After 2 long days of driving (to stay ahead of the Winter Storm Watch), we arrived at Heritage Campground in Custer, SD in very heavy fog. Phil came over and welcomed us and we caught up on things since we last saw them at Amazon. Late Wednesday night it began snowing, and we were thankful we did not have to drive in the snow with the fifth wheel.
We can see Crazy Horse from the campground, even on a winter morning.
Makena and I were up early Thursday, taking pictures of the area from our campground, as well as scraping off a few snow-covered vehicles in the campground (I missed doing that all winter!). It was a beautiful and peaceful morning, and we are very happy we decided to come to the Black Hills for the summer. We have made a long ‘to do’ list of the area’s attractions that we plan on accomplishing this summer.
First, a little facts about our new ‘home’ state of South Dakota (remember, one should never stop learning!!). The population of the state is 814,180. Pierre (pronounced “peer”) is the capital, and the nickname is The Mount Rushmore State. The highest point is Harney Peak. At 7,242 feet it is the highest point east of the Rockies. The state dessert is Kuchen, a coffee cake. South Dakota is home to the Dakota, Lakota and Nakota. There are nine tribes from these three dialect, representing about 62,000 Native Americans.
We are in the area referred to as the Black Hills, as it encompasses 1.2 million acres of the Black Hills National Forest. The hills are primarily Ponderosa pines, and the valleys have Black Hills spruce. Many visitors to the area inquire about the orange trees in the forest, and those are the ones killed off by the Mountain Pine Beetle epidemic. The population in the Black Hills area is around 250,000, with Rapid City being the ‘big city’ at 69,200 people.
Custer State Park, at 71,000 acres is also nearby, and is home to over 1300 bison, as well as elk, mountain goats, burros and pronghorn. It has lots of fishing, hiking, biking, canoe/kayaking and horseback riding available.
Thursday night we went out for dinner with Phil and Rudee, at a nice restaurant in Hill City, about 9 miles away. They drove us around the area, past Mt Rushmore (never gets old seeing that), and to check out the rock formations on the back side of the monument (since this is a PG blog, I probably should leave out those photos, but Dan put them on Makena’s Facebook page!!!). We stopped in for a brief tour at Crazy Horse, and met some wonderful co-workers. They really have a large complex with many interesting things to see and do. I will have much more on Crazy Horse after we start our jobs there.
Friday, once the snow started melting, we ventured out into the city of Custer, which is about 4 miles away, and checked out the area and did some grocery shopping at the local market. They will have a farmers market in town on Saturdays, starting in June, so we hope to check that out. Friday night we went out for a fish fry near Hill City, with two other couples that we will be working with, Dick and Cheryl, and Phil and Sandra. Phil and Sandra have been full-timing for 13 years!
Saturday we took a drive on 16A, which goes thru Custer State Park, and up to Iron Mountain Road, which is a very scenic 17 mile road, with 14 switchbacks, 3 tunnels and past the 4 Presidents. We basically had the road to ourselves, which made for a pleasant drive. We were able to stop and take pictures in the tunnels which is something that won’t happen once tourist season is in full bloom.
Custer is famous for their buffalo, but we only saw two on this drive.
There are several lakes in the park.
After leaving Custer State Park, you enter right into the National Forest. On 16A, when you see the first park sign, that is when you get your first glimpse at Mt. Rushmore, from a distance.
Mt Rushmore is just above the hood of the truck.
Here is a closer view.
There are also some fun tunnels to go through, with two of them giving a view of Mount Rushmore.
There is an overview/stop off where you can see Harney Peak in the distance. They have several hiking trails to the top. We are pondering the 6 mile round trip hike. ( I think it would be easy to do if we had a scanner and a cart to push and pretended we were at Amazon!)
Iron Mountain Road (16A) is a must-do drive, but don’t bring your RV!
After 16A, we turned West on Hwy 244, which goes right past Mt. Rushmore, so we took some more “drive-by” photos.
There is a turn-out down from the monument, where you can get a profile view of George Washington.
The scenery here is breathtaking and we look forward to exploring many parts of this majestic area. We would like to travel on the Needles Highway (Hwy 87), but there is one tunnel that has a width of 8’4”, and we did a rough measurement of our dually pickup, and we think it is 8’7”. So we will hold off on that drive for now!
Sunday was a cold, blustery day with constant winds around 25mph. So it was a perfect day to do laundry, and go through the many tourist brochures we had picked up. In the afternoon we visited with Steve and Joan and had a wonderful time getting to know them as well.
Monday we checked out the library in Custer, which not only has free wi-fi, but seems to be the social hub of the community, based on how chatty the librarians were with the patrons. It had the ambiance of a coffee shop, but no food or beverages allowed!
We took Makena on a long walk along the George S Mickelson Trail, and picked up annual passes at the visitors center in Custer. All user fees support the trail. The trail follows the old Deadwood to Edgemont Burlington Northern rail line, which was abandoned in 1983. The trail was originally called the Black Hills Burlington Northern Heritage Trail, but was renamed in 1993 after the death of Governor Mickelson, who supported the trail and dedicated the first 6 miles of it in 1991. All 108 miles of the trail were completed by 1998.
Tomorrow (Wednesday May 14) we have our orientation at Crazy Horse, and will find out what our schedule will be for the summer. We look forward to a fun summer getting to know our co-workers more, as well as visiting the many attractions in the area.
Quote for the Day: “Once a year, go someplace you have never been before.” – Dalai Lama