South Dakota – Long Entry

We spent the last week in South Dakota with a home base of Custer State Park.  I want to start with a few photos of what we look like after we are totally worn out. These were from Yellowstone but somehow never made the blog post. EXHAUSTED!





We arrived in Custer State Park and set up camp quickly and headed to town for groceries and a late lunch. We ate quickly and then poked around town. B wanted to play putt-putt so we stopped a cute old school mini golf course.



It started to rain and he high tailed in back to the camper because we never fully put the electrical wires away and were afraid of shorting them out. We were fine. We all got showers and hung around the campsite until a late night program on Buffalo at the campground movie house. I passed the time walking around with a chip clip on my nose talking like a duck.




In the morning we headed to Jewel Cave. We enjoyed the visitors center while we waited for our tour to start.




We didn’t take the big camera in the cave so only had a few photos. The box work in the cave was amazing. Box work occurs when cracks form in the limestone and other sediment fills the cracks. The limestone erodes and you are left with a really cool lattice like pattern on the cave ceilings.





We earned out Jr. Ranger badges and even completed the entire book for this park.



We saw lots of antelope in the park as we were leaving.


We headed back to Custer State Park to explore. It is a giant park with lots of roads, sites and animals. We found the highest point in the park and went and visited the fire tower and observation platform. You could see for about 30 miles.


The next day we visited Wind Cave. Wind Cave, like other caves, have a unique form called dogtooth spar. It was really neat.


We had a great tour guide, Mr. Sam. He is 2nd generation tour guide in his family. His father still works in the visitors center and also gives extreme caving tours!


After the caves we hiked a short trail and completed our Jr. Ranger books.


We got our badges after a very thorough check of our books.


After the cave we headed to Mt. Rushmore to see a few presidents.



It was breathtaking to see the sculptures and learn about the work that went into making them but we didn’t get the hype. They have privatized the parking and food vending and everything was overpriced. Our National Park Pass was no benefit at the park.




We did enjoy the walk of flags. The trail up the the mountain was closed for redevelopment.


We very easily earned our Jr. Ranger badges, the book was SIMPLE!



We headed back to Custer State Park for a Jr. Naturalist program and scavenger hunt. B and I were the first ones to find everything on the list including: animal hair, scat, feathers, bugs and more.



Back to the camper and B and I played at the playground and rode our bikes around for a while. We came back to Mom and Dad relaxing.



I helped set up the campfire for the evening and then told Mom that we needed the pinecones you put in the fire that make the flames change color. Mom and Dad weren’t interested in driving anywhere else for the day. B and I were given permission to hop on our bikes and ride a mile down the road to the camp store and buy them. We did a great job and came back within a reasonable amount of time. B had the spare cell-phone in case there was an issue. We were both so proud we made it!



After dark we had colored flames! No s’mores because of the chemicals in the pinecones.



We were up early for another day out. We visited Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, SD. It is an old sinkhole that mammoths would come to for water and then fall in. There were remains of lots of mammoths, oddly all male.


It was neat to see how they were excavated partially rather than removed fully.


We poked around town and then went to the lodge in the park and enjoyed a early birthday dinner for dad.

In the morning we went for a walk and found lots of ladybugs.



Mom and Dad surprised us with a Jeep Buffalo Safari Tour. We loaded into a private Jeep and were off exploring the park.


We got to go off trail and get up close to the buffalo.


We even saw mule deer and pronghorn.


The bison calves were just starting to get their horn buds.





We traveled all around the park and saw lots of buffalo, great scenery and more.



We even saw a baby pronghorn with his mama.

Next we visited the donkeys. They were super friendly. We came back later int he day to feed them apples and carrots. You are encouraged to feed them!


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We headed back out to the Mammoth Site for an afternoon of educational classes. First we took an atlatl throwing class. We learned how to launch them to catch game. I had a hard time because my hands were so small.




Next we did an Advanced Paleontology class. We learned how paleontologists have to be careful digging, make and document EVERYTHING!





We were each given a section to unearth. I quickly starting digging test holes and fond something white, the sign of a bone.



I had to call over the scientist and have him help me mark it not he chart and document my discovery.



I decided it was a mammoth tooth, I was correct!




We learned how to make plaster casts.



B got into digging with some teen girls.



I worked hard to unearth and then made a pedestal for my tooth.



It was a long day and we grabbed a quick fast food dinner and then drove back and everyone crashed for the night.

We were up SUPER early to drive to the Minuteman Missile NHP. You have to get there early to get tour tickets. We managed to be first in line and got not he first tour of the day. Our tour guide used to work in the silo back in the 1980s. He was extremely knowledgeable and nice.



I liked the peacemaker truck. 


They have since decommissioned all the missiles but kept this facility for historical purposes. So everything is exactly the way it was in the 1980s.


We went down a small elevator to the shelter area where they worked. The door was about 3 feet thick! Mom and Dad said the door slogan is from a pizza commercial.


We got to see the command center. It was time. I could not imagine being sealed into the room with another person for hours on end.


We learned that the entire system could be sabotaged if someone broke a pencil led off in the keyhole! Talk about safety!


We even saw a confusing sign on the ceiling of the elevator.


We went back to the visitors center and wrapped up our Jr Ranger program and earned our badges and patches.



Next we were off to the Badlands for a hike on the Doors Trail.


I now know why it is called the Badlands. There is NOTHING but rock and dirt. There was been a lot of rain lately and the ground was unstable in areas but we stuck to the paths.


Well, sort of, the paths are post to post so you have to get creative with how you walk to get from 1 to 2 then from 2 to 3 and so on.


Victory, we made it to the end of the trail.


We checked out a Jr Ranger program on the layers in the hills. We made bracelets and earned our park patch.



We visited the visitor center and wrapped up our books and earned our badges and took our Jr. Ranger pledge.





We stopped at Wall Drug for lunch and knick-knack shopping.



Then we visited d-9 missile silo. This was just a walking and looking stop.


There is a decommissioned middle in the silo.


Up next was Ellsworth Air Force Base. We signed up for a tour and then explored the visitor center while we waited. I enjoyed the fight simulator.



There were lots of airplanes to explore.



There were even planes you could climb inside. IMG_0918




We took a bus onto the base and saw a b-52 bomber! 



We got to tour the missile silo on the base, also decommissioned but left for tours.


Another peacemaker!


Checking out the missile from the slots on the side.


As you may have guessed this was a huge area for the Minuteman Missiles. These maps show all the locations of the missiles when they were active. 


This is the truck used to bring the missile to the silo. It tilts up to load it down into the hole.


After the tour we walked the center outside and looked at all he airplanes.


A storm was rolling in so we wrapped up quickly and headed for the car.


For dinner we drove out through a narrow tunnel on the Needles Highway. We had to fold in the mirrors of the truck and barely made it!



I ate ketchup off a toothpick. Weird little bird.



For Bs birthday we visited the Reptile Gardens. They hold the Guinness World Record for most species in one place.


We saw snakes, alligators and lizards.


I loved the giant tortoise but kept asking him if he was happy. 


By the look on my face, Mom thinks I was in deep thought with him.


You could pop up in the prairie dog exhibit.


Or climb inside an alligator! 


Or even get eaten by a giant snake!


We also went to see the Black Hills Institute Research Center where the bones from Dinosaur Sue came from. Sue is now housed at the Field Museum in Chicago.


They had lots of T.Rex skulls!


We also went to Wade’s Mill and learned how to pan for gold.


I was really good at panning. The gentleman were very helpful.

We got a tour of the family mining museum and then the mill they built.



We scooted back to the campground to head to Bs birthday surprise dinner. We went on a hayride to a chuckwagon cookout.


We all had to wear these silly hats.


They had an AMAZING entertainer. He sang folk songs, I knew most of the words.


We saw our fair share of wildlife.


I loved singing Home on the Range.


But got tired of photos being taken.


Yee-haw! B is now 10!


We got back to the camper and packed everything up for a hard drive back to Florida. We did find a few quick stops, like the Corn Palace, on the way home.


Every year they redecorate the building with corn. Weird!


I was goofy the entire trip home. Mom would look back and I would be blindfolded quite often. I wouldn’t tell anyone why… so that is still a mystery!




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