Sunday, July 30, 2017

South Dakota Day 6

Dad got up early and drove down to Wind Cave National Park to get tickets for an early tour. Along the way down to the park there were lots of wild animals including buffalo, prairie dogs, pronghorn, white-tailed deer, and wild turkeys. It was a really pretty drive.
Dad took this picture on the phone.
Mom took this one from the motorhome window.
Custer State Park was beautiful.
Our tour of the cave started at 9:20. We had a really good ranger, which made this cave seem much better than Jewel Cave yesterday. We marveled at the natural entrance that blows in or out according to the air pressure in the atmosphere. This tiny hole is only about 15 inches in diameter and is the largest opening into the cave! We were glad to use the door they added when it became a national park. The tour we took is called the Natural Entrance Tour, and it led down a few hundred steps, but luckily an elevator brought us back up. We all liked this cave better, partially because of the rare natural feature called box work. This looks like a brick wall that has dissolved and left the mortar behind hanging from the ceiling of the cave. Our ranger was really well informed, and she took a shine to our boys. She put her jacket on Seth and proclaimed him a future park ranger. He wore the large jacket proudly though the next two rooms. She gave Dax the title of group leader. She’d tell him, “Keep walking until the railing ends and then stop and I’ll catch up with you.” This made Dax feel pretty important, and he did a great job. Mark was satisfied to be the elevator operator at the end of the tour. He’s a natural born button pusher. Wind Cave was cool because the passages were really narrow and the ceilings sometimes rose really high. There were hundreds of little passages leading away to dark spaces everywhere and then a lot of intricate box work on the ceiling. We enjoyed this tour better than the one at Jewel Cave.

The tour also worked for everyone because there were not so many steps.
The air pressure pulls the flag in or pushes it out. This gives Wind Cave its name.
The boys love spelunking!
Wind Cave was really beautiful.
The box work was something we hadn't seen before.
Mom and Dad wore jackets inside the cave.
Dax doesn't look too pleased, but he was!
Seth is a future park ranger.
Dax served as the group leader.
After the tour, the boys had to do a hike like yesterday. We took the Prairie Vista Loop, which is only a mile. We saw a few deer and a lot of prairie, but today is much cooler, and it was a pleasant walk through the grass. It wasn’t until noon that we actually finished our time at Wind Cave and headed south.
The hike looked back down over the Visitor's Center.
That cloud looks really cool, but we didn't even notice it at the time.
This cave is south of the Black Hills on the plains.
There was a spotted towhee at Wind Cave.
Our hike ran past the natural entrance. I can't imagine climbing in there!
We wanted to break up the long drive from Wind Cave to Rocky Mountain National Park. We saw only two small blips on the map, and both of them swung us into Nebraska. That was pretty exciting, because it added a fourteenth state for the boys, and it even added a state to Dad’s total, which he is pretty sure is now 35. Our first stop was at Agate Fossil Beds right in the northwest corner of Nebraska, and we certainly weren’t expecting much. But we spent almost an hour looking through the small museum and watching the park film. The boys enjoyed earning a Junior Ranger badge, and we learned a lot about the fossilized mammals in western Nebraska. There was also a fairly large collection of Native American artifacts that were on display. It was a surprisingly good stop.

The boys came up with this pose.
Seth liked the exploration table.
An hour later we stopped at Scott’s Bluff National Monument. The boys did the Junior Ranger program again (their third today) and we spent a little time in the Visitor’s Center. It was a nice stop, and we learned some interesting things about the pioneers from a little different perspective than we are used to. When we got back to the motorhome, Mom’s beef stew was just finishing up in the crockpot. We ate in the parking lot and left Scott’s Bluff around six o’clock.
Scott's Bluff is behind Dad.
The drive into Rocky Mountain National Park was another three and a half hours, we didn’t get in until after 10 pm. There were bigger problems, too. The campsite they gave us was not big enough for the motorhome. We got off the road as much as we could, but when we pushed out the slides to sleep, they overhung the road. There wasn’t much we could do, and it was late, so we set out a reflective cone and hoped we didn’t get hit. Nobody slept very well that night! 

South Dakota Day 5

Today Natalie, Dax, and Dad got up early and drove thirty minutes to Jewel Cave to get tickets for later in the day. (Well, Dad woke up even earlier and went for a walk around Legion Lake.) Then we took a leisurely drive around the lower loop of Custer State Park. This park is pretty huge and there are a lot of cool animals. We saw several pronghorn, a few white-tailed deer, and hundreds of buffalo. The herd in the park is between 850 and 1500 depending on the time of year. There was even a minor traffic jam as we the buffalo crossed back and forth across the road.
The white-tailed deer are so delicate and beautiful.
There were plenty of baby buffalo in the herd.
The herd was right on the road.
We passed a herd of donkeys, which was sort of strange to us.
Our Jewel Cave tickets were for 1 o’clock, and the tour was ninety minutes. We arrived a little early and ate sandwiches for lunch. The boys completed the Junior Ranger badge and patch by doing a short hike in addition to the booklet and the cave. Then we went down into Jewel Cave.
Seth asks to have his picture taken all the time on these trips.
This cave is a lot like Timpanogos Cave with smaller, narrower rooms. The major difference is that Jewel Cave has very little water. This means that there are only a few stalactites or other formations. But the cave was deep and colorful, and the history surrounding the discovery of it is interesting. We weren’t too impressed with the jewels in the cave, which were calcite crystals, but after Carlsbad last year, I guess it would be hard to be blown away by a cave. We liked Jewel Cave, though, and we are looking forward to Wind Cave tomorrow.

Because of all the steps, Laurie and Glen skipped the long tour at Jewel Cave.
There are a lot of these crystals that give the cave its name.
We've been to a lot of caves by now.
The was one really long stalactite that we liked.
There are over 700 steps in Jewel Cave.
Many of the crystals in the cave were very dark colored.
Mmmmm..... Bacon!
We liked our boys being around such good examples as their cousins.
When we were finished at Jewel Cave we drove to the Circle B Chuckwagon. It took us past the Crazy Horse Monument, but we just viewed it from the road. The boys had fun at the Chuckwagon because there were some good activities beforehand. Seth enjoyed being chased and captured by Dad. He got put in jail more than once. Dax panned for gold. He seems to always think he is going to strike it rich. Mark liked roping cattle, and he is getting pretty good with a lariat. There was even a gunfight, and best of all, no tears! The Biscuit Bandit fired off a really loud shotgun, but Seth and Dax plugged their ears and were fine. Dax even chased the bandit around the building.
Mark the cowboy!
Seth the miner!
Dax the ball player.
The boys love when Dad chases them.
The Circle B CHuckwagon

The chuckwagon itself was okay. It didn’t approach the Bar J, which is our favorite, in either food or singing, but we liked the show. They played The Devil Went Down to Georgia, Orange Blossom Special, and Pecos Bill, so it was fun for the boys. Best of all, the show ended by quarter after seven, so we were able to make it back to Custer State Park at a reasonable time.

South Dakota Day 4

George Washington was one of our favorite Presidents.
Today had much less driving, but it was still a big day. We started off in down town Rapid City checking out the City of Presidents. We walked around ten blocks and every corner had a statue of a United States President. We took pictures of all of them, and we posed with a lot of our favorites. It was a nice walk, and it wasn’t too hot in the morning. We also bought presidential sodas and though Dad liked the strawberry and the grape, nobody liked the rootbeer much.
Lincoln was posed seated by his son.
Woodrow Wilson was pretty popular.
Truman was posed with the Dewey Defeats Truman newspaper.
Clinton is one of Dad's favorites.
Everyone loved Roosevelt and his fireside chats.
But no one really liked the sodas.
Kennedy is the boys favorite president.
We got done with the Presidents around 11 am. Our next stop was Reptile Gardens. Glen had been to this place a long time ago and really wanted to go back. We enjoyed looking at the different animals. We started out with the huge turtles. There were three, and the oldest was 111 years old! The boys were able to touch the ancient turtles, which was really fun. There was a prairie dog town, too, and we watched the prairie dogs running and digging. We also enjoyed three shows. The first was an alligator wrestling show. In this show, we were shown an alligator feeding, and we learned a lot about how to wrestle an alligator. We also learned the difference between gators, crocs, and caimans. The next show was a bird show, and it was pretty unimpressive. We’ve seen so many better bird shows. The last show was a snake show, and it was really cool. We saw half a dozen snakes including several venomous ones. The boys most enjoyed the prairie rattlesnake that kept striking at the plexiglass barrier they were sitting behind. There was also a big dome in Reptile Gardens. They had all kinds of reptiles and amphibians. We walked through a rainforest section and saw colorful lizards, more colorful birds, and a few snakes. We spent much of the day at Reptile Gardens.
We enjoyed Reptile Gardens and fulfilled Glen's dream of making it back there.
There were dozens of turtles.
And three ancient tortoises.
The snake show was really interesting.
The crocodile show was a lot like the one we saw in Florida last Spring.
It's amazing they don't have more accidents with these big boys.
The boys got to touch a baby crocodile.
Dax donated a dollar to the bird show.
The guy at the snake show was in more danger than the crocodile guy.

He didn't take the cobra out of that box.
The rattlesnake was on the stage, though, and it was angry!
It was fun to be with the Alders.
They made Natalie stand back from the snake, so we got a picture of a lot of wall.
Seth has always been in love with crocodiles.
They had some fun house mirrors that the boys enjoyed.
The adults had a good time with them, too.
We had another animal stop, too, at a place called Bear Country. This was sort of a drive-through zoo. We saw pretty much everything in the forest there. We drove through enclosures for mountain goats, bighorn sheep, deer, elk, caribou, buffalo, and Dahl sheep. The only thing missing from the ungulates was moose. There were hundreds of bears. We also saw cougars, lynx, and bobcats in smaller enclosures. On the walking tour there were badgers, porcupines, skunks, raccoons, martins, foxes, and groundhogs. Laurie and Glen splurged and let the boys feed the bears. The baby bears were not interested in anything except the blackberries and raspberries. The boys loved it! It was a great afternoon, even though it was the hottest day of the trip so far.
The elk was right next to the road.
We couldn't believe the number of bears at Bear World.
It was the hottest day of the trip.
The cubs ran at everything thrown, but they were very picky!
The cubs liked their trainer.
The boys had so much fun on this trip!
We continued south until we came to Mount Rushmore. This was one of the big highlights of the trip. The boys enjoyed doing the Junior Ranger program. Then we hiked the Presidential Trail, which takes you right up underneath the faces of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln. It was interesting to see the faces from a different angle. Then we tried Thomas Jefferson’s own icecream recipe, which was the first one ever published in the United States. It was a really nice, rich vanilla. We bought a few souvenirs, too. It was a long day, but there was much more doing and much less driving, so that was nice. Tonight we are staying at Custer State Park. We got here too late to do much, but we did cook hotdogs and s’mores around the firepit. We also saw dozens of white-tailed deer on our way into this state park. The boys were especially excited to see two little baby Blue Jays right near our camping spot.

We were so grateful to take the boys to such an important place.
Rushmore is amazing and inspiring.
The hike is must-do. It allows you to see more than just the postcard view.
Mom loved Jefferson's icecream.
These bluejays were right next to our camping spot.

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