Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Family Vacation, Day 3

Monday, July 6, 2015
Exploring the Black Hills of South Dakota

For our first full day in the Black Hills area, we decided to do a little mix of sightseeing and hiking. Everything we wanted to see was within a reasonable driving distance from where we were staying, so we never had to do too much driving. Our day started out with a visit to Mt. Rushmore National Memorial.

A message for my husband.

While we had seen the memorial itself in many pictures before, we were in awe of how big it is in person. It is also quite impressive with how much detail was put into the faces. It reminded me a bit of visiting Montezuma Castle - even though Curtis and I visited it 3 times, we were always struck by how BIG it was. It's so hard to imagine people up there, working diligently to make it just right!

Artsy pose with my cool sister!

We took the short loop trail that takes up up closer to the memorial, and paid a little visit to the Sculptor's studio. It was fun learning about all the time, effort, mistakes, and many hands involved in making this memorial what it is today.

After that, we drove to Custer State Park. We drove through 3 narrow tunnels cut out of rock and switchbacked up and down steep, winding roads. Once entering the park, we kept our eyes pealed, searching for any sign of wildlife the park promised we'd see.

Mom was the first to spot some - 2 buffalo on the side of the road! We were so excited, dad drove slowly as we all took pictures and joked about the things this beast could do to our suburban. As we were inching our way along watching, a car coming from the opposite direction stopped and called out, "There are over 100 more around the corner!"

And he was right - Buffalo everywhere, as far as we could see! There were many people stopped and disobeying the signs warning against getting out of your cars to see the buffalo better. While we understand that they are dangerous to be outside around, we decided to take our chances, knowing we couldn't possibly be the slowest out of all these people to rush back to our car for shelter if a dangerous situation were to occur. Spoiler alert, no one stopped was injured during this buffalo crossing!

After this, we stopped in the visitor's center and talked to a very friendly and helpful park ranger about the trails in the area. We were all ready to do some hiking at this point and be out of the car, so when she pointed out Lover's Leap as a popular loop trail in the park, we jumped at this option. The trailhead was right across the street from the visitor's center, which may have been a big factor in why we chose it - so that we wouldn't have to drive any more!

Lover's Leap is a 3 mile loop trail that quickly ascends a steep hill, then follows a ridge up and down before descending and taking you along a lush area with a flowing stream. While the beginning was very steep, everyone pushed through and we made it to the ridge in less than 15 minutes. 

We were all a little winded after making it up to the ridge, so we stopped and took some pictures while we caught our breath. We knew that there was a great view to our right, however we weren't able to see it because of all the trees in the way!

My mom & I!

Daddy & me!

After walking along the ridge for a bit, up and down a series of small uphill and downhill sections, we made it to the main attraction of the trail - a large outcropping of rocks with a great view. Legend has it that this is where 2 Native American lovers took a leap, hence the name, "Lover's Leap."

Panorama of the view!

My sisters!

We stayed up here and snacked, rested, took pictures, and enjoyed the view. It was so worth all that steep uphill hiking! After this point, it was mostly downhill or flat from here on out.

Fun fungi on the way back!

A very red mushroom - it looked fake!

Joel, our fearless leader, showing us the way back!

After descending the hill, the trail remained flat and took us through a lush, green forest. It crossed over the stream multiple times, each time offering a small foot bridge to walk across.

The lady in the visitor's center told us that this was one of the most popular trails in Custer State Park, however we only saw 3 other groups hiking on it today. That surprised me because of how full the parking lots were, but this turned out to be a theme on the trip - while parking lots and visitor's centers were full, once we set out on a trail, we would be almost completely on our own!

We completed the 3 mile loop in less than 2 ½ hours. After that, we decided to take the long way around the park and enjoy the wildlife along the way. Even on this cloudy and chilly day, we were able to see more buffalo, burros, and prairie dogs!

Wild donkeys!

Very friendly little guy :)

They all lined up and posed for me!

We love prairie dogs! Thankfully this wasn't our only sighting on this trip. :)

Our next stop was at the Mt. Coolidge Firetower. Dad did a great job driving up the very steep, narrow, dirt road to the tower, which climbed almost 1000 feet from the road to the parking lot! While it was cloudy and hazy (from the wildfires going on in the Canadian Rockies), we were able to enjoy the view, and get a better idea for how great this land is.

Our final stop in Custer State Park was at Stockade Lake. It was chilly, yet quiet and peaceful here. That is, until my siblings began the rock skipping contest. ;) Joel won with a very impressive 10 skips! Because of their hard work, we successfully transported 300 rocks from the side of the lake to the bottom of it. Joel told us it was the highlight of his trip, so far!

Panorama of the lovely lake.

We drove past the exit for Crazy Horse on the way back, but took some advice from others and skipped visiting it. Here, we saw the silhouette of the work in progress.

We went back to our cabin for dinner, then attended the lighting ceremony at Mt. Rushmore at 9. It wasn't exactly what we expected it to be - we were thinking more lights and less talk - but we enjoyed the experience of it all. All in all, it was a great day and we enjoyed everything we were able to see!

Day 3 Wrap Up: Hiked 4 miles, visited Mt. Rushmore National Memorial and Custer State Park.

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