Saturday, September 29, 2012

Becoming South Dakotans

It's officially official. We're South Dakotans. We have a South Dakota mailing and residential address. We have South Dakota drivers licensees, tags for our cars and a lovely hometown: Madison.  It even sounds "homey".  We also have cast our South Dakota absentee votes for the upcoming elections because we'll be leaving our hometown for an extended trip cross country any day now.

Here are some factoids about our new home state --
  • It's named for Lakota and Dakota Sioux American Indians
  • The capitol is Pierre
  • It's population is fewer than 1 million (824,082 + 2 + 824,084)
  • The state flower is the American Pasque Flower
  • It is the 40th state to join the Union
  • The largest city is Sioux Falls
  • The state nickname is "The Mount Rushmore State"
  • And the state motto is - "Under God, the people rule"

Here's a picture of our new residence

Here's a picture of Teri. She works for us -- and for about 3,000 other fun-loving, full-time RVing South Dakotans.

And here are a couple of pictures of our new South Dakota hometown, Madison.
Our town's old train depot

Our town's water tower.
If you get a chance to visit Madison, we hope you'll drop in to see us.  If we're not here, just make yourself at home. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Corn Palace and A $25,000 Gift From The Taxpayers!

More than a few people have suggested that we find our way to the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota.  Yesterday, we made a special effort to see this odd spectacle.  More than a half-million others will do the same thing this year. 

Yep, all that decoration is CORN.
The world's largest bird feeder.
The Corn Palace was originally built in 1892 to encourage people to settle in Mitchell and it became so popular, that in 1904, the city of Mitchell challenged the city of Pierre to become South Dakota's capitol.  These folks were serious.  So much so that they built a brand new Corn Palace! That would be Corn Palace #2.

Corn Palace - 1921
It was called the Corn Belt Exposition back then.
But alas! Third time is charm and that was proven in 1921 when the Corn Palace was rebuilt yet again. The Moorish domes and minarets added in 1937.  It's Corn Palace #3 and the one we visited today.

It costs $130,000 annually to decorate the Corn Palace. It is completely redecorated in corn (ears, shucks, cobs) each year with a new theme.  All the corn used comes from a 30 mile radius of Mitchell.

Looks like the Corn Palace is going to host a rodeo or horse show the day we were there.
The smell of dry corn is everywhere.  We were covered in corn dust.
The Corn Palace in Mitchell was preceded by several other corn palaces including: Corn Palace in Sioux City, Iowa (active from 1887–1891);  Corn Palace in Gregory, South Dakota; and several grain palaces.

Well, not really the "only" corn palace.
Maybe the "only one left"...
In 2004, national attention was drawn to the Corn Palace when it received Homeland Security funding. I don't know the amount but this action heaped criticism onto the Department of Homeland Security and its grant program.  Then, in 2007, the Corn Palace received $25,000 in government funding for a camera system in advance of Barack Obama's visit in 2008 and to protect the fiberglass statue of the Corn Palace mascot, Cornelius.  Will wonders never cease?

This thing needs protecting?

The Great Buffalo Roundup!

The prairie is calm and quiet on a dewy September morning. Birds sing and crickets answer. 

The sun peeks over the hill and a hush fall over the sounds of the birds and insects...  A low rumble is heard upon the mixed grass prairie.

A child spotted them first -- a  tiny hand points to a few black dots on the top of the ridge in the distance.  Soon all eyes are fixed on the ridge. More dots appear.

Suddenly the excited crowd quiets and the sound of a cowboy's yelp fills the air. The thunder of 5,200 hooves pound the prairie soil. The thunder becomes a roar and the earth shakes beneath our feet.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the sound of the 47th Annual Buffalo Roundup at Custer State Park as 1,300 buffalo come over the ridge, down the hill and into the corrals for sorting.

It is a fascinating sight to behold.  At least that's what I'm told.  I have no way of knowing for sure. What I've written here comes directly from the Custer State Park brochure and hearsay.  

No one in my crowd of retirees was willing to arise at 4 a.m., get in line for park admittance at 4:30 a.m. and sit in the cold for 4 hours until 1,300 stinking bison stirred enough dust to cover us to a point beyond recognition. 

I gave my friends a lot of grief and say they are wimps but I, too, was happy to sleep in and hear about The Great Buffalo Roundup from others who got up early, ate the dust and smelled the stink of buffalo that day. 

Not exactly "thundering hooves" but we liked seeing them in this setting better anyway.

Crazy Horse Memorial, Black Hills, South Dakota

The Crazy Horse Memorial sculpture was begun in a huge stone mountain in the Black Hills more than sixty-five years ago.  The first blast, in fact, occured on June 3, 1948.  When completed the three dimensional rock memorial to America's native people will be, by far, the greatest and largest stone sculpture in the world. 

Crazy Horse as it looks now.
Visitors support the mountain carving.
No state or federal funds are accepted.
Crazy Horse will be cut along the white marks
Completed, the memorial will be 641 feet long and 563 feet tall.

Landon and Marcella had seen the Crazy Horse Memorial once already, but went with us to see it on this day.  Wayne and I love visiting tourist attractions with them as they are never in a hurry and they never give away the punch line before the end.  Terrific people.

We stopped for lunch at Black Hills Burger and Bun as we drove through Custer.  I really liked the burger we'd eaten there the week before Marcella and Landon arrived.  It was really too cool and windy to sit outside but we had Lexie and Ozzie with us and the sun made the car too warm sooooo..... you get the picture.  I still feel bad for having everybody sit outside.
Wayne, Landon, me and the furkids

The gang of "three plus two" adorn this Custer, SD mural.
Our first stop at the memorial was to see the film about the history of  Crazy Horse Memorial. We sat on the front row. The small theater was about half full. As the film started I could hear talking -- most of it coming from the people sitting to our left.  Suddenly, I heard Landon's thundering voice belt out "If you want to talk... leave!". The theater fell silent except for the sound of the film.  You just gotta love this big guy.

The Crazy Horse Memorial receives absolutely NO government funding.
As a matter of fact government funding has been turned down.
Lakota (American Indian) tribe leaders invited Korczak Ziolkowski to create the memorial to the great Lakota warrior. Crazy Horse led the massacre upon General Armstrong Custer's U.S. Cavalry troops at Little Bighorn. Korczak Ziolkowski was a World's Fair prize-winning sculptor who had worked with Gutzon Borglum on the Mount Rushmore project.

 Too much back light for a good photo so I'll just take a picture of the effort.

This is the only museum I know that allows dogs -- but not on the floor. 

The white scale model of Crazy Horse to our immediate right is 1/34 of the actual stone sculpture.
The actual Crazy Horse Memorial is in the background.
Wayne and I thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the Crazy Horse Memorial; thanks in no small part to being with good friends who provided plenty of laughs.   In the end, Marcella and I wrangled enough money from the husbands to support our souvenir habit. This time it would be beautiful, handmade Llama jackets for each of us.  Pictures forthcoming...

Sadly, the burgers we ate for lunch might have been the cause of some gastric trouble for Landon and Marcella as they were a little "pale" the next day.  

Monday, September 24, 2012

Mt. Rushmore: A Visit With George, Tom, Ted and Abe

Today's drive began along the Needles Highway (see my previous post), then took us along Playhouse Road to Iron Mountain Road and eventually to Mt Rushmore Memorial. 

At this stop, we got our first sighting of the huge sculpture... you can't make out the faces in this picture but believe me, they are there.

Wayne is looking at a curious marker in the field.
That's Mt Rushmore in the far background.

Iron Mountain Road
Mount Rushmore is the largest monument in the world and it was created during a time of great national challenge and hardship -- the Great Depression of the 1930's.  Gee, I don't know... how can a depression be "great" ....

There are several good viewpoints of the sculpture along the way to the Memorial
This photo shows almost the entire memorial facility too.

Our Mt Rushmore Family Photo

It is dreadfully dry here.  Fire bans everywhere.

We're near the memorial entry at this point
Between October 4, 1927 and October 31, 1941, Gutzon Borglum and 400 workers sculpted the colossal faces of four U.S. presidents into the side of the great granite mountain to represent the first 150 years of American democracy.

The sculptor of Mt Rushmore

Inside the memorial
Approaching the Avenue of Flags

The motley crew...
Landon (as George Washington), Marcella (as Thomas Jefferson)
Me (as Teddy Roosevelt) and the Wayner (as Abraham Lincoln)

There must always be a moment for foolishness!
My favorite of all my photos

At dusk.
Inside the Mt Rushmore Memorial Museum

The moving nighttime lighting

Grand finale - Honoring veterans

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Custer State Park: Needles Highway Ride

It's called Needles Highway for a reason:  The needle-like granite formations seem to pierce their way out of the earth and into the horizon.

The "needles" are all along the highway and can be seen from all directions.

The road is a mere 14 miles but is spectacular to see.  It was carefully planned by former South Dakota Governor peter Norbeck who marked the entire course on foot and by horseback.

Construction of this road was complete in 1922.

Marcella, Landon, BJ, Wayne, Lexie, Ozzie and I traveled the Needles Highway as part of our trip to see Mount Rushmore this day.

Wayne told me later that he enjoyed the scenery along this highway as much or more than any he can remember.  That could have something to do with seeing some of the leaves turning yellow.  He likes autumn.

There is a unique rock formation along this route where a particular opening looks like the "eye" of a needle.  This rock is called, naturally, the "Needle's Eye". 
Needles Eye
The approach to the Needles Eye
Ordinarily we'd spend quite some time exploring this beautiful stopping point, but as we approached, we found ourselves in a bit of a traffic jam with a large tourist bus in an awkwardly parked position -- all it's riders out and milling around the road among the rock formations.  The confusion and congestion sure took it's toll on the serenity of the setting.

The tour bus engine continued to run even after all the occupants were out on the road. Diesel fumes became noxious so we loaded ourselves and resumed our ride -- glad to be ahead of the gassy tourist bus. 

Needles Highway has several narrow tunnels and the first was the only way out of the small congested area that contained the bus and it's tourists.  I learned later that this particular tunnel was  a tight 8'4" wide and 12' high.  Yes, the tourist bus DID eventually go through this tunnel.  It was quite a sight. We watched it come through from the other side.

The driver of this truck ahead of us stopped to pull in his side mirrors before going through.
Difficult to see in the picture, but this is the other side of the tunnel. 
Another large bus is just about to emerge from the tiny opening. 
The cars going up the hill are waiting for the bus to clear the way.

The Wayner and me -- Lexie and Ozzie wait in the car.

The huge rock formations continued to be seen as we drove. Some could only be seen from a distance while others seemed so close the road could only wind around them.

This area has plenty of wildlife, large and small.  Some of the smallest are the tiny chipmunks and they seem to be everywhere in this part of the country.  Along the road we're traveling today, I can see that they have been fed by tourists because they come running to meet people who approach them. One ran up the jeans leg of a woman standing near us. I couldn't resist giving them some of the Sun Chips we had in the car. 

Wayne gives some tasty treats to Chip.

I'm feeding a whole family with one hand!

The ride today would ultimately take us over to the Iron Mountain Road where we'd travel through three more tunnels, around some pigtail bridges and ultimately to Mt Rushmore -- another place I've never been. 

Whether or not you've seen Mt Rushmore, I hope you'll travel with us to see it in late afternoon and  at night.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Custer State Park: Taking The Wildlife Loop

Wayne and I enjoy touring with Landon, Marcella and BJ so, even though we had been in Custer for almost a week, we waited to take in the touring attractions until our friends could be here with us. 

On this morning, Marcella, Landon and BJ, in their Jeep, along with Wayne, Lexie, Ozzie and I, in our car, took a day driving trip into Custer State Park.  There are more than 71,000 acres inside Custer State Park -- we'll cover just a fraction of that in our visit today.  Our park fee covers us for seven days and that's a good thing as the park could never be seen in a single day visit.

Going up the road to Mt Coolidge Firetower at 6,023 feet.
The sharp upward rocks area here is known as "Needles"
Our first stop today would be at Mount Coolidge Lookout and Fire Tower atop a 6,023 foot peek.  It is used for communications and fire spotting.  A two-mile upward, narrow, winding gravel road offered a small challenge for our Ford Edge and was completely insignificant for Marcella and Landon in Rubi.
Marcella, Landon and BJ going up to the Firetower
While at Mt Coolidge, Wayne discovered someone looking back at him through his binoculars.  Surprisingly, it was ole Crazy Horse -- some 20 miles away.  I zoomed in with my new camera, perched on the tripod, to see if I could get a decent shot.  This one was the best as the sun broke through at just the right time to shine on the stone carving.

Crazy Horse Memorial as seen from atop Mt Coolidge.
Leaving Mt. Coolidge, we resumed the ride along the 18 mile Wildlife Loop. We drove through the grasslands and pine-speckled hills hoping to catch just a glimpse of the park wildlife. This might include bison, mountain goat, pronghorn, whitetail and mule deer, elk, bighorn sheep, coyotes, burros, prairie dogs, eagles and hawks. At this time we wouldn't have any way of knowing we'd get to see nearly all those animals today. 

Young Pronghorn

Wild Turkey (not the bottled kind).

We were told a large group of buffalo might be seen in the southernmost area of the park as several hundred had already been herded into that area in advance of the Annual Buffalo Roundup. We took the road suggested and saw but a single bull resting in a field.

We drove on without seeing another buffalo although the road was heavy with dung.  The ride was interrupted by traffic congestion caused by a large group of burros who seemed to think they were operating a toll booth -- challenging each vehicle that approached -- almost as though they were daring each one to run the gauntlet.  These burros are beggars!   Here's a slideshow of just a few of the toll takers.


The burros here are not native to the Black Hills. They are descendants from the herd that, at one time, carried visitors in the park. Burro rides were stopped many years ago and the burros were released to live a life of leisure in the Custer State Park. They are now a major visitor attraction and they seem to know it.  Many people bring goodies (carrots, apples, crackers, etc.) to feed the burros from their car window.  Our visitors guide warns of the risk of feeding them, but frankly, if I'd had a carrot or apple in the car....

Then we saw them.  A great herd of buffalo.  Black dots all over the rolling golden prairie in the distance.  Hundreds, maybe a thousand, buffalo. 

From where we were visiting the burro, we inched the cars onto the Red Valley Road, leaving the begging burros to others.  The herd of buffalo were within a hundred yards of the road edge so we got out to snap of few pictures.

Just a small sampling of the great Custer State Park buffalo herd.

Wayne (with binoculars) and me, along with Marcella and Landon.
The Red Valley Road intrigued us so after a few minutes (and another dozen photos), we drove on.

Red Valley Road.  Rubi (including Marcella, Landon and BJ) leads the way!
Notice the sign - "Buffalo are dangerous. Do not approach" -- We pay no attention!
The ride took us out of Custer State Park and into adjoining Wind Cave National Park where we caught a glimpse of a coyote scurrying up a hill and a group of four mule deer who stared us down -- but never moved from where they stood.  They were at least 200 yards off the road.  I didn't get a photo of the mule deer or the coyote but Wayne got a good look through his trusty binoculars.
We eventually turned around and returned back down Red Valley Road this time finding the buffalo much closer to the road's edge where we were able to see these hefty guys up close.

Custer State Park is home to as many as 11,300 head of North American bison, more commonly known as buffalo. These fellows can grow to 6 feet tall and weight more than 2,000 pounds.  

Recognizing the danger of losing the buffalo, the park, in 1914, purchased 36 bison to start a herd. By the 1940's, the size of the herd has swelled to over 2,500.
To keep the park's rangeland plentiful, the bison herd numbers are lowered each year during the annual buffalo roundup.  The animals are corralled, veted, numbered, branded and some are sold before releasing them back into the grasslands. Spring birthing season rejuvenates the herd size to 1,300 again.  
More than 15,000 people are expected to come to the park next week to witness the buffalo roundup.
As usual, our day trip that was expected to take about an hour, was taking most of an afternoon.  There is always so much to see and we stop every few minutes to look, photograph, walk dogs, eat and generally just chat.   But we did finally complete the Wildlife Loop and were fortunate enough to see some of all the wildlife the park has to offer except the illusive mountain lion and mountain goats. Not too bad for a half-days work. 
 Pronghorn (often called antelope) is the fastest land animal in North America and can run 60 mph for great distances.
This fellow (or gal) was right on the roadside and seemed to be fighting with this clump of brush -- thrashing it's antlers in it.

Another Pronghorn -- resting and not too concerned with me and my camera.

Deer are everywhere.  Nighttime driving can really be hazardous here.
This one was on the edge of the roadway.

 Bighorn Sheep

South Dakota's original bighorn sheep was the Audubon subspecies but it became extinct in 1922. A herd of Rocky Mountain bighorn was introduced to Custer State Park -- these are their descendants.
Bighorn rams and ewes both have horns. The males' have thick curled horns. That would indicate these are the girls.

Another deer.
At the end of today's excursion, we opted to ride back into town (Custer) for a bite of early supper.  I decided to snap this picture of the "Welcome to Custer" sign.  This is a great little town -- heck, all of what I've seen in South Dakota has been great.  I think we'll just become residents of this fair state.

You know me... always excited about eating!
Our restaurant selection was one of our campground host's favorites. Jerry recommended it the day we arrived.  It's Buglin' Bull and it has a nice atmosphere. 
We all ended up ordering some variety of buffalo burger.  Mine was delicious.
There's certainly more to see in Custer State Park -- the Needles Highway, Iron Mountain Road and just outside the park, there's Mount Rushmore -- certainly not to be missed.   Join us for the next outing... we'd love having you along.