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!

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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”.  Then 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…  Great 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,  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!

 

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!

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