On our trek toward Nebraska to visit with the Whites, we stopped in the Black Hills of South Dakota. This was a fun stop for a variety of reasons. First, it is just a beautiful area and Mt. Rushmore is a unique site to behold. Secondly, the Custer State Park Buffalo Round-up was just a few days away (pleasant surprise for us!) Lastly, we were here five years ago (09/2009) and that is when the idea of living on the road was first born.
We stayed at a horse camp RV park just outside of Custer, SD. It was a great campground with a very nice owner and lots of character (both the park and the owner). Here is sunset over our trailer the first night we were there.
The first day we drove to Mt Rushmore. They set the scenic drive up really well. As you approach from the south, you get various views of the mountain as you drive closer. The view is the first glimpse of the mountain from about 8 miles away. We remember stopping here five years ago not knowing that was Rushmore in the distance. Then while trying to figure out what the light area was on the left side of the mountain in the distance, we realized that was the monument we were seeing.
The drive up Hwy 16A gave us several more great views. A couple of those views were through one lane tunnels that are angled so that as you drive through you see the monument showing on the other side. The roads were pretty crowded the day we were there, so we didn't get a great shot of the monument through the tunnels.
Here is a view from the forested area you see in the back ground of the first monument picture above.
And here is the view from the visitor's center.
It really is an amazing piece of art.
Where it all began
We normally don't take pictures of visitor's centers, but the Mt. Rushmore visitor's center is kinda special to us. September of 2009 we were standing at the window of this building (where that couple is standing) talking to a lady handing out the audio tour equipment for the interpretive walk.
She told us that she and her husband were retired and live in an RV and travel to work in National Parks each summer. They earn a small wage and stay in a local RV park free. They each worked a set number of hours a week and spend the rest of the time exploring the area. In the winters they travel south to stay warm and spend time with family. That seemed like a pretty cool way to live to us and we talked about it multiple times over the next few months. Within a year we were actively researching life on the road and about 15 months later, we had purchased our truck and trailer. Within 18 months of the conversation in front of this window, we were driving away from Austin, TX. Life can change quickly. We are glad this one was for the good!
Just like our trip here in 2009, we came during the Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup (not planned either time, just stumbled into it). We were the last vehicle down the road to the south entrance - they closed the gate right after us.
We didn't know it at the time, but we were driving through the area where they gather the buffalo to prepare for the big drive. If you've ever encountered a buffalo on the road in a car, you slowly and carefully drive around it. They usually stand pretty still and you can get by pretty easily. If you are on a bike, it is a different story. You either wait for a car to pass and drive right behind it, or wait for the animal to move. We encountered one such bull a few miles after the closed gate.
NOTE: This wasn't the bull, mentioned above. We encountered this one a few miles earlier when we had a car to shield us. But you get the picture.
Problem was, the bull wasn't moving at all, he was just standing in the middle of the road, staring at us and we knew we were the last vehicle on the road. What to do? What to do? All Trey heard in his ear was, "Just wait, I don't want to drive past it... We can wait a bit longer... Should we turn around? You aren't moving forward are you? Did the buffalo move? Is he headed toward us? Oh no, more buffalo are getting on the road!"
About that time, the ranger who shut the gate came up next to us in a truck. Smiling: "You can just drive around him."
"Will he stay where he is?"
"Maybe." Big grin.
"Uh, we will follow you."
He drove ahead and cleared the road for us. We were very grateful!
Just around the next corner we saw a few groups of cowboys getting ready to move the buffalo to the roundup. We had gotten here just in time!
We also saw donkeys on our drive. When you are on a bike, the reason for the warning: "Please don't feed the animals" becomes very clear. These donkeys were walking up to every vehicle with a window down and even sticking their heads inside the cars.
This was another situation we wished to avoid. Move it along... nothing to see here! We nervously drove passed the donkeys and toward the viewing area.
There are two viewing areas. We went to the North one last time, so we tried the Southern end this time. It was packed. People were lined up along about a mile of fence (seems like we were the ones getting corralled!) Other areas were even more crowded than this.
About an hour after our arrival, the drive began. Usually they drive them over a large hill in the distance, but someone said they brought them in lower because it was such a warm day and the animals were already stressed. We knew at least one of them was stressed and he did a pretty good job of sharing that stress with us. He had a good reason to be stressed, he was getting rounded up to become a bison burger.
Right after they came into view, Susan noticed one buffalo needed a bit of a dust bath and rest. it didn't last too long - the cowboys got them moving again quickly.
It was fun to watch the buffalo and the horsemen at work. The morning sun hitting the autumn grasses made for a great roundup.
We did a few other drives while in South Dakota. Even the non-scenic roads were pretty spectacular.
The Needles Highway gave us some great views.
At one exhibit we saw these pictures, taken almost 100 years apart: 1880 and 1980s. I wish the quality was better. Where the wagon train is on the right, you can see a modern road on the left. Notice the burnt trees in the foreground of both pictures. Same tree burnt trunks were there 100 years later. It was also interesting to note the the distant forest in the modern picture was much larger and more dense that the one taken in the 1880s.
It was a great visit to the Black Hills. It was good to remember the beginning of our current lifestyle and see the beauty of creation. Even though it had only been five years since our last visit, there was so much to see that we hadn't noticed or remembered from our last trip.
Our visit with the Whites was too short, but very sweet. They are both doing well, though Bev had a procedure that caused quite a bit of discomfort. We all hope the temporary pain will result in long term reduction in leg pain. Everything happened so fast while we were there, that we didn't even get the camera out for one picture. Poor planning on our part.
A few days of rain in the forecast sent us on our way a bit earlier than we planned. We are currently in Hutchison, Kansas laying low until the HDT Rally.