Tales on the Trails

South Dakota

We spent a week near the Black Hills of South Dakota and would have liked it to have been a month. We landed in Piedmont near Rapid City at a Passport America park that allows unlimited use of the discount, so $20 a night. Like every other place in the area, they make their fiscal year during the Sturgis rally, so a park which can hold hundreds, even a thousand people a night had plenty of room.  Other than a few weekenders, our only neighbors were wild turkeys and rabbits.

A picture says a thousand words, and I took alot!  (as seen at the bottom of this post), so I will let them speak for themselves and NOT write about Mt Rushmore, or Bison, or the BadLands other than to say this is a spot that requires months, not weeks to explore.  There is a Buffalo Roundup in late September at Custer State Park and it has a spot high on my bucket list!

One of the most impressive things to me about South Dakota is the number of unpaved rural roads maintained by the Forest Service (I think), the excellent maps of them and the distances they span.  We made an effort in the jeep to get places without pavement and were able to do 50 miles with only 9 paved to get to Deadwood.  The trails ranged from flat and grated to steep rock crawling grades up the mountain with single lane ledges hugging the cliff.  Loved it and I intend on circling back to explore this more!

Jeanne loves the prairie, it makes her feel at home, and SD has plenty of it.  Outside the badlands, a stunning testament to both geology and the tenacious nature of a settler’s soul, we found an old homestead, perfectly preserved.  Prairie Homestead is one of the best preserved (and reasonably priced!) examples of an original homestead I’ve ever seen, and I am a sucker for historical points of interest.  Built by hand by a 55 year old man and his family in 1909, it is reminiscent of the the hardship and ruggedness Jeanne and I have witnessed at similar historical sites in Death Valley and the Mojave.  Places where the regular difficulty of life are doubled down on by the harshest of environments.  This is truly a lost place and time. Where’s Dr. Who when you need him?

We spent a few days in Wall and used that a jumping off point for day trips.  The Wounded Knee museum was closed so we have another reason to return.  There is a terrific little RV park there called Sleepy Hollow, owned by a young man who is trying to build a new life outside his tech career.  We spent three nights there and recommend it – there is a small swimming pool, but after hiking the bad lands it is just what the doctor ordered!

We also went to a tourist sport, Ft. Hayes Supper Show and Chuck Wagon.  Loved it – Branson Missouri style country dinner shows with surprisingly good food.  But really the star of the show was meeting and learning about the owner and his crazy idea to buy the Fort Hayes  set from Dances with Wolves, filmed on his family’s property about a half hour away.  I met him as he was making the aluminum embossed plates they serve supper on and sell.  Yes, making the plates by hand on a lathe that caught my eye.  I was lurking around the shop and this old belt driven early 1900’s lathe caught my eye.  So I invited myself in.  Turns out he bought it in 1962 after he got out of college with an engineering degree and went into the brand new mag wheel business.  He bought the lathe to turn aluminum mag wheels to compete against Mickey Thompson (to my car friends, yes, THAT Mickey Thompson).  Well, as he tells it he raced against Mickey and competed in business  but once he discovered the cost of product liability insurance he decided Mickey could have the market.  He moved onto the tour bus business and founded what is today a South Dakota iconic stop.  Check out the magnificently restored Model A built the year the V8 was introduced….  I was impressed that the owners son was working the door and the old man himself serves dessert in the chow line.  This was a very cool family run outfit with a million stories to tell, just hang out and you will hear them

We were treated to a light show in Wall (see pictures) as well as one on Mt Rushmore (again, see pictures).  We love South Dakota and can’t wait to get back.

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