Center Lake

Bill and I are winding down our time here in beautiful Custer State Park, South Dakota. We have only two more three day work shifts, then we will be leaving here on 9/24/19 to make our four day trip back to Arizona. We’ve spent the past five months here, and are thankful we had this opportunity to visit this magical place. While we really enjoyed all the things we saw and did on our days off, there were an equal amount of things we didn’t like about our stay. Like our ever changing work schedules. We worked at four different Visitor Centers, but not together. One day we would open a Visitor Center, and the next day we would be closing a Visitor Center. When we had to close, we had to work until 8:00 p.m. which did not suit us at all. Both Bill and I are very much early morning people and don’t like sitting around half the day waiting to go to work. And the campground we live in is a complete disaster. We changed campsites three times since we’ve been here, and still never got our coach level. The problem is most of the sites in this campground are on a slant. Somehow these things were not mentioned to us when we had our telephone interview and accepted the positions… We are so ready to get back to our level site at McDowell Mountain Regional Park, and work the Visitor Center schedules we have enjoyed for the past four years there. We already talked to our new Supervisor, and she said she would love for us to keep the same schedules we had for the past four years.

One good thing that did happen as the result of our ever changing work schedules, was that we were assigned to work “special project” last Friday with the maintenance lead, Darin. Darin is a really great guy, and he needed help loading up canoe’s that were used over the summer by the Naturalist’s to teach free canoeing basics. Darin told us to meet him at Center Lake ,and Bill could help him load the canoe’s onto his truck so he could deliver them to the storage garage where they will stay until they are needed again next summer.

While we were waiting for Darin to arrive at our meeting place at Center Lake, we had the opportunity to walk around, and take in how beautiful Center Lake is.

When Darin arrived, he told us that Center Lake is the lake that is also used for the “Hook em and Cook em” program the Naturalists teach over the summer. Hook em and Cook em is a free fishing program, where families can go fishing, without a fishing license, and the park supplies the fishing poles, bait, and the Naturalists will even clean, and cook the fish the families catch. What a deal!

Darin also told us that because Center Lake is stocked with three kinds of trout for the Hook em and Cook em program, it’s also the lake all the local folks come to fish. Yes, sign us up!

Center Lake also has a beautiful campground surrounding the lake. It is the only campground, in Custer State Park, that makes same day camping reservations. All other campgrounds must be booked in advance. Bill and I really enjoyed visiting Center Lake. It is so, so, peaceful and beautiful.

While loading up the canoe’s, Darin found this pretty little baby doll under one of the canoe’s. He sat it on the lock box that is used to store the life vests and canoe paddles. When we got ready to leave, I asked Darin if he was just going to leave, and abandon, this pretty little doll baby with her cute pink, teddy bear outfit on, and cute pink hat…? He smiled and said “put her in my truck and I’ll find a way to play a trick on the Park Manager, Lydia”. Lydia, I had nothing to do with whatever “trick” Darin is planning to do…

We were scheduled to work the full day with Darin, and we were ready to do just that. But that morning, when we met up with him, I mentioned that that day was our anniversary. And guess what? After we got the canoe’s unloaded back at the storage garage, which only took three hours, Darin said “I think I’m just going to cut you folks loose now ,so go and enjoy the rest of your day… “Thanks Darin!

Looking back over the past five months, we would not take anything for the experience we’ve had here in South Dakota. But, after five months of buffalo’s coming and going at will in and around our campsite, knocking over our outside ovens, scratching our motorhome, grunting, sniffing females to see if they are ready to mate, and fighting for the right to mate with her right outside our motorhome, keeping us trapped inside..,

after five months of all that… , we no longer say with excitement “oh look, the buffalo are coming.” NO!! Now we say “OH S##T, the buffalo are coming!! But oh, what stories we have to tell… ┬á­čÖé ­čÖé

Stay Tuned!

South Dakota Air and Space Museum

Last week Bill and I toured the South Dakota Air and Space Museum, part of the museum system of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. “The South Dakota Air and Space Museum serves to educate and entertain the public. Not only does it give information ┬áabout the history of U.S. Air Force aviation, it promotes South Dakota aviation history.

Aircraft that have been flown throughout the eras are on display at South Dakota’s premiere free aviation museum!”

When we first arrived at the museum, Bill said “Im going to nerd out here and read everything.” ┬áThe plane he is standing in front of, the F-100, is an example of one of many that his late brother, Rick, flew during his 20 plus years in the Air Force.

“The outdoor air park is filled with WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Cold War, and present day aircraft.” You are free to roam around taking pictures and touch history.

Inside the museum are all sorts of displays that allow you to get up close and see inside the cockpit of various planes.

I loved this display of the Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Remembrance Table. The sign next to the table explains that:

“The small table is set for one symbolizing the frailty of one prisoner.

The table is round showing our everlasting concern for our missing service members.

The tablecloth is white symbolizing the purity of their motives when answering the call to arms.

A single red rose reminding us of the life of each of the missing, and the loved ones and friends of these Americans who keep the faith, awaiting answers.

A red ribbon symbolizing our continued determination to account for our missing.

A slice of lemon reminding us of the bitter fate of those missing, captured and held as prisoners in a foreign land.

A pinch of salt symbolizing the tears endured by those missing and their families who seek answers.

A candle representing the light of hope which lives in our hearts to illuminate their way home.

The glass is inverted symbolizing their inability to share the evening’s toast.

“Let us remember and never forget their sacrifices. May God forever watch over them and protect them and their families.”

After we finished touring the Air and Space museum, we took a guided tour through the Missile Training Launch Facility on the Ellsworth Air Force Base.

Bill is standing in front of a training missile silo that we actually got to go down inside of and see all the internal workings.

A very COOL way to end our visit to South Dakota’s Air and Space Museum!

Stay Tuned!

Mount Coolidge Lookout Tower

Yesterday Bill and I went to Mount Coolidge Lookout Tower. This tower serves as the Park’s fire lookout and information center.

Visitors to Custer State Park are always welcome to go as far as the outside observation deck on the second floor level.

However, if you are staff, or a volunteer at Custer State Park, you are allowed to go all the way to the top of the tower, and visit the third floor working interior quarters of the tower. What a treat that is!

The third floor observation room is the highest point in central Custer State Park (6,023 ft), and offers breathtaking 360-degree views.

It’s amazing to see up close all the tools it takes to not only spot fires from miles away, but also the maps and tools needed to pinpoint the exact location of the fire so you can communicate that information to firefighters on the ground and in the air.

The telescopes in the tower are so powerful, they make Crazy Horse,

and Mount Rushmore, look like they are just a stone throw away… We learned that on a clear day, you can see the Badlands nearly 60 miles away in the east.

It may look like a bit of a mess in the lookout tower, but I can say that the people that operate the fire tower know where everything is, and they are on top of everything all the time.

Mount Coolidge serves as the park’s dispatch center and fields a large volume of radio traffic and phone calls. Before contacting them, we are asked to make sure you have a legitimate question or concern. For example, we would call Mount Coolidge if we were notified of a lost person within the park, or if we were made aware of any dangerous situation. However, if it were a medical emergency, we would call 911 first, then call Mount Coolidge.

The first lookout tower was built on what was then known as Sheep Mountain in 1923. This tower was a log tower and the staff quarters were built at the base. In 1923 the mountain was renamed Lookout Mountain. On June 28, 1927, in a special proclamation President Calvin Coolidge changed the name yet again and called it Mount Coolidge. In 1940, the CCC built a stone tower with caretaker’s quarters to replace the log structure. The fire lookout consists of three stories. The actual fire tower is on the third floor of the stone building. The side walls consist of twelve very heavy windows. The second floor has one bedroom. Outside the second floor is an observation deck with an outside stone stairway for visitors. The first floor has a main room, bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. The person on duty works three 12 hour shifts, and more often than not, they stay in the tower for the three days they are working.

Bill and I were very happy we took the tour of the tower. The views from the top of the tower are truly breathtaking.

Just another fun-filled day in Custer State Park.

Tomorrow we are going to take advantage of yet another free adventure when we use the VIP card we were given as volunteers of Custer State Park to go visit and tour South Dakota Air & Space Museum. Not only will we get to visit the museum, but we also get a free bus tour of Ellsworth Air Force Base & Missile Silo. Now how cool is that!!?

Stay Tuned!

Devils Tower

Yesterday Bill and I traveled to Wyoming to visit Devils Tower, America’s first National Monument! What an amazing place. We learned so much, and came away with a powerful respect for the area, the Native American people, their culture, and their history connected to the Tower.


We learned that “Native Americans are active stakeholders in the use and management of Devils Tower National Monument. Over two dozen federally recognized tribes are associated with the Tower. Much focus has been given to the oral histories these tribes have about their connections to the Tower. Words such and “myth” and “legend” are frequently used to describe these stories, but the appropriate term is sacred narrative-stories which explain how the world and people came to be.

American Indian oral histories are only a part of tribal connections to the Tower site. In the simplest terms, this is viewed as a place where the physical and spiritual worlds connect. Native people visit this place not only to connect with their past, but to perpetuate their culture today and into the future. The summer solstice in mid-June is a common time for indigenous groups to practice their cultural traditions. Prayer and purification ceremonies, as well as other rites of passage, frequently occurs here.” For that reason, a voluntary closure to the area inside the Tower Trail occurs every June out of respect to American Indian cultural practices.

The most visible element of native connections to the Tower are prayer bundles.

“As you walk the trails of the park, you may notice colorful cloths attached to the trees. These are offerings left by native people which represent prayers. The colors, placement, and contents have significance for the person who made them.”. You are asked to be respectful of the artifacts and to not disturb them in any way, and do not leave other items behind, as prayer bundles are a part of the cultural landscape of this site.

I loved learning what N. Scott Momaday wrote. “at the top of the ridge I caught sight of Devil’s Tower upthrust against the gray sky as if in the birth of time the core of the earth had broken through its crust and the motion of the world was begun. There are things in nature that engender an awful quiet in the heart of man; Devil’s Tower is one of them.”


As Bill and I hiked the base of the Tower, we were amazed at how the colors changed depending on how the light and shadows fell upon it. On the backside of the Tower are rocks at the base of the Tower that are not visible from the front side of the Tower.

We learned that several Indian nations share similar legends on the origin of this prominent butte. The Kiowa people say: “Eight children were there at play, seven sisters and their brother. Suddenly the boy was struck dumb; he trembled and began to run upon his hands and feet. His fingers became claws, and his body was covered with fur. Directly there was a bear where the boy had been. The sisters were terrified; they ran, and the bear after them. They came to the stump of a great tree, and the tree spoke to them. It bade them climb upon it , and as they did so it began to rise into the air. The bear came to kill them, but they were just beyond its reach. It reared against the tree and scored the bark all around with its claws. The seven sisters were borne into the sky, and they became the stars of the Pleiades.”

As we continued our hike around the Tower, we had ample opportunities to take in all the beautiful views.

Every curve in the trail exposed something new and exciting to explore.

I couldn’t help but feel the presence of the spirits of the people that lived and died here.

And I admire the people who come to pay their respect to their loved ones, and leave their prayer offerings for them.

I’m so glad we made the trip to Wyoming to visit this sacred place. So much history, culture, and beauty to learn about.

Bill and I both agreed we could spend hours in this peaceful place, and just gaze upon the mighty Devils Tower.

Stay Tuned!

Supper Show And Lighting Ceremony

Last night Bill and I went to the Fort Hays Chuckwagon Supper & Music Variety Show, then we attended the Evening Lighting Ceremony of Mount Rushmore.

The Chuckwagon Supper & Music Variety Show is advertised as “Family-friendly attractions with history! Step back in time at the Fort Hays Old West Town Square. Stroll along the boardwalk and take a free, self-guided tour of the Dances With Wolves film set, and the South Dakota movie museum. Then enjoy a hearty chuckwagon menu, and the most entertaining show in the Black Hills!”


Dances With Wolves is one of both mine, and Bill’s, favorite movies, so we really enjoyed walking all through the set of the Dances With Wolves film set. We saw everything from the Saw Mill,

and the “Enging that was used in the filming of the sawmill scene”,


to the Blacksmith Shop,

and of course, there has to be a Livery. Can’t just let all those horses roam around freely! It was fun getting an up-close look at all the different sets used in the filming of Dances With Wolves.

At 7:00 the dinner bell rang, and we were all ushered into the dining room for a chuckwagon style dinner.  Directly after dinner, we were treated to a real Hee Haw, boot stomping, western show! The young cowgirl in the next picture really set that fiddle on fire!

The cowboy in this picture is a preacher by trade, and does the dinner shows in the evenings. He came out with his stick horse, and “10 gallon hat”, singing I’m a Long Tall Texan… Too funny!

After dinner, we made our way to Mount Rushmore for the evening lighting ceremony. The Ranger was asking for five Vets to volunteer for a flag ceremony just before the lighting of the Mountain. Bill volunteered along with four other vets, and Bill was selected to be the group leader of the flag ceremony. Bill was to hold the flag until the appropriate time, then he was to unfold the flag with the assistance of the other four vets.

Once the flag was unfolded, Bill was to step back while the other four vets held the flag open in front of the walkway to the viewing platform of Mount Rushmore.

While the four vets held the flag open, Mount Rushmore was lit up, as the National Anthem played, and we all sang along. BEAUTIFUL ceremony.

At the conclusion of the National Anthem, four vets held the flag while Bill folded it back up and presented it to the Ranger. When the Ranger had the flag in his possession, he saluted Bill, and said he wanted to publicly thank any vets that never received a “welcome home”. ┬áThen he asked for a round of applause for all five of the vets that participated in the flag ceremony at Mount Rushmore that evening.

The crowd erupted in applause, and everyone started snapping pictures of the Ranger and his five volunteer vets… ┬áGreat Job guys!

Another fabulous evening here in South Dakota!

Stay Tuned!


Wall Drug And The Badlands

To our daughter, Shantel, this week, Papa and I took a trip to the Badlands, and of course, we made a stop at the famous Wall Drug.

The story of Wall Drug is that “in December of 1931 Dorothy and Ted Hustead bought the only drugstore in a little town called Wall on the edge of the Sough Dakota Badlands. By the summer of 1936, the business had not grown much. They had given the business five years trial time, but they were still seeing a lot of cars going by without stopping. Then on a hot July Sunday, Dorothy came up with a startling idea. Realizing that all the cars going by on Route 16A through the hot, dusty prairie would have thirsty folks inside, she proposed that they put up signs on the highway telling people to come in for free ice water. The rest, as they say, is history!

FREE ICE WATER! This simple, but innovative idea has brought the Husteads a long way. They have discovered that no matter where you are, you can succeed if you offer people something they need and serve up good humor, great service and good deals.”


Wall Drug is a quirky place filled with lots of different kinds of shops within the building called Wall Drug. And all sorts of unusual and unexpected characters can be found both inside and outside of all the shops.

Shantel, I so wish you could have been with us so I could take you sighted guide to “see” the characters that were all over Wall Drug. There was a full-sized figure of a saloon girl sitting on a bench outside one of the shops,

and cowboy sitting on a bench outside another shop.

Just outside is a giant jackrabbit with a saddle on it’s back. On one side of the jackrabbit are some steps so folks can climb up on it and have their pictures taken.

Two brown horses are hitched to a green covered wagon with red wheels.

One shop had some life-size figures of some men playing poker at at table, and one of the men has a pistol drawn and is pointing it at another man.

We saw a figure of an old prospector leading his donkey by a rope.

And Wall Drug also has a cafe, so Papa and I decided to have lunch there.

We both had buffalo burgers that were very good.

Wall Drug even has a Travelers Chapel on site.

Papa and I stopped in the chapel for a visit.

When we left Wall Drug, we made our way on to the Badlands. What an amazing and beautiful place. Every time I see beautiful places like that, I think of you Shantel, and how I can describe what I saw to you. The best I can do is let you know what the information sheet says about the Badlands which is, ” The Badlands area is a wonderland of water chiseled spires, ragged ridges, rugged canyons and prairie. In the Badlands, you will see some of the most rapid landscape changes anywhere on earth. Erosion has carved knife-like edges and canyons, chimneys, pinnacles and turtleback mounds. The siltstone, mudstone and volcanic ash areas are easily worn away by the forces of nature, and these forces have sculpted a magic land.” I couldn’t agree more!


As we traveled through the Badlands, we saw so many different colors. Warm and cool colors of red, yellow, green, blue, white…

Every turn in the road provided something more beautiful than the last to see..

At one of the pull-outs we stopped at, we saw a sign that said “zero tolerance policy. Federal law strictly prohibits the collection and/or removal of fossils, rocks, plants, and cultural artifacts from Badlands National Park. Violators will be subject to a maximum fine of $250,000 and sentenced to up to five years in federal prison.”

I just can’t say enough how beautiful the Badlands are.

It’s hard to imagine how water and wind can create such beautiful scenery.

It was a beautiful, relaxing day, and Papa and I are so happy we have this opportunity to be here and experience all South Dakota has to offer.

This week Papa and I are going to the Fort Hays Chuckwagon Supper & Music Variety Show, and after that, we are going to the evening lighting of Mount Rushmore. We love and miss you, and wish you could be here with us.

Stay Tuned!


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, ┬áscaring the animals, and caused ┬áthem 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!


Previous Older Entries

Wheeling It

On the Road Since 2010, Traveling Across USA & Europe With 12 Paws

The Brantley Blog

In the eyes of the law, we reach adulthood the day we turn 18 years old. God help anyone who actually believes that.

the next few years

family life..with a unique perspective of motherhood

Gotham Girl Chronicles

a mixture of random in

Blooming Burgh Boomer

Living An Active Full Life

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