Thursday, June 7, 2018

Last Day in Rapid City

Last night we tried to get some sunset pictures at Badlands NP, however the clouds cover was just too thick.  The sun could not break through the clouds, thus there were no colors in the sky. So I do not have any good sunset photos.

Today was our last day in South Dakota, we fly home tomorrow. Since today was our last day, we took it easy and did not do much.

We attempted to walk the petrified forest trail in one of Rapid City’s park, but there was no map, so we couldn’t tell where the trail was.  So we went to the Reptile Garden, established in 1937. The Reptile Garden is a garden and wildlife park that specializes in reptiles. We got there right before the crocodile and alligator show, where they tell you a bit about crocodiles and alligators and how to wrestle one.  It was interesting. We also saw their prairie dog exhibit and pet some giant tortoises. The jungle dome was interesting. In the middle of the lower level you walk along a path in an enclosed a jungle like setting as lizards, birds, frogs, and a snake roam about free. I saw several small lizards. Then on the upper level you can see all the venomous snakes, behind glass. Then around the outside of the jungle path on the lower level you can see all the types of alligators and crocodiles including an 18 foot long saltwater crocodile.  That basically covers the whole garden, we didn’t watch the bird or snake show. The Reptile Garden is nice, and I would recommend it for people with kids. On a side note the Reptile Garden does allow you to bring your dog.

From the Reptile Garden we went next door to the Founding Fathers Exhibit.  It is a recreation of the signing of the Declaration of Independence based on the famous John Trumbull painting.  What they did was take the painting, and make sculptures of all the people and placed them in the proper setting. Basically they made the painting three dimensional, which provided an interesting perspective, since you could walk all the way around the life size model.   The exhibit is nice, and would be great if you are really into American History, but overall not something I would need to do again.

We ate lunch at ¿Que Pasa?, which had decent Mexican food. From there we stopped at Rocky Mountain Chocolates and then Landstrom’s which makes jewelry out of gold from the black hills. This basically concluded our day. The rest of the day was spent packing up all our stuff so it is ready to go tomorrow for the flight home.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Short - Driving

Today we headed over to Wyoming to see Devil’s Tower.  Yes that is the tower that was in the movie “Close Encounter of the Third Kind”. It was a two hour drive to get there, on mostly empty freeway.  When we go there the main parking lot by the visitor center was full, so we parked in one of the auxiliary lots. We checked out the visitor center, then did the 1.25 mile loop around the base of the rock formation.  It was a decent walk, with only one major uphill section at the beginning. After, we completed our hike we drove to Deadwood.

We went to Deadwood, which has a historic main street.  Deadwood is also the place where Wild Bill, and Calamity Jane  got their claim to fame. Overall, the town isn’t that interesting. It has casinos, mostly slot machines, in every store and restaurant. Also, the town smells faintly of stale cigarette smoke.  I would not recommend stopping in Deadwood, just not worth the diversion. We also drove through Sturgis, also not very exciting.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Back to the Parks

Formation in Wind Cave
We went back down to Wind Cave this morning to do a cave tour.  We got down to the Wind Cave Visitor center a bit before 9:00 AM so we missed out on the 9:00 AM cave tour, so we took the 10:00 AM cave tour.  While walking around the visitor center to kill some time, we ran into a couple I graduated highschool with. They were there for their family vacation.  We did the hour and half natural entrance cave tour, which was led by a park ranger from Puerto Rico. The ranger was entertaining while being informative.  The cave itself is interesting, but it does not have the large stalagmites and stalactites that other caves have, it also does not have any bats or living creatures in it.  Also, the cave is a dry cave, so there is no additional formations being made. It is a nice cave and I would do one of the other tours, but I thought Luray Caverns had more interesting features.  

After the cave tour we went and had lunch at the Dew Drop Inn and Restaurant, before driving back to Rapid City through Custer State Park.  We wanted to feed the burros again, but they were way out in the field and not near the road. So we didn’t get a chance to feed them. We got back to our hotel  and spent some time there before heading out to dinner and back out to the badlands.

We headed back out to Badlands NP around 5:30 PM to get there before sunset at 8:30 PM. However, when we left there were large dark storm clouds forming in the west and heading east towards the badlands.  I was really hoping they would not make it to where we were going to be, because the sky to the east was clear and blue.  Sadly the clouds were traveling in our direction, and there was lighting in the distance. We go to the park entrance as the large dark cloud was starting to hover over the park. I made the decision to go through the gate to the first overlook.  We were rewarded with some mountain goats, which were hanging out by the overlook and some interesting light in the distance. However, it wasn’t the sunset I was hoping for. We took some pictures, then the wind started to intensify and then the rain started.  We got in the car and headed back. We will try again tomorrow, after we go out to Sturgis and Deadwood.


Monday, June 4, 2018

Train, Wine, and Monuments

Today involved trains, wine, and a monument.  We got up early to drive down to Hill City, to ride the 1880 Steam Train. The train is an old steam train that travels between Hill City and Keystone on a mine line that used to connect the towns and mines. The steam train travels at 10 MPH so it takes an hour to go the 10 miles between the towns, and the round trip is 2 hours.  The scenery along the line is nice, but you see several personal homes along the route. The inside of the train cars were carefully restored and well cared for. The two cars we were in (we changed cars at Keystone) had stained glass windows along the top, windows that opened, and padded seat with backs that moved so you can change which direction you are facing.  Overall, the experience was okay and was nice to do once. I would not do it a second time.

After the train ride we went to the Prairie Berry Winery.  We ate lunch at the winery then tasted some of their wines.  The winery gives everyone five free tastings. I tasted the Anna Pesa Louka which reminded me of a light unoaked chardonnay,  the Buffaloberry Fusion which was nice light wine with a sweet end-note, the Gold Digger a nice semi-sweet white with a distinct pear taste,  and finally the Chuckleberry which was a nice sweet and fruity red. I ended up getting the Chuckleberry and the Gold Digger. My mom tried the the Deadwood, the Razzy Apple, the Pomegranate Fusion, the Red Ass Rhubarb,  and the Black Raspberry Fusion. My mom bought a bottle of the Chuckleberry and the Deadwood. From the winery we went to see the Crazy Horse Monument.

The Crazy Horse Monument is more than a monument, it also has a very large visitor center complex.  The visitor center has a large museum showcasing Native American art and culture, a restaurant, a demonstration area where they showcase Native American Dance, an art studio, and of course a gift shop. You cannot walk to the monument, but you can take a 30 minute bus tour that takes you to the base and tells you the history of the monument.  We did the 30 minute bus tour, our bus driver was Larry, who was pleasant and informative. We learned they are working on the hand, which must be done with only jackhammers because it is delicate and will take about 15 years to complete.  The horse head is next, and will take about 50 years to complete. It is going to take a long time to complete the monument, and it won’t be completed in my lifetime. Finally, before you leave you can take home one of the rocks blasted from the mountain to make the monument. We took a rock.   This concluded our day.

Tomorrow it is back down to Wind Cave to take one of the cave tours.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Badlands and a Little Kitsch


Today was a busy day.  We woke up, had breakfast then headed out to Badlands National Park and Wall Drug.  The drive out to Badlands from our hotel took about an hour, and that is with part of the freeway being 80 MPH.  When we entered the park we were greeted by the bison herd and the prairie dogs. A little past the entrance, we saw two relaxing goats, but there was no place to stop to get their pictures. Badlands NP does have hiking, which is mostly backcountry, and lots of overlook locations to look at the rocks formations. Since we got to the park around 9:30 AM we had some morning light but not the perfect morning light,  that gives you the deep shadows and brings out the red in the rock formation. It took us about 3 hours to drive completely through the park with stops and a doing a few loop trail hikes. You could tell as the sun go higher the color seemed to disappear from the rocks.  The best time of day to get vibrant colors in the rocks and the deep shadows to show off the crevasse would be sunrise or sunset. So we are planning on going back for sunset sometime during the week.

After we drove through the park, we went to Wall Drug for lunch.  Plus all the signs say visit Wall Drug, thus we had to go. Wall drug is your standard kitschy tourist stop. It has two places to eat, a play area, and lots of shopping areas. After lunch we stopped in at the National Grasslands Visitor center and learned about all the national grasslands.  From there we went back to the hotel for a little bit before going to see the dinosaur park and grab dinner.


The Dinosaur Park was built in 1936 and  has five large concrete dinosaurs. It is definitely kitschy but a very popular place.  The park also has a nice view of Rapid City. From the park we went to dinner. After dinner we walked down a half block from the restaurant to see the art alley.  The art alley is permitted graffiti, basically you get a permit and you can put something in the alley. The alley would be a great place to do a photo shoot. Afterwards we headed back to the hotel for the day.

Tomorrow we will be taking a ride on the steam train and going to see the Crazy Horse Monument.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Presidents and Wildlife

Today we got up around 6:30 AM to get breakfast and then head out to Mount Rushmore  and Custer State Park. The drive out to Mount Rushmore took about 30 minutes, and was a nice drive.  We parked in the parking garage and walked up to the main walkway. The main walkway is wide and frames the President’s carved into Mount Rushmore.  The Monument is impressive, from both the size and the level of technology used to carve it. We attempted to walk the President’s Trail, a 1-mile loop trail at the base of Mount Rushmore,  but about half way around it was closed so we had to turn around and go back. After, we were done visiting Mount Rushmore we took the scenic byway to Custer State Park. The scenic byway was the longer route but worth it.  It had a lot of twists and turns but it was nice drive. While the Impreza did a nice job going through the curves, I still wish I would have had a little sports car to cruise on the road and really hug the curves.


We went Custer State Park, to drive the wildlife loop and see animals. The loop is about 18 miles around and we drove about half of it, because the bison herd was at the bottom of the loop.   Along the way we saw some pronghorns, prairie dogs, burros, and of course bison. When we saw the burros, we stopped to feed them carrots. You are allowed to feed the burros carrots and apples because they are not native or considered wild. The burros are descents of the burros abandoned by miners of the black hills.  The burros are known as the “begging burros” and really are pushy when you are holding a bag of carrots. Four carrots is not enough, even when you break them apart. I think the one was thinking of knocking me over and grabbing the bag of carrots from me. Overall they are friendly, and are comfortable around people.  Highly recommend seeing the burros. By the time we go to the bottom of the loop and saw the bison, it was lunch time.

My complaint is they need more specific signs. I wanted to get to a town to have lunch but none of the signs stated how far to anything.  We ended up driving through Wind Cave National Park to get to Hot Springs. It is not that far, but when you have no cell signal to use GPS or specific road signs it gets frustrating.  We did make it to historic Hot Springs, which has next to nothing but ended up stopping at visitor center. The lady at the visitor directed us to a little cafe to eat, where we had sandwiches.   After lunch we went back up to road to the Wind Cave visitor center. Sadly, the only cave walks left were late in the day. So we did the short prairie loop trail and decided to come back a later day in the week to take a cave tour.  From Wind Cave we headed back to the hotel for the day, on the regular freeway.

Tomorrow we plan on heading out to Badlands National Park.

Friday, June 1, 2018

South Dakota - The Begining

Mammoth Outside "Mammoth Site"
Today I flew out to Rapid City, South Dakota  for my annual vacation. The flight out of Dayton was ok, and I made my connection in Minneapolis, where I met my mom. However, my luggage did not make the connection.  We arrived in Rapid City and went down to baggage claim our bags, however, mine did not show up on the carousal. The baggage claim lady said it was going to be on the next flight which was arriving in an hour.  Sadly she lied, it was on the next flight out of Minneapolis, but it was arriving in two hours not one. So I spoke with the Delta representative and they said they could have my luggage delivered to my hotel.  My luggage showed up 5:00PM.

Even though I did not have my luggage, it did not prevent us from sightseeing.  We drove down to the “Mammoth Site” which is working archaeological dig. At the site they are excavating mammoth skeletons,  two types woolly mammoth and columbian mammoths, that fell into the spring millions of years ago. The site is interesting, lots of bones and tusks.   I would recommend it.

So this was the start of of our trip.  Tomorrow we head down to Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park.

Still Life

Now that I have a little bit of down time, I took some time to work on other types of photography outside of portrait photography.   I ...