September 5, 2012
We pulled out of the Badlands Park on the August 30th, with the wind howling about 30 MPH, not only is it a bad place to travel across as the early settlers said, it is a hard place to live as well, it's either hot, or cold, or windy, or dry and dusty most of the time. But, it also is very beautiful and the grassland areas are full of an amazing variety of hardy vegetation and wildlife.
So, we moved to our new home base in Box Elder, South Dakota (next to Rapid City) where we are staying at the Americas Mailbox campground and yes we are now officially South Dakota residents with official , drivers licenses, vehicle plates and registrations after the required one night stay. Ellsworth Air Force base is located in Box Elder and not much else. I will say the aircraft museum was very good on the outside !
We found Rapid City, a mile down the road from the campground, to be a pretty cool place to hang out. A truly great Indian store, lots of restaurants and bars, a great museum, a great hobby shop, freight trains, nice old buildings, a town square, all the chain stores and even a dinosaur park. Gambling casinos are found everywhere in South Dakota along with pawn shops, they seem to go together. The local shopping Mall looks like any other mall back east, just smaller.
There is so much to be seen in the surrounding Black Hills area and the American Indian presence (Lakota) is really strong, the spirit, tradition and values of this area are all based on the Lakota Sioux. It weird for us to see so many real indians or part indians, but otherwise it's all white here.
Everyone visiting South Dakota has to go see Mount Rushmore, the symbol of the state, including us, and it looked as beautiful as in all the pictures and post cards, but I've been reading much about the native American Lakota Sioux experience and as a result have lost all appreciation for this monument.
So we immediately went to the Sitting Bull Monument (in progress) and although it is not even close to completion, it is far away more interesting and motivational in every sense. It is being done totally without federal money and the story of how the monument came to be and the dedication and genius of the sculptor, Korczak Zolkowski, and his family is beyond incredible. In addition, they have probably the largest American Indian museum in the country and lots of native American crafts for sale.
Another must do is a ride up into the Black Hills on the Iron Mountain Highway. It was an incredible ride up and down and around the hairpin turns and over the Pigtail bridges to Custer State Park. Lots of Ponderosa Pine forest and fantastic rocks everywhere. There was much evidence of past fire damage and many dying trees due to the pine beetle invasion.
We then stopped and admired the CCC built park visitor center and then continued on the Wildlife Loop road, past the Buffalo herds, the begging donkeys, the pronghorn deer and prairie dogs.
I didn't think it could get any better, but then we got onto the Needles Highway. The driving force behind construction of the Iron Mountain Highway and the Needles Highway was a former governor; Peter Norbeck. He is another incredible story, born in a dugout shelter, made a fortune drilling water wells, eventually becoming governor and then three terms in the US Senate. The Needles Highway was crazy beautiful, although I couldn't see half of it because I had to concentrate so fully on maneuvering the dually around the narrow tight corners. There were places where the rear wheels were right on the edge, with no guard rails and it was straight down, way down, over the side. I must admit, Twinkles did very well, must have closed her eyes a few times ! Then we came to the single lane tunnels, the first was a little scary, but the second one was really tight, it was only 8 foot, 4 inches wide. I don't know how wide the truck ready is, seems like 8 feet, but actually is more like 7 feet, but regardless not much room for error. There were many people with camera taking photos of the cars coming out of the tunnel, I definitely gave them the best shot.
After that we stopped the picture postcard "Lake Sylvan" and took a nice 1 mile walk around the dam, over the boulders up and around the lake. Lots of people were fishing (and catching fish) and we saw thousands on minnows in the water.
Then a stop at Hill City, very Sturgis biker oriented, music piped into speakers on the light poles downtown, we had a beer at the Mangy Moose and a few of the characters there were pretty mangy too ! The old hippie piano player played his last song for the season, the service was poor and the food looked equally bad. We left town as the scenic steam excursion train was coming through town.
Lots of bikers on the roads in South Dakota, all ages, all types, also lots of three wheelers but the common thread is everyone has a Sturgis bike shirt.
The wind is blowing hard again, actually was a dust storm here this afternoon, visions of the dust bowl, very dry, extreme fire danger.
|The Rapid Creek where Rapid City gets it's name|
|Statues of all presidents in downtown Rapid City|
|Dinosaur Park in Rapid City-WPA project|
|Air and Space museum in Box Elder, SD|
|Rapid City street corner sculpture|
|Art Alley in Rapid City|
|Crazy Horse sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski|
|Crazy Horse model|
|Crazy Horse Monument|
|Buffalo herd in Custer State Park|
|fence line in Custer State Park|
|Donkey begging for food at Custer State Park|
|View of Sylvan Lake in the Black Hills|
|Tunnel in Black Hills on Needles Highway|
|Rock formations along Needles Highway|
|Horse sculpture in Hill City, SD|