Sylvan Lake Exploring

Mom, E and I took a drive up to Sylvan Lake. This is a manmade lake created in 1881 when the build a dam across the creek in the area. The lake creates a great getaway in the shadow of Mount Rushmore. The elevation in this part of the park is much higher than near the campground and wildlife loop. We prepped to hike the Sunday Gulch Trail. We arrived, hiking sticks, lunch and water in tow, to signs that said the trail was closed. So instead we opted to circumnavigate the lake over the rocks. There was a LOT of snow still on the ground but the temperatures were in the low 60s so it was great hiking weather. This is May 2019! I built a little snowman! Hi little guy! We started on the tail end of the Sunday Gulch Trail, knowing it was closed, but also knowing it was the only passage that could take us around the lake. We his to hike through some icky snowpack and between the rocks to get to the trail. E found all the ledges with the ice packs. I played with the rocks while E explored the small spaces. I am getting too tall for the tiny spots now. 60s suddenly started to feel really warm. We all cooled down by putting snow under out hats! I think it froze Es brain as he started to act really weird!  Life finds a way… there are some large trees growing between the rocks in this area. We hiked for a few hours, had lunch at the highest peak we could find and then continued around the lake.Someone we had run into earlier on our hike kept chatting with us. He was from rapid City. Anyway, he asked if we were trying to pick a snowball fight with him. Ummmmm, NO! Next thing we knew he was hurling snowballs at us, which of course gave us permission to fire back. This went on for 20 minutes with a stranger. It was fun!  Drying off with a lovely lake view. I really with I could see what it looked like before there was a lake here. We drove the needles highway and then looped the wildlife road to find the burros to feed them our carrots. I was rightfully terrified of the burros! We saw lots of pronghorn. We picked up Dad after work adn headed out on the Chuckwagon Cookout ride. We listened to Mr. Keith sing and tell stories as we bumped along in the pouring rain. The rain was coming down so hard at times. Thankfully they have a shelter for times like this. We had a great steak dinner and sang lots of fun songs. Besides our small family group the rest of the pe ople were all part of a huge tour group. We were the total outsiders! eWe take a picture everytime we see Keith! These are things the nightmares are made of… burros! The following day was our last in the area. Mom took us to Rapid City  to the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology to the Museum of Geology.

It was quite an impressive museum. One side of the museum was dedicated to paleontology and the other to mineralogy. The top things to see included many fossils from the White River Formation. The fossils are quite abundant in the shale layers around Rapid City. This was a very neat and extensive collection of fossils.  I am really glad we got to visit this museum. We then stopped at a place called “Dinosaur Park”. It was basically a giant hill with 13 dinosaurs that spanned the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. They were all painted with the same green and white paint. It was quite un-impressive.  The view of Rapid City was spectacular so that made up for the dismal dino display. We picked up Dad on the way back in for one last loop of the roads. The weather observation station was finally open so we drove up the mountain to see that. There was a LOT of fog and cloud cover and it was super chilly.

Exploring the Badlands in South Dakota

We started our day at the Minuteman Missile NHS. This was home to the Delta 1 rockets. For over 30 years rockets were kept at the ready during the Cold War. There were well over 1000 ready to launch at any time. We toured one of the launch facilities on the visit. We laughed at the Domino’s Pizza spoof. It is terrifying to know that we had to and still haveto be this guarded in our county. We learned a lot about the security systems and what protocols had to happen to launch the missiles. He even found a spelling error “Emergancy Exit”. The building is exactly the state it was in when it was shut down in the late 1980s. We got to go down into the launch pod. The men would spend a few days down in the pods. I am sure they would go nuts with all the buzzing and flashing lights. If the center got a bomb threat call this was the list they had to complete for each call. After the tour we drove through the Badlands and took several hikes. We hiked the Window and Door trails. It was quite warm compared to the last few days. We only hiked out a mile and then back since we didn’t have water with us. The Badlands are the result of  deposition and then erosion events. Sand, silt and clay pressed together to form the sedimentary rocks during the late Cretaceous period.  When you look out further you can see all the different colors in the rock layers. Based on the color you could tell if the rock was 35 millions years old or 75 million years old! Pretty cool! Next we hiked the Cliff Shelf Trail. It was a much different terrains. It was rich with flora and fauna. We took Buff-a-duck on a tour!  Again we were nearly beat out by the elevation changes but stuck with it for the amazing hike! After a lot of hiking and exploring we stopped at Wall Drug for lunch and silly exploring of all the shops. We enjoyed donuts, chicken and lots of cold water! And of course I rode the 12′ jackalope! Our final stop before returning to Custer was at the Ellsworth AFB Air and Space Museum. We have been here before too. We were hoping to get a tour of Delta 9 but since we were off season they tours only ran on the weekend. We explored the center and headed home after a long, yet amazing, day of exploring. 

Custer, South Dakota

We arrived safely at Custer State Park in South Dakota. We settled in quickly at the campsite and went out to explore. Mom found a buffalo duck and named him Buffaduck. He is our new mascot. Of course we went to drive the loop and it started to SNOW. Really? This is two days of snow in a row. This time it was sticking! 
We were excited to see that the buffalo were already dropping calves for the year. Boy were there a lot of them! These two big boys were 6 feet off the campground fence. We took a Jeep tour and got to enter some of the off the beaten path areas that park guests aren’t allowed. We had to wait for baby bison to clear the road several times. The part has over 1000 head of bison currently. After the tour we headed on the loop road again and then around the park. We found lots of snow to play in. We opted for longer pants today and that was a good choice. Dad trying to break up the snowball fight. What a spectacular view! The Black Hills dates back to the precambrian. It was part of the Laramide Orogeny. Most of the rock is shale, slate, limestone and granite with bits of sandstone and quartzite. There was some gold found in the hills but nothing majorly notable. Our loop took us through the Needles Highway, sorry no photos this trip and ended us in Hill City.We scoped out a place called the Alpine Inn for dinner and had to wait a while for it to open. We passed the time wandering town.  I got thrown in jail! Our meat at the Alpine was amazing. I had bacon wrapped filet. The menu only really has three options, a small filet, big filet and spetzel. The dessert menu was longer than I am tall! I opted for peanut butter pie, it was GIANT! Mom had butter pecan ice cream brownie. She could only eat less than half! Bread pudding for Dad. On the way home we saw some of the big horn sheep just nibbling grass in the cracks of the road. The next day was a trip to Wind Cave! We took a backroad through the hills versus the main roads. It was totally worth it. We got to see the bison herd of the NPS. We had a great tour of the caves and then headed back for more driving and visiting animals. Tomorrow hiking day. Since Mom is still kind of lame with her foot injury Dad and I went on a long hike without her and Emmerson. We geared up, packed snacks and water and stole the jeep for the day. Mom and E went on a scooter ride and rerouted a few times due to bisonon the trails. Dad and I parked the car and headed out across the terrain.The hills were a bit much for us flat Florida people. We made it to the end of the trail and headed back. We had a few run ins with bison where we had to reroute or wait them out. Better watch your step!  We approached the jeep to find it surrounded by Bison. We had to wait them out. This is the time of year when they are trying to rub off their winter coats. Unfortunalty they did this on Mom’s car! Happy Mother’s Day, we got your car BUFF’d!

Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Sioux Falls was just an overnight stop on our travels. We arrived as it began to snow. No major accumulation but still a novelty for Florida kids.  It is May. We went outside and tried to catch snowflakes but the icy rain and snow were piercing and we only have sweatshirts for our vacation. We lasted 20 minutes and called it quits for hot cocoa. Mom managed to find a pizza place that delivered so we didn’t have to unhitch the car. This was one of our longer drive days so we were all ready for food we didn’t have to make! 

St Louis, Missouri

We are officially on the road for our “Greatest Hits” vacation. We picked some top places we have been and a few new National Parks for this trip. I am taking geology class at SPC this summer and am eager to find some of the things we are learning about. Our first stop of the trip was St. Louis. We stayed out at Casino Queen across the river. We were shocked to see the flood stages of the Mississippi River and how much was underwater near the St. Louis Arch.

We visited Lone Elk Park again. This is always a favorite on the list. They had a photography session at the park when we were there so they put food out for the animals close to the road to ensure you could get good photos. 
We saw more Elk then ever! The bison were waiting at the gate. Mom bravely drove in very slowly. After the park we went to the Wild Bird Sanctuary but a lot of the birds werent out yet since the weather was chilly. We made up for the missing birds by having fun. We even saw a captive HUMAN! We stopped off at the NPS Grant’s home. We took a tour, learned a lot about Ulysses S Grant as a person and president. Julia Grant on homeschooling! We earned another NPS Jr. Ranger badge. Then off to the City Museum for a day of chaos climbing and cookies. The art center moved and it didnt seem as fun but was still cool. Dad was sad his favorite machine was broken, this is the one he pushed the button on that may or may not have started the smoking disaster of a few years ago. I think we all got hurt in the skateless park. We certainly wore ourselves out! Mom took us to the zoo one day while Dad worked. We loved the cooler weather and overcast skies. What a break from the Florida heat. I thought this was hilarious! It was a box that someone shipped a live coral snake in! Never too old for the carousel!
Well, maybe not!

Checking out the various hives at the Monsanto Insect House.
I inquired about African Giant Millipedes and this awesome staff member came out and brought these for me to see! All about the insects! I think I want this giant puppet but it was $80!
We went out to custard one night and got some to go as well. They packed it in dry ice which led to more interest in playing with the dry ice than eating the custard. Our campsite in relation to the St. Louis Arch. We checked out the science center and new Ag display. I think the harvester was a little big for my liking! Driving the Mars lander looking for life on Mars. I was in charge of the drill to check for minerals and chemicals in the rocks. Checking out some classic video games. We went to the Budweiser Bottling Facitily. Emmerson got a HUGE Clydesdale horseshoe ! We saw the horses. We saw the old wagons and coaches they used to develiver their products. We saw the Beechwood Aged Cellars where they brew the beer. The barrels were MASSIVE! they had 72 of them! The entire facility was ornately decorated. This was the bottling part of the tour. We could see thousands of bottles whipping by on the belts below. I said the whole thing made me think of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It was cool yet creepy. We learned more about the process and what goes into brewing the beer. Mom and Dad, who aren’t beer drinkers, tasted a few samples. The consensus was that they are not beer drinkers! St. Louis wore me out. I was completely tuckered and slept most of the travel saw towards South Dakota.