The Black Hills

We got off to an early start by way of not sleeping in. For some reason, I was up and ready to go at 6 AM, probably because I’m still on East Coast time – vacation mode will do that to you.

We had a great breakfast of Taylor ham, egg and cheese on a hard roll, a New Jersey treat.  The hard rolls we found were good, an unexpected surprise. I’m sure that today that we were eating the westernmost Taylor Ham and Egg sandwiches in the United States.

Crazy_horseOur first stop was at Crazy Horse Monument.  We arrived a little after 8 AM and the place had no visitors.  There were a maximum of 25 cars in the parking lot and were the only RV in the place. Completely unlike the last time we were there.  Admission was $22, a little steep to look at a statue that’s not completed, but we’re tourists, and it’s our responsibility to be separated from our money.  Later in the day, we calculated that the last time we were at the Crazy Horse monument was about six years ago.

The place was much different than the first time we were there. Exhibits were moved, construction projects completed, additions made, and improvements were made to the grounds, but not much appeared to be different on the monument. We spent about four hours touring, which was very good time.  I was surprised, since I was counting on a quick ‘we’ve seen it already visit’, and there was plenty to keep you engaged, plenty of new stuff, and plenty of stuff from before that was first class.

We took the bus tour to the area near where the statue is pointing.  It was Louise’s idea, and it was good idea. At first I didn’t think that it would be anything special. I was wrong. The view from the end of the trip was much better than I expected.  Additionally, on the way back, the bus passed the entourage that was carrying Mrs. Ziolkowski remains to the family tomb. Mrs. Ruth Ziolkowski died the pervious week and was being laid to rest in the family tomb, on property owned by the Ziolkowski family that is surrounded by the memorial.

remainsAs the procession passed, I wondered if the foundation will continue to do as well in the future as it has in the past, with the death of the matriarch and CEO.  Casmir, her son, has made statements that he wants to finish the horses head in his lifetime, and had made changes to the work crews to achieve that goal, according to the bus driver. Casmir has been a driving force in making progress at he memorial for quite a while, and appears capable of driving progress. The question remains, who will steer the foundation?

I asked several people about the location of the reception area and statue in 1973, but could not locate the area that they indicated it was at when I was there.  I’ll have to dig out the old photos from then and compare them against the current photos and Google Earth, to see if I can figure where they were.

After we left the Crazy Horse Memorial, we somehow found the Black Hills Forest Superintendent Office.  We had taken a great hike then, and with the help of Dixie, the lady at the front desk, determined that we took the trail to the top of Little Devil’s Tower.  Turned out that the area is inside Custer State Park, so there was another admission fee.  We were planning to go there for part of the day, so we were just a little early.

We found the trailhead for Little Devils’ Tower and had lunch of hot dogs and sauerkraut before the hike.  I’m not sure that it’s a good idea to eat a large lunch and then hike on a hot day.  We both re-discovered that the Force of Gravity is proportional to the square of your age.  As your age increases, gravity increases exponentially.

little_DEVILIt was a great hike, on a glorious day, with blue skies that tended to get hazy towards the end.  There were far fewer trees today,  thanks to the Pine Bark Beetle. The Pine Bark Beetle is a major threat to the National Forests.  Not much has been said in the media about the beetle, but the beetles have been doing a better job of denuding vast portions of the west than any rapacious forest products company. Generally, National Forests have too many trees, too close together, because of fire suppression and lack of funding to manage the forests.  With warmer weather in the forests, the beetles don’t freeze during the winter, and since they are not killed,  they are able to reproduce the following spring, and infect the trees that are too close together because the forest has not been managed using controlled burning and thinning.

Warning, a Geology/Science Alert! In the central portion of the Black Hills, there is Granite all around, unlike the surrounding area, (Custer State Park, Spearfish Canyon, Rapid City) which is composed of sedimentary rocks.  There are some great pegmatite dikes throughout the granite (streaks of rock that have large crystals). There is Rose Quartz, Feldspar, Mica, Biotite, and a cacophony of minerals, all in exquisite large size as a result of the slow cooling of the intrusive body that formed the Black Hills. The trail was littered with large chinks of crystals and the trail went through or up some impressive pegmatite dikes.

Louise ran out of steam and stopped just short of the top of Little Devils Tower, which was a smart move, as the slope up was very steep and I had difficulty in down climbing.  The climb down was harder than the climb up, far more treacherous, since I no longer bounce, as I did in my youth.

The walk back to the trailhead was hot, but easy.  We’d like to find a walk that was all downhill start to finish.  Somehow on the walk, I lost my lens hood.  I looked and spoke to several other hikers that were on their way back to the trailhead, but no one was able to find it.

When we left the trail head, we were both tired, and looking for a relaxing tour of the area.  We drove to the area called the Needles.  There is a one lane tunnel that is 8’ 5” wide, and I thought that I’d drive the RV through.  Just because it’s possible, in theory, to do something, doesn’t make it a good idea.  I backed out.  Everyone was very nice, and I got a little ribbing, but they all thought that I was slightly crazy to try it in the first place but wanted to see me make the attempt.

Since we couldn’t fit, or wouldn’t try, we had to leave Custer to reach another section of Custer State Park.  On the way, we saw a ranch raising buffalo and Texas Long Horn Steers.  The horns of the longhorns seemed to have a span of six feet.  I would not like to be a cowboy or a Texan matador with those animals.  How do the steers keep their heads up?

Mt_CoolidgeOn the way to the Wildlife loop for Custer SP, we came across the access road for Mt Coolidge, elevation 6,030 feet.  The access road is not recommended for RV’s.  The View is essentially a FedEx delivery van, so today I was a FedEx truck and not an RV. The road was narrow, but no worse than anything else that we’ve been on, including paved roads.  The view from the top was incredible. You could see for over 50 miles, if not further , if it wasn’t for the haze, which wasn’t that bad.  You could definitely see the badlands from the top of the mountain.

CusterWe finally got on the Wildlife loop, but we’re so early in the season, it’s kind of a mix between ‘Winter was two weeks ago, Spring hasn’t shown up yet, but Summer is underway and it’s hotter than normal this year too’. With the weather confused, the animals are way out in the fields.  The Pronghorns seem to have some crazy ‘baby arriving, next mating season’ thing going on because the males are chasing each other around like sprint car drivers on the track and the mommas seem to have little pronghorns.

During the tour, we came across a clumsy turkey, who tripped over his own feet running away from the road, took a tumble, and then decided to fly off. Seemed more amusing than television, which we haven’t seen and don’t miss.  The ride through Custer State Park was a treat, even though we didn’t pass the museum or the curly queue bridges, but the light was great.  It was what they refer to as the ‘magical hour’. Broadway couldn’t have provided better lighting.

I was tired from the monumental day, so the last 20 minutes back to the campground were really tiring, but the Winnebago is a great vehicle and handles very well considering how tall it is compared to the wheel width.  I did wish I had our BMW today because Custer State Park is a dream to drive, even at the speed limit.

We changed dinner plans, as I was really tired and after an adult beverage, I had no interest in cooking.  We had fresh Rubens again, and it was a great, quick dinner to end a great, very full day.  We accomplished everything we set out to do, and at the end of the day we were spent. Tomorrow we’re off to a last tour of the Black Hills, a repeat of Spearfish Canyon, a pass through Deadwood and Lead, and then  off to Devil’s Tower.