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A Whirlwind Through South Dakota


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After taking a weekend off after my recent washington trip, i needed to get out and do something. I had my daughter that weekend, so I couldn't do anything too hard, so I started talking to her about places she wanted to go. We started looking at pictures of Mount Rushmore, and the idea formed in my head. Its about 6 hours each way to the black hills from Denver, so its not exactly close, but close enough for a quick weekend trip. We left Friday afternoon, driving through the night north, eating twizzlers and playing eye spy with my "co-pilot".


The next morning we woke up and headed to the first of the 5 destinations for that weekend, Jewel Cave National Monument. I remembered Jewel Cave from when i was my daughters age, and we took the first tour that morning, the hour and a half Scenic Tour. Alex told me afterwards her favorite part was when they turned off all the lights, even though she told me at the time it made her a bit scared. My favorite part was seeing a formation called the bacon again since i remembered it from when i was a kid when my Grandma took me there ~20 years ago. Photos were hard to get because all you have to work with is the lamps illuminating the cave features, but i made due with a small zipshot tripod. After the tour, we completed the Junior Ranger handbook for Alex's first Junior Ranger badge!



Next we headed to Sylvan Lake for my goal of the trip, summiting Harney Peak, the highest point in South Dakota and also the highest point east of the rocky mountains. Its a fairly easy hike, with the shortest route being a bit over 6 miles round trip. Alex did a great job, getting her first peak without me carrying her at all. We took the standard trail up (trail #9) but trail #4 back to the little devils tower trailhead. The standard route was great, but the side route back was almost the same length with no crowds and better views of the Cathedral Spires. If i did it again, i would just park at the little devils tower trailhead and hike trail #4 both ways. At the top of Harney peak is a stone watchtower where you get a fantastic 360 degree view of the entire black hills. you can even see Mount Rushmore, although the faces are on the other side so it doesn't look too significant. After hiking back to sylvan lake, we went swimming in the lake for a bit.






After the swim, we headed toward Custer State Park to see some wildlife. Along the way we saw Deer, Pronghorn Antelope, Buffalo (sometimes within feet of the car), Turkeys, Big Horn Sheep, and Wild Burros. The burros are quite use to people as we found out. A few other tourists had some vegetarian dog treats that they were feeding to the burros, and they gave me a handful for Alex to feed to them. Definitely the highlight of the trip for her!






After getting her fill of the wildlife, we headed to Keystone, SD for some dinner at Eno's Pizza. Some of the best pizza i've had in awhile and definitely recommended. I found it interesting that Keystone has a lot of cash only businesses, including Eno's, so bring some cash.

Afterwards, we headed past Mount Rushmore to camp at Wrinkled Rock climbing area (free dispersed camping), and on the way, we saw Mount Rushmore lit up. It was great as the monument had almost no one there, and it was very pretty.


The next morning we got up and headed back to Mount Rushmore, this time on bike to avoid the craziness of the parking lots there, so Alex could see it during the day when she wasn't tired and get her second Junior Ranger badge. The junior ranger badge program is pretty cool, and doing it with her helped me learn a lot more about the memorial. After an hour, we needed to get away from the crowd, but we stopped by the gift shop on the way out to pick her up a souvenir (a small buffalo stuffed animal she named Dusty).



Last on the list was a quick trip to Wind Cave National Park to do another cave tour. I personally liked Jewel Cave a bit more, but it was still pretty cool as the Fairgrounds tour lets you see two different levels of the cave. I didn't think the ranger at Wind Cave was as good of a tour guide as the one at Jewel Cave either. After the tour, Alex completed her third Junior Ranger badge, and we headed towards Hot Spring South Dakota for a quick bit to eat and some gas before heading home.




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Great report tmountainnut. She's a little trooper. That look on her face while holding onto the railing says it all. Dad, another picture? Dad, you said we're stopping for pizza if I made it up here by myself? I hup you remember?

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Absolutely fantastic trip report. You're extremely blessed to be able to enjoy it with your daughter. I am a bit jealous, don't recall my parents ever taking me on an exciting trip like that! She'll probably grow up with a real appreciation of the beauty of nature and the outdoors.

I also ride a Cannondale road bike, although actually it's been in my basement for some time now just gathering dust.

Gary M


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