Friday, September 30, 2011

Custer State Park

On Friday, we went to Custer State Park and drove the Wildlife Loop.  At first, we didn't see much wildlife, but we ended up seeing pronghorn, bison, and our favorite, the burros!  The burros are super cute & friendly, too!  They aren't aggressive, but they are happy to poke their noses in your vehicle in search of a little affection.
We learned later that it was OK to feed them.
Genna loved riding in the front with Dad while we drove  near the burros.
After the Wildlife Loop, we went on the famous scenic Needles drive.  Wow!  It was spectacular, even more so because of the ever increasing fall colors.  The one lane tunnels are amazing.  Some of them frame Mount Rushmore perfectly!  We stopped just before the narrowest tunnel of all and got out for a little hiking/climbing/exploring on the rocks.  We ended up climbing over the tunnel & descending a steep, rocky passage on the other side, having to walk back through the tunnel to get to the truck.  We all had fun!

The narrow bridge through the needles.

Two of the bridges were designed to frame Mt. Rushmore.

There are two corkscrew wooden bridges.
The 'eye' of the needle

After completion of our hike over the bridge

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Mountain Mush-More

We left Wall on a cold & blustery Thursday, reminded that Old Man Winter is just around the corner in these parts.  We decided to stay at Big Pine Campground, based on great reviews.  Many campgrounds have already closed for the season around here.  Big Pine is very pretty, with most of the sites far off the road.  They were already preparing to close for the season, so they had already closed off all but one shower, which really wasn't such a big deal since the campground was mostly vacant.  Nonetheless, it did slightly complicate getting everyone showered.  When we checked in, we were told they would be shutting the water off at noon on Sunday, but if we wanted to stay longer we could, just with electric only.  When we decided to stay an additional night, however, we were told they had changed their minds & would be shutting the campground down entirely.

We decided to go to Mount Rushmore (aka Mountain Mush-More per Genna) on our first evening, and I'm glad we did.  We were able to see the next to last lighting ceremony of the season!  All three girls had a chance to get Junior Ranger badges.  I love it when they have something for Genna to do, too!  She feels like such a big girl, furiously coloring her little booklet & answering the Ranger's questions.

We found the visitor center very interesting.
One of the models of what they considered making.
It really is more spectacular at night.
The girls aced all the rangers questions.
Profile of Washington seen from the road after headed home.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

While visiting the Badlands, we also had an opportunity to visit the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.  At the visitor station, they had a kids' video on the Cold War and the minuteman missile, which was great for explaining what it was all about to the kids, and the Junior Ranger program did a great job reinforcing what they learned in the video.

We were also able to secure tickets for one of the ranger-guided "top secret" tours of the launch control center!  We highly recommend doing so; this was truly history come to life!  However, if you are interested, know that the tickets are on a first-come, first-served basis, and the tours are quite popular.  We arrived around 9:30 and were able to secure tickets for a 2:00 tour with Ranger Butch, truly an outstanding tour guide!  Originally, he told us that Jake couldn't come on the underground part of the tour since if the elevator were to malfunction, we would have to climb out on a ladder in a tight space.  However, once we were on the tour, it wasn't a problem.  And no, the elevator did not malfunction. ;)

The "peacekeeper", used to protect the perimeter.
The outside of the facility, all the locals knew that this was missile control center.
The lounge.  The magazines are all from December 1992.
The kitchen.  The prices are still listed on the board to the left.
Thankfully we never had to use this facility!  We are now 30ft below ground level.
The blast door, which is almost 3 ft thick.
The first key required to initiate launch
Bunker is exactly like it was left when this unit was decommisioned.
They had to constantly study the procedure book, which is laid out out here.
Memos on the wall from January 1993 when this was shut down.
The second key required to launch, 12 feet away from the first one, insuring that both people had to agree in order to launch.
Lots of large computers that pale in comparison to cheapest of computers today.
They didn't have to hold  it during their 12 hour shifts.  Notice the privacy curtain which wasn't added until women started working down here.
The men working here were not allowed to be here alone, hence the "No-Lone" zone.

Badlands National Park

Steve decided to make Wall, South Dakota our home base for exploring Badlands National Park.  We stayed at Arrow Campground within walking distance of Wall Drug.  This campground was nothing to look at, but the owner was super nice & helpful, the showers were good, and the wifi was fast and reliable.  They had a simple playground--a slide, swings, a "spinny-thing" and a double see-saw, but you would have thought it was the absolute best playground in the world!  Our kids had sooo much fun at this playground and said it was even more cool than the nice big wooden playground they played on in Spearfish.

While we were driving to Wall, I commented that I hadn't seen that many signs for it since Steve had assured me that we would see sooo many signs.  Steve bet that we would see at least 42 signs while we were still 42 miles away; we saw nearly 60 in those last 42 miles!  We didn't spend much time at Wall Drug, just enough to take some pictures & for Genna to break an ornament in a giftshop.  Oops, that's the first time I've ever had that happen, and thankfully it only set us back about $6.

The Badlands were beautiful, especially close to sunset when the change in lighting made the view more spectacular!  The most fun trail we went on was probably the Notch trail, with a cool, wooden ladder.  Thanks to a nice couple who pointed it out to us, the kids also had a fun time looking for fossils.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Spearfish, South Dakota

After leaving Sundance, Wyoming, we headed to South Dakota. Based on good reviews and Steve's need for wifi, we stayed at Chris' Camp in Spearfish for three nights.  Turns out the wifi was virtually nonexistent, and much of the lure of the campground had passed with the passing of Labor Day.  The pools were closed and the petting farm was over, as well.  Even though the campground was huge, and there weren't that many people camping, they seemed to cluster us all together instead of giving everyone lots of space.  There were pay showers, as well, which seemed a bit tacky.  They did have movies available to borrow, which we took advantage of.

We did really enjoy our time in Spearfish.  We drove through Spearfish Canyon, definitely a picturesque drive, especially with the advent of fall colors.  We also visited the D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery, which was free and really cool!  Feeding the huge trout was a big highlight, for sure.  Next door to the fish hatchery was a big wooden playground that our kids had a blast at, as well.  Steve took the opportunity to go biking on the trails, too.

Lastly, I finally convinced Steve that we needed to try out the shower again since we had our shower fiasco in Twin Falls nearly a month ago.  And the verdict is...apparently something is still not right because it leaked again.  Bummer....

We took a drive through Spearfish Canyon
The water was COLD, but we all dipped our feet in.
Roughlock Falls
Spearfish Canyon is gorgeous especially on a warm fall day
This part of South Dakota is amazing
Picturesque scenery
Bridal Veil Falls
These trout looked delicious 
Just love how we can set him down in the soft grass
Fun times at the fish hatchery
Goofy girl.  The sunbonnet makes her very happy while riding in the truck!
The boy is growing like a weed