The Black Hills of South Dakota, SD

Day 33 – July 11, 2016

Mileage – 80,713

Hiked – 1.0 miles

Comanche Park Campground, outside Custer, South Dakota

As recommended we arrive at Jewel Cave before 8am. Though the visitor’s center doesn’t open for another 15 minutes there is already a significant line. Armed with hope Kevin and Teryn head to get tickets for a cave tour. Teryn has her hopes set on the 9:45am lantern tour. With the promise of a unique experience Kevin gives in to the hour plus wait. We use the time well, getting in sausage eggs and toast, completing much of the junior ranger book, and participating in a patio talk/ranger program.

Jenney, skipping out on the cave, prepares for a hike. She gets trail advice from the ranger. There is a 3.5 mile loop that includes the cave entrance at 3 miles. It takes the ranger just a little over an hour to do the 3.0 miles from the cave to the visitor’ center. Everyone agrees to walk the last 0.5 miles back to the car with her after their tour to complete the loop.

Both the hike and the tour are a success. To start a big horn ewe walks almost right up to the parking lot when Jenney drops the crew off. Shy they usually aren’t seen this close up.

The cave tour is a different experience from the two others. The trail is unpaved and the stairs are wooden and steep. Jewel cave is indeed like being inside the center of a geode.

The hike is a quiet meander through a canyon banked by low rolling hills and previously burned out by a fire. The openness allows for great bird watching. Jenney can’t identify every bird she saw, but one of the most fascinating is a local red headed woodpecker, quite different than the hairy and pileated woodpeckers at home.

Happy everyone meets up to grab a snack and head hike back to the RV. Next stop, Crazy Horse Memorial then Rushmore. In both places there is a lot to learn about carving mountains and the historic figures emblazoned upon them. The tales of both are fascinating and strikingly different.

To end the monument tour, we discover that Jefferson was in part responsible for the broad based introduction of ice cream into America and his recipe was one of the written documents in his hand that is still intact. Sucked in by the story, we must try the Jefferson ice cream.

Bolstered by full bellies we head to the Iron Man Loop in Custer State Park. Here three tunnels are narrowly carved in a twisty windy road of the park. The road affords mountain vistas overlooking the Badlands, views Rushmore, and another wildlife opportunity. Before setting out we double check our height and width yet again. Last time we posted it on our dash, but posed with the dilemma of actually pushing the outer limit through a stone passage we check again. We are just shy of 11 feet high and the vehicle height limit for the middle bridge is 11 feet. Good to go we still hold our breath through each tunnel only gaining enough confidence to get out and take a picture on the last slightly taller one. The vistas and wildlife are worth it, giving us yet another view of the Badlands. The girls are fully embarrassed as their parents fill in the trip with a rendition of Rocky Raccoon by the Beatles. Pop music is blaring from the RV to try to drown out the classic story of the young gun slinger.

We conclude the evening by completing the section of the wildlife loop we didn’t see the night before. Pronghorn are added to our accumulating list of animals seen in the Black Hills of South Dakota along with additional sightings of deer, bison and birds.

Pretty sure we are headed to the Badlands tomorrow, we decide to boondock at Cabela’s in Rapid City, South Dakota.