A Trip to South Dakota and Wyoming

Old Sep 9th, 2014, 07:36 AM
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Join Date: Dec 2013
Posts: 54
A Trip to South Dakota and Wyoming

Thanks to all those who had contributed to this forum that helped me planned my trip. It will be my return to the forum and hopefully it will help others to plan their future trips to this great land of America.

Black Hills National Forrest
Mount Rushmore NM
Jewel Cave NM
Wind Cave NP
Badlands ND
Devils Tower NM
Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

We flew into Rapid City Regional Airport during the Labor Day weekend, picked up our rental car, and drove to Jewel Cave NM. Since the tour tickets were based on first come first serve, we were hoping to get two tickets based on our luck. There was no construction blockage since it was a holiday weekend, and it took us less than one and a half hour to reach there. I even called the park before headed in, and was informed there were still a few tickets left. When we arrived around 2pm, I walked quickly to the ticket booth, and there were quite a number of people ahead of me. When it was only a couple left ahead of me, the ranger announced all tours were filled, except for the Discovery Tour, which was only a short 20 minute ranger talk. I was pretty disappointed, but still bought the last two tickets for the tour. Since the tour was scheduled at 4:20pm, we decided to wait.

We could not do the short hike as the sky was turning dark and a storm was heading on our way. Sure enough, thunder and lightning started, and rain just poured down. We were all sheltered in the visitor center, and all of a sudden, it went all dark. Lightning struck, and the power went off. The emergency power backed on, and in less than 5 minutes, the ranger announced all tours were canceled, and refunds would be issued for tickets bought. What a way to start our visit! We left Jewel Cave NM and headed towards Custer city. We bought some grocery for the stay, and headed towards Blue Bell Campground for our rental cabin.

The campground was in a very nice area, and we really like the camping cabin even with no bath. The wash area was very near to our cabin, and people around were very friendly. After putting down our bags, we did a short drive on the North Lame Johnny road to the horse camp. It was a dirt road, but pretty good driving condition, and the horse camp was interesting. We were surprised that quite a lot of people brought horses to the camp. After that, we went back to Blue Bell dining for dinner. The night sky at the campground was nice.

We left early next day in the morning, hoping to see some wildlife on the Wildlife Loop. We saw pronghorns, deer, burros, and only a lonesome buffalo. We were told later at Peter Norbeck Visitor center, the buffalo herds were on the dirt roads of North Lame Johnny road, and Fisherman Flats Road. We were not going to turn around for the buffalo herd since we were going to Wind Cave NP. We continued on journey to Badger Hole, Mt. Coolidge Fire tower, and Heddy draw overlook. It was a beautiful day, and when we went towards Wind Cave NP, we saw a small herd of buffalo, and the little cute prairie dogs mounts before entering the park.

We bought the11:30am Fairground tour tickets. It was just less than an hour wait, so we walked around the area, and it was a beautiful morning stroll. It was an interesting cave tour, and we enjoyed it very much. Very different from the caves we had visited before. We left the NP at 1pm, and heading towards Iron Mountain Road for Mount Rushmore. Half way through the drive, it started to rain again. When we were by the tunnels, it was still drizzling, and the sky was gray. By the time we reached Mount Rushmore, the sky had cleared up, and the sun peeped through the cloudy sky.

It was a chilly day, visited the Sculptor Studio, and attended a ranger talk which was interesting and informative. We completed the Presidential Trail later, and had a closer look at the sculptures, and it was indeed amazing. Since the Light show was at 8:30pm, we decided to come back later for it.

We checked in our Whispering Wind Cottage. The owner was such a nice lady and we do like our simple cottage with bath. It was 9 miles away from Mount Rushmore, and about 10 miles away from Sylvan Lake. We were going for the hike to Harney Peak the next day, and would drive the Needles Highway after the hike. We refreshed and rested, after dinner, we headed for our Light show ceremony at Mount Rushmore. We joined a park ranger in the memorial’s outdoor amphitheater for an inspirational program focusing on the presidents, patriotism and our nation’s history. The ranger began narration of The Stars Spangled Banner lyrics with a story. We really enjoyed the way she put together everything for the presentation, and at the end, she called upon all serving army men and veterans to come on the stage to take the flag down for the night. It was indeed patriotic and moving. We were glad to witness such special presentation to conclude the day.

We woke up early for the hike from Sylvan Lake to Mount Harney. We took the trail #9 up, and trail #4 down, so that we could see the Little Devils Tower and the Cathedral Spires. It was such a gorgeous day, and the hike was very pleasant. When we were up on the Fire Tower, we also did the hike out to the highest peak bench mark. It was absolutely gorgeous, and the scenery was worth the effort for the climb. It was actually pretty hot when we were down at Sylvan Lake at noon, so we dropped the idea of kayaking around the Lake. We continued our journey to the Needles Highway. The first 10 miles of the Highway were absolutely stunning, interesting, and cool with one the tunnel that carved through a spire which is among others spires. The eye of the Needle was just right there too. Going through the tunnel was such a trill with a big SUV or truck. It was fun to watch all these cars squeezing through the tunnel. We looped back through the Iron Mountain Highway. We both agree that the Needles Highway is a more scenic highway than the Iron Mountain Highway.

The original plan was leaving the Custer State Park the next day through the Spearfish Canyon highway. We decided to try the Jewel Cave NM early in the morning, and then headed to Devils Tower NM through Newcastle, Wyoming. We were the first on line to get the Scenic Tour ticket (no more Historic Lantern Tour for the season). We enjoyed the tour even with more than 700 hundreds flights that we had to climb. We left straight towards Devils Tower NM after that.

Here is the link for my pictures:
Will continue..........
Cherthor is offline  
Old Sep 10th, 2014, 12:30 AM
Join Date: Oct 2013
Posts: 107
You'd never know your trip was fraught with rain by your pictures. Very nice. Perfect buffalo shot. The skies look so blue and your Mt. Rushmore is so clear. All in all it looks like a lovely trip. Can't wait to see more.
rjasnumberonefan is offline  
Old Sep 10th, 2014, 06:45 AM
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Join Date: Dec 2013
Posts: 54
Here is the rest of the report.

We reached Devils Tower NM in the afternoon. It was a gorgeous day, and the sky was blue with white clouds. We checked in the KOA camping cabin. It was a bit pricey but with a prime location-just outside the national park entrance. We were happy with the little camping cabin without bath. The setting of the camp ground and cabin was just beautiful. We could see the tower just right outside our cabin, and there was a window in the cabin that over looked the red rocks and the Belle Fourche River. Lying on the bed, we could see the red rocks and the blue sky. We entered the park to scout for a good spot for sunset. We passed the prairie dog town, and went to the visitor center. It was just too hot to walk the mile loop. We just hanged around for a little, we then drove to the Joyner Ridge Trail head. We did not do the trail, but knew where to come back for the view of the sunset. We went to the prairie dog town for the prairie dogs and the Circle of Sacred Smoke Sculpture. We went back to the cabin to take a rest, as we were planning to come back for the sunset. The sunset and sunrise pictures are better than a thousand words.

The next day we went for the sunrise, saw a doubled rainbows by the Circle of Sacred Smoke Sculpture, and also did the loop trail by the base of the tower. It was such a pleasant short visit, and we had such good time. We went on to Interstate 90 heading towards Spearfish. We stopped by the D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery and Archives for a short visit. It was a nice break for the journey towards Badlands NP. We also checked out the water falls along the Spearfish Canyon Highway, and had a good lunch at Cheyenne Crossing. We just passed through the towns of Lead, Deadwood, and Sturgis. At Rapid City, we loaded up our grocery from Walmart, and continued to Badlands NP without any further interruption. We entered the park through Wall, and awed by the first sight of the canyon-with such a vast flatland and suddenly opened out to this arid badlands below ground level. We stopped at overlooks, and the evening sun just made everything looked so vivid with contrast of the clear blue sky. The yellow mount area put a special place in my heart. We enjoyed this drive a lot. We also stopped at the visitor center for information, and watch the park’s video. We checked into Budget Host Inn which was only a mile away from the entrance. Nothing grand, but basic, and that was what all we need for the two nights. We rested, and refreshed before dinner. When we stepped out of our room, we saw the sun was setting, and the sky was filled with these beautiful colors. We parked at one of the turnout area on highway 44 to witness this beautiful sunset. Later when we were at the Cedar Pass Lodging dining, we were told they were not closing for the day. It was not even 8:00pm yet. It was a very windy night, we kept hearing the wind howling outside our room, and the sky was too cloudy for the night sky.

We woke up early at 5:00am for the sunrise. When we were at the parking lot by the Door/Window/Notch Trails, no one was to be seen. Unfortunately the sky was full of heavy cloud, and sunrise was not spectacular as we had anticipated. We did the Window Trail, Notch Trail, and Door Trail. We liked the Notch Trail and Door Trail. For the Door Trail, if you follow the yellow marker for another 800 meters, you would be rewarded with the close feeling of the badlands rather than just the easy boardwalk.

Following the road up north for another 9 miles, we reached the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site Headquarter. We got the 11:30am tickets for the tour. It was an informative tour and we enjoyed the history of the cold war. We also visited the missile launch site along I90. We went to Wall for our lunch, but did not stay long. We drove the same highway as we came in the day before to the National Park. It was just as beautiful drive, and we stopped at the overlooks again for the views. The Yellow Mount area was so beautiful.
We went back to the inn for a nap since we woke up early. We planned to hike the 4 miles Medicine Root/Castle Trail loop for the sunset. We started around 5:30pm, and made it to the Saddle Pass around 6:30pm. The Sun was low, and it made whole area colored in gold. It was absolutely stunning. My camera was indeed very happy that day. We had such good day.

We tried the sunrise at the Door Trail again next morning, and were rewarded with very beautiful sunrise this time. It was our last day at the Badlands NP, and we were driving the park’s scenic loop again but in an opposite direction this time. We totally fell in love with the Yellow Mount area-formed 67 million years ago. We are happy to see this great land of America.


Happy travels!
Cherthor is offline  
Old Sep 11th, 2014, 12:17 PM
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 931
Thanks for posting Cherthor. Interesting, informative report and beautiful photos. Want to plan a trip there myself, so will definitely refer back to this.
Clousie is offline  
Old Oct 14th, 2014, 08:33 AM
Join Date: Apr 2004
Posts: 243
Great photographs! Sounds like the trip was all and all a success.
Googs is offline  
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