Wednesday, October 30, 2013

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

Every 2 years we attend my wife's cousins reunion somewhere in the U.S. The site depends on which branch of the family is hosting. This year it was in South Dakota. Usually my wife and her sister try to plan a vacation around the reunion. This year was no exception and we did 5 days in the western part of the state. During the course of this tour, I took over 1,000 photos. What follows are some of the highlights. 

We flew into Sioux Falls and picked up a rental vehicle for our 5 days of touring we planned to do. We rented a GMC Arcadia, which turned out to be a great choice. It was plenty roomy and fit our needs perfectly. We took care of some local business and headed down the road to our 1st destination which was the Badlands. Along the way we made some stops:

The Corn Palace; Mitchell, SD. You only need to visit this place once......




The Lewis and Clark Memorial Bridge at Chamberlain, where Lewis and Clark crossed the Missouri River along with a few other things.....




The route we traveled through South Dakota was I-90. It was the straightest and most boring road I have ever traveled. It also had gates on the exits that are closed during inclement weather. I guess, when it snows out here, you don't want to be stuck on the road because no one will hear you freeze to death when you are trapped in your vehicle in 6'-10' of snow! After trying not to play out any scenes from National Lampoon's "Vacation", we finally arrived in the Badlands. The 1st set of photos is from driving into Badlands National Park. We had to stop before we made it to our lodging to take pictures. What an amazing place....











After some photo taking, we headed to our lodging which was within Badlands National Park at Cedar Pass Lodge. We stayed in brand new rustic cabins that were great! If you ever make it to the Badlands, I would highly recommend this place. Make sure you call at least 6 months ahead as this place is one of the few places to stay here and the rooms were in high demand. Food was OK, but the accommodations were superb! 

On our 2nd day, we got up early to catch the sunrise and some early morning views... 

Didn't see any, but this is for real!















Here is the inspiration for Mt. Rushmore......


....and then we did a 3 mile hike through the Badlands.



















We have our own pyramid.....


We reached the farthest point on our hike, an area called Saddle Pass, and this is the view.... 


....on our way back...






Later that day, we visited the Saddle Pass area we saw from up top...... 

Looking up to where we were looking down......


....and in and around Saddle Pass...












...we were not alone...


Ferocious Pairie Dog defending his den...

Day 3 found us on the road to Mt. Rushmore. Before we left the area, we paid a visit to the Minuteman Missile National Site. This is a decommissioned Minuteman II ICBM site where you can visit the control center and an actual missile silo. We did both. If you are interested in Cold War history, this is a must see. Admission is FREE, but you have to go to the visitor center to get timed tickets for the tour of the underground control center. These tickets go fast, so you will need to get there early. People start lining up as early at 7:00am. BTW, the silo is the real deal, but the missile is a dummy.....



Site Commander's quarters.

Mess area. 

Welcome mat.

Complex layout. 

Security. 

Actual control center is like a bomb shelter and buried about 2-3 stories below ground. To get into it, you ride an elevator down, but if that fails, you get to climb a ladder.....

A little Cold War Art....

The door to the control center....

No doubt, meant to deter unwanted visitors, or detonating nukes.....

The tunnel/entryway into the actual control center... 

Communications.... 

The Hot Seat! 



I need the key..... 



This is serious business! 





and on to Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills....








After a day spent in and around Mount Rushmore, we went to Jewel Cave National Monument. Jewel Cave is the third longest cave in the world with over 168 miles of mapped and surveyed passages, and they haven't finished! The 1st photo depicts the total cave system. The following photo shows the area that we walked through. It took us about 1hr 40mins to complete the tour. 

This photo shows a blow up of the area we walked through.


Photos of formations don't do them justice! 





















With the cave tour done, we got back on the road to Custer State Park by way of Sylvan Lake and  Crazy Horse. We had planned on going to Crazy Horse, but saw it from the road and decided the view was enough.

Sylvan Lake is a man made lake situated within the Custer State Park area. The lake was created in 1881 when Theodore Reder built a dam across Sunday Gulch. We enjoyed a leisurely stroll around the Lake. It has to be one of the most beautiful sites we saw.




















The damn dam.....









After Sylvan Lake we made our way to our nights lodging at Custer State Park by way of the Needles Highway. Our 1st stop was within the Needle Eye. An amazing set of rock formations. Another incredible feat by Mother Nature.....









We drove through this one lane tunnel carved by the CCC in the 1930's.





Killer squirrels......








Mother Nature making a gesture.......







 We finished our tour of the Needles Highway and made our way to Creakside Lodge, where we were spending the night. We spotted an elusive Elk....

 and a Buffalo. Little did we know at the time, this was only the tip of the iceberg for Buffalo.......

Our accommodations were excellent as well as the meals at the State Game Lodge Restaurant. Our waiter, Don, was a fabulous host. If you are going to go to Custer State Park, State Game Lodge or the Creekside Lodge are highly recommended.

If you want to see Buffalo, this is never a problem in Custer State Park. We were trapped, delayed, held up, etc. numerous times by the Buffalo.













Next on our itinerary for the day was a trip to Mount Coolidge which features a Fire Station that is manned by rangers on the lookout for fire in the area. It's located at the top of a 1 mile gravel fire road (not for the faint of heart) that takes you to approximately 6,000'. The station is not open to the public, but the observation deck is and provides spectacular views of the area. Some of the sites seen are Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Hearny Mt.(highest pt. in this area of SD), the Needles Hwy., and the Badlands. If you can handle the drive, well worth the trip.





The Ranger Station at Mount Coolidge.


Next was a hike on....


A tall Pine....



A babbling brook....





This is about where we got trapped by the roaming Buffalo for about 30 minutes. We had to wait until the whole herd milled through the area crossing the trail. Just don't look em' in the eye!

This was our last excursion prior to returning to Sioux Falls for the actual reunion. We left early the next morning to be met by rain and a parade of miserable bikers heading out for Bike Week in Sturgis, SD. Better them than us!

What I learned on our vacation:
  1. My wife and her sister are the best vacation planners on earth. They exceeded all expectations for accommodations and arrangements.
  2. Don't look a male Buffalo in the eye! They take this as an aggressive act.
  3. The Badlands and Black Hills of South Dakota should be on everyone's bucket list for places to visit before you die.
  4. You only need to visit Mount Rushmore once. It never changes.....


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