A Month In Review

Bill and I have been in Custer State Park, in South Dakota, for just over a month now, and I thought I would take this opportunity to recap some of the highlights and/or lowlights of our visit so far.

We arrived in Custer State Park on May 7th, 2019 and were so excited when we saw huge bull bison grazing in, and around, our motorhome on the day after we settled into our campsite. Now that was definitely a highlight!

However, our joy very quickly faded , when we woke up to 6-8 inches of snow on May 9th. Now anyone that knows me at all, knows I don’t like SNOW, and I for sure don’t like to be COLD!! But I tried my best to stay positive, and believe what everyone here in the park was telling me, which was that this was just a freak snow storm, and it wouldn’t last long. They said “these little storms come in quickly, and leave just as quickly as they came…” Well, “they” were wrong with this “little freak snow storm”. This little freak snow storm dumped 18-20 INCHES of cold, wet, and very heavy SNOW on the ground ,and it stuck around for a long time.

In addition to all that cold, wet, heavy snow on the ground, the weight of it caused down power lines, throughout the park. Most of the work campers were without electric power for two full days… That was definitely a lowlight!

However, thankfully, Bill and I have a generator on our motorhome, so we were able to keep our batteries charged, and we could run our heater to keep us warm, which was a major Highlight for us. Many of our neighbors in small campers, and the folks living in the dorms, as seen in this next picture, had no heat, lights, or hot water for two full days. A major lowlight for them, I thought, until on the second day of all that cold, wet, heavy snow, I saw many of them out building snowmen, and having snowball fights…All I can say is those folks handled the snow days much better than I did. All I could think of was OMG, what did we get ourselves into here…?

But, the sun did come out, and the snow did melt, and we all got through it in our own little ways…

And just when I was thinking the worst of the bad weather is gone now, and we can all just move on and enjoy a nice warm summer…, we were hit with yet another big “summer” storm that produced golf ball size HAIL! Yep, you guessed it I was definitely thinking here we go again with yet another lowlight! I was working in the main Visitor Center that day, and my car was parked in the visitor’s parking lot along side of several visitors that came in and told us their windshields had been shattered by the hail. I was afraid to even go out and look at my vehicle, and I was even more afraid to go home for lunch and see what might have happened to our motorhome windshield (we just put a new windshield on our motorhome before we left Arizona). But, again, we were blessed. Our car and our motorhome escaped any hail damage. Another highlight for us.

Then, once again, the storm clouds moved out, and the sun did shine upon us once again, creating a beautiful day to get out, and take a drive through the park to see what we could see. We saw female big horn sheep licking the salt off the road. That was another highlight!

Most folks on the road were stopped and taking pictures, which was a highlight for them, but, unfortunately, some folks behind us got impatient, and started honking their horns, as they crossed the double yellow line,  scaring the animals, and caused  them to run… Shaking my head as to why folks come here to Custer State Park, which is all about nature, wildlife etc… and they can’t slow down, relax, and just enjoy the nature that is right in front of them.

As we moved further down the road, we came across the begging burros. These fun animals were once used to transport park guests up to Black Elk Peak, the highest elevation within the park. When their service was no longer needed, the burros were turned loose to wander within the park grazing on the grasslands. However, they are smart animals, and have learned that if they come up to your vehicle when you are driving the wildlife loop, you might give them some food. The park does not encourage or discourage feeding the burros, they just ask that if you are going to feed them you give them apples, carrots etc, and not bread, cookies, chips, or candy…

If you don’t feed them, don’t worry, they know how to feed themselves…

And if you just look, and move on down the road, they will too…

All in all, Bill and I are feeling so very blessed to be spending the summer here in Custer State Park. We meet so many visitors who tell us they saved up all year just to come to visit this beautiful park, and here we are, living our retirement dream, work camping in this beautiful, magical, place…

Stay Tuned!

 

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Hill City, South Dakota

In my last post, we rode the 1880 Train from Hill City to Keystone and back. Hill City is the oldest existing city in Pennington County, South Dakota. The population was 1,008 in 2017. Hill City is located 26 miles southwest of Rapid City on State Highway 16 and on U.S. Route 385 that connects Deadwood to Hot Springs.

After we completed our train ride, Bill and I decided to have lunch in one of the local Hill City restaurants. I heard about the Alpine Inn, and the recommendation was confirmed by one of the workers on the 1880 Train. The Alpine Inn is advertised as “Dining with a European charm”, so we decided to give it a try.

We could clearly see that it did have a lot of charm,

and OMG, the food, YUMMY!!! I had the German Plate. Fresh and smoked bratwurst served with German potato salad, sauerkraut, red cabbage, and German bread.

Bill had Schnitzel. Breaded pork served with German potato salad, sauerkraut, red cabbage, and German bread. We both tasted each other’s food, and couldn’t decide which we liked best. It was all absolutely DELICIOUS!! All the German foods are available from 11:00 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. but in the evening, they only serve either a 6 oz or 9 oz Filet Mignon with baked potato, Texas toast, and salad. No other options are served in the evening.

After lunch, we strolled around the City, and drifted in and out of various fun shops. Like this one that had all different kinds of “rear ends” for bar stools. Too cute!

We also happened upon a quirky little shop called Beef Jerky Outlet. They sell all kinds of jerky, over 100 varieties, from beef to kangaroo jerky, and everything in between. And, they offer samples of everything they sell. Who wouldn’t want to try some bacon and cheese flavored crickets? Me, that’s who!

Or, if crickets don’t suit your fancy, how about some yummy Larvets, “the original worm snax”, they come in both cheddar cheese and BBQ flavors! 🙂

It was such a beautiful, fun-filled day, and we are feeling so very blessed that we are here in South Dakota, experiencing all there is to see and do. We work the next three days, but are already making plans for our next four day’s off, so we can get out and play some more.

Stay Tuned!

1880 Train

Yesterday Bill and I took a lovely ride on the 1880 Train that travels from Hill City to Keystone, South Dakota.

The information book we purchased on board says “The 1880 Train is an activity like no other in the Black Hills! Our vintage steam trains follow the original route of the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad laid down in the late 1880’s to service the mines and mills between Hill City and Keystone.” This year happens to be the 100th Birthday of Engine #7!

This was another free event offered through our VIP Training Cards that every Volunteer Host receives here in Custer State Park.

We picked up our tickets at the Train Depot around 9:00 in the morning.

 

That allowed us plenty of time to look around in the gift shop, and walk around the grounds outside. We watched the engine take on water for the trip,

and saw lots of fun characters throughout the yard.

Before we knew it, the engine was backing up to the train,

and it was time for us to board.

I love to see the smoke pouring out of the steam engine as we make our way down the tracks.

The 1880 Train trip is just over 9.5 miles one way. It takes about 55 minutes from Hill City eastbound. Westbound from Keystone, it takes a few minutes longer due to the steep inclines.

Each mile on the track gives you something new to see and learn about.

 Like this friendly guy sitting on a bench waving at the train as we rolled by.

And this cowboy out in the field practicing backing his horse up.. I love to watch that!

The old wooden structure in the field was part of the Good Luck Tungsten Mine. Tungsten was used to harden steel during both World Wars.

The White House in the next picture was built from a kit purchased from a Sears catalog.

The young lady in the next picture wasn’t interested in seeing or learning anything. She pretty much kept her head down the entire trip, except for when the snack cart came by, and she got to get candy, popcorn, and a drink. The ticket price for a child her age is $14.00. I would have had her work that off when we got back home, seeing how she didn’t want to participate in enjoying the train trip..!

Lots of beautiful big homes along the train route. I wonder how they feel living so close to a train running all day, especially when the train blows the whistle three times every time it crosses the intersection of a road, which is about 10 times during the two hour round trip…

All the granite cliffs along the route are the same as what Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse are carved out of.

Bill and I thought the 1880 Train Ride was very relaxing, interesting, and we will definitely recommend it to the folks that come into our Visitor Centers in Custer State Park.

We are so enjoying our time in South Dakota. We work three days, then play for four days… We’re still living the dream!

Up next, Hill City..

Stay Tuned!

Lovers Leap Trail

This past Friday, Bill and I hiked Lovers Leap Trail here in Custer State Park. We get lots of questions about this trail from visitors who come in to our Visitor Centers, and I wanted to be able to speak about the trail from first hand experience, so off we went.

We’re not really sure how long of a hike lovers leap is or the degree of difficulty. One map shows it as a three mile loop and describes it a a moderate to strenuous hike. Yet another map shows it as a four mile loop and describes it as difficult to strenuous. All I can say is it was a beautiful hike, that felt like at least seven miles, and very, very, strenuous..!

And those “seven miles” were mostly straight up, up, up! When we reached what we thought was the highest point, as we stood there looking out over the lovely view way down below, I asked Bill if he thought this was the point where they decided to call this trail Lovers Leap? He said “yes, because at about this point, you are ready to throw yourselves over the edge just to get down faster…”

When we gained our composure, from laughing so hard, we continued along our way through an area that shows some the damage from a large fire two years ago.

As we paused to ponder on this sign, I was thinking to myself, these words might ring true, if we weren’t exhausted, and faced with the fact that we had no idea where we were, or how close, or far, we were from getting off this mountain… 🙂

We couldn’t find a log to sit on to “get our sanity back,” so Bill took a moment to lean on a boulder.

We noticed the pine trees in this area have really long needles, we had to try to find something to focus on besides how exhausted we were…

After about an hour and a half of steady climbing up, up, up, we finally started downhill,

and came upon a creek that had foot bridges allowing us to cross without getting wet. We thought that was nice of the park to put these bridges in as a small convenance to their visitors… We crossed five of these nice foot bridges along our way.

Now we find ourselves down in a canyon, hiking along the creek.

Beautiful wildflowers seem to grow right out of the rocks.

And just as we were thinking we might finally be nearing the end of this very long, strenuous hike, with the lovely foot bridges.. we came upon a wide area of the creek where the foot bridge was washed out, and all that was left to get us across the creek was this pile of fallen tree limbs. Not easy when your worried about falling in with your cell phone in your pocket… We had to cross two areas like this where the foot bridge was washed out…

Then we came to yet another area where we had to start climbing up, up, up again…

Finally, after almost three hours of steady climbing up mountains, and over creeks, we came upon an area where we saw buildings. Then we realized they were dorms where the seasonal workers live. We were exhausted, and nearly out of water, so we decided we needed to go down and see if we could get someone to give us a ride back to where we left our car at the trailhead. Lucky for us, one of the workers was just pulling our of her parking space. So I ran up to her car, introduced myself, told her of our ordeal, and all but begged her to give us a ride to our car… She hesitated at first (probably thinking I was some crazy woman), but then she unlocked the back doors and told us to get in. I said a quick prayer to thank Jesus for getting us off that mountain safely. Little did we know (because the map we had didn’t show any landmarks to indicate where we were on the trail), we were actually only about a half mile from the end of the hike. However, that last half mile was yet another climb up, and over, yet another mountain…

Aside from the fact that the trail was not marked well, and the map wasn’t of much help at all…, it was a beautiful hike and I’m glad we did it. But you can be sure that when I talk to folks about that hike, I will tell them it is beautiful, and well worth the effort, but I will also make sure they know it is very strenuous, and longer than what the information sheet indicates.

When I got back to work the next day, I told the lead person what we thought about the hike, and the misinformation, and/or lack of information on the information sheet, and the map, regarding the Lovers Leap Trail. She smiled and said “I’ll look into it.”

Stay Tuned!

Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse

Yesterday Bill and I visited Mount Rushmore National Memorial. We drove along Iron Mountain Road that winds through Custer State Park, and parts of National Forest. We traveled through two tunnels, one that frames Mount Rushmore in the distance.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial is centered around a sculpture into the granite face of Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills in Keystone, South Dakota.

The sculpture features 60-foot heads of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. The four Presidents were chosen, respectively, to represent the birth, the growth, the development, and the preservation of the United States. Mount Rushmore attracts more than two million visitors per year.

As I gazed upon the faces of these four Presidents, I couldn’t help but wonder, what they would have to say if they could speak about our country today…?

After leaving Mount Rushmore, we traveled into Custer, and had a delicious lunch at Burger and Bun. A very small, local hamburger place, that offers a wide variety of delicious hamburgers. They often have a 45 minute wait time to get seated. However, Bill and I happened to get there just a few minutes after they opened and we got seated right away.

After lunch, we made our way to the Crazy Horse Memorial. The Crazy Horse Memorial is a mountain monument under construction on privately held land in the Black Hills, in Custer County, South Dakota. Several  large offers of money,  have been offered to let the Federal Government take over the project, but each offer has been declined, stating the Government wouldn’t have the same passion for the project, and most likely wouldn’t give it the same time and care to do it right… When completed, the Memorial will depict the Lakota Warrior, Crazy Horse, riding a horse and pointing into the distance.

This Memorial was commissioned by Henry Standing Bear, a Lakota elder, to be sculpted by Korczak Kiolkollski. Standing Bear wanted the white man to know the red man had hero’s of their own…

The visitor information sheet we received says “Crazy Horse has never been known to have signed a treaty or touched the pen. Crazy Horse, as far as the scale model is concerned, is to be carved not so much as a lineal likeness, but more as a memorial to the spirit of Crazy Horse to his people. With his left hand gesturing forward in response to the derisive question asked by a white man, where are your lands now? He replied, my lands are where my dead lie buried.”

The next picture is a small scale model of what the finished Memorial will look like.

This picture is a larger model of what the finished Memorial will look like.

Our tour guide told us he thinks it will take another 70 years to complete the Memorial. He told us it all started with a dream of one person, and that dream lives on today. After Korczak Ziolkollski died, his wife and children continue his work today. The Memorial, when completely finished, will include not only the sculpture of Crazy Horse, but also a Indian Museum of North America, and a Medical College for students to earn up to a Doctoral Degree in the medical field.

I found the Crazy Horse Memorial to be a very beautiful, and emotional place. I could feel the sense of pride from the people working in the various areas of the Memorial, from the front gate, to the gift shop, and especially from the tour guides. What a great tribute to honor the Native American Indians.

Next week Bill and I are taking the 1880 train that runs from Hill City to Keystone. And, the week after that, we are going to the Fort Hays Chuckwagon Supper & Music Variety Show. The show lets out in time for us to get to the evening lighting ceremony at Mount Rushmore. All of these events are offered free to us through the VIP  Training Cards we were given so we can see first hand all the Black Hills has to offer visitors. We will then be better prepared to talk about all of these attractions with our visitors to the Custer State Park Visitor Center.

Stay Tuned!

Needles Highway And Sylvan Lake

Yesterday Bill and I took a lovely drive on the Needles Highway in Custer State Park. The visitor information sheet says “Driving along South Dakota Highway 87 will bring you to a 14-mile stretch fondly called the Needles Highway.

 

The road will lead you through a maze of granite spires,

a popular destination for climbing enthusiasts from all over the world.

Marked by narrow tunnels and sharp turns,

the road is a favorite for many motorcyclists, too.” You have to be careful going through these tunnels, because they are a one way vehicle passage.

Bill,

and I both enjoyed stopping along the scenic Needles Highway to just pause, and take it all in.

After passing through the last tunnel on the Needles Highway, you can either turn around and go back the way you came, or continue on to visit other equally beautiful, and scenic, places.

Places like Sylvan Lake. The visitor information sheet says that “Sylvan Lake is arguably the most picturesque of all Black Hills Lakes.

Surrounded by pine and spruce trees,

Sylvan Lake is the starting point for challenging trails that lead to Harney Peak, the highest point east of the Rocky Mountain Range. Sylvan Lake offers rock climbing, camping, watercraft rentals, fishing and a swimming beach.”

Bill and I didn’t take the most challenging hikes, but we did hike the trail that takes you all around the lake. It was a moderate hike that took us up and over hills, and up lots of steps that took us through walking tunnels,

and both Bill,

and I enjoyed the experience.

After our hike, Bill and I enjoyed a picnic lunch beside the lake. We spent the afternoon talking and laughing with each other, and giving thanks that we are blessed to be able to live this retirement life we dreamed of living.

Tomorrow, it’s back to work for three days, then we will have another four days to get out and play again, and explore this amazing state of South Dakota.

Stay Tuned!

Missed Opportunity

This past weekend, I was scheduled to open, and work the first shift at the Wildlife Station Visitor Center, which sits half way around the Wildlife Loop road. When we work any of the remote visitor centers, we are assigned a state vehicle to drive. I picked up my assigned vehicle at the main visitor at about 7:00 a.m.  and started my route to the wildlife station visitor center. Normally, the drive from the main visitor center to the wildlife station visitor center takes about 15-20 minutes, and it is a beautiful country road drive.

I always think of the TV show, Little House on the Prairie, when I drive the wildlife loop road. So peaceful, and tranquil…

It’s not at all unusual to see one, two, three, or four big bull bison along the road while driving to the wildlife station visitor center.

 

And, I always get excited when I do see one, two, three, or four bison on my way to open that visitor center…

However, on this particular morning, I was all by myself, and the only vehicle on the road at that time in the morning, when I suddenly came upon what must have been at least 200 bison cows with their calfs. I mean they were all over the road and walking directly towards me. I have never seen so many bison in one spot in my life, not even when we spent the summer going in and out of Yellowstone Park. We would see maybe six or eight causing a little road jam in Yellowstone, but nothing like what I came up on while I was driving this road… I had to stop because there was no getting around ,or through them, and they just kept walking towards me and surrounded my vehicle. They stopped and started licking my doors, headlights, and tires. I tell you I was so scared. My heart was pounding, and I just kept asking God to please make them keep moving on down the road so I could get on down the road to open the visitor center. I didn’t have any other thought in my head except to get past them, so of course I never thought to get my phone out and take a picture… Duh!!

Finally, that herd of bison decided to move on down the road. And with my heart racing, and my knees shaking, I did the same in the opposite direction. I said a quick prayer to thank Jesus for getting me out of that situation, and I was thinking to myself, “ok, I got through that, I can handle this now” and I continued on my way to open the wildlife visitor center.

Imagine my surprise , and picture my face, when I got a couple miles down the road, and came across yet another herd of bison even bigger than the other. As I was looking down this stretch of road, I couldn’t see the end of the bison that were coming right towards me again. They were everywhere again! Oh no, here we go again… And, again, they surrounded my vehicle, licking it and just standing there looking at me looking at them… I guess I hadn’t had enough time to recover from the last herd, so again I was just to scared, and nervous, to even think about getting my phone out to get a picture…

Now, after getting through all that for the very first time on my own, and having time to appreciate the fact that I did get through it, by the grace of God, my only regret is that I let my fear get the better of me, and I missed a perfect opportunity to capture that many bison in one place on the wildlife loop road…

Eventually, after a 15-20 minute drive became a 45 minute drive, I made it to the wildlife station visitor center, and open it for the day. About two hours after I opened, at least one of the large herds I encountered made their way to the wildlife visitor center. I mean they were all over the place. This would have been the perfect opportunity for me to capture a picture of the size of the herd, except for the fact that the bison were just on the other side of the fence you see in the next picture, and believe it or not, children and their parents, were sitting on the fence trying to get pictures.. Sounds like what is a fun thing to do, but for the fact that now the visitors are in a danger zone, and it is my duty to warn them that bison can jump that fence, and they can run 35 miles per hour… So it is NOT a good idea to get that close to the bison, especially, this herd of cows with their calfs.. There was even one mother that was trying to get her 10-12 yr old son to go beyond the fence and stand right by one of the bison so she could get a picture of him beside the bison. Thankfully, another park worker saw that and stopped it immediately. I mean, come on folks, all we can do is warn you, but if you don’t want to listen… that’s where  these types of incidents make the news…

Now that I have encountered two large herds of bison while driving by myself for the first time, I believe the next time, instead of being scared, I will reach for my phone, and capture the moment so I don’t have to regret a missed opportunity…

Stay Tuned!

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