Western Trip 2017 Day 9-11

A lazy day at the hang!  😀 Not really, but it is a day to sleep in and our only task is to get our friend John Merkle to the airport for his flight at noon so he can return in time to go to work on Monday.  So we do that and then swing by one of our favorite towns in South Dakota, Hill City. We love the old western town feel and they really have a wide variety of shops, restaurants and other touristy things that Vicky is drawn to like a moth to a flame!

We have eaten in most places in Hill City, but keep coming back to the Bumpin Buffalo Bar and Grille. They make a huge 1 pound burger we split and today we sat on the roof top deck in fantastic weather and watched the town go by while we ate and drank. 

We went back to the campsite where Brian and Susan and Carol had prepared another fantastic meal for the last night of the hang. Some people had to go but it was still a great crew to spend time with.


We are not normally here on Sunday as we too have to usually start for home on Saturday so I can get back to work, but being unemployed has its advantages and we can stay for the whole week and then some. I woke up really early- too lazy yesterday- and went for a walk to get some early morning pictures of the lake 

After saying goodbye to everyone after breakfast it was just the four of us left. Brian, Susan, Vicky and myself. We made sure the campsite was clean and everything was better than we left it. I should mention that this year the park had put in a new toilet block and that was very much appreciated as the smell was greatly reduced coming from that area!

After leaving Vicky and I had plans to go back and spend the night with our friends Saundra and Barry at their home again before heading back toward home. First however we had the day ahead of us and decided on on of our favorite drives.

The Needles highway and then on to the wildlife loop at Custer State Park. 
This time we went on a scenic tour of some other high points and made it up to the top of Mount Coolidge, which you can drive to the top at 6063'
The old fire tower lookout was built by the CCC in the 1930's

Then it was on to the wildlife loop at Custer State Park and the Wind Cave area. 

Today we were not disappointed as lots of animals were out enjoying the weather. My personal favorite the Bison and a warning best heeded 

The begging burrows were also out today and really doing their best to stop all the traffic and stick their noses in every car to see what they could get away with eating.

Hi my name is Pedro, can I have your potato chips

So after a great day of slow driving, stopping off at Wind Cave Visitors Center and the Custer State Park visitors center and taking the back half of the Needles highway back to Mt Rushmore, we drove back into Rapid City. 

Saundra and Barry have a fantastic home that backs up to a ravine that is full of wildlife. The turkeys in the trees right off the deck are of great interest to Moose and Bailey, who are always game for a chase.

What a perfect setting for dinner. A lovely day with the entire extended family. 

A perfect sunset in the Black Hills to cap a great day
Monday morning it was up and headed east but not too far. Vicky and I have been to every State Park and attraction in South Dakota but one. The new Minuteman Missile site just right outside the Badlands National Park.

This is a brand new facility and has some great displays covering the actual missiles but also has some great cold war exhibits that can be very sobering to view.

You need to make reservations in advance to actual go down in one of the deactivate silos and command centers and it turns out they are booked months in advance, but you can do a self guided tour of the actual launch site just across the highway from the visitors center

The deactivated missile is still in the silo just as it has been for decades. I highly recommend a stop here for the historic value, exhibits and reminder of how scary these things are!
We decided to stay the night in Wall and then headed right over to the Badlands. We both love this park and the great landscape features it offers. We spent some time 

driving around the loop road and stopping and looking at all the formations

This is the first time I have seen so many bighorn sheep in the park.

The colors were particularly good today with the yellows and reds of the different layers contrasting with the normal grays

a beautiful hillside as you drive down the loop road

A pair of Bison in sea of grass

After dinner we wanted to come back through the park and see the colors at sunset. 
We were not disappointed as the colors were extremely vivid as the sun set.

A soft haze on the horizon meant we could look directly at the sun and get some great "other worldly" photos

The dusk brought out the herds of deer and bighorn like I have never seen them before.

Also a new sign. Evidently a few tourist have been thinking they can walk up and try and pet the prairie dogs like they were your house Ginny pig.

We caught a huge herd of Bighorn sheep crossing the park road and followed them onto BLM land. It was fun to watch them wonder among the RVs that had parked for the night on a ridge overlooking the valley just outside the park. The sheep didn't seem to care as they nimbly headed down the cliffs

After spending the night in Wall, we stopped in to Wall Drug on a quiet Tuesday morning as they opened to get the famed cake donuts for the long drive home. 

Crossing over Chamberlain SD and the Missouri River, we stopped at the rest area with the Native American Dignity Statue. 
It is very impressive and worth a stop to view

Another 9 hours and home, an excellent 10 days out for us and other great trip to the Black Hills and to visit friends.

Western Trip 2017 Day 8

On of the objectives our friend John wanted out of this trip was to go to the top of Mt Harney. (now called Black Elk Peak). So we planned this out on Thursday night and I mentioned we might want to start a bit early to avoid an afternoon weather that rolls through the Black Hills this time of year, having done this hike many times before. Well the best laid plans and so on, we didn't start early at all but left well after breakfast.

The day did start out looking very promising with blue skies and plenty of sunlight

The trail we use for day hikes is the Sylvan Lake trailhead. It allows you to go up on one trail and then if you want you can take an alternate back once you start to come down from the top that takes in the Cathedral Spires and Little Devils Tower. This is the way I planned to take John and Rex (who wanted to join us for the walk)

We started at the trail head about 11 am with still sunny skies

It is a lovely wide trail for the first half of the trail up to Black Elk Peak. It is Trail #9 if you are looking at a trail map for the area.

A considerable amount of damage still from a combination of the pine beetles and the wind storms over the last few years.

Still lots of wild flowers blooming along the trail.

As you get to the actual lookout of Black Elk Peak there is some excellent CCC rock work 

The views from the top of Black Elk Peak are very nice. Black Elk Peak is the highest point east of the Rockies 7,244 feet 

Look out tower
Rex (left) and John admiring the view

Looming on the horizon however was the weather I was concerned about. After spending about 30 minutes on the top the wind was picking up and the temperature was dropping. I suggested we might want to start heading back. I knew we wouldn't make it down dry but I had prepared by bringing rain gear for myself and John.

At the split we took trail #3/4 down. The sky opened up and it started to hail. Then I realized that Rex hadn't brought any rain gear either. So getting John into his set and giving Rex my set. I was now going to walk down the hill with just my fleece pullover and shorts. 

It hailed and rained for the next 2 hours! There was not much picture taking as my iPhone stopped working in the wet and I would almost run ahead for 500 feet and then wait for the guys to catch up so I could generate some body heat. The hail was large enough it actually hurt, but we all made it down to the parking lot
Getting back to the campsite in the late afternoon it was actually still nice over here.

It didn't last long however as the storm arrived just behind us
It rained like crazy as we had to seek shelter on the picnic table under the canopy as the water ran beneath us. 

As quickly as it came it left and the sky cleared for the remainder of the day and night
Dinner was still a great success as Brian cooked up a mess of ribs and chicken along with other tasty treats 

Meat cooked outside- perfect way to spend the evening

Dave and his son digging in. 
keeping the fire going all through dinner and later made for a great gathering place as everyone had plenty of great food and conversation

Turned into a lovely Friday evening for everyone at the hang.

Support Our National Parks - Preserve - Protect - Enjoy