How could I have forgotten to mention this fantastic place in Hill City, South Dakota?
We were returning from one last quick evening stop at Mt. Rushmore. Kenzie loved Mt. Rushmore (who doesn't) and she wanted to get back one more time to buy something at the museum shop. When we were leaving someone mentioned stopping for hot chocolate. Sounded like a plan. When we arrived in Hill City most of the shops looked closed, except Mountain Treats. They were just about to close but we caught them in the nick of time.
Well we got our hot chocolate and a whole lot more. This shop is owned by couple, Grandpa Dave and Shelley. This couple…how can I describe them?… are two of the friendliest and the most authentic people I have ever met. You are immediately drawn to Grandpa Dave by his wit and humor. And Shelley makes mean salted caramel fudge. After talking to them for just a few brief moments you are captured by their zeal for life.
The kids learned so much from Grandpa Dave, about kindness and laughter. He also introduced us to the beautiful art work of Bev Doolittle. Check out her work. Her use of horses in her art is truly stunning. This is my favorite: Hide and Seek Composite. Can you see the horses in each one of the squares?
Grandpa Dave also writes a Proverb a day and posts it in the shop on a yellow note pad, nothing fancy. Each morning he reads a Proverb and then writes his spin on it. He shared many with us and we laughed right along with this wonderful couple. What a treat (no pun intended) it was to share some of our last moments in South Dakota at Mountain Treats.
If you ever find yourself in Hill City, SD be sure to stop here, you won’t be sorry.
We went back and forth about going to Mammoth Site. We heard great things about it but for some reason we had it in our heads that we were leaving Custer, South Dakota on Monday. It was now Monday and I was beginning to tie up some loose ends to prepare for a travel day. While finishing up a few last loads off clothes at the laundry mat the employee made a point to tell me not to miss Mammoth Site. I didn’t ask about it, she just offered the information. She said that even as a local she has been there 18 times because the site is always changing and that if she had to pick one thing to tell people to see in South Dakota it was this. That sealed the deal for me, we must go to this active dig site.
I don’t always take peoples recommendations but in this case I’m sure glad we did. Mammoth Site was unbelievable! In 1974 a developer bought the land that is now Mammoth Site to put up a housing development. As the excavation began for the homes, large bones were discovered. Initially the developers thought there were just a few and began to keep digging. The more they dug the more they uncovered. They decided to stop the housing project and had paleontologists come investigate the site further. The paleontologists planned to be there for 3 days thinking that was plenty of time to complete the research but it didn’t take long for them to realize this was more than just a few fossils. The developer sold the property (for the original purchase price) to a non-profit organization set up just for the Mammoth site. Several years later an entire building is on top of the dig site allowing visitors to see the actual area where paleontologists continue to uncover the fossils or Mammoths and other animals. The active dig today still has hundreds of feet of soil waiting to be uncovered. Each time you visit the dig site will have changed and who knows what will be unearthed.
Mammoth site was formed millions of years ago when a sink hole was created here as a result of a collapsing cave. As it filled with water, it became a drinking hole for the animals in the area. The problem was many of them slipped in and couldn’t get out, in particular the mammoths which are not as agile animals for climbing up out of the steep walls. The mammoths would then either drown or as they struggled to get out, a short faced bear had them for dinner.
What was cool was that many of the larger bones and tusks were left in the original spots where they were found. This was so fascinating and we were all glad we decided to stay an extra day South Dakota for this awesome place.
The sign in the first picture reads; Mammoth Pelvis. The walkways are build to be moved around easily, as exploration continues. The large area in the middle of the last picture has yet to be touched by paleontologists.
Taking it all in…
What a day? If you ever find yourself in the Black Hills of South Dakota be sure to not to miss these 2 amazing places.
Give yourself at least an hour to drive the 14 miles of Needles Highway. There are several places you will want to pull over to just take in the view and stand in awe of this fascinating place called the Black Hills. If you are into hiking there are also some awesome trails along the way. All the trails we found were a bit too long for the little one. The scenic highway ends as you pass through a narrow tunnel, in the area called the Needles, with the highlight being the Needles Eye. And although the eye of the needle was really cool, what I liked most was all the little nooks and narrow spaces that were just waiting to be explored. We spent a bit of time in this area.
My buddy, Jesse, at the laundry mat told us to check out Sylvan Lake. When I was looking at all the things we wanted to explore this week I wasn’t sure we would be able to fit in Sylvan Lake. So when we came upon Sylvan Lake by sheer luck, I was psyched. What a beautiful place! It looks like these rock formations are growing right out of the water. It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. When a place looks this magical, the mile hike around it is a must! Instead of finding pictures in clouds, we were finding pictures in rock formations during our hike.
I have to quickly make a plug for the Lost Sock (I just love that name) laundry mat. The family that owns this place are great people. I had the pleasure of talking to Jesse, a 19 year old, who helps his mother run the business. He is super friendly and a great resource on local places. The laundry mat gave out free popcorn and lollypops which is great in enticing the kids to help with the laundry. Thanks to Jesse and the Lost Sock to adding to our amazing week in Custer, SD.
We showed up at Wind Cave to find that it was National Public Lands Day. On this day, among a few others throughout the year, all national parks and monuments have free admission. We have a national parks pass so our admission is always free but there would have been a charge for the cave tour but thanks to Nation Public Lands Day our tour was free!!
The most stunning and notable thing about Wind Cave is its display of boxwork. Boxwork is a calcite formation. Wind Cave holds 95% of the worlds boxwork. If I remember correctly the other 5% is found in the Ukraine and Australia. Wind Cave is the 6th longest cave in the world with more and more miles being discovered each year.
When we got to the van I looked at Jeff to unlock the car while he was looking at me to unlock the car. Turns out that neither one of us had the keys, with me being the last to have possession of them. The keys seemed to have up and vanished. I searched and searched because I am known for placing the keys, among other things, in places that are the absolute least logical place of all. For example, the van battery was just dead because I left the keys in the ignition turned part way on or the time the keys were in the hallway closet (that was when we lived in a house with a closet, no closets in the motorhome).
But the place we found the keys this time was a first; off the side of the wall on preserved land in Wind Cave National Park. While sitting down on the stone wall that lines the sidewalk of the entry walkway, the keys must have slipped off the edge. There they were glistening among this beautiful land. Ranger Andrew was called to the scene where he had to climb up the hill to retrieve our precious keys. He slipped a few times while he was climbing up but I held in my laugh as he was my lifeline to getting back to the campground. Thanks Ranger Andrew! I’m sorry that this once undisturbed land has now been left with a set of footprints.
We knew nothing about the Buffalo Roundup, we just so happen to land in Custer the Monday prior to the roundup which was on Friday. There was a lot of talk in town about the Buffalo Roundup. It turns out that this is such a big deal that over 14,000 people come into Custer to attend this. Some come just to see the roundup, others come for the buffalo auction, some come to attend the art festival, and many come for all the weekend activities.
So I kept asking everyone, “What is this Buffalo Roundup and is it worth the early wake up? We were told the gates to the park open at 6:15 and we should get there by then and still be ready to sit in a bit of traffic. We ignored this useful piece of information and thought that leaving by 7:30am would be just fine. And we sat in more than a bit of traffic. At one point Jeff and Koah got out to walk and if they had continued to walk I think they would have gotten to the parking lot well before we did.
We still managed to make it in time to see the roundup. We waited and then watched as 1600 buffalo, that typically roam freely in the park, came running over the hill in the distance being driven by cowboys. The cowboys then drive the buffalo into the carrels in the park. Seeing 1600 buffalo charging at full speed ahead over a hill is quite a sight. This event was not easy to photograph but here is a small glimpse of what we experienced.
Here they come (in the distance):
After the buffalo are rounded up some of them are auctioned off. They are not sold to be slaughtered, many people come to buy buffalo to add diversity to their herds back at their farms, some as far as Russia.
I love this picture. Koah refused to look at the camera and I laugh every time I look at it.
When you’ve been on the road for 5 weeks and have seen many sites of this amazing country its hard to pick a favorite place/park/state. But I have to say this place lands in my top 10 favorite spots so far.
It took us awhile to find this place, confusing Cascade Spring with Cascade Falls.
But when we did finally find the spot marked Cascade Falls the gate to the park area was closed. We were a little reluctant to park and slip under the gate to go anyway. But we had just watched a group of Native Americans slip under the gate and continue down the path so I thought if they could do it why can’t we. I’m so glad we made the decision to go.
For some reason I had in my head that this was a natural hot spring with water temps in the 80s. It is a natural spring but it is not hot. And it’s good thing it wasn’t hot because the chilly water was rather refreshing on this 100 degree September day in South Dakota.
There was a nice little area for Freya to swim in and then an area off the rocks where the water is approximately 10 feet deep. I took the first dive and kids followed in time, along with another family that had joined us.
Sitting at the picnic area at Cascade Falls you can’t see or hear this water. If you didn’t already know it was there you might miss it.
This place is like a hidden gem. And we couldn’t have picked a more perfect day to come. I highly recommend Cascade Falls if you are in Hot Springs, SD… and it’s free and we just love free!
Couple quick facts we learned about Mount Rushmore from the Park Ranger:
1. Borglum completed this monument in just 13 years.
2. Originally Lincoln’s head was started on the left side of Washington’s but the stone was found to be unsuitable for carving.
3. Funding for the monument was completely cut after the bombing at Pearl Harbor. Borglum died while trying to raise more money to continue the monument.
The park ranger started telling me about some of the interesting people he meets and the funny questions he gets asked. His all time favorite question came from a woman who asked “Do the presidents heads get lowered at night to be stored and then raised up in the morning during the winter months?” The park ranger said he was pretty much speechless, as was I.
Strike a pose.
I guess we picked a good day to come… an empty cafeteria.
Inspired by Mount Rushmore, she began her own carving… in her ice cream!
Picture courtesy of Makenzie but I wish she was in this one.
Jr. Rangers hard at work.
It’s one of those places that you can’t stop looking at.
The touching evening ceremony honoring all those who served in the armed forces past and present.
It lived up to its wildlife name and did not disappoint.
We headed to Crazy Horse late in the day thinking that a couple of hours would be more than enough time to see and experience this monument. What we didn’t know was that at the monument is also a huge museum on Native American history. I could have spent all day just at the museum learning about the history of the Lakota Indians among many other tribes from the area, minus 4 kids in tow. I have a thing for Native American history so maybe that is why this was so impressive for me.
We watched a short intro film about the monument. We learned that this monument is not government funded and it only gets worked on when funds are available, which are all from entrance fees and donations from the public.
The face on the mountain was unveiled in 1998 and because things don’t look much different on the mountain than they did in 1998, I wonder what the monies are going toward. After talking to some locals at the laundry mat, they also have the same question. They said it’s rare to see the mountain being worked on but did agree that the museum is quite impressive. But I don’t know how the money is allocated and maybe currently more money is being poured into museum artifacts. Don’t get me wrong, it cost us just $28 for all of us to enter and we all agreed it was well worth our time and money.
This is Crazy Horse currently:
Here is what Crazy Horse is supposed to look like upon completion:
We were selected to participate in The Snake a Native American dance about the strong bond of friendship.
They also had a small hands on area for the kids. Here is Makenzie trying to grind corn kernels.
We rolled in Custer, SD one week prior to the town’s busiest weekend all year… the Buffalo Roundup. More on the Buffalo Roundup in a later post. Mom and Dad also flew in to meet us for our week here in Custer. Woohoo!!
Day1: Destination Jewel Cave. The third longest cave in the US.
The boys did the long cave tour. Approximately an hour and a half and over 700 steps.
The girls and mom and dad did the short 20 minute tour of the cave and spent some time outside sniffing Ponderosa Pines. The ranger at the visitor’s center asked us to sniff a Ponderosa Pine and report back to him on what we thought it smelled like, vanilla or butterscotch. Vanilla all the way at first but then there were a few that did have a hint of a butterscotch smell. When the wind blew in the direction you were standing, the aroma in the air smelled like a baker’s kitchen.
We also learned about bats in the cave which are generally found at the caves natural opening miles away in Wyoming. The kids completed the Jewel Cave Junior Ranger book and took the National Park oath which included listening to your parents and making your bed every morning. There is no such thing as making your bed in our motorhome. It is either turn your bed back into a table or move your blankets over because more blankets need to be piled there because the table is being put up.
Ranger talk on bats.
Pretending to be a caver.
Working toward earning a Junior Ranger badge.
I must mention that the weather couldn’t be more perfect. Sunny and warm today and all week long. Beats the several inches of snow Custer had just a couple weeks ago.
Oh and one more thing… Happy Birthday to me!!