July 7-12 - Rapid City SD area
Rapid City is the biggest city in the Black Hills area, an incredibly diverse geological area with some world-class attractions. We'd spent a week of our honeymoon in this area back in 1992, and we knew then that we hadn't given the area enough attention. But we were distracted some back then . . .
Fri 7/7 - From eastern to western South Dakota is a long drive, but we gained an hour - arrived at the RV park in Rapid City at 3 pm, Mountain Time. After dinner at Fuddruckers - what a great name for a restaurant - we drove to the Black Hills Playhouse in Custer State Park for a very well done production of "A Chorus Line". The Black Hills Playhouse was a must for this trip, as we attended a production of "You're a Good Man, Charley Brown" there in 1992 on our honeymoon trip, and wanted to sort of re-live the experience. The road over the mountain to the playhouse is an incredible, twisting rollercoaster of an experience - fantastic scenery, corkscrew curves, steep grades, and a view of the faces of Rushmore through several strategically placed tunnels. The road home from the playhouse was the same thing without the scenery, as it was dark. Great moon, though.
Sat 7/8 - Bear Country, just south of Rapid City, was another place we loved on our honeymoon trip. It was just as good this time, and we got lots of great pictures of all the animals in their almost-wild setting. The Crazy Horse Memorial, on the other side of Mt. Rushmore, has been in progress since 1948, and will eventually show the hero of the Native Americans, astride his horse, pointing out over the lands of his people. The project is financed privately from admission fees and sales of memorabilia at the site - the artist's family has twice turned down large government grants to help with the project. We took lots of pictures here, too, and were very impressed with our visit. Custer State Park is a huge area, and we spent the rest of the day driving around the park, searching for bison. We eventually saw one, lone bison, striding majestically along near the road. There are about 1,500 bison in the park, but finding a large group of them is not always easy.
Sun 7/9 - Mt Rushmore is the essential Black Hills experience, so we got up early to try and get pictures in the best light. But it was a mostly cloudy day, so the lighting wasn't as dramatic. It's a impressive, inspiring place. The carved mountain itself hasn't changed since we were here last, but the whole rest of the park as been upgraded, expanded, modernized and made more people-friendly.
From Rushmore, we headed south to the Wind Cave National Park. Arguably one of the oldest cave systems in the world at 400 million years, and the 4th largest cave in the world, Wind Cave is home to some of the most unique cave formations anywhere - boxwork. It's formed when the base limestone is eroded away leaving only the harder calcite veins. Most cave formations are created by water flowing thru a cave and depositing calcite on the limestone. Besides the cave, the park is home to several hundred bison and about a billion prairie dogs, many of them now photographed by us.
Just south of Wind Cave is Hot Springs, home of a Mammoth Dig - an excavation of an ancient sinkhole that trapped and preserved over 50 Columbian Mammoths (and a few wooly mammoths) about 15,000 years ago. All of the skeletons found so far have been of young males. They were probably the ones kicked out of the herd when they got too hormonal, and didn't benefit from the wisdom of the herd matriarch, who knew better than to go into a sinkhole.
On the way back, we drove through The Needles, an impressive area of Custer State Park with hundreds of vertical granite spires sprouting out of the mountains. The geology of this area is really amazing. We also spent some time in the town of Custer, which is decorated with a bunch of painted bison statues, a fund-raising project for the local arts community.
Mon 7/10 - We'd crammed a ton of stuff into just two days, so a slow down was in order. We did some chores and then headed into downtown Rapid City to seek out a used bookstore (bought a bunch of mystery novels) and buy some supplies. Rapid City, playing on the presidential heads carved into the mountain, has now placed life-size bronze statues of all the presidents on street corners all over town. We visited with some of them. Then back to the RV and a lazy dinner.
Tue 7/11 - Black Hills Gold is a unique way of making gold jewelry, and the process and basic design elements were invented by the predecessors of Landstrom's Jewelry. We toured the factory to see how they do that (it's mass-produced lost-wax castings with a LOT of hand-work), and then went to the local mall where Judy bought some. We had the last lunch we'll have for a while at a Culver's, and then followed a road up a hill to find out why there was a huge dinosaur standing up there. WPA project from the 30's. There are a half-dozen concrete dinosaurs up there. We took some pictures and then went home to get ready to leave town.
Wed 7/12 - Having hooked up everything the night before, we were able to pull out around 7:30, headed for Billings, MT - about half-way to Yellowstone. And we're headed into wildlife country. . . . .
Al's Highlight - There are so many impressive things around here, I kind of hate to admit that my favorite was revisiting Bear Country. It's just awe-inspiring to be sitting in the car with bears roaming all around, checking you out, looking you straight in the eye. And those baby bear cubs are an endless delight. So I'm a sucker for teddy bears.
Judy's Highlight - I just loved all of those painted bison, situated all over the little town of Custer. The idea is similar to the occasional giant duck event in Eugene, where various artists' imaginations run wild decorating ducks for an auction, benefitting the arts. We didn't take the time to seek out all 36 bison, but we went through Custer twice, and found a lot of them, each more wonderful than the last. We have inflicted only a few of them on y'all in our slideshow.
Click here to see a slideshow of some of our pictures from this leg of the trip.
Stay tuned . . .