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Trip Report Trip report SD, ND and Devil's Tower

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On September 4, 2008, my husband and I flew from New York to Rapid City, SD via Minneapolis. We rented a car, stopped at Walmart to pick up water, snacks, etc. and stayed one night at Country Inns and Suites. The hotel was very reasonable, clean, large rooms and great location not far from the highway. We had dinner at Minerva's which was just up the road from our hotel. The portions were huge and the bison steaks were very good.

The next day we checked out and headed to the SD Air and Space Museum. My husband loves these types of museums and this one was no exception. The planes were outdoors and the indoor facility had some interesting exhibits which didn't take us long to go through. We headed east toward the Badlands. We stopped at Wall Drug but spent almost no time there. It's probably fun if you have kids but only the bathroom interested us. I had reserved a tour of the Minuteman Missile Site National Monument. You drive from the center to the two sites in your own car, following the guide. First they took us to the control center and explained what life was like there. Then we drove to the silo itself for a view of a missile. It was all very interesting. After the tour, we headed to Badlands National Park driving along Sage Creek Road where we saw our first (of many) prairie dogs. We only saw 1 bison, some antelope and some rabbits. The weather got cloudy and very windy with the sun coming in and out. We stopped at all the overlooks as we headed toward the lodge for our nights lodging. Despite having asked a few times on the phone and being assured that the restaurant would be open when we arrived, it wasn't. We were very hungry and our only choice was the Wagon Wheel bar in Interior for pizza. The pizza was quite good but the smokers in the bar made it unpleasant for my husband and I who are allergic to smoke. We stayed one night in the Badlands Inn which was very comfortable and nice. The next morning was beautiful and sunny and clear so we walked along the Door Trail following the metal posts in the ground which mark the trail. Very quickly you feel like you are on a distant planet and the views are amazing. Then we walked to the Window Trail which was a nice view. We checked out the exhibits in the visitor's center and then drove back along the loop road, stopping often for walks and photos. I was amazed at how much of the Badlands is grassland rather than the rocky otherworldly terrain you see along the Door Trail. We ended up in the town of Wall and had lunch at Subway. Then it was on the highway for the drive to Custer State Park. And the pouring rain which came as we got near Rapid City.

The rain came and went all afternoon. At Custer State Park, we checked into the Creekside Lodge which is the newest property there. It was beautiful, very comfortable, beautifully decorated with a separate sitting area. When we went out to the car to get the bags, we saw what we thought was a statue of a bison until we saw its head move! Since it was early afternoon and the rain had stopped (for the moment), we drove out the Needles Highway. The scenery was very dramatic with the overcast sky but we decided to head back down the highway when it started to hail. We drove the Wildlife Loop Road and saw bison, pronghorns, deer and turkey. We had dinner in the historic dining room at the State Game Lodge (which is right next door to the Creekside Lodge). The food (a pasta appetizer and buffalo filet were quite tasty but the elk chops were very dry). The next day was rainy and we decided to go to Wind Cave and the Mammoth Site in Hot Springs since they are both indoor activities. We saw lots of wildlife as we drove along Rt.87 to Hot Springs. We took the tour of Wind Cave which was very interesting. At the Mammoth Site which took a tour which they seem to run constantly. Then they leave you free to walk around on your own. Driving back along Rt. 87 we saw more wildlife including a coyote stalking prairie dogs. After relaxing at the Lodge for a bit, we went to meet the 5:30PM jeep tour I had reserved. The cabin where you go for the jeeps was right near our Lodge so that was easy. We were the only passengers and I was really glad we had dressed very, very warmly since it was really chilly. Gloves, hats and layers were useful. The jeep tour was great because our driver gave us a lot of information we wouldn't have gotten otherwise and he was able to get us right up with the bison and he was able to point out a lot of wildlife we might have missed otherwise. My husband, who was driving us around, appreciated the opportunity to sit back and enjoy the sights while someone else did the driving. The next day was beautiful, sunny with temperatures in the 60s. The breakfast at the historic dining room was ok. We drove the Iron Mountain Highway seeing the wild burros by the side of the road and continued the drive through the tunnels which frame Mt Rushmore. There were pull offs at each tunnel so you can take photos. We stopped at the Norbeck Overlook for a good view.

We then went to Keystone and checked in at the K Bar S Lodge which I read about on this site. It was a wonderful choice. Although just a few minutes from the main drag of Keystone (which is very tacky), we felt like we were out in the middle of beautiful and quiet country complete with a view of Mt. Rushmore from our room. The breakfast which was included was extensive and served in a lovely gazebo with views of the grounds. I highly recommend this lodge. Our first stop was the Crazy Horse Memorial. We walked through all the buildings, took in the views from all angles and took the extra bus ride/tour they charge $4 for but which gets you close to the Memorial and also told us stories we didn't hear otherwise. We found the Memorial worth the visit. We then drove to the town of Custer but many of the stores (and the one restaurant I wanted to try) were closed. We walked along the main street which has a very western feeling. We drove to Hill City and at delicious buffalo burgers at the Bumbling Buffalo. The next day was sunny and warm with temperatures reaching 77 degrees. We drove to Mt. Rushmore, took the ranger walk along part of the Presidents' Trail and then finished the Trail on our own and went into all the buildings and visited all the exhibits. The light fixtures in the cafe show men working on the mountain. We then drove to Sylvan Lake and did part of the loop trail around the lake. When we got behind the dam, we had problems finding where the trail continued so we just retraced our steps. It's a very pretty site for a walk. We drove the Needles Highway again, this time in the sunshine. We stopped at the Sylvan Lake Lodge which has a very pretty terrace but the ambiance was ruined by the 1960s music they were blasting. We went for an early dinner at the Bumbling Buffalo again and then drove to Mt. Rushmore for the evening illumination. The next day was overcast but mild. By the time breakfast was over, the rains had come so we went to Jewel Cave since that tour is indoors. This cave looked very different from Wind Cave so I'm glad we did both tours. This tour had a lot of up and down stairs. After the tour, we took a short walk along a trail and saw evidence of the fire from 2000. We drove to Hill City and walked around looking at the various shops. We then drove to Rapid City to meet some friends for dinner who happened to be doing a similar trip to ours. We arrived early so we walked around Rapid City looking in the shops, etc. We ate at Delmonico's Grill where we all had tasty fish.

The next day we checked out and drove to Deadwood parking in the free lot on Sherman St. We got to the Main St. area at about 11AM and were shocked to find out that all the bus tours of Deadwood were sold out until 2:15. I guess we should have made advance reservations but I never guessed it would be that crowded. We walked down Main St. stopping in the car museum, the saloon where Wild Bill Hicock was shot, the big hotel which has been renovated, etc. We decided to skip the bus tour and drove ourselves to the cemetery. They give you a brochure which tells you where all the various graves are. It was very interesting to see the large Jewish section of the cemetery and to read the interpretive panel on Main St. about the Jewish presence in Deadwood during the wild west days. We drove through Sturgis to go to the Fort Meade Museum and, although the sign outside the building said that it was open until 9/30 (and this was early September), the sign on the door said it had closed for the season and wouldn't open again until spring. So we drove to Spearfish and drove down the Canyon Byway stopping at Bridal Veil Falls and arriving at Spearfish Canyon Lodge where we were staying. It is a lovely lodge and our room was very nice. I had gotten a package deal and I'm not sure that was as good a deal as I thought it was. If you stay here, check the prices both with the package and without to see which is the better deal. Our room wasn't very large (although the bathroom was nice) and I don't think the regular room could be much smaller. Also note that there are no elevators to the second floor so we had to lug our suitcases upstairs ourselves, the ice machine near our room was a bit noisy and the room could use better lighting. The rain started up again but we still went out and hiked the 3/4 miles Spearfish Falls loop trail which starts across the street from the lodge next to the restaurant. This is a really lovely trail. Back at the lodge, my husband went to rest his back in the hot tub and I went to sit in the beautiful lobby, next to the fireplace and read a book. We went to the restaurant for dinner since the entrees came with our package deal. The food was ok, nothing great. The next day we had breakfast at the restaurant because that also came with our package. The pancakes and omelette were good. We drove through Spearfish Canyon and went to the town of Lead and visited the Black Hill Mining Museum. Normally I would have skipped something like this but I had read that it was very interesting. The exhibits were very informative and the tour was excellent. You go downstairs and it is like being in an actual mine. Our tour guide was great and we really learned a lot. It is definitely worth doing. After the museum, we stopped to look at the open cut left from the original gold mine. Then we went to the fish hatchery in Spearfish. It is free and you walk around on your own. There are guides in the various buildings and they explain everything about their area. We discovered that a number of these guides are retirees who work at the hatchery in exchange for rv hookups while they are in SD for the summer. We then visited the High Plains Heritage Center Museum in Spearfish which had a very eclectic collection and was a fun way to spend a few hours out of the rain. We ate dinner at the Bay Leaf Cafe in Spearfish which was some of the best food we had in SD. The next day became sunny and clear by the time we got on the road heading to Devil's Tower. We took I90 to Wyoming, got off in Sundance and followed the signs to Devil's Tower. It was very, very windy and much colder in Wyoming. We stopped along the way so my husband could get some photos which was a good decision. By the time we got to Devil's Tower, the sun was gone. We stopped at the prairie dog towns right after the entrance to the monument and we saw so many animals. We parked at the visitors' center and went on the Tower Trail. We ran into some of the people who had been on the tour of the Black Hills Mining Museum with us. It was very cold and windy along the trail and hats and gloves were very useful. We saw various groups of climbers on the side of the Tower and, even from the Trail, you could hear them talking to each other. After finishing the trail, we met up with a ranger who was giving a talk. We drove back toward Spearfish and, after walking along the Main St. and stopping in at some of the shops, we had dinner at Bay Leaf Cafe again. When we got back to the Lodge, it was raining but we still went out to see Roughlock Falls which is behind the Lodge.

The next day we headed to North Dakota via Rt. 85N. The weather was sunny and cool. The road is totally straight for miles and miles with open country on either side. We saw lots of cattle and pronghorn, sheep and oil drills. We were heading to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. We stopped first at the Painted Canyon Overlook for a good view of the badlands and we could see some bison and wild horses in the distance. We drove to the park visitors' center, watched a short video which the ranger on duty put on for us and then took the tour of the Maltese Cross Cabin which was very interesting. After the tour, we drove out the scenic drive stopping often to walk out on trails or take photos. There were huge prairie dog towns on both sides of the road. Some of the trees had already begun to change to their fall colors. We stopped at all the overlooks and at other places along the road for fabulous scenery. We saw a bull bison with 2 cows and calves and lots of deer. We hiked a short, steep trail (Buck Hill) for fabulous views. We drove out of the park and went ot Eagle Ridge Lodge, the B&B I had reserved for the night. It is in a gorgeous setting and our hosts, Paul and Joanne, couldn't have been nicer. The lodge is decorated with many quilts made by Joanne and Paul built the wooden beds in the rooms. They served us a delicious dinner of salad from the garden, steaks, potato, fresh veggies and homemade bread. The dining room had a gorgeous view of the badlands and my husband was busy taking photos of the sunset and the almost full moon. It was so peaceful and quiet. I highly recommend this lodge. The next day began with a delicious breakfast and we sat and talked with Paul before we had to check out and head on our way. We drove back to the park and went to Wind Canyon Overlook and took the trail there. We stopped again at the Painted Canyon Ovderlook and then got on the road to head to the northern unit of the park. Unfortunately, only less than 1/2 of the scenic road was open because they had to totally reconstruct the road after it had collapsed. We were sorry to miss the most scenic overlooks and to have made the 1 hour trip for the little bit we were able to see. Especially since we had to drive back to Rapid City that night. We stopped in Spearfish and ate at Applebees right off the highway. Then we drove to Rapid City staying at the Country Inns and Suites again. We flew home the next morning.

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