Saturday, July 31, 2010

Black Hills Trip - Day 8

Thursday, July 1:  Custer State Park to Rapid City, SD

This was our final day in "the Hills" and it was a busy one!  Strap on a seatbelt (or your helmet so you don't "thump your melon") and let's go!

Nathan REALLY wanted to go horseback riding (it was on his list of top 3 things to do on vacation), but earlier in the week, we didn't think we would have enough time to do it (and he was very disappointed).  Later during the trip, we had shifted some things around and had a couple open spots so we tried to squeeze it in, but didn't tell him.  Blue Bell Lodge had 2 openings for 11:30 this morning that worked perfect.  It was in the opposite direction of where we were headed, but we decided to go for it.  Diane decided not to attempt to get on a horse and Karen had ridden one before, so that left Dustin as the token adult to go along!  OH BOY!  When we pulled into the stable, Nathan was a little more hesitant than surprised, although Dustin drove a little faster than normal around the curves to get there on time - which probably wasn't helping.  We checked in and waited to saddle up.

Since we had been playing the license plate game, we were checking as many license plates as we could.    While we were waiting to ride, I happened to turn around to see a car drive up.  There it was...  The Holy Grail of license plates - HAWAII!!!!  Needless to say, we were all very excited and it promptly got written down on the list.  I'll give you the results of the game on tomorrow's post, so stop back!

Soon it was time to "saddle up".  Our hour long ride didn't go faster than a walk and took us on paths that crossed a stream, went up and down some rather steep hills and through dense woods and open canyons.  It was a really beautiful ride and it was so peaceful - you couldn't hear anything but nature.
Waiting to "Saddle Up"

Nathan ready to ride!

Dustin ready to go.  I waived the helmet recommendation, although they came around to check the saddle and had to sinch mine up "so I didn't see the trail from underneath the horse" 

On the trail

Another picture from the trail.  I would have taken more, but have you ever tried to retrieve your camera from your pocket, take a picture and put it back in your pocket while riding a horse (and make sure to not give the horse an inadvertant signal to, like, take off or turn around and go the other way)?  I would have needed at least 1 more hand.

After getting used to not having to walk bow-legged, we were off to our next stop - Reptile Gardens.  From aligators, crocs, birds, prairie dogs, snakes and tortoise to flowers, this place had everything reptile and more.  There were inside exhibits and outdoor shows.  Check it out:
At the Crocodilian Show.  He was demonstrating how to approach a croc and not get hurt -you know, in case you come across one...

This tortoise was over 120 years old!

A Macaw Parrot at the Bird Show

A Bald Eagle

Albino Burmese Python at the Snake Show


Diane would have to tell you what this flower is!

Time was running short to get our last two things in, so we found the first restaurant we could find in the area - the Gas Light Restaurant in the ghost town of Rockerville.  Great food and quick service!

Our next stop was Putz 'n Glo Mini Golfing!

That's right - mini-golfing under black light!  We don't have any pictures of this event and there doesn't appear to be much on their website.  The walls inside had been airbrushed with images and icons of the 70s, 80s and 90s.  The airbrushing was actually really amazing - it was very well done and there was a lot of it - it would have taken someone a long time to do.  Blacklight mini-golf is a great concept, but the course was a pretty simple and a couple of the challenges on the holes were repeated.  I suppose for liability reasons, you wouldn't want to build too difficult a course when it's quite dark inside- you'd have people falling over stairs & obstacles. Still worth the price of admission, though and we'd recommend it.  It took the four of us about 45 minutes to do 18 holes, but we moved fairly quickly through the course.  Karen and I each got a Hole-in-One.

Our last stop was actually the hotel we were staying at for the night.  We booked this night way in advance since we wanted someplace nice to stay to end the vacation and before a long drive home.  The Grand Gateway Hotel in Rapid City ended up to be, by far, the best value of the hotels we stayed in.  It was only about $10 more expensive than the Super 8 in Wall, SD.  And this one had an indoor pool with a 130 foot waterslide and was very well decorated.  
We had not told Nathan about the waterslide because he probably wouldn't have slept the entire trip!  By the time we got checked in, we only had about 1hour and 15 minutes to use the pool before it closed.  We all had a blast in the pool - Nathan went down the slide 51 times!  Dustin went down quite a few times (but not 51) and Karen went down just a few.  Diane watched from the pool.

Nathan coming down the waterslide.

We all slept well after 8 days of fun.  Tomorrow it's back to Minnesota!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Black Hills Trip - Day 7

Wednesday, June 30th:  Custer State Park

Today, we started the day by sleeping in!  It was about 8:45am by the time we got up and moving and it felt good.  After a breakfast of cereal and pop-tarts (that we had been carting with us for a week!), we headed out on to the Wildlife Loop that is within Custer State Park.  This 18 mile road will take you through open grasslands and rolling hills where animals such as bison, antelope, prairie dogs, coyotes, burros and several species of birds.  Below are some pics of what we saw!
Buffalo from afar

Buffalo up close - young and old

Horned antelope.  Karen has named this one "Bucky"

A burrow posing for a shot

A burrow interested in Nathan's camera

Some of the rolling hills

A visit to Prairiedog Town
On the way back to our Camper Cabin, we went up to Mt. Coolidge.  This is the site of a former fire tower.  You could see for miles!  Looking through the viewfinders, you could see Crazy Horse, Mt. Rushmore (kind of) and several other sights.
The view from Mt. Coolidge - In the foreground, you can see some of the 16,000 acres that burned in the 1988 fire that took 3 days to get under control

Another view from Mt. Coolidge

We headed back to the Camper Cabin for the evening.  The boys in the neighboring cabin wanted Nathan to play, so they tossed the baseball around, played some Battleship and Bowling Dice.  Before dinner, they taught Nathan how to fish:
Joey and Jack (I think).  They were from Solon, IA

Nathan's first fish!

We enjoyed dinner at our campsite, made another campfire and more of our renegade S'mores.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Black Hills Trip - Day 6

Tuesday, June 29th:  Hill City, SD to Game Lodge Campground (Custer State Park)

This morning started with (what else) but more all-you-can-eat pancakes the size of Styrofoam plates!  Off to Crazy Horse Monument where we viewed the monument, the visitors center, museum and the sculptor's home.  Below is a current picture of the monument:

Some interesting facts we learned about Crazy Horse:
--Sculpting began over 60 years ago by one man (Korczak Ziolkowski) and is still being managed and sulpted by his wife, sons & daughters
--The face has been completed since 1998
--It is being sculpted "in the round" meaning there is just as much carving/blasting happening on the other side of the monument than there is on this side
--The memorial foundation does not receive, or accept, federal or state money for the project
--The "pass through" hole you see down and to the right of the profile of the face is 10 stories tall
--The entire carving will measure 563 feet high and 641 feet long.  

A picture from the obersvation deck (no zoom)

This is a picture of a poster hanging inside the visitor's center that has an overlay of the final design

Foreground:  A 1:32 scale model of the finished memorial
Background:  The actual memorial

From here, we headed toward the Needles Highway which starts at Sylvan Lake, 6 miles northeast of the town of Custer.  This 14 mile highway is full of twists and turns including a 1 lane tunnel and some places to stop and take in the beauty of nature.  Before heading out, we spent some time at Sylvan Lake which is pictured below.  We stuck our feet in the water, hiked around the lake and just hung out for a while.
Sylvan Lake

Dustin and Nathan panning for mica in the sand

This was on our hike around the lake.  These rocks actually hold back the lake, so we are behind (and below) the level of the lake.  Notice the rock climber in the lower left hand corner of the picture

A view from the top of one of the rocks at the edge of the lake

From here, we headed onto Needles Highway.  Here are some pictures:

The Needle's Eye

Dustin and Nathan hanging out on a rock

From Needles Highway, we proceeded into Custer State Park where we stayed in a Camper Cabin at the Game Lodge Campground.  The Camper Cabins have a twin bed and a bunk bed with a twin on top and a double on the bottom.  They have heat, lights and A/C and a small table that folded up against the wall.  Thankfully, it was in the shade most of the day and there was enough of a breeze we didn't need the A/C.  Ours sat beside a stream, which meant Nathan could toss rocks in to his heart's content.

Our Camper Cabin

Getting the fire going

We ended the night with "modified" s'mores.  Ritz crackers, toasted marshmallows and slices of Snickers and Milky Way candy bars (we were not going to pay $4.50 for a box of graham crackers at the campground convenience store!)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Black Hills Trip - Day 5

Monday, June 28th:  Hill City/Keystone, SD

Monday started with a breakfast of a different sort.  Crooked Creek Resort, where we were staying, offered an all you can eat pancake breakfast for $3.00.  We were SOOOOO there.  They were great pancakes - each one the size of a Styrofoam plate!  We had our fill and headed to Mount Rushmore, just 9 miles away.  Below are some pictures of our time there:
Outside the entrance to Mt. Rushmore

Diane and Nathan

Your standard postcard picture of Mt. Rushmore

Once we got around to this view, we realized there could be a 5th face up on the mountain.  Seen here to the right of honest Abe, we affectionately named him "Monkey Face".

From here, we headed to Black Hills Glass Blowers, just outside of Keystone.  Two local glass blowers work out of their small (and very HOT) studio, which could be seen from the 1880's train ride the day before.  We had not called ahead to find out when/if they were doing any blowing that day, but boy, did we get lucky- they had just started when we got there.  If you haven't seen someone do this, put it on your list of things to do.  We were all fascinated.  Over the next hour or so, we watched a chunk of molten sand turn from what we thought was going to be a glass into what we thought was going to be a vase into what ended up to be a decorative platter, much like the picture below:

Karen and I found a decorative bowl and a Christmas ornament we liked, so we purchased them:

From here, we headed for Rushmore Cave.  This cave was discovered by miners in the mid-1870's.  Although no gold was found here, several rooms were discovered containing various forms of stalactites, stalagmites and columns.  We took the 1-hour tour which took us through narrow passages and sometimes up and down steep steps to view several of the rooms in one part of the cave system.  Below are some pics:

Stalactites on the ceiling of one of the rooms

A "ribbon" form of a stalactite

More stalactites

This was formerly a column (where a stalactite and a stalagmite meet), but it was later separated by an earthquake

Back into Keystone for some nourishment.  We ate outside on the covered porch of the Railhead Family Restaurant.  Nathan ate his first Buffalo Burger, which he darn near inhaled!   Apparently, it was good!  

The last stop of the day was back to Mt. Rushmore for the night lighting ceremony.  We were disappointed they were not doing fireworks this year because it had been too dry. 
During the lighting ceremony, they invited all current and veteran service men & women on stage to be honored

Six of the service men were invited to assist in lowering and folding the flag, which concluded the ceremony

Mt. Rushmore lit at night (duh)

Back to our cabin at Crooked Creek, where we spent the night.