Friday, August 31, 2012

Custer State Park - Wildlife Loop

Custer State Park, named after George Armstrong "last stand" Custer, is South Dakota's largest state park, covering more than 71,000 acres.  There are three scenic drives in and around the park, the Wildlife Loop, Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Road.   There is a $15 automobile charge to enter and use the park, and it is good for 7 days, so it is well worth it if you are going to truly enjoy the Black Hills.  

Today we decided to do the Wildlife Loop.  We traveled east on highway 16, entered the park and paid our fee, then took highway 87 south where 6 miles later there is a sign for the wildlife loop going to the left.  The loop will go to the east, then head north and connect back up to highway 16.  It is a simple route, nice drive, and we did see some wildlife, though not as much as we had hoped for.

After we passed the toll both, we immediately saw signs that told us that wildlife was certainly in the area....
....oh, look there, our first wildlife warning sign!  I wonder what it will be?  Bear?  Buffalo??  Elk???  Nope, only a sign my sister would love....
 ...a Turtle Crossing sign!   That one is for you Sis....
The turtles seem to, at certain times of the year, pass between the small marsh to the north of the road over to the vast Stockdale Lake.  There is a highway which goes around the lake, but we did not take it today, perhaps another day.  It is a pretty lake.....but we saw zero turtles.
 After we turned on highway 87, the road just goes through this hilly, tree covered area, a real pretty 6 mile drive, with one turnout which, if you don't mind a little over a mile long dirt road, you sure want to take.  It is the turnout to the right to the Mt. Coolidge Lookout. 

There is also a turnout to the left, but it requires a small hike, and you are not able to get the 360 degree view as you do up at Mt. Coolidge.  On a clear day, you can see to the north and east the following locations: Crazy Horse, Needles, Karney Mountain, Mt. Rushmore, Ellsworth Air Force Base and the Badlands.  Today was not real clear, so the Air Force base and the Badlands were not visible. 

Above is the Fire Tower Observation deck.  You can walk up a small flight of stairs and they have information signs, and 2 or 3 telescopes which cost 25 cents to use.
Unfortunately, they decided to allow phone and radio or other transmission towers to sit up on top of the mountain too...which puts a damper on the view for photos....
They also provide information about the 1988 fire, which consumed nearly 17,000 acres.  Caused by lightening, it was totally contained within a week...but due to high drought, it spread fast and caused much damage to the forest, but did not hurt any buildings.
The best camera view is actually from the parking lot looking out to the north...there are no "wires" from the many antennas obstructing the view here.  You get a good look of the Black Hills, and fortunate for us, there are two scenic drives through those mountains which look very promising as far as pictures go.
We continued down the road, and just before we turned onto the Wildlife Loop, we saw a nice herd of Pronghorn sitting off to the right.
Off to the left was a herd of buffalo.  We skipped that shot figuring that we got our "close up" pictures of these beasts while in Yellowstone, and I figured we would see much more Buffalo along the drive since there is an estimated 1,400 head in the park...but I was wrong.  That was all there was.

The drive offered some very nice views, as you can see above and below.  Many open meadows, trees, hills...
 ...and from time to time some very nice rock formations too.
But alas, we did not see anything but Prairie Dogs on our drive to the east.  But as the road got ready to turn to the north, we came upon this large turnout, and it was full of Pronghorns.
We thought these two below might come a bit closer, but there was around a dozen people at this turn out, and they just teased us a bit, then turned off to the left away from everyone.
The Pronghorn is an animal which unique to North America, found in the west and upper central part of the United States and Canada.  Since they resemble antelopes, many people refer to them as such.  It can run very fast, to speeds around 60 mph, and is probably only surpassed in speed by the cheetah, although it can maintain the high speed much longer than a cheetah.

After stopping at the small visitor's center for a "no-water" facilities stop, and place for the dogs to roam the grass and leave their little presents, we continued on to the north.  Quickly we came to the Buffalo Corrals area.  This I found to be a bit disturbing...only because it is a State Park, which I would think would be refuge to the animals, not a ranch....
So here the buffalo find a place of refuge, until they are big enough to slaughter and they are sold on the open market.  We are less than a month from the "yearly round-up", and we plan to be far away from here when that happens....  Below is the corrals they use.
 We continued to drive north and I thought I saw something out in the distant hillside....
Wow!  This is a big old male...just laying there keeping alert, and getting a good rest.

We also saw some Wild Turkeys and around six deer, both Mule and White Tail, but did not get a picture of any of them.  It was a nice, pleasant drive, and well worth the couple hours of our time.  

For lunch, we pulled over along one of the picnic areas along Highway 16 as we headed back to Custer.
It was a nice, peaceful area.... one else in site...
 ...if there was only grass to play on, and we all would be happy.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Mount Rushmore Night Lighting Ceremony

Today we got up around 7, and had to wait for an hour before we could turn on our generator so that we could make coffee.  Now we could have made "pressed coffee", but it is a bit of a mess to clean up, and without sewer hookups, waiting for 45-50 minutes was the best thing to do.  I turned it on at 7:55...sorry if I bothered anyone.

The ride over to Custer South Dakota was very easy, except for about a 3-4 mile stretch about 15-20 miles west of Custer.  There the road narrows, lots of sharp curves, and Marcia sure did not like the 2-3 areas where the drop-off to the right side of the road looked like it never would stop.  I just put it in third, put on the PAC Break, and took it easy.  Below is a look near the boarder of Wyoming and South Dakota, right where the Black Hills start.

We will have plenty of time to take pictures of the Black Hills area, so until then, this will do ya.

We are staying at the Big Pine Campground just west of Custer.  The park has about 65 sites, plus tent camping, but it does not seem that busy now.  I am sure that when "Sturgis Rally Week" hits the Black Hills, this campground, as most others, is packed.  But with school starting up in much of the country, the amount of motor homes is starting to dwindle, and the worry about reserving a place to stay has vanished in this part of the country.  But it is not fact, today was in the mid-90's, with humidity around 20%.  Unusually hot, they say, and they even let school out early in many parts around here since they don't have air conditioning in the schools.  Anyway, the people running this park are the nicest folks...much like we have seen in many of the parks since we left the Portland area.  Here are a few pictures of where we are staying.
With the hot weather it is nice to be under some trees...
 ...but in this case, under trees means no grass...
 ...and no grass means unhappy dogs.
But it is far from the road, will be a nice quiet park, and another one of those "stay 6 days get the 7th day free" type of thing.  We have water, sewer and 30 amp....which means only one AC at a time, but having one on today kept us cold enough since there is virtually no humidity.

Well, I wanted to take Marcia to the night ceremony at Mt. Rushmore.  We left at 6 pm, went into Custer to pickup a foot-long Subway sandwich to share, and headed over to Rushmore.  The only thing about Rushmore is the parking....they have a real nice, huge parking deck, but they charge $11 per vehicle, $50 if it is a bus full of people.  Now that is a chunk of money that this "free" National Memorial brings in for the National Park Service and for Presidential Parking, Inc.  This park concession operates under a contract between the National Park Service and the Mount Rushmore Society, which constructed the parking facility and continues to operate and maintain it.  No federal funding was used to construct the parking facility.  A parking fee is assessed to offset the expenses of construction, operation and maintenance of the parking facility.  

Let's see....this was built in 1997, the memorial has around 3 million visitors each year.  Let's say that 10% come by bus and each bus averages 25 people...that's 12,000 buses at $50 each, for $600,000 per year.  Let's say that of the other 90%, that 30% of them are visiting more than once during the year....this means there are another 1.6 million unique visitors, at 4 people per car, that's over 400,000 cars paying $11 each, for another $4.4 million, or a total of $5 million income each year, for a structure which cost around $17 million to build, and they have been collecting from $3.5 million to $5 million each year since in 15 years it has brought in $60 million.  But remember, no tax dollars were spent....but tax payers are surely footing the bill over and over and over again.  Ok, enough said....let's talk about the great experience we had.

On the way there, we realized we really blew it with the selection of our RV park....
....we could have stayed with the Flintstones!   Yabba Dabba Doo darn it!  Maybe next time....

From Custer, we would be coming in to Rushmore from the backside.  Which means that we would see President Washington's profile view before we entered into the parking long as I could find the turnout....which I did.
The lighting at this angle, during this time of the evening, really made the rocks glow, while President Washington sat there in the shade.
As you leave the parking lot, you start down this walkway, with the Memorial in front of you all the way.
You then come to the flag area that you walk under...
 And then come to the Plaza view.  That is a stage at the bottom of the picture above, where they were to play a movie while it got darker, and then at the end of the movie, they light up the Memorial.
 And here is a close up.  Since the sun is setting behind and to the left of the Presidents (there right), the sky does not look blue...although it looked blue to us.  For those who need the history lesson....that is George Washington on the left, our first president. Thomas Jefferson is next to Washington, he was our third president and principal author of the Declaration of Independence.  Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt is next to Jefferson, he was our 26th President, our youngest President, and played a significant role in the creation of 5 national parks, 18 national monuments, and 150 National Forests. And next to Roosevelt is Abraham Lincoln, our 16th President, the President who lead the Union during the Civil War, and who lost his life at the end of the war when John Wilkes Booth shot him in Ford's Theater in Washington D.C.

At 8 pm, a park ranger came out, introduced herself, told a nice, short story about President Jefferson, and then played a movie.  At the end of the movie, the mountain lit up...
Then she invited all military veterans down on stage for the taking down of the flag, and we all stood to sing our national anthem.  This was a very touching moment, with about 40 vets down on the stage.  She asked for six volunteers out of the bunch, which she quickly got, to take down and fold the flag.  After which, she allowed all on stage to tell the audience their name, rank, and which military service they served in.

Although I took pictures, with this camera we have, night pictures from afar just don't cut it.  But I did get a picture of the California Flag (where I lived for 30+ years) and the Arkansas Flag (where I lived for 21+ years), but missed the Utah and Florida flags where I also lived and live. 
But the real important flag was down on stage.... 
 ....may she always fly high, fly proud, fly free, fly for all...

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Devils Tower

 We said goodbye to Buffalo and headed out at 10 am.  It was hard for some to leave this nice place...the green grass....the excitement of the neighborhood....
Well, at least one of them was not bored with being in for Bubba, I think he is still enjoying his short haircut!
And this place is so cool....they remind you about your step, about your antenna, and they want to be darn sure that your wife is on board with you when you leave!   Yes, Marcia is on board....let's head down the trail....

Now Wyoming has some real pretty places to it...but for the most part, it looks like this....

Take away the Tetons, Yellowstone, Bighorn Mountains and Devils Tower/Little Missouri Buttes and all you have in Wyoming is the pictures above.  It is like that all the way along I-80, I-90, I-25 except for those views that include the Bighorn Mountains.  
We drove along I-90, stopped at Gillette for food (Walmart) and fuel, and then turned on highway 14/16, then again on highway 24.  Around a few corners, and there it is...right in front of if it came from nowhere...
I have seen Devils Tower before, and it was amazing then, and it is amazing now.  Here are a few views of it...
Above is a view which is close from our camp ground.

Ok, what's with this white ribbon formed into a sign of infinity?   It was not here last time I was here?  You can see it in the above picture in the foreground below the Tower.  Below you can see the Tower through it.  Apparently it is the Wind Circle/Sacred Circle of Smoke, symbolizing the Indians sacred thoughts about the Tower.  Now it was not built by an Indian, it was not asked for by the Indian, it really was the idea and creation of one Junkyu Muto, a internationally renowned Japanese artist (who lives in Italy), and it was third in a series of seven “peace sculptures” planned for significant sites around the world.  Two other peace sculptures have already been erected – one at the Vatican in 2000, and the other at Buddha Gaya, India.  From what I can tell, there has been no fourth sculpture yet.  It is amazing, however, how the park service twisted this creation into an "Indian" exhibit....that's our Government for you.
The best view of the Tower (below), without having to do a hike, is from the Visitor's Center Parking Lot.  And with temps over 100 degrees today, I was sure glad that the GoGo would not have made it up the hill for any hike.   We both enjoyed the Visitor's Center too.
 On our way back to camp, we got this other view below.  The Tower is not as wide in this view.
Devils Tower was the first declared United States National Monument, established on September 24, 1906, by President Theodore Roosevelt.  It is thought (by man) to be rock formed from a molten magma about 50 million years ago, and as it cooled it contracted and fractured into columns.  As far as we are concerned, the almighty is so powerful he could have created it as it is with just a thought...or a snap of his fingers.  Either way, it is a wonderful site.
I love red rocks...reminds me of areas in Utah and Arizona.  Love the contrast to the blue sky...and the sky is really blue today, not much signs of the smoke from fires that we had to deal with before.
And there are a whole lot of Prairie Dogs around here.  Skruffy and Bubba have not seen them yet...and I hope that they don't see them.  The Prairie Dog Town can be seen right out the window of the motor home  where we are camped at...but they don't seem to be down by us.
 We are staying right here at the National Monument.  They have an area with about 50 camping sites.  Although their website says that they only handle up to 35 foot RVs, this is not true...we have plenty of space and space for the car too.  Now there is nothing fancy about this place other than the water, no electric, WiFi is coming from a distant RV park which is running an open network.  I don't have cell service, Marcia does with Verizon, yet she also has 3G with AT&T...go figure.  Oh, and that fancy price?  Only $6 since we have the senior park pass...otherwise it would be a whole $12!

And I will close with a look around the Devils Tower Campground....
These two views (above and below) are out the right side (door side) of the motor home.  In the picture above, just above the green grass is an area of brown dirt and prairie grass...that is the home to the many prairie dogs.
 The picture below is what we see out towards the front left.

And these two pictures (above and below) is the view out the other side of the motor home.  As you can see....lots of space, few neighbors, and it should be a peaceful night.
 And here you can see where we are parked for the night, with the Tower in the distance.
Tomorrow....headed for the Black Hills of South Dakota.