On June 12, 2003, we headed for the Black Hills of South Dakota. First stop was in Grand Junction to touch base with the family, we had a good visit and spent an afternoon in the park at a car show. We saw several nice street rods and Monty ran in to a couple of old school friends. It was a good visit.
We traveled east out of Grand Junction thru peach orchards and wine country, lots of small towns in the area. Having grown up in Grand Junction, Monty is always amazed how the area has grown and changed thru the years. We camped outside the town of Gypsum, named for the mines in the area. Since it used to be just a wide spot in the road Monty was surprised to see a sprawling subdivision along the river.
Bison on the Range
We followed a scenic drive along the Cache La Poudre River, a designated wild river area, we found a campsite and stayed there for the evening. Next stop was Steamboat Springs, we wandered around town and had lunch. We browsed in a gallery for a bit. It is fun for me to see the towns that I have heard about but never had the opportunity to visit. Monty skied at Steamboat in a past life so he enjoys seeing the changes in the towns.
As an added bonus on this trip, we discovered the original traveling Declaration of Independence was on display at the State Museum in Cheyenne. We’ve never been to Cheyenne so what a perfect opportunity. This broad board is one of the original twenty that were made at the time the Declaration of Independence was written. Several copies were made so each colony could have one for posting. This particular board was found tucked in the back of a picture purchased at a flea market. The signed Declaration of Independence is housed in Washington, DC and was actually signed in August. We toured the museum and stopped in to see the State Capitol building.
Antelope on the Range
We consulted the map and decided it might be time for an audio book, we love mysteries and enjoy attempting to figure out ‘who done it’. Besides calling attention to special scenery we can talk about what’s happening in the book. The Black Hills scenery was restful, lots of green rolling hills, some small trees, and farm land. It was comforting like mac and cheese. We picked up information at the Hot Springs Visitor Center and felt properly welcomed to South Dakota.
Custer State Park was the next stop on our adventure. We drove along the asphalt ribbon thru the beautiful green rolling hills and loved it. What a sight, hundreds of bison, many with calves, some so close we could almost reach out the window and pet them. The bison are shedding their winter coats and getting ready for summer. Most of them looked like they needed a good brushing, we didn’t see any volunteers though. The bison are huge and so marvelous to see up close. The park recommends you stay in your vehicle, but in some cases there are hiking trails running thru the area. I guess you are on your own to figure out if the bison are in that area and you better have an alternate plan. We had to slow down for antelope on the road, some of them rubbing noses and just meandering around. A few miles further down the road we found a heard of wild burros. We loved these two, who look like identical twins. They just stood there side by side and had no intention of moving. A wild turkey ran across our path, several times, thus the question, why does the turkey cross the road, repeatedly.
Burros on the Road
We stayed at the Blue Belle campground and walked to the lodge for some down home cooking. The lodge is rustic and charming and the menu included buffalo stew, buffalo meatloaf or buffalo steak, take your choice. It was an excellent meal with leftovers for another night.
This park has lots of families, kids running and playing tag and in general having a good time. It is a great place for kids, with horse back riding, hay rides, and fishing. The ranger presentation was about a wildlife painter, who lives in Prescott, AZ. Later that evening there was an incredible thunder and lightening storm, glad we had the camper, tent camping in a storm is not fun.
The next day dawned clear but turned rainy by mid morning. We took care of life maintenance issues like fuel for the truck, dumped the tanks, took on water and propane. We moved to a campground right on the stream, with great walking paths. We stopped at a rock shop and had lunch by a lake and read for a bit until the weather cleared.
We headed for the Chief Crazy Horse Memorial just outside the town of Custer. It really is a marvelous fete of engineering and imagination to have even started this sculpture on the face of this mountain. There is a long story about the man doing the sculpture. He worked as an assistant on the Mt. Rushmore sculpture and had won many awards for his work. The Indians approached him and asked him to do the Chief Crazy Horse Memorial in the Black Hills to be tribute to their chief. Mr. Korczak Kiolkowski worked on the sculpture until his death some years ago and now seven of his ten children (guess he wasn’t busy working all the time!) are carrying on the work. They have a large visitor center with Native Americans from across the West working at their crafts and selling their beadwork and jewelry, lots of western art and a museum with the historical documentation of the work and Korczak Kiolkowski’s life. This huge project is a nonprofit educational and cultural project financed primarily from an admission fee. Once a year there is a walk up to the memorial but, other than that one day, the viewing is limited to the visitor center and the grounds surrounding it. It is not as if you can’t see the sculpture if you don’t get close. The head is 87 feet tall with the arm reaching 227. We are talking super size here.
Back to our camp by the stream, burgers on the grill, margaritas beside the stream, and then a nice long walk to the camp store to share an ice cream bar for desert. Life is good.
On to Mt. Rushmore, we took the scenic Iron Mountain Road into the park. What a beautiful trip, down a small two lane winding road along the creek. One vehicle bridges/tunnels have been cut out of the mountain, some no taller than 10′(who would have thought motorhomes would ever be so big) needless to say we avoided that particular road. The other tunnels were just big enough for the truck and camper so we honked our horn and inched through. It was great fun. Mt. Rushmore is an awesome sight, especially as it suddenly appears on the mountain side as you look through the tunnel. Fifty state flags surround the entrance and the place was crowded with visitors eager to get their picture taken under their state flag.
We met a young sculptor who showed us the horse she was working on but was very excited to tell us about the unveiling of her work the next day at the Tatanka Center outside Spearfish. She had a notebook with pictures of her work and the display of riders and bison was beautiful. Monty asked her who commissioned the work and she was smiling when she answered. Kevin Costner commissioned it for the Tatanka Center he was opening featuring bison.
When we left Mt. Rushmore we headed over toward Spearfish and drove by the Tatanka, Story of the Bison Center. The center was closed to the public while hosting a private party, lots of fancy cars lined the road leading to the gates. We couldn’t help but be excited for the sculptor, her enthusiasm was contagious. Apparently our invitation to this gala event was in our mailbox in Tucson, so we moved down the road to Spearfish and stayed the night.
Spearfish is a lovely area. Beautiful scenery and the town appears to be active and prosperous. We stayed in a small campground on the road to the falls. It was a nice evening with time to walk and take pictures of one of the places Dancing with Wolves was filmed. I can understand why Kevin Costner bought a ranch here and fell in love with the bison and culture.
Saturday morning we headed back to the Tatanka Center and it was open for the general public so we ambled in. Kevin Costner was there greeting people and chatting. We enjoyed the demonstrations of the Native Americans showing how they hunted and made homes. The people doing the presentations were excellent and they shared a lot of insight into the Native American people.
Certainly the main attraction was the incredible sculpture of the bison and Indians. These are larger than life size bronze figures of Indians on horseback and buffalo. The riders and bison are captured in a frozen moment as the bison plunge over the cliff. This absolutely stunning sculpture is entitled Buffalo Jump and depicts the way the Indians hunted buffalo by chasing them over cliffs. I admit it is a gruesome thought and of course now that we all just run to the corner market for food it is hard to imagine the Indians used this method to feed their families. It’s hard to find fault with the Indians for providing for the tribe when the white men came in by train and slaughtered millions of buffalo, shooting them from the train and leaving their carcasses to rot.
Native American Demonstrations
We found a campsite at Lake Sheridian and had lunch and headed for the Reptile Gardens outside Rapid City. It was a fun afternoon with bird, alligator and snake shows. There were lots of kids and they loved all of the performances. The kids loved petting the alligator and interacting with the performers. We didn’t pet the alligator, the pesky kids wouldn’t let us in. The Reptile Garden has more deadly snakes than you can find anywhere. There were dozens of beautiful iridescent green and blue frogs from all over the world. Each enclosure was labeled with good information about the critters. There was a large domed, free roam type of aviary with snakes, birds, lizards and other critters. I’m assuming the snakes weren’t poisonous since we wandered all around in there.
Native American Demonstration
On the way to the Badlands National Park we stopped at the Wall Drug Store, in Wall, SD. Wall Drug is one of those odd road side attractions you find when traveling. It started out as simply a drug store in the 1930’s but has become a mini mall of sorts and a stopping place for weary travelers and Gray Line Tour buses. The building and contents look like they just came out of the old west and it is fun place to browse.
A scenic byway took us to the gates of the Badlands National Park. The landscape of the park is very much like Death Valley, kind of a moon scape. The Buffalo National Grassland was beautiful. The grass was actually mesmerizing, almost flowing.
We couldn’t come this far and not stop in Sturgis to see the Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame. Sturgis wasn’t exactly what we expected. It is a small town with not much activity and the downtown main street was empty. We’ve seen pictures, and Jay Leno has done interviews, from Sturgis during the annual motorcycle gathering in August and it is another world from this sleepy town.
We headed to Deadwood, to what we thought was an old mining town but turned out to be a mining town turned into casinos. We aren’t fond of casinos but it was a pretty western town with a busy main street. We loved the old buildings, and many of the bars had sawdust on the floor.
We met an archeologist participating in a dig for the old China town area of Deadwood. They had unearthed lots of treasures. When she learned we were from Tucson, she mentioned the big fire in Tucson. Since we were completely out of touch with the ‘real world’ we headed for a phone to call our neighbor to see if everything was OK. We learned the Tucson was fine but Mt. Lemmon was experiencing a huge fire.
We reluctantly left South Dakota and headed over to Devils Tower in Wyoming. It is an interesting rock about 1,200 feet tall, perched in the middle of the prairie and although, it is a popular place for rock climbers, there isn’t much to do there. We poked around a bit and when it started to rain we headed out. On our way out of the area we had some heavy hail that covered the ground like snow.
We stopped in a small campground in Medicine Bow, and made our way home via the back roads. While traveling on these back roads we saw 50-75 corvettes making an anniversary caravan trip back to Bowling Green, Kentucky, where they were built. It was an awesome sight.
We didn’t know what to expect from this trip but wanted to see something different. It turned out to be one our most memorable trips, the country side was so restful, the green rolling hills and abundance of wildlife was delightful. We really enjoyed this area.