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!

Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, South Dakota

Today Bill and I took a beautiful back-road drive through the black hills of South Dakota, on our way

to the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, South Dakota. This is yet another free admission perk we get with our VIP card we received for our volunteer service here at Custer State Park.

“The discovery of this active dig came about in June 1974, when heavy equipment operator George Hanson was leveling ground for a Hot Springs housing development planned by land owner Phil Anderson. Hanson was grading a small hill when his blade struck something that shone white in the sunlight. Hanson got out for a closer look. What he saw was a tusk, about seven feet long, sliced in half length wise, along with other bones. Mr Hanson contacted the land owner, Mr. Anderson, who contacted three universities and colleges in South Dakota, and one university in Nebraska. None of the 4 colleges were interested in the project nor did they have any desire to come and see what was discovered in Hot Springs”. Eventually, they did get the attention of the right people who came and saw the discovery, and took the right actions to save this site, which is an active dig site to this day. All to the credit of Mr. Hanson who discovered the bones, and land owner, Mr. Anderson, who sold the land at cost. He did not make a profit off the land at all…

The information sheet we received when we arrived at the Mammoth Site say’s “Travel back in time to the late Ice Age by taking a 30 minute guided tour indoors”. What a great learning experience this tour was. We learned that there was a very large sinkhole in the area, and the edges of a sinkhole was very slippery. This is “where Columbian and wooly mammoths, camels, wolves, and giant short-faced bears became trapped leaving an ancient treasure trove of fossil remains”.

How did they become trapped, you might ask…? Well the edges of the sinkhole was spearfish shale, which is very slippery when wet. So when the animals would go to the edge of the sinkhole, where they were enticed by the tender grasses, and the warm waters that surrounded the sinkhole, many of them, like the mammoths, that carried massive weight, and didn’t have claws to help them dig their way out, ┬áwould slip in and die of exhaustion from trying to get out, or they would drown. The picture below is an example of spearfish shale.

We found it interesting that this is an active working excavation site featuring the fossils of over 60 mammoths,

and of those 60 mammoth remains, most of them are male. Our guide told us that they believe that is because the mammoths had a female matriarch that would teach the majority of the herd to stay away from the sinkhole. However. boys will be boys… and the young male mammoths that didn’t want to behave, would be kicked of the herd, and without the female matriarch to guide them away from the sinkhole… they fell in and died… Pay attention boys!! The next three pictures are of male remains found in the sinkhole.

The next picture is an example of a full-size mammoth.

This mammoth exhibit hall also features replicas of Lyuba,

and Dima; baby mammoth mummies discovered in Siberia.

For budding scientists, there is a hands-on learning activity for children. Downstairs, the laboratory windows provide a behind- the-scenes glimpse of the scientific work being conducted on site.

Bill and I ended our outing with lunch at the Blue Bell Lodge, here in Custer State Park,

where we enjoyed a delicious lunch of buffalo stew, served in a cast iron skillet, with mashed potatoes on top,

and delicious cornbread with honey butter…OMG!!!

Just another fun-filled day here in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

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!

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!

 

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!

 

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… ­čÖé

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 ┬álarge offers of money, ┬áhave 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!

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