We kicked off our summer with a fun trip to the Black Hills in South Dakota. The reason for our visit was another training session with our Farmer's Union Leadership Couples group. As with our Wisconsin trip last year, we were able to bring our families. We left a day early so we could spend some time sightseeing. Nanna and cousin Dawson met us in Rapid City and took us for a rainy but super fun day. First stop: the Journey Museum.
The Museum kept the kids entertained for the morning with the usual dinosaur paraphernalia. The Black Hills are a pretty interesting geological formation so we enjoyed learning about that also. I also enjoyed the exhibit about a 1972 flood when the dam broke on Lake Pactola, flooding campgrounds all the way down the mountain and Rapid City. It was a bit disconcerting knowing there were flood warnings out throughout the day for all the creeks in the Hills due to heavy rain.
We spent the afternoon with crocodiles and slithery snakes at Retile Gardens. It's a pretty fascinating place also, but a sheet of glass isn't near enough space between me and the most deadly snakes of the world. Ewww.
Since it was Eva's actual birthday, we picked up some cupcakes to celebrate, and then the kids settled in for an evening of movies with Nana.
Tom and I took the opportunity to get away for date. We fired up Papa's '82 corvette and took it for a spin up to Deadwood, where we met with one of the couples in our Farmer's Union group for a tasty steak dinner. It was a perfect night and I only wish I had pulled out my camera to record it...
The next morning we joined our group in Custer State Park.
After an afternoon of training, we were treated to a long jeep tour of the park.
I was a little disappointed to learn that some of the larger game we enjoy seeing at our Montana state parks are either missing our sparse in the Black Hills. We did see antelope, bluebirds, prairie dogs, deer, and buffalo.
The buffalo are little smaller (and probably healthier) than our Yellowstone bison. I was interested to learn that they manage this heard much like a cattle heard, even vaccinating and selling off a number of them every year. In fact, most of the park where they roam is actually fenced in. State game reserves just have different management philosophies than our National Parks that try to let things exist naturally (if that is what you call it when we reintroduced wolfs back to the ecosystem...)
Nevertheless, we enjoyed our tour and the scenery was amazing. As the highlight of our trip, we ended up at a proper Chuck wagon Roast in the back woods. They gave everyone hats and bandanas for the occasion, and we all ate steaks and burgers to the crooning of old cowboy songs. Thank you, Farmer's Union, for the amazing night!
We finished off another day of training with enough time to enjoy another afternoon and evening of sightseeing, so we choose another route through the Hills to explore, and it did not disappoint. Another highlight of our trip: the Needles Highway.
Starting out on the windy drive, there were lots of beautiful vantage points of these cool rock formations. Looking at it from here, it doesn't look like a very good place to build a highway...
But we kept driving and winding and found ourselves among those rocks.
At the top we were treated to this narrow one-lane tunnel and the eye-of-the-needle rock.
Unfortunately Eva napped through this whole part of the trip. :(
Coming back down the other side we had to stop the car again when we passed the perfectly picturesque Lake Sylvan. There is a lodge and quaint cabins here, so we mentally added this to our future ideal vacation list.
Our mission for the evening was to end up at Mount Rushmore to check that stop off our list. But for a twist we decided to visit it at night. We met up with Tom's parents and nephew in nearby Keystone for dinner, and then they joined us at Mount Rushmore just in time to see the lighting ceremony. They show a film about the presidents honored and then they honor all the veterans present. It was a neat time to visit, if not the most ideal for photos. :)
We spent one more night in Custer State Park and headed out for the long drive home. But we look our sweet time driving even more roads through the hills, and met up with Tom's parents again at Johnson Siding for a nostalgic side trip visit to the home his Grandparent's had built and lived in. The house is vacant and for sale now. If we could spare three quarters of a million we would snatch it up for a vacation spot. It might have been a little uncomfortably close to the creek when it's overflowing it's banks... but wow—this spot really can't be beat for beauty under the shadow of those granite cliffs.
Goodbye, South Dakota, and thanks for the great memories!