Saturday, October 21, 2017

A few days in Custer, South Dakota

Monday (10/16) to Friday (10/20):

On Monday we made the short drive south on Highway 385 from Spearfish to Custer, South Dakota. We pulled into our campground for the next few days, Beaver Lake Campground, and were assigned to Site O. This is a campground with about 100 spaces located 3 miles west of Custer.

After getting set up in the campground we drove into Custer and went to the Visitor's Center to gather information about the area. A very nice gentleman gave us lots of hints about what to see and how to see it during the three days we have here in the area. We walked the downtown area and then took a short hike up one of the hills that overlooks the town.

We also visited one of the local sports bars, the Bunglin Buck, and enjoyed a tasting of micro-brewed beers from Sheridan, Wyoming. The bar had a trophy size elk bust mounted to one of the walls behind the bartender area.

Tuesday morning we drove over to Custer State Park which is located a few miles east of town. We had a hike we wanted to do along with visiting the park.

We went to the Visitor's Center, visited with one of the volunteers about the park, purchased our pass and then watched a 22 minute movie about the park narrated by Kevin Costner. He had filmed the movie "Dancing with Wolves" in South Dakota and Wyoming (most of it around the Rapid City & Pierre area) and fell in love with this part of the country. From the Visitor's Center we drove about a mile to the trailhead for our walk, the Grace Coolidge Walk-In Fishing Area. From the trailhead we walked about 3.2 miles to Center Lake where we ate a picnic lunch we had packed in. After lunch we made the return hike along the trail back to the Jeep for a total of 6.4 miles.

After completing our hike we drove the Wildlife Loop Road in the park. The park is home to 1,300 bison which we saw all along the route. We also saw wild turkey, pronghorn, deer, prairie dogs and burros. The burros stand in the middle of the road and come right up to your car window. As we exited their area in the park we saw two open Jeep Wagon tour vehicles that the burros must have been waiting on. The tours probably pass by at the same time each day and the burros "know" their schedules.

Wednesday we drove two of the most scenic drives in America: the Iron Mountain Road and the Needles Highway. Both of these drives are located in the Black Hills a few miles apart. The Iron Mountain Road takes you north from Custer State Park to Mount Rushmore. There are three one lane tunnels you have to pass through on the road. As you exit the last two of these tunnels you have views of the monuments at Mount Rushmore.

We stopped at Sylvan Lake and took a short hike around the lake after which we had our picnic lunch.

After finishing our lunch we drove the Needles Highway. The rock formations along this highway are some of the most spectacular we have ever seen. There are also several one lane tunnels located along this highway. The high point is an area called the Needles Center with the Needles Eye rock.

On Thursday we drove over to Hill City to see the town and visited a couple of breweries in the area. Hill City is the second oldest town in the Black Hills (after Deadwood). We walked around the downtown area and then headed out to visit the breweries which are located a few miles north of town.

We sampled beers at both the Sick-N-Twisted Brewing Company and Miner Brewing Company. At both breweries we like one of the beers but not the other ones we tried. We seemed to like the brews along the east coast a lot more than the ones west of the Mississippi.

We drove back to the campground, began the processing of packing up and got ready to head out early Friday to North Platte, Nebraska.

If you want to see more pictures, CLICK HERE.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Last week in Spearfish

October 8 to October 16:

On Sunday (10/8) we had cold weather with rain most of the day. We spent the day inside watching the Dallas Cowboys vs. Green Bay Packers football game. It was a great game even though the Cowboy lost on a late touchdown throw by Aaron Rogers. Monday continued with cold windy weather so we spent most of the day inside.

Tuesday it warmed up so we decided to take a bike ride on a small portion of the George S. Mickelson Trail. This rails-to-trail pathway was created in 1991 and is named after the South Dakota governor at the time. The trailhead starts in Deadwood and continues for 109 miles south. We rode south for about 45 minutes (all uphill with a grade of 2-3%) and then turned around to have a downhill ride back to our Jeep.

When we got back to our campground we tried throwing our new golf discs after watching a couple of  YouTube videos on techniques. We still need lots of practice to get the proper method down.

Wednesday the weather remained nice so we drove into Spearfish and rode the hike/bike trail in town. We decided the "right" way to ride the trail was to start out at the lowest point of the trail in the west end of town and then have a downhill ride on the return trip.

On Thursday we drove north of Spearfish about 18 miles to Belle Fourche (french for "beautiful fork") which is located between the Redwater and Belle Fourche rivers. It is the closest community to the geographical center of the landmass of the United States (including Alaska and Hawaii).

We also visited the Tri-State Museum and Visitor's Center located on the same site. The museum has a nice set of exhibits and history of this ranching area. Belle Fourche was a railhead for shipping of cattle & sheep to meat packing plants in the Chicago area during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Since it was a major rail head the town had lots of brothels, saloons and hotels to house & entertain the cowboys at end of their cattle drives. One traveling house of "ill repute"  floated up and down the river docking at points close to town. All of this ended in 1919 when the town outlawed both prostitution and alcohol.

Calamity Jane returned to the Black Hills in her final stages of raging alcoholism and worked at one of the local brothels in Belle Fourche as a laundress & cook until her death in 1903. She was buried in Deadwood next to Wild Bill Hickok after her death. The Hole-In-The-Wall-Gang including the Sundance Kid robbed the Great Butte County Bank in Belle Fourche during 1897.

Belle Fourche is home to South Dakota's oldest and largest rodeo each year, the Tri-State Roundup, which started in 1917 as a fund raiser during the first World War. The famous bucking horse, Tipperary, was first rode by Yakima Canutt, a cowboy from a ranch near Belle Fourche, in 1920 after bucking off 80 riders. The horse was named after the WWI song "It's a Long Way to Tipperary" sung by a cowboy who was bucked off the horse (thereby losing a $500 bet to the owner of the horse).

Historical cabin moved to this site a few years ago.
Friday we drove over to Deadwood to pick up a few more "bottles" of the Full Throttle Cafe Moonshine at Deadwood Distillery. We also walked along the hike & bike trail that runs along the creek in town.

Saturday morning we had a snow/sleet mix here in the campground. The ground was too warm for it to stick, but it did looked like winter out our windows. There are only a few RV's left in the park as most people have already headed south. Connie worked on her jigsaw puzzle in the afternoon while I watched the Texas/OU football game. With very few people in the park we were able to stream a movie on our Amazon Prime account in the evening.

Sunday we did some last minute grocery shopping here in Spearfish and got the Duchess ready to head south. The wind was blowing so hard that we decided to go ahead and put our satellite dish and TV/WiFi Ranger antenna down to prevent any damage to them. Monday morning we will finish packing up and head to Custer, South Dakota for a few days. Here are a few more pictures of the RV Park we were at for a month. It is a nice park although they close the pool & hot tub after Labor Day.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Weeks 2 & 3 in Spearfish

September 23 to October 7:

During our second and third weeks in South Dakota we experienced wide swings in the weather. We had everything from temperatures in the 80's to one night of freezing temperature.We took advantage of some nice days to drive in several canyons in the area to see the fall colors on the trees.

We visited several of the towns nearby during these weeks: Deadwood, Lead, Sturgis and Rapid City. Deadwood in an old mining town established during the South Dakota gold rush that has become a tourist destination based on the legends of Wild Bill Hickok & Calamity Jane along with a number of gambling casinos. Lead in where the Homestake Mining Company was located along with it's large gold mine that closed in 2002 leaving the town struggling to find something to replace the mine. Sturgis is home to the world's largest motorcycle rally each year in August, the Black Hills Motor Classic along with Fort Meade and it's Veteran's Administration facilities. Rapid City is the largest town in the area with a population of about 75,000. It is home to Ellsworth Air Force Base where one of the nation's B-1B bomber squadrons is stationed.

We made two trips to Rapid City during these time frame: one to site see and one to attend a "beer festival". We visited the South Dakota Air and Space Museum located at the entrance to Ellsworth where they have over 20 airplanes dating from WWII to a modern B-1B bomber along with a nice museum.

We also walked around downtown Rapid City where they have statues on almost every corner including 42 of the US presidents. The downtown area seemed very "alive" with all of the buildings being occupied by stores, restaurants and other establishments.

Connie with our 1st President, George Washington

We saw this in he window of a "high-end" pawn shop in downtown Rapid City

We also visited the Dinosaur Park which overlooks the city. The park and "dinosaurs" where built as a WPA project during the Great Depression.

Another day we returned to Rapid City to attend their Octoberfest/Beer Festival. There were over 70 microbreweries from South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana and Colorado that were at the event and a polka band that played.

Mike with LBJ
 We spent one day visiting Sturgis and Fort Meade which is located a couple miles outside of town. Fort Meade was one of the forts built in the 1870's during the South Dakota gold rush to protect the whites coming for the gold from the Indians. Today Fort Meade is a National Guard facility along with a large Veteran's Administration location. There are a number of buildings from the late 19th and early 20th century that are still in use at the fort.

Sturgis is most famous for the motorcycle rally held each year in August. This year about 500,000 people attended the rally (click on this article in USA Today about the event). During most of the year there about 6,500 people residing in Sturgis, so you can see how packed the city becomes during these two weeks. We walked around the downtown area, bought some "Sturgis" items and then visited the Knuckle Brewing Company to sample some of their brews.

We visited Deadwood a couple of times: once to attend their Octoberfest and once to walk the downtown. The Octoberfest ended up being quite small with the only activities (other than drinking beer) being a Weiner Dog race and a beer barrel roll. The downtown has a number of saloons and all of the hotels have casinos. Deadwood was the third place to have legalized gambling in the USA after Nevada and then Atlantic City. The buildings all date from the early 20th century since most of the original structures were made of wood and burned during several fires the city experiences over the years. We attended a "reenactment" of the murder of Wild Bill Hickok in one of the saloons and I got to play the riverboat captain who was sitting at the table playing poker with Wild Bill when he was shot. My one line was "I've been shot" since the bullet that killed Bill ended up in my forearm (the captain showed this wound to everyone the rest of his life). Wild Bill had only been in Deadwood for three weeks before he was killed, but he has made the town famous.

We spent another day visiting the town of Lead (pronounced "leed"). They have a Visitor's Center/Museum that overlooks the Open Cut of the Homestake Gold Mine. We toured the museum and then did a walking tour of the downtown area. The gold mine was open from the late 1870's until 2002 during which it became the largest and deepest gold mine in North America with tunnels 8,000 feet below the surface. The Manuel brother discussed the mine and then sold it to a group that included the father of William Randolph Hearst for $70,000 in 1877. A number of processes to get more gold out of the ore were developed by employees of the Homestake Mine. At Today the mine is home to the Sanford Labs where they do a lot of science based on physics in the old mining tunnels. With the closing of the mine the town has suffered and a number of the buildings in the downtown blocks are vacant.

We took a couple of drives through the canyons located nearby to see the fall colors. In Spearfish Canyon we hiked to a couple of waterfalls, Spearfish Falls and Roughlock Falls.

We also took drives through Boulder Canyon and Vanocker Canyon which are located near Sturgis and another canyon located near Rapid City. All had beautiful fall colors which we decided photos would not do justice (the skies was overcast).

We took advantage of a couple of warmer days to ride our bikes in Spearfish. Spearfish has a hike/bike trail that runs about 12 miles through town along the Spearfish Creek. It is a great place to ride with several parks located along the path. The trees along the river are also turning colors with the cooler temps. We also ordered a set of "disc golf" from Amazon and played a part of the disc golf course located in Spearfish.