Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Black Hills of South Dakota

Rugged wilderness, scenic byways, breath-taking stone mountains, rolling hills with magnificent bison, and small valley towns describes the area known as the Black Hills.  Our travels brought us to the area to see the splendor of Mount Rushmore but we found ourselves in awe of the captivating natural landscape.  The radius around Mount Rushmore is filled with small towns waiting to attract summer tourists and provide them with all their vacation needs.  Fortunately we were there on the shoulder season.

We stayed at the Rafter J Bar Ranch RV Park which was the largest private rv park we have ever seen.  There was plenty of room to walk Spirit, but even better was the neighboring National Forest where we spent hours walking the logging roads, looking for mule deer, and saddened by the forest destruction caused by the mountain pine beetle epidemic.  And Spirit ran free.
Custer State Park is South Dakotas first and largest state park, established in 1919.
Mount Rushmore was spectacular but we wanted to see more of the natural landscape so we planned a day in Custer State Park.  The park is filled with some of the most picturesque landscapes - dense stands of Ponderosa pines rise grandly to the sky, the reflections of rugged rock outcroppings paint a mirrored picture in clear blue water, and rolling hills begin to move with roaming bison.  It wasn’t long on our drive through the park that an abrupt braking motion was applied when we saw the picturesque Sylvan Lake.  We were not content sitting in the car and marveling at the view.  We just had to get out and walk around the lake.  What was supposed to be a quick, easy walk around the lake turned out to be much more than that.  We found a spur trail that led us down a canyon (or so we called it) and over boulders.  The views were stunning and soon we lost track of time as we marveled at the crevasse we were in.  The decision to turn back was made when the boulders were too big for Spirit to navigate and I was pushing and pulling her over the mammoth rocks.  The hike back up was much more difficult and certain muscles that did not exist before all of a sudden did!
Sylvan Lake
"Little Spirit Big Paws" (our new name for her) did
well on the trail in the beginning where rocks and
steps gave her footing.
Somewhere through this rocky mess
is the trail.

We spent the rest of the day driving through the 71,000 acre park, stopping for walks, peeking in at historic buildings, browsing the visitor center, and eating a picnic lunch by a swollen stream.  The park is absolutely fabulous and offers many opportunities for visitors.  Thank goodness the state of South Dakota had the forethought to protect this land and set it aside for wildlife to live and humans to visit.  

The park wildlife loop is an 18-mile drive through beautiful rolling hills loaded with bison, elk, and pronghorn antelope.  
The drive on the Needles Highway will guide you through the mountainous region in the park.  The road is spectacular and an engineering feat.  The highway gets its name from the needle-like granite spires extending into the sky.
"Honk before entering" is the advice given when approaching this one way tunnel.  My advice to RV'ers - don't try it!
We went through in our car.  This spot is called "threading the needle"!
Approximately 1,300 bison roam free in the park and are a very popular attraction among visitors.
We were there during calving season and got to enjoy watching the young interact with their mothers and other calves.

Bison can weigh as much as 2,000 pounds.  They were a revered resource by the Native Americans that lived on the plains.  The Native Americans utilized all parts of the bison - the meat was used for food,  feet were boiled to make glue, hides were used for clothing and shelter, horns were used as spoons.
Every year in late September the park comes alive with stampeding bison as they hold the "State Park Buffalo Roundup."  Cowboys and cowgirls drive the herd of approximately 1,300 thunder bison into corals in order to prepare them for the fall bison sale and vaccinate and brand the herd. The sale of bison brought in over $300,000 in 2010.
This Civilian Conservation Corps building is used as a general store and gift shop.
The Chapel conducts non-denominational services on Sunday.  Behind it are just some of the many rental cabins that sit in a very picturesque setting by the Grace Coolidge creek named after President Calvin Coolidge's wife. 
The Peter Norbeck visitor center was one of the indelible marks left by the Civilian Conservation Corps in  the 1930's.  The center was named in honor of Norbeck - the states governor who was instrumental in the parks establishment.  The visitor center houses wildlife displays, information about the park, a gift shop, and ranger-led programs.
The State Game Lodge, built in 1920, is one of the historic buildings still in existence in the park.   It served as the "Summer White House" for President Calvin Coolidge in 1927 and was visited by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Lodge is used today for overnight accommodations for park visitors.  Accommodations range from stately lodge rooms to modern motel rooms and cozy cabins. 
The park is famous for its "Begging Burros." These gentle, but hungry, creatures cause many traffic jams in the park.  Many people bring food to the park specifically for the purpose of feeding these animals
Spirit looked out the window, sniffed the air, and then let out a growl - she was not sure what to do when the burro stuck its head in the window.  We did not feed them, but Betsy could not resist petting its muzzle. 
A little state park humor.  We have never heard chipmunks refered to as "Timber Tigers" before.
On our way home we stopped in Hill City for lunch and a little shopping.  We loved the whimsical metal sculptures!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the blog and photos. I am pinning this location in my Pinterest.


We love hearing from you, so please drop us a comment