Saturday, August 29, 2009

August 29, 2009

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway

There are several scenic loops through the Black Hills.  Today we drove a loop named for a former governor of South Dakota.  He established Custer State Park and was chief in preserving much of the area for future generations while at the same time developing an infrastructure that allowed access to some amazing country.  He laid out a road that many said could never be built and is an engineering marvel.  Much of this area is wild and very rugged.  Building a road without destroying the land was very challenging but the result is one of the most scenic roads we have seen.  This is not a road for trucks, RVs, or trailers.  Here is why.


The car on the right is about to enter a tunnel.  Here it is part way in.


Local tourist.


There are seven of these tunnels, some smaller than this one.

Here is a rock formation about 40 feet from where Sue is standing.  It is called Needles Eye.


The road also has three pig-tail turns, one of which connects directly to a tunnel.

Custer State Park has a large bison population – over 1500.  We went through a couple of large herds on this loop and this area is not where the majority are.  Buffalo picture for the day, again not enlarged.


Down the road a bit we had a first sighting for us.

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None of these pictures are telephoto either.  The burros are descendants of some that were turned loose many years ago and are now just part of the wildlife. 

This scenic loop just happens to go by this place.

DSC03114 Three of the tunnels  are aligned so this is the view as you drive through the tunnel.

Here is our Rushmore collection.

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Not your common view of George Washington.


Friday, August 28, 2009

August 28, 2009

Jewel Cave

Drove from the Badlands to The Black Hills.  We parked the carbus in a nice RV and Horse camp.  (Separate parts of the park)  The park is just outside Custer, SD which is a good central location to tour the many areas of the Black Hills.  We had the afternoon free so we called to see if there were openings in today’s tour schedule at Jewel Cave.  We lucked out and got spots in a tour a couple of hours from then.  Time for lunch and the drive out to the cave.  Jewel Cave is the second longest (explored) cave in the world and they are still exploring and mapping it.  Only a very small part is open for public tours ( about a mile total of the nearly 150 miles explored).  There are a number of formations that are unique to this cave but most are too sensitive to let lots of people near them.  The cave got its name from crystal formations that are throughout the cave.  Here is a small example.DSC03086

The crystals shine like the crystals inside of a geode.  In the right light it looks like the walls of the cave are covered with jewels, hence the name.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

August 26, 2009

Badlands NP,  Wall Drug

South to Rapid City for gas and groceries.  Southeast to Badlands NP.  Found a camp spot, visited the visitor center (another very good movie), and visited the local lodge/gift store ( definitely NOT an historic spot or hotel of note).  North Dakota Badlands are colorful and stark and wild but they do have water and vegetation.  South Dakota Badlands just very stark.  Much less color.  Almost no water, hence very little vegetation. Still, very beautiful.  Clear skies, sharply defined landscape.  Good place for photographic study of contrasts and shadows.

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There is also wildlife.

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We went through a bison herd also but have reached point where close contact with bison is not too photo worthy.

There is a town near here called Wall.  It is called that because it is on the ‘Wall’ of the Badlands.  In Wall is a drug store.  At least it started that way.  Now it is four city blocks of tourism.  Shop after shop after shop all under the auspicious of the drug store (we never did find actual pharmacy.  Western wear, jewelry stores (several styles), gift stores (again many types), cafe, restaurant, gold panning/mining.  Fossils. Photo ops of all kinds. 

Extra credit if you can name the beast I’m riding.


Web sources say allow two and a half hours to look around.  We weren’t there that long but it was quite a while.  We did find an item that we had been searching for for several states and had an interesting look around at every thing else.  Fun place to see – in the middle of nowhere.  I know, nowhere is getting crowded.

August 25, 2009

Spearfish Canyon, Deadwood, Sturgis

The above places are on a scenic loop in the northern part of the Black Hills. 

Spearfish Canyon is very pretty.  Deep canyons with lots of trees.  At a little town near the head of the canyon I saw an intriguing sign and an arrow pointing up a side canyon road.  We followed the road for about four miles to this.


Here are a couple shots of the area.  Can you tell what part of the film was done here?

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On to Deadwood.  An old mining town who’s chief claim to fame seems to be that Wild Bill Hickock was killed here. When the mining ended, Deadwood just about died.  Then they ‘rebuilt’ their image.  First they got the whole town declared an historic site somehow.  Then they put parking meters on EVERY spot in town.  Then came casinos.  The main street is three and a half blocks long.  Three of those blocks are nonstop casinos on both sides of the street with nothing else between them.  They are not big like Tahoe or Las Vegas.  More the size of a typical bar but every one has slots and card games.  Probably 40-50 casinos in the three blocks and then there are the hotels, each of which has a casino.  The town gets a cut of all action.  It is doing well.  The one sight if possible interest, Hickock’s grave, is in a cemetery that charges admission. We left.

The area around Deadwood is picturesque and the town next to it, Lead (pronounced ‘Leed’) is home to what was the countries (if not the worlds’) largest gold mine.

Next was Sturgis, SD.  For the last three or four weeks we have seen a large number of tourists on motorcycles.  Most of them were vacationing after having attended the Sturgis motorcycle rally.  This yearly event is like Mecca for bikers.  The economy for hundreds of miles is affected by the attendees of this event.  We have seen signs several states away saying ‘welcome bikers’.  Nice town.  Nice park where we had lunch.  I could see facilities that would handle large crowds.  We did not see one motorcycle. Not one.  It is several weeks post event but it was sort of wierd.

Monday, August 24, 2009

August 24, 2009

Devil’s Tower

We had quite a show last night.  Electrical storm all around us.  Watched the southern sky for about twenty minutes, went inside for a while then back out to watch the northern sky for another half hour.  It seemed like the storms did not move.  Lightning happened in the same parts of the sky the whole time.  The time between flashes was seconds, not minutes.  Great show!  The finale was when the storm moved over us.  Several times lightning and thunder were simultaneous.  Unnerving but fun.

The days objective was Devil’s Tower.  Sixty mile drive through pretty country.  From reading road advisory signs we determined they have an interesting and quite logical way to deal with snow on the road in winter.  They close the roads.  The signs say ‘road closed go back to town’(Nearest town listed).  We went through a couple of towns that would be cut off from the outside with no road connection if there was a good snowfall. 

What to say about Devil’s Tower.  Big, impressive, almost as many tourists per square foot as Old Faithful (not quite as bad).  We took pictures, walked half way around (other half of trail was being resurfaced), and watched climbers do their thing.  There are many routes to climb to the top but only eight ways down using hardware that the NPS has fixed in position.

Devils Tower


This is interesting.  The first ascent of the tower was made by a couple of guys who made a crude ladder by wedging wood in a crack and climbing up.  The ladder is still there!

It is in the center of these pictures.  Look hard.

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A different angle is a little easier to see.  Left side of picture.  The picture appears to show slope but it is actually pretty vertical at that point.


The ladder only helped climb the middle third of the tower.  Bottom and top were free climbing.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

August 23, 2009

Enchanted Highway

As we left our campsite this morning, two sites over we passed a group of six or eight bison grazing in and between the sites which were both occupied.  Quite a surprise when you open your RV door or climb out your tent.

We took a ninety mile detour today to drive the Enchanted highway.  Don’t know how to describe this.  A local ‘artist’ has created metal sculptures that are placed at spots along this 40 mile long road.  These are not your average metal sculptures.  They are HUGE.  The best way to describe it is to send you here

A couple of shots of ours.

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I think I have found my least favorite roads to travel.  Northwest South Dakota has VERY long straight stretches with nothing of interest to look at and winds to fight.  Even south east New Mexico was more picturesque.

August 22, 2009

Theodore Roosevelt NP scenic loop and Medora Musical

This morning we took the scenic loop through the south unit of the park.  Yesterday we asked at the visitor center where we might see wildlife.  Other than prairie dogs they weren’t too positive about seeing much.  Evidently wildlife here is scarce and skittish.  Well, the scenery was still there anyway.

As we left the campground, before we got to the main road, we saw this.

DSC02931 And eight or ten of his friends.

Like the Grand Canyon, it is hard to take pictures of the Badlands.  They go on forever it seems and, unlike the Grand Canyon they are all around you.  The colored layers are amazing and they carry throughout the whole area.  Black, red, white, blue, brown, and other color layers at the same level for square miles.  This picture doesn’t begin to do justice.


From the top of a hill we got a good example of how climate affects the plant life.  Note how north facing slopes have green trees while the south facing slopes have almost no plant life.


About half way through the loop we saw this.

DSC02955Those are wild horses.

Further on the loop we climbed a hill.

View from hill.


If you click on this picture to see it close up you will see lots of bison.  More than a hundred.  We passed several herds like this.  In the loop we probably saw two to three hundred.

We drove that road in the distance.  Here is what we saw.

This is not a telephoto picture.


This guy probably modeled for the nickel.


One of thousands.

11 prairie dog

In the evening we went to see the Medora Musical.  This tiny little tourist town that basically is open only in the summer has a highly professional outdoor theater that seats thousands probably and puts on a nightly non-stop two hour performance that has been rated by some as the best outdoor musical show in the country.  It was suggested to us by our friends, Audrey and Gerry Mueller.  She said we ‘had’ to go see it. 

The basic set is static but on tracks so it can be opened up to bring in other sets or for dramatic effect.

DSC02973 DSC02970 The set can pull back to each side from the opening where the banner is.  Behind the set is nothing but the North Dakota Badlands.  I didn’t get pictures but they use the backdrop to maximum effect.  At several times in the show they open the stage up and light the hills with red light.  Pretty awesome.  This area is all  about Teddy Roosevelt.  At one point during a tribute they have a lone rider on a white horse walk along the ridge to the upper right and then down the slope in the center.  This is in pitch black with only a blue spot on the rider.  VERY cool.  Here are a couple shots of the show.

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There is a part of the show that features guest artists.  We had the Peking Acrobats. 


They even reenact the charge up San Juan Hill with riders coming up from the black area in the middle of the lower picture. (Different set)

We had a great two hours of entertainment.  Thank you Audrey!