It seemed a shame to be so close to the highest point in South Dakota, and not climb it, so the next morning we loaded our packs and headed to the Harney Peak trail, (it starts at the Sylvan Lake Day Parking lot). Both of us were a little edgy about the seven mile roundtrip hike, which has a vertical climb of over a thousand feet. We decided to try it with the goal being to test ourselves and enjoy the hike, not measuring our success by topping out. Taking Sylvan Lake Trail Number 9, we quickly climbed several hundred feet, walking though the towering mature ponderosa pines. An occasional aspen displayed it’s fall colored bright yellow foliage. Some oaks showed some red leafs and hinted at more beauty to come. About a half mile down the trail we reached our first view of Harney’s Peak. It’s topped by a stone fire tower, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s. We stopped further on and had a morning snack. A group of talking teenagers walked by, on no not a school field trip? Continuing on we had occasional views of the Picket Fence, Little Devils Tower, Cathedral Spires, and Harney Peak. After a long downhill, followed by a sharp uphill climb we connected with trail four and we realized we were near the summit! Getting our second wind we decided to go for it and quickly climbed the last three hundred feet. It wasn’t until we neared the peak that the sight of the tower greeted us! Climbing the spiral rock stairs, the fire tower reminded us of the wicked witch’s castle in the Wizard of Oz. We cast a glance over our shoulders but didn’t see any flying monkeys, only teenagers scattered everywhere, (personally I would have taking the flying monkeys). Never the less we enjoyed the view! Far to the east you could see the backside of Mount Rushmore. It is said that you can see four states, but some haze limited our view, as a fire burned far away. The entire Black Hills were visible and a new appreciation of their beauty dawned in our hearts. We climbed down to a cistern, partially filled with water. Eating lunch, the others left, and for a moment we were all alone on top of the world……….. The hike downhill was fast as Renita practically ran! The whole hike took us five hours and was as spectacular as any hike we have been on. Tired and sore we reached the truck. Time well spent! Clear skies.
We moved our house to Wind Cave National Park, so we could be closer to Custer State Park and the southern Black Hills. Renita’s friend, Kate, e-mailed her about the trail around Sylvan Lake and so we headed there by way of the Wildlife Loop road and Needles highway. Entering Custer State Park from the south, we passed a fairly large herd of Buffalo and a few really large buck antelope. One sported really large horns, probably 16 inches, which is a really nice antelope anywhere. Anyway, we paid our entrance fee, and then turned south to drive the Wildlife loop road. Wildlife Road is aptly named! We passed buffalo, antelope, Merriam turkey, and of course the herd of wild donkeys, the hit of the loop! They were a bit far from the road, but after waiting a bit, one donkey walked over to the truck to see if Renita would give it a handout. Soon others headed our way. We took some pictures and then explained to the donkey that we were on a fixed income, being retired, and had no extra food to share with beggars, (Our stock answer to Rainbow family members and other lazy animals). Driving a bit further we came to the roundup corrals where buffalo were being penned for culling and study. We noticed after taking pictures that they had been branded with a large letter “C”, unlike the buffalo at Yellowstone, (no brand). At the nearby visitor center, a Audubon’s Bighorn sheep was mounted and a display explained that the sheep were extinct. These sheep had roamed the prairies of South Dakota. Continuing our scouting we headed north and east intending to hike the Lovers Leap Trail. However we discovered that the trail was muddy and extremely primitive so we decided to drive the Needles highway, to Sylvan Lake. What a crazy road. The road has two tunnels, one of which is only eight feet seven inches wide! We had to fold in the side mirrors on the truck to make it through without damaging them. The road is narrow, with sharp curves, and has few guardrails. Luckily, I was too busy driving to look over the edge and Renita was treated to the acrophobic view. It reminded her of the road at Crater Lake National Park. Passing Super Pin, a 5.10 rated needle that I climbed a long time ago, we soon drove through the narrowest tunnel and we arrived at the Eye of The Needle. A spectacular sight and a beautiful panorama of other spires greeted us! A bus of other visitors drove up and we were caught in a crowd of retirees. Finally arriving at Sylvan Lake we were able to find a parking spot four our large truck and headed to the lakeside trail. It was immediately obvious why Kate or anyone would love the place. Sylvan lake is gorgeous. It’s a small lake that has thrusting spires of granite rising from the lake waters. Tall Ponderosa Pines and small meadows edged the lake. We walked on the trial and stopped at a beautiful spot for a picnic lunch, sitting on a granite spur. Thank you Kate! Returning home we drove through Custer, but our day wasn’t over. While cooking brats on a wood fire, a ranger came by and invited us to the Elk presentation and the evenings elk bugling trip! She used a power point show while talking about the elk herd in the park. At one point she showed an mpeg of an elk bugling, and a real elk answered the movies call! Going to the American Elk turnoff we listened for the elk. While Renita and the other were able to hear them, my hearing is so bad that I simply enjoyed watching the stars,(The next morning an elk bugled near the camp and I was able to finally hear one). A long and full day. Clear skies.
Of all the biking we have done, the Rapid City bike trail, along Rapid Creek, has to be one of the best. The trail is paved, is an easy ride, and shows off the best of Rapid City. We parked and unloaded the bikes just west of the Rapid City Convention Center. There, to our surprise was a farmers market, where we bought some low carb spaghetti squash, buffalo berry jam, and smoked buffalo bologna! Finally getting on the bikes we rode across the grass to the bike trail and then headed upstream. Like the Mikelson Trail, the ride was uphill but it was easier and had some flat spots. We rode past the Needemeer Gardens, city ball parks, Meadowbrook Golf course and the Fish Hatchery, finally reaching the end of the trail. Turning around the ride was, for the most part, a long coast. The total ride took about two hours and that was because we stopped for snacks and pictures. The trail was busy with walkers, joggers, and bikers. I almost collided with a biker who ringing his bell, thought I understood that he wanted to pass. Luckily for him he yelled left, just at the last minute and we avoided a collision,(I am pretty hard of hearing and thought the bell was something wrong with my bike). We both agreed that the bike ride was great and that Rapid City, once you get away from the interstate is one of the prettier places we have been. We can understand why Bob and Nancy want to move here. Clear skies.
As it was my birthday, I got to pick the days activity and I choose a bike ride on the Mickelson Bike Trail. The trail is an old railroad track and is 110 miles long. We had heard a lot of good things about it so today was the day to ride. Now 110 miles is about 100 too long for us so we decided to ride the first leg, from the Deadwood trail head to the Kirk Trail head, a distance of about 3.4 miles. We stopped at the Deadwood information center and got directions to the trail head where we parked in free parking and started the days ride. The trail started as a blacktop path but turned into packed gravel. It was all uphill, but it was an easy uphill grade and so we steadily peddled, stopping several times for water and the views. It only took an hour for us to reach the Kirk trail head. The ride reminded us of the bike path in St Paul, another abandoned railroad track with a similar grade and easy uphill biking. After snacking at the Kirk trail head, and posing for pictures we swiftly returned down the trail to our truck. I think we had to peddle maybe two or three times as the trail was all about coasting. I got distracted by the scenery once, and almost rode over a cliff and into a stream, (Good thing I don't drink and drive). Renita had made a similar miscue and accused me of copying her. Once back, we loaded the bikes and went into Deadwood for lunch. We ate at the first casino we came to and the food while cheap was about as good as the Fisherman in Rockport, Tx. In others words cheap and so so. As our friend Mike said, " You get what you pay for". After lunch Renita went shopping and I actually gambled, the first time since retiring,(Now I hate shopping and gambling is almost as equally boring to me but I did win 25 bucks at the blackjack table). Our trip to the hills was free! Returning home the kids all called to wish me happy birthday! The most unexpected call of all was from Connie and Gary with Connie singing happy birthday and Gary playing along with his accordian! Truly a treat, Cajun music from Grand Isle! Clear skies.
All though we have been to Mount Rushmore numerous times, we decided to return as the new construction was finally finished. The concessionaire had put in a huge covered parking garage and the entire areas buildings have been redone. The parking garage costs ten bucks, a bit steep to us, but what can you do. They say it is only temporary until the buildings are paid for, yeah right. Anyway we parked and we were both surprised as to how tasteful the changes to the area were. Yes, we preferred the old Rushmore, but the area was being loved to death and changes had to be made. One very positive change is the boardwalk path that takes you near the faces! Another change was the display of the plains indian teepees. It was nice but we weren't quite sure what it had to do with the monument? The biggest surprise for us was that we actually got to see the mountain goats! Many people had told us that they had seen them but in all the times there we had never gotten that lucky. Today was the day! The goats seemed oblivious to us and all the people and we were able to get really close for pictures. We were glad we had returned to Rushmore and glad that the changes had not detracted from the mood of the place. Both of us were touched with our love of our country. Clear skies.
From Keyhole we moved a short distance to Rapid City, South Dakota. The tow was easy and only 100 miles so it only took about 2 hours. There, we parked at a Passport America park called Three Flags,(they are half price if you belong to Passport America). We had spent a lot of weekends in Rapid City, but never a full week plus, so we decided to look at it a s a possible place to live, as we have at our other stops. Helping us were Bob and Nancy Bentley, two long time friends who are currently moving to Rapid. They invited us over for lunch and took us on a walk along Canyon Creek lake. Canyon Creek Lake is the lake that failed and flooded Rapid City in 1972, killing several hundred people. The dam was rebuilt,(it is leaking!), and the flood areas were rebuilt from housing subdivisions into parks, golf courses, and bike trails. The lake itself is a beautiful park, filled with geese, ducks, and swans who chase after you in search of handouts. We watched as tundra swans attempted to board a peddle boat after food and were warned by a local that the swans were the greediest and meanest birds in the park. It was really amazing to have wild wood ducks swim near us. The sun shone and we enjoyed the walk around the park and the conversation with Bob and Nancy. We returned to their apartment for a lunch of barbecued flank steak. Bob is such and excellent chef! All in all a fine day in the park with dear friends. Clear skies.
Quite time is at 10 pm so I stepped outside and turned the generator off. The stars shone bright. Renita pointed to the moon and then pointed out Jupiter, above the moon and slightly west. Two owls hooted in the distance as if to signal it's time to go hunting rabbits. Later a flock of geese landed near us and started to have quite a conversation, honking on and on, not minding the parks quiet time regulation. A deer bedded down near us, seeking refuge, as coyotes howled nearby, calling to each other with their mournful yowls. This morning I walked Molly and we took a different direction, walking south along the trail. Nearing the campground's end she abruptly smelled the air, turned a 180 degree turn and pulled hard against the leash. We retraced our steps and she looked over her shoulder as if in fear of pursuing coyotes or a mountain lion. Some smell or sound that I couldn't sense. Walking through Arch campground, now closed, a flock of jake Merriam turkeys walked in front of us, sixteen in all. Their plumage wasn't yet full but full enough for the time of year. A flock of american white pelicans were fishing in the back of Cottonwood bay, undisturbed as the geese had already flown out to their feeding grounds. We finished our walk and I was reminded of how I had been taking so much for granted. Such beauty as the still lake surface mirrored by the cliffs across the bay. The multitude of wildlife we have seen. Last night's view of the summer Milky Way and stars and planets, and why some wonder why I always sign off, "clear skies". Clear skies.
Renita was invited to a tea party by Miss Gingi and so it was with the usual last minute flurry we drove to Gillette for the social event of the season! All the important people would be there, of course, so Renita picked out her hat which is mandatory wear of course, and we hurried so as not to be late,(One knows of course what happens to people late for a tea party)! Luckily we, and the other guests made it with minutes to spare and Miss Gingi was unruffled as she handed out hats for the uncovered. After a brief chit chat in the parlour we moved to the dinning room where the tea party was laid out. The table was filled with brownies, and cucumber sandwiches, and lots of goodies,(did I say brownies?), and all sat down. Miss Gingi demanded that marshmellows be on the menu and she highly recommended the strawberries! Dale and I of course retired to the den for the customary cigar and cognac,)kidding of course), and the women proceeded to talk and snack on the delightful fare. The hostess was gracious and the tea party was a success! Afterwards, the guests started to leave and Miss Gingi retired to the sofa for the customary after tea party nap. We continued to visit and catch up on all the happenings. What a delightful time! Thank you Miss Gingi,(and Mother Erin and Grandmother Michelle)! Clear skies.
This is kind of a disjointed post as the three topics are about as dissimiliar as you can get but they have been the three things on our minds so......
A volcano erupted in Alaska and as the dust spreads it has been providing us with some beautiful sunsets. Last night was especially neat as a rainbow formed from the storm that passed and the rainbow wasn't normal, it was completely red. Now I know the science, red is a longer wavelength and its the last color that can penetrate the curved atmosphere, blah, blah, blah, but it was so unique to see such a deep red pillar of light that we both had to go out and see it.
Looking west across Keyhole,(our current location), we were treated to a beautiful sunset as the red rays of light colored the passing storm.
When not beeing involved in nature study we have been glued to the tv watching the Republican National Convention coverage on CNN. Being a Yellow Dog Democrat, the whole thing has been painful but the reports from the CNN Grill are our actual reason for watching. Why, cause Jenny, our daughter, is working there and we see glimpses of her as she walks across the background! We called her and tried to get her to look at the camera and smile but she said they weren't suppose to and the job is important to a student so I guess that's ok, but......
The other thing that occupies our time is watching news reports of Gustov and the damage done to Grand Isle. My sister and her husband evacuated Saturday and we haven't heard from them since. Wouldn't be so worried but they evacuated to Maringouin, just north of Baton Rouge and the hurricane followed them there.
We have been praying for their safety and the safety of their house on Grand Isle. They are truely the kindest people with hearts of gold and have opened their lives to so many people. We have been truely blessed with their love. Clear skies.
Update from our nephew, Danny, "Just to let you all know that mom and dad are back at the island. Both houses lost a little bit of siding and the the house that they live in lost a gutter on the south side. They have water, phone service and cell phone service. No electricity- sounds like it may be awhile."