedroom and us not seeing it before we went to bed the night before?  My thought was that the cabbage had fallen out of the refrigerator while we were driving here and somehow escaped our notice the evening before.  It was mysterious though that nothing else had fallen out and the refrigerator door was shut when we checked the trailer while setting up our camp.  Mark said he doubted the cabbage fell out, so the mystery of the rolling cabbage remains.  The cabbage was subsequently cooked with a few other vegetables in our handy Instant Pot.  I have to say I like cooked cabbage!

Thanks as always for reading.  In my next blog we are on our way to the state of Nebraska!

Lighting Ceremony at Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore can probably be considered South Dakota’s most popular tourist attraction.  The creator of Mount Rushmore, Sculptor Gutzon Borglum selected four presidents because from his perspective, they represented the most important events in the history of the United States.  George Washington was the father of our new country and laid the foundation of American democracy.  He was chosen to be the most prominent figure on the mountain.  Thomas Jefferson, our third president  was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence and purchased the Louisiana Territory from France which doubled the size of our country.  He represented the growth of the United States.  Theodore Roosevelt is known for the development of the United States as during his presidency America experienced rapid industrial growth.  President Lincoln unified the nation during the Civil War and therefore represents the preservation of our country.

The building of Mount Rushmore began in 1927 and was completed in 1941 with nearly 400 men and women involved in this undertaking.  The work could be dangerous as 90% of the mountain was carved using dynamite.  Men would cut and set charges of specific size to remove precise amounts of rock.  Since I have a great fear of heights, I am amazed that these workers could endure hanging in seats lowered down the 500 foot face of the mountain by steel cables to work on the faces that were 60 feet in height.  Although the work was difficult, no one was killed during construction.

When I heard that Mount Rushmore had a nightly lighting ceremony I was excited to see this.  I had seen Mount Rushmore many years before, but not at night under lights.   Although he had never seen the mountain before at all, Mark did not share my enthusiasm.  Our last night in the Black Hills we attended the ceremony held in a very large amphitheater below the mountain.  The ceremony consisted of a ranger talk and a film regarding the making of the monument and reviewing the reasons for choosing each of the four presidents.  When the film ended, the monument was lit and it was thrilling to see the four faces shining in the dark.

This was not the end of the ceremony though.  The ranger invited all veterans and active military to come to the stage at the bottom of the amphitheater and participate in the flag lowering ceremony.  In the picture below, I am standing second from the right.

We slowly made our way out of the park, relishing the view of the lighted mountain a few more times as we walked to the parking area.  One of the most memorable views was Mount Rushmore framed with the walk way of the state flags.  It was truly a beautiful sight.  Mark wound up being very impressed with the monument and ceremony.

As we drove back to our camp in the town of Custer, we came to the view of Washington’s profile that can be seen from the road and an adjacent parking lot.  We pulled over and I gazed in awe at Washington’s face framed by tall rock pillars with a clear sky full of stars shining above his head.  I tried to take a picture but it did not turn out well in the dark so I have included below a picture taken when we drove by during the day.

I would like to close with a photo from our campground in Custer one evening.  It is always a delight to end the day sitting in front of a roaring fire.

It was hard to leave this lovely area after four nights but the open road was calling and we needed to continue our trek to finish our South Dakota stay in the Badlands area and then on into Nebraska.


Three Memorable Drives in the Black Hills of South Dakota

On our second full day in the Black Hills we took to the road to travel the more popular and scenic routes through Custer State Park.  I had been to this park many years ago during a road trip with my sister Barbara, daughter Shannon and niece Kyla.  I thought Custer Park was so beautiful at that time, so I really looked forward to seeing it again.  Custer State Park is known for wildlife and on that first trip we were looking forward to seeing as much wildlife as possible, especially the bison.  After driving for awhile and not seeing any bison, we were starting to lose hope when we drove up a hill and encountered a large herd of perhaps a hundred crossing the road right in front of us.  It was an amazing and magical sight that I have not forgotten since it was my best encounter with such a large number of these magnificent beasts.  This time we did have close up views of a couple of loners but the herd was up on a hill away from the road.  We were lucky to encounter this guy right next to the road.

Custer State Park is South Dakota’s first and largest state park and is named after Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer.  The park features a variety of terrain including rolling hills of prairie grass, forests, lakes, streams and granite spires.  One of the more popular drives is the wildlife tour route where it is possible to see bison, antelope, bighorn sheep, prairie dog towns, deer, elk, wild burros and mountain goats.  On this recent trip our favorite animal encounter was with the wild burros.

They are friendly and come right up to cars, sticking their heads in windows.  People get out of their cars to pet the burros and visit with them.  I was very taken with this little baby burro, the only baby in the crowd when we drove up.

After completing the wildlife tour route we headed for Iron Mountain Road, completed in 1933 and considered a feat of engineering due to the terrain that it crosses including many mountain curves, switchbacks and tunnels that had to be blasted from rock.  The designer of this road created the tunnels so that you could view Mount Rushmore with the four presidents in the distance as you drive through.  I hope you can spot Rushmore in the picture below as we follow another car through a tunnel.

There were several different overlooks we could stop at with more wonderful views of Mount Rushmore and the hills and forests of the park.   It was so windy the day we visited the overlooks that we felt we would be blown off the cliff!

After this road we tackled the Needles Scenic Highway, known for the tall, thin, granite spires that the road passes through.  This road is even more narrow, steep and winding than Iron Mountain Road.  We drove through several tunnels with the last tunnel, Needles Eye, the narrowest and most interesting.  There are fantastic high rock formations around the tunnel area including a rock spire that looks like a sewing needle with an eye.   We stopped before entering the tunnel and I walked through it so that I could take pictures of Mark driving through.  Since the tunnel is so narrow, I had to walk quickly to avoid any cars coming from the opposite direction!  As Mark entered the tunnel, I could hear scraping sounds.  It turns out that our truck mirrors were hitting the sides of the tunnel!  They were a little dinged up but at least not broken.

This road was completed in 1922 at a time when vehicles were much smaller and could better accommodate two vehicles.  The size of our truck made it difficult but it was an exciting and very scenic drive, one of my all time favorite roads.  Well, I thought it was exciting.  Mark at the end was trying to recover his nerves and reported he probably would not look forward to driving that road again!

As always, thanks for reading and I will post more about our South Dakota travels soon!

A Day in Rapid City, South Dakota

The day after we settled in our new campsite near the small town of Custer in the Black Hills, we drove to Rapid City to take care of business.  Part of our reason for coming to South Dakota was to change our state residency so we had several stops to make with the first to pick up our mail at our forwarding headquarters.  This was the first time we had picked up mail since moving out of our house several weeks before.  Mark has talked about the reason for changing state residency in a previous post so I will not elaborate further on the subject.  Our next visit was to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).   I am not sure what the DMV is like in most cities, but in Modesto it was a dreaded task to think about visiting the office there.  Without an appointment, you most likely faced a few hours waiting with people milling about both inside and out.  Even with an appointment it was still not pleasant going through the process.  So with that being said, I was not looking forward to the Rapid City DMV since we did not have an appointment.

Our Rapid City DMV experience was much different than we thought it would be.  We found a very small DMV office away from the downtown that was not crowded and had a relaxed atmosphere with helpful, friendly staff.  After the necessary paperwork, eye chart reading and photo, we were given our new South Dakota driver’s licenses and our California driver’s licenses were collected.

After finishing at the DMV we headed downtown to the Treasurer’s Office to get our South Dakota license plates.  Once again the line was short with plenty of staff.  We had a very pleasant person helping us and the experience was relatively quick and painless.   We now had South Dakota driver’s licenses and license plates.  We were official South Dakota residents!  Our next goal was to get our auto insurance squared away.  We were insured through AAA which does not insure full time RVers, so we had to make a switch.  Mark contacted the AAA office and spoke with a helpful representative who agreed to see us right a way even though we did not have an appointment.  He was able to set us up with a Progressive full time RV policy.  He spent perhaps an hour and a half with us patiently explaining and going over everything in spite of us just popping in.

The business part of our day done, we headed to the Mount Rushmore Black Hills Gold Factory, a place I visited on a different road trip many years ago with my sister, daughter and niece.  On that trip we took the factory tour to see how the jewelry was made and I bought a necklace, a unique souvenir.  A year or two ago someone broke into our house and although the intruder took very little, he did make off with most of my jewelry (which was not worth a great deal).  I wanted to see about getting another Black Hills necklace on this trip.  After finding a beautiful necklace which is quite different from my last one, we ate lunch and decided to check out  downtown Rapid City.

We soon discovered that Rapid City is the “City of Presidents.”  Life-size bronze statues of all the American Presidents are placed along the city’s streets and sidewalks.  It appeared as we walked along that they were often on the corners.  It was fun checking them out and trying to guess which president it was before getting close and reading the name listed on each one.  I have to admit that I am not good at recognizing many of them, especially some of our earlier presidents!  This project began in 2000 to honor the legacy of the American presidency with each of the statues privately funded.  Here are a few pictures of some of of the statues we came across.  I wish we could have seen more.  Below are George Washington, Zachary Taylor and Calvin Coolidge.

Since I am mentioning the president statue project, I wanted to make a comment about the patriotism I have seen since coming to South Dakota.  There are numerous billboards and signs showing support and honor to the armed forces and the local police departments.   When I called to make a reservation for our RV site in Custer, I was asked if we were military or veterans.  I explained that Mark and I had been in the army but it had been many, many years ago.  The owner said that was fine, they would give us a 10 percent discount on our stay.  I have been out of the military for approximately 36 years and don’t recall ever being offered a discount.   Later on in our stay we attended a nighttime lighting ceremony at Mount Rushmore.  It was a very patriotic ceremony and at the end they invited all veterans and military that were attending that night to come to the stage and participate in a flag lowering ceremony.   Although patriotism and appreciation for our military can be seen all over the U.S., it just seems more obvious here.

President statues were not the only works of art that we saw in downtown Rapid City.   We came upon the neatest alley called “Art Alley.”  It was covered with graffiti murals on the walls of the tall brick buildings and even the dumpsters.  A woman who worked in one of the buildings came out to a dumpster and told me that the artwork changes periodically.  I read that artists just have to get approval from the city before they start painting.  I thought it was a very cool place to view some creative and colorful modern art.  Here is a picture of just one section of the alley:

When visiting a town or city there are three kinds of businesses I hope to find:  A really good bakery, an ice cream shop and book store.  I was in luck on two counts in Rapid City.  There was an excellent ice cream shop that created their own delicious, homemade ice cream.  They have made such a large variety of flavors that a poster on one wall of the shop lists dozens of creations.  I chose the honey lavender (I am a big fan of lavender flavored anything).  Perhaps I should have tried something really different and had the dill pickle ice cream?

Close to the ice cream shop I came upon a cute book store that was perfect for a quick browsing.  I really liked this chair on the upper level, especially the saying near the bottom of the chair, “Sit and Read a Book.”  I would love owning that chair but it definitely would not fit in our trailer!

One of Mark’s favorite stores to browse are game stores and he found one right near the book store so he was happy too.  Thanks for reading and in the next blog I will continue with more South Dakota adventures!

Why Rapid City?

We finished up in Evanston and headed on to Casper for a few days.  The pic above is Beth coloring by the river in Casper after a hard day Exploring.  Even the hardiest Explorers need a little down time.  I’ll let her talk about the stay.

From Casper we drove on out of Wyoming and finally made it in to South Dakota and are staying in the small, but touristy town of Custer in the Black Hills just outside of Rapid City.

Why Rapid City?  I’ll explain a little.  I often see articles on the internet about the best places to retire.  California is not on that list.  California doesn’t show much love to retirees or retirees on the road.  There are other states that do things like not taxing retirement income to help retirees.  Some states also show some love for people on the move, like Explorer Beth and her driver.  There are three in particular, Texas, Florida, and South Dakota that full time retired travelers most choose.  Beth and I picked South Dakota.

South Dakota has very simple rules to become a resident.  We can go take care of it tomorrow after staying only one night in the state.  We will get South Dakota driver’s licenses and register the truck and trailer in the state.  We have also set up with a mail forwarding service that will handle all our mail.  South Dakota even releases you from jury duty if you are a traveling resident.  And of course not paying California tax will save us a lot of money.

There’s a little more to it, but in a nutshell that is why we headed here and will start our wandering from here in a few days.  From here it will really be where ever Explorer Beth wants to go.  Right now it looks like from the Black Hills we will move a little southeast to the Badlands.  From there probably south in to Nebraska.  Who knows?

I hope this helped a little with our saga.  Beth is busily typing away across the table so look for more from her soon!  I’ll sneak a pic.

Thanks for reading!