3. Off to explore South Dakota…9.2018

Day 6 9.12
I was through exploring the northern part, now I was headed south…where all the big tourist attractions are & all the people.  I drove the Black Hills Scenic byway & ended up in Hill City.  The two wonderful women at their Visitors Center were awesome.  I drove into the cute little town & ate breakfast at the Hill City cafe.  I walked around the shops for about 15 minutes, then into the Gear store.  I oooogled at the new fall Patagonia, Kuhl & Marmot clothing & checked out their clearance rack.  I visited with guy working there & he gave me some great dispersed camping ideas.  Gear shops are such a great source of outdoor info!

I drove out to Custer State Park & to Sylvan Lake.  Lots of people & very pretty.  I was going to hike the Sunday Gulch trail…rated difficult & less than a 4 mile loop hike.



There were all these shiny slivers along the trail & in some places just sparkles mixed in with the dirt…I was fascinated by this & it made looking down at the trail very interesting.


The leaves are really golden here…the temps are in the mid 70’s ….just perfect.


The views along the trail were really pretty.  After awhile, the trail wound down into the forest…& then…well, then I had a problem.  The trail had been marked with blue markers, pretty much throughout the whole hike.  But then the trail went over a big rock & split…one going straight, the other down hill.  I followed the down hill trail, until it dropped about 3' or 4’ straight off.  I couldn’t see any trail at the bottom.  So, I hiked back up to the straight trail.  You had to climb over a series of rocks & then ended up on a huge rock that dropped off… a huge drop off that I couldn’t even see the bottom of.  So, I backtracked, scraping my leg while climbing back over the series of rocks & back to the last trail marker I’d seen.  I looked up; I looked down…& still didn’t see anything.  I repeated that whole process a second time, even scraping my leg a second time in the same spot I’d done the first time (eye roll).  Then I sat down in the shade.  Where the hell was the trail?  I’d been at this spot now for about 20 minutes…no one else seemed to be on the trail that would magically show me the way.  I felt my only option was to hike back the way I’d come.  

This for any hiker is DEFEAT.  I don’t know what anyone else’s process is, but I do know mine.  This is definitely not the first time I’ve had to retrace my steps.  So, here’s how it goes…first: the self talk you have is mean, nasty & uses all the swear words you know; second: your self talk turns to how smart you are to be safe…turning around is better than being lost; third: repeat first step; fourth: repeat second step….& over & over until you totally shut your self talk out & start repeating how grateful you are to be on a trail, in the midst of all this beauty & that grateful that your body can hike….& so on.  This however, all gets stopped when you pass an oncoming hiker & the self talk starts up again about ‘I bet they can find their way on that loop’….then you have to repeat all the grateful stuff again & just focus on looking & seeing your surroundings.  With all that going on, the hike back always seems to go faster, although mentally exhausting!  Anyone else do this?


After all that, I headed back into Hill City to the Miner brewery that had been recommend.  I ordered a flight, which only one was decent & one was so bad I couldn’t even drink it.

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Next door was the Prairie Berry Winery…which the gear guy had recommended for food.  I went in & had a tasting of 5 wines, then ordered a glass of my favorite one & lunch & sat outside in a beautiful space under blue skies & relaxed!  The food was yummy too!

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I wanted to see the nightly lighting at Mt. Rushmore, so by 6pm I was paying for parking & walking into this busy monument.  It’s really impressive to see.

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There is a 1/2 mile Presidential Trail you can hike that gives you a closer look at the faces….a sort of ‘up their nose’ view.  I was done & back at the amphitheater by 6:30.  The lighting didn’t begin until 8….I’m not great with down time like this.  I always feel like I’m missing doing something, even if it’s time well spent reading a book (boy, I wished I’d brought my book with me).  They have big marketing ploy here…..they state that Jefferson brought the first ice cream recipe to the states, so of course they sell ice cream.  I don’t eat much of the stuff, but I was bored.  I was even willing to wait in the long long lines to get a scoop…but it was like $7!  I can pay that for a beer in a heartbeat, but not a scoop of ice cream.  

Then I started feeling snarky….Danny always gets the brunt of this mood, through 20 text messages that I feel are hilarious & funny, but I ‘m guessing I’m the only one who feels that way.  I won’t go as far to say I’m un-American, I’m just not big on ceremony, rules & pomp & circumstance. 

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At 7:15 or so, the music began.  Lots of good old American stuff…Grand Old Flag, America the Beautiful, etc.  Then Amazing Grace…really?  That didn’t seem to fit…but it was interesting; a whole lot of the older people sitting around waiting (& there were lots) started singing along.  Then it began to rain lightly.  At 7:45, a Park Ranger came on stage to tell us the rules of the evening & that promptly at 8pm, the “program” would begin.  Really?  I just wanted to see the mountain lit up…there was a program?  Poor Danny, was being ‘entertained’ for the past hour by all my ‘hilarity’ (my term, not his)…& now it got more intense.  At 8, the curtain pulled back & the Ranger took center stage reading 10 minutes worth of Presidential quotes—which were very interesting & oppose all the actions of our current President.  Then there was a 20 minute film…the first few minutes showing how the monument was carved; the rest about each President.  The rain came & went & came & went, always just lightly…thank goodness.

Then we all stood for the National Anthem (you would have been killed on the spot if you hadn’t) then THEY LIT UP THE FACES! That was cool. Too bad neither my phone or my DSLR takes great night photos (I’m sure the cameras are capable, just not the operator.)  I quietly slid out of the amphitheater while all veterans were invited to come down on stage & then there would be a flag lowering ceremony.  I told Danny he could shut off his phone now…I was going to find camp (he’ probably shut it off hours ago).

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My camp for the night, was a climbers free camp just two miles down the road from the monument.  Wrinkled Rock has tent only sites, but a nice parking area & a super clean pit toilet.  I found a spot, climbed in Camper, read & called it a night!

Day 7 9.13
I made coffee then headed back towards Custer State Park & the Sylvan Lake area.  I wanted to drive the two scenic drives in the park fairly early in the day, so that’s what I did first.  The Needles Highway is spectacular with big views of so many huge rocks & “the Needle” which is a super narrow tunnel you drive through.

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About 1/2 way through the drive, I pulled into a picnic spot & cooked some food.  Then the twisty tree lined road ends after 14 miles.   My next drive was the Wildlife loop, where the buffalo roam…& antelope, prairie dogs, deer & wild burros.  It was a beautiful drive…think it’s about 35-40 miles long.  During this time, the sun was shining in my front window, so I had my visor down to block the light, but I also have a mirror attached to the backside of the visor.  I rarely look in a mirror when I’m traveling, but this morning I kept noticing my hair was getting too long.  My sister-in-law, Jan, owns a salon & has always taken great care of my hair.  She also knows my whims & impatience.  My hair is kept short because of my travels & it fits my lifestyle….I can ‘fix’ it with a tiny bit of water each morning, & be done for the rest of the day.  I don’t have much patience for ‘doing’ my hair.  So, after seeing it over & over in the mirror, I pulled over in the next off road parking spot I came too, got out my handy little scissors & started hacking away.  Jan has known for years I chop my hair when I travel, but until recently, she’d never seen me do it.  The last time I was in her shop, back in August, she asked me to demonstrate.  I think I broke every hair stylists rule there was…attacking it madly as I do.  I usually use pretty dull scissors…I think they were a pair left over from one of my kids school days…so I was only worried I’d stab my head with her professional super sharp scissors.  So, there was a first for me…cutting my hair while watching buffalo!

I enjoyed seeing all the wildlife along this scenic drive…especially the wild burros!







But the most entertaining thing I saw was this:  I was in a line of about 6 cars while a buffalo slowly walked in front of them on the road.  I was at the curve of the road, so had a great view & the cars coming towards us were appropriately stopped way on the other side.  Then, as the humungous beast approached the cattle guard, he gracefully jumped over it!  Go Buffalo!!!  He kept walking outside the fence for a few minutes, then crossed over into a field.


The seasons are definitely changing & I loved looking at the grasses over the rolling hills that were shades of purple & red…all waving with buffalo in the foreground.


After my wonderful drives, I headed back up the Needles Highway to until I arrived at the Cathedral Spires trailhead.  It’s not a long hike, but for some reason rated strenuous.  I packed up my pack & headed up the trail.  There was lots of climbing up those big rock steps, but nothing too hard.  I came to a trail intersection with multiple signs & took the turn towards the Spires.




While I’d been in the parking lot, packing up, the guy next to me & I started to visit.  He was hiking the same trail but left a little bit before I did.  So, when I was just getting to the Spires, he was leaving.  As he passed, he said he was also going to hike Little Devils Tower…just a little over a mile up the trail.  I’d had this hike on my list ‘to do’ & figured after I’d climbed up all this way, I might as well hike it today.  So, after hiking around the Spires, I took the path to the Little Devils Tower.  I passed a German couple part way up & as they passed by I said, “how was the hike?”  They answered nice but you had to scramble up a chute, using your hands & feet, in order to get to the top.  Ummm….I know two things: 1) Germans are tough people & don’t seem to be afraid or nervous about anything; 2) I’m not much into scrambling up rock chutes when I’m by myself.  So, I’d already pretty much decided I might just hike to the base, take some pics & turn around.

After passing another trail intersection, there was another couple, about my age, in front of me headed to the tower too.  She kept turning around & calling me ‘young lady’ & chatting in a very friendly way (later I found out she’s a year younger than me).  By the time we got to the chute, another couple had joined our tribe.  But one look at the chute, & I said ‘bye…I’m wussing out!” & walked away.


And just hearing myself say that made me turn around & go back.  The couple had made it to the top by now, so I figured if they could do it, so could I.  I really thought they were standing at the top….but no.  There were about 7 or 8 more spaces to climb up, over & through.  The woman from the couple behind me, decided to stay put after the first chute. Each time I came to another one, I thought I’d turn around.  The ‘trail’ was blue markings on the rock & the lead guy would yell out each time he found a new one, followed by his wife yelling, ‘young lady are you still back there?” or “hey, young lady, you’re like a mountain goat”…so I kept going.  We finally made it to the top for a wonderful view of the surrounding area!

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I was the first one to head down, the others all staying on top.  I thought it might be harder going down than up….because it usually is…but I didn’t anticipate that the markers would be hard to find.  After a few wrong guesses, I’d find the marker & make my way down.  I’m glad I did the hike, but never would have done this if no one else was around.  But, all I could think of on the way back, was how much Danny would have loved this hike!  I wish he was here!

I headed back to Wrinkled Rock to camp again for a second night.  It was late afternoon & the place was empty except for a few climbers.  I had my choice of parking spots, then set up my table & chair, got out my book & poured myself a big awesome stout!

My brother, Mike & his wife Pat were also on the road in South Dakota & were expected to show up in camp tonight.  They made it way before dark & we all sat around catching up, eating some snacks & sharing a beer.

Day 8 9.14
Mike & Pat wanted to hike with me the next day & I told them I wanted to hike the Sunday Gulch trail from the opposite direction.  It was still nagging me about the lost trail.  They were willing, so we drove back into Custer Park & to the trailhead on the other side of Sylvan Lake.  The trail starts out going down, down, down but with handrails to help you from slipping on the rock (I wouldn’t want to do this hike in the rain, snow or ice!)

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It’s a pretty hike as the trail down in the gulch follows a stream.  A young hiker guy, coming from the opposite way, stopped & asked how long we’d been on the trail.  He told us he’d been on it way too long…he’d gotten lost earlier.  He described the place he’d lost the trail & had gone way farther than I had.  He said, “if you have to use your hands to climb over the rocks, you’re not on the trail”. I knew exactly where he was talking about & I had the scrapes to prove it.  Then it was time to start climbing up the trail & it continues to go up & down over & over & over but more in the forest.  I immediately knew when we stepped onto the trail where I’d turned around.  I walked a bit farther, then turned around coming back trying to see how I’d missed the trail.  Then it was easy to see why I hadn’t found it.  I’m sure most people that hike this trail don’t have this trouble, but today I wasn’t comparing myself to anyone else.  Just asking myself had I done the right thing & how could I have looked at the trail differently to have found the right way.  In spite of this being the third time I was now hiking this section of trail, there was no berating of myself…just happiness to be hiking!

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Once back at the cars, we decided to go into Hill City & to the winery.  While Mike & Pat enjoyed a wine tasting, I got myself a glass of the same wine I’d enjoyed here before & sat on their lovely patio.  A new idea was forming while I enjoyed the sun, blue skies & perfect temperatures.  We all enjoyed lunch, then Mike & Pat went to find a bike path to ride & I headed back to camp for a third night at Wrinkled Rock.  

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I pulled out some hiking maps & an atlas & began to figure some things out.  Mike & Pat were leaving in the morning, heading out to Wyoming to see all the sights of Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks.  There were two more hikes I wanted to do before leaving & one short scenic drive.  But by the time Mike & Pat got back to camp, I was finishing another awesome stout & had made the decision to head back home early in the morning; skipping those last three items on the list.  When I planned this trip, I wasn’t sure if I’d be gone a week or two or sometime in between.  It would just depend on what I saw & what pulled me to stay.  Tonight, the pull was to see Danny & spend some weekend time with him.  The three of us visited until stars filled the skies & temperatures dropped to chilly.  We hugged & said our goodbyes as I knew whenever I’d wake up, I’d be out of here & headed home.

Day 9 9.15
I woke up at 2:30am with dewey misty windows.  I laid there for a bit, feeling grateful to have made this trip to someplace new…someone I’ve never been.   The sky was thick & not clear at all.  It was so dewey out, there was practically a mist falling.  It took me about 5 minutes to move from bed to drivers seat & situate a few things to get ready to leave.  I pulled out a few minutes before 3am to a road filled with white…fog.  I was already a little nervous driving these roads at night…so many dead deer line these roads.  Rapid City is only about 30 miles from camp, but it took me more than an hour to get there.  I have this habit of repeatedly tapping on my horn about once every 30 seconds when I’m driving solitary roads in the middle of the night.  The point is…to not hit another deer!  I saw them, but they all turned around at the sound of my horn.  It’s an annoying thing to be doing for over an hour, but way less trouble than totaling another car due to deer.

So, I was driving in the dark, in the fog, having to use my wipers & then I hit construction about 5:30.  I decided to pull off at the next rest area until daylight.  I hopped into bed & fell fast asleep for about an hour.  When I woke the skies were still milky, but it was daylight.  For over 300 miles I drove in fog today…YUCK!  It serves me right for dissing the plains of South Dakota,  the corn fields of Iowa & dreading the roads through Nebraska.  Nature called me out…I couldn’t see anything.

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I was oh-so-grateful when the road left the fog behind.  After my first stop, I only stopped for gas the rest of the way home, driving more than 11 hours & arriving back around 4:15 (changed back to Central Time Zone).

Danny & I were happy to see each other and my forgiving cats still showed me some love.  I sat down & took a 30 minute break, then began to unload camper, washed my camp dishes, & unpacked my duffle.

For now, my bed will remain in Camper…there maybe an unexpected trip in her near future.  Stay tuned!


Once again, I’m grateful to have been on the road, exploring new places.  My very favorite part of South Dakota were the scenic drives…I loved them all!

The wildlife was fun to see & there was alot.  I could have hugged that polka dot baby burro though…so cute!

It was good to catch up with Mike & Pat & I’m envious of all they will see in the beautiful parks in Wyoming

If you followed my long summer trip, you’ll know I had leaking problems with my camelbak.  When Danny & I arrived home after Colorado, the camelbak had leaked over & through all the bedding.  So, on this trip, I’d be trying out my new Osprey bladder.  It’s bigger at 3 liters & has a very different closing system.  But the super duper point is…I loved it!  I love it so much more than my camelbak & I really love that it seems idiot proof although I guess I should have it a few years before I make such a bold statement 

I also created a new camp kitchen which also doubles as my night stand.  I’m trying to embrace cooking more on the road, both for financial reasons & my stomach seems to function better with teenie tiny bites of stuff.  I hate cooking at home & have never much liked camp cooking either.  My draw to going out is that I’m a social eater…I love trying new foods & visiting with the bartenders & others sitting nearby.  But, I’m making the effort & my new camp kitchen is awesome.  It’s even personalized with a boatload of stickers from my collection!


All along Highway 90 heading west from Sioux Falls towards Rapid City, you see billboards advertising Firehouse Brewery.  You probably pass at least a dozen of them.  What’s unique is that each billboard has a full size fire truck next to it…sometimes vertical.  That’s a lot of old firetrucks.  Believe it or not, I never tried their beer while in Rapid City.  I’d heard it wasn’t any good & I was there of a morning anyway.  But, wondering where they got all those fire trucks from?

But the prize for the MOST billboards along 90 is Wall Drug.  There had to be about one every 10 miles.  Not the same billboard, at least they get points for variety & creativity.

While in Sioux Falls, there were many billboards throughout the city cautioning people to cover up or use bug spray to avoid getting the West Nile Virus.  I thought this was odd until I learned there are more cases in South Dakota than any other state.  To say the least, I wore tights at camp & long sleeves.  

The other sign that was all over Sioux Falls & along the highway, was the same billboard over & over warning you about being a drug dealer…Eeek!  Do they have a problem with that here?

But my favorite sign of all, was in the bathroom in a random truck stop in Iowa, that said, “Heated Toilet Seats for your pleasure”….it cracked me up & I was a little sorry it wasn't the dead of winter just to try it.


I drove 2,353 miles

I took 450+ photos

I spent $11 on camping

I didn’t find much good beer, but was prepared with an awesome supply of my own

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