Campground: Site #24; Ample back-in site; Full hook up; no cell coverage; no off air TV; Very nice setting; The campground is laid out in a long single road with a couple small loops. We were at the far end loop with good spacing and grass for sitting out. Nice neighbors within the park.
I tried to get us into one of the highly rated state park campgrounds, but they were all full. Custer's Gulch was highly rated as well and was probably in a more natural setting than the park campgrounds which were closer to park roads. Custer's Gulch was just a mile from the state park entrance and close to the town of Custer and great Mexican food. All in all, I'd rate this campground really high. The only negative was lack of cell coverage, but you couldn't count on that in the state park either.
People. Met two nice families out of a group of three (all in large Class A motorhomes) that came in together from Louisiana. One husband and wife of the group pulled in next to us and we talked a few times. He was quite a character. Said he owned commercial properties. He started in junk yards and sells used cars.
He was proud of his son Rusty who bought into one of the used car dealerships, turning into a much more profitable business. He told me his lat name was Pipes. That would make his son's name Rusty Pipes! Perfect.
The husband of the other couple we met was named Doc. He is an ex Navy pilot. We talked quite a bit about his Prevost motorhome. These are the big boys. Forty-five foot long buses and each one custom made. A new one will cost you about $2 Million. Yup. The third couple in the group also had a Prevost.
Doc bought his used and had the interior remodeled. We talked pros and cons. While he loved the ride, he did not like the complexity of the rig. EVERYTHING runs on air via the air compressor. Including the waste dump. So as he has an air leak in the manifold somewhere, he can't do anything unless he runs the engine and builds up pressure in the system. I'm sure this is a rare (though costly) repair.
He graciously let me borrow his ladder as I tried to repair the inadequate foam weather stripping around my bathroom vent that was falling off. When I went to his site he showed me “why you don't want to own a Prevost.” The compartment under the driver's side window was full of relays the size of half a pack of cigarettes, wires and lights. While the extent of electronics in there was daunting I knew from experience that the technology was easy to work on – though relays are much more prone to failure than the discrete control system on my little Airstream.
Despite his warnings, I told him that if I could afford it, I'd still probably indulge. They are just sooo cool looking. Many have the bottom half of the rig all chrome like the old buses of the mid 20thcentury. I also told him, that I was really surprised that at our previous campground (Elkhorn Ridge), I was ogling a neighbor's Prevost when the owner came over and said he wanted to talk to me about my Airstream.
Turn's out when he was thinking about doing the RV thing, he was told by a friend “then you have to get a Prevost” and he did. Must be nice to be able to be so cavalier about laying down a million or two. He was finding out the concession of owning a beautiful but big rig – he was having difficulty getting into campgrounds. He liked the look of the Airstream and we traded tales of RV's and camping.
The Prevost of the man who wanted to talk about my Airstream.
When I related this story to Doc, he told me that he has a friend with a Prevost who sold it for an Airstream – particularly for the size issues. In fact, Doc said, as soon as his wife agrees, he is going to sell his and downsize to a Class C. The hold up is the three couples traveling together have been friends for about forever and at least in doc's case, and the trump card - the wife prefers the big rig.
Custer State Park (Black Hills). The park contains a scenic “wildlife loop road” that circles the outer edges of the park. Most trails and a couple gravel roads go within the loop. Driving the loop takes an hour if you're impatient, but I'd allow 2-3 hours for stopping and looking at the bison, pronghorns, wild burros, prairie dogs, deer and just for taking in the beautiful rolling hills. Hiking would add to your time of course.
One a second trip through, we took the gravel Oak Draw Road and rose up over the surrounding hills, then dipped down following the deeply wooded draw. Coming around a corner I saw a young white tailed fawn bolt out of the draw. Then, it turned around and ran back into the brush. I shut off the truck and watched the brush shake for a while while grabbing my camera.
Eventually, mama doe came out and gave me a good stare down, with her two fawns at her back. I fumbled trying to get a focused shot before they darted away from me, white backsides bouncing up the hill.
Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Scenic Drive. These two roads snake in twists and turns from the Wildlife Loop Road in roughly parallel northwesterly directions. Both have vehicle size limiting tunnels. The Needles has one a scant 8' feet wide. Others on the two roads are between 8' 9” to 12' wide.
View from the Needles Highway.
First come, one-way traffic is observed, but then you have to account for the idiots who simply must hold things up further by stopping at or in the tunnel, getting out, and snapping a cell phone photo. We saw one group leave the car and follow it on foot through the tunnel taking photos. I'm in no hurry, but that was annoying.
The 8' wide tunnel.
Wildlife from one of the roadside stops.
The Needles Highway takes you closer to Custer and The Crazy Horse Monument. Iron Mountain Road goes north to Mount Rushmore, getting some really cool views of the monument from lookouts on the elevated road.
Crazy Horse Monument.
I recently finished two books in which Crazy Horse, the Oglala Sioux warrior, played prominent roles – in the Red Cloud war and the Battle of the Little Bighorn. And so I was a little more than interested in seeing this monument. Crazy Horse was the most prominent and admired warrior. He was not a chief. He is revered for his bravery and the fact that he never relinquished his traditional ways.
Blue sky when we arrived.
The monument, museum, as well as all the ongoing carving on the mountainside is owned and run by a non profit foundation. It was all started when Chief Henry Standing Bear invited renowned sculptor Ziolkowski to the Black Hills to carve Crazy Horse. Korczak made it his life-long task living at the site with his wife and ten children. Sone if the children and grandchildren continue to work on the project. There is a very interesting movie at the site describing this history as well as a museum in the sculptor's original studio and family home.
A few hours later. Just as we were getting to watch the Lakota family dance, it got windy and COLD!
Ziolkowski seemed to be quite an interesting character. Born and growing up an orphan in Boston, ehe began sculpting at an early age. He must have been very successful. In the house/museum there was a huge mirror he bought when he was 22 that used to belong to Marie Antoinette and a set of furniture given to him by King Farouk that was an exact replica of the furniture in the tomb of King Tut.
The monument can be impressive in planned scope, in design, difficulty, and execution. However, it can also be disappointing to how little has been completed over a long period of time. One cannot help but compare it against Mt Rushmore – only a half an hour drive away.
Rushmore is awesome in it's grandeur and brings out your patriotic gooseflesh. Crazy Horse is meant to be just as symbolic as a token of remembrance and honor to, not only the man, but the people and way of life for which he fought and died. It is a way for the Lakota, and other native people, to say “We have our heroes and we wish to preserve and honor our history too.”
In that vein, there is a nice museum within the grounds with nice displays and artifacts of the Lakota people. We really enjoyed a Lakota family discuss their personal history, their heritage and perform some traditional dances. The couple met in college and the wife explained that she partakes in dance competitions where their traditional garments may be adorned with liberty with other influences.
They were both informative, interesting and humorous. For example, the husband described how his people used and relied on the buffalo for almost everything. Today, they can be seen going to Walmart for the same one-stop shopping.
Mother and three year old daughter
There is a large amphitheater for viewing the monument that was clsoed while we were there. We were told by friends to make sure we came to watch the evening light show, which I imagine from the seating would be quite patriotically moving. We did take a nice hike up tot he base of it for an up close look. There were tons of stairs, but we thought it worth it.
From the Needles Highway.
Lots of stairs if you want to get close
Hiking Little Devil's Tower.
I was dying to take a hike on the rolling grassy hills seen from the wildlife loop road and in Wind Caves National Park. At the Wind Caves Visitor center I talked to a park ranger. As we're used to now, she asked me what part of Massachusetts we're from. When I said Millbury, she pretty near freaked out, laughing and saying “that's where my favorite mall is!” Turns out her father lives off Massasoit Road in Worcester and she grew up in Uxbridge – all like next door.
She recommended Little Devils' Tower Trail on the Needles Highway near Sylvan Lake as the best bang for the buck. She said it is almost as high as the highest peak (Black Elk Peak), but at a lot less effort. I did just that and had a great hike. I actually got there early enough where I had the mountain top to myself for about 40 minutes.
The trail up included squeezing up this slot.
View of Black Elk Peak.
The color of the rocks were really cool.
Looking over the edge.
Native People's prayer flags
Looking down at the Cathedral Spires
Hiking Cathedral Spires.
Coming down I saw a spur trail that went to Cathedral Spires. This was so worth the little extra effort. I bushwhacked a little at the end of the trail to get some elevation.
Cathedral Spires Trail
Wind Caves National Park.
We drove through the park to get to the Mammoth Site and I'm glad we did. The countryside was as nice and maybe prettier than the Black Hills. Endless rolling hills, countless prairie dog towns and lots of pronghorns. Our ranger friend recommended the Tower Lookout hike at the north end of the park as a great easy hike that is mostly shaded (it was in the low 90's that day). We did not do that because of the heat and other stops that day – opting to take another ride through the wildlife loop.
The Mammoth Site (Hot Springs).
This was supposed to a be e a rainy day excursion for us, but the 92 degree heat sent us there instead. Well worth the drive. In prehistoric times mammoths and other creatures would come to the warm pools of water, but could not get out because of the slippery sides and were trapped there.
The site is enclosed in an air conditioned building and is an active dig and research site. Out tour guide was on her first week, so it could have been better, but the number and clearly identifiable skeletal parts was fascinating.
A mummified baby wooly mammoth in the small museum section.
Visitors are welcome to go downstairs after the tour to the research lab and ask questions to the paleontologists working there.
Black Hills Institute Museum, Hill City SD.
We ducked into this great museum during a brief rain. The timing was perfect as we were just finishing the Needles Highway. They had the largest collection of fossils we have seen to date and have the second largest T-Rex in the country. However, it is run more like a store than a museum and informational signs were not on every piece. I would have loved to ask questions, but there was no one to ask. You pay your fee and walk into the somewhat small room crammed with displays. The quality of items, however, make this a must stop.
We would be a snack for a T-Rex.
This giant alligator (on right) has a larger mouth than the Tyrannosaurus
A Dinosaur Nest!
Fantastic Display. These two were caught in battle when they were swallowed by mud.
Those are the longest necks!
They also have a fantastic mineral collection.
Good Eats. The Begging Burro.
We have been seemingly on a quest for good authentic Mexican food on this entire trip. While several were outstanding, this is the only place we went back to three times in five days. While it was not the best food we've had, certainly not a great atmosphere, it did posses the most unusual menu and the classiest presentation we've seen – by far. Our three waitstaff were friendly and quick – except for the one night when our young waiter forgot us come bill time.
I rarely post photos of food, but when I say this places has a different menu AND they have great presentation, I had to show what I mean.