Friday, March 15, 2019

Mount Rushmore and the Rainstorm

  Have you ever seen one of those travel ads designed to entice you to take time off from your job and head to that location in a shameless attempt to separate you from your money? Yeah, I'm looking at you California. These ads run in all parts of the world in an attempt to show off the beauty they can offer to visitors.
 A smiling model opens the ad telling us about how wonderful a place is. Then the cameras fly us over the area in an awe inspiring fly over before cutting to a family laughing and having a good time. Before long, you've reached for your laptop and clicked "book" and then eagerly anticipate your upcoming trip. The ad worked. But, what if you didn't have a television or the internet but you still needed to bring people to your location? What is an advertiser to do? Well, you could carve giant, famous faces into your mountains. That might work. In fact, it did work for the state of South Dakota and today it draws over 2 million visitors per year. What is this place? It's Mount Rushmore of course.
 From October of 1927 through October of 1941, dynamite boomed through the Black Hills during the construction of Mount Rushmore. Four United States' Presidents were chosen for the sculpture, each one with his own history of preserving and progressing the country that they served. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln now overlook the Black Hills standing above over 400,000 tons of blasted and chipped granite, the remnants of what had once been a natural rock formation from Mother Nature. Today it is a National Monument and to some, maybe, a national treasure.
  It just so happened that we were meeting Mother Nature at the monument on the day we visited. We hadn't left the parking lot before the thunder started booming throughout the canyons. A few sprinkles tapped our shoulders and warned us that things were about to get interesting. Voices came over loud speakers telling all of the visitors to take cover. An Air Force presentation that had been setting up in the amphitheater below the president's carvings was postponed and they vanished into the visitor center as we reached the top of the stairs above them. The rain got a little heavier and thunder boomed again above us. This was not a good place to be.
 "We need to get inside," I said to those in my group close enough to hear me. I've been in thunderstorms before, heck, I've even golfed through one (not my best moment) but I think this was the first time I was really nervous about it. I was also getting wet and it wasn't the warmest afternoon that day. We rushed down the stairs to the visitor center entrance and hurried in. We squeezed through the crowd just in time. The heavens let loose and a heavy rain fell for thirty minutes. The plus to this was that there was plenty of time to take in the exhibits, me and three hundred of my newest friends. The down side was that everyone else was in there too, as you may have guessed. It was hard to see everything because there was always someone bumping you or trying to read the same thing you were reading and I am really not the most patient person when it comes to crowds. I don't like them. So, it was a test of my nerves that I'm proud to say I passed. At least on my scale.
 Once the rains passed there was just enough time between downpours that the Air Force got to do their thing, which everyone but myself sat to watch. I was there to take in the monument and take photos. That's what I do and I was nervous that the skies wouldn't stay friendly for long. I took the wooden path that leads behind the amphitheater to the base of the monument. The rains gave Washington a much more abstract and somber look from this angle because it emphasized the veins and imperfections of the granite and it wasn't long before I realized that I was staring up Washington's nose. I snapped some photos, which from this angle, really aren't great, and spent a few minutes thinking of the hard work and the time it took to create such a great tribute to our country and the men that helped build it. Hard work is a great thing. Then I felt a rain drop, then another. It was time to put the camera away and head back to the campground.
 I met up with the rest of the group and we headed for the rental van. It would be dark soon and we wanted to beat the mass of people that would be trying to find shelter when the next wave of rain hit and hit it did.
 We climbed out of Keystone heading for Mystic Hills when we found the storm. It had skirted behind Mount Rushmore and met us head on fifteen miles from the campground. I wasn't driving the van and even now I'm not sure whether I was happy about that or not. Obviously we made it safely, but in the moment you tend to wonder if you are in the right place. I trust my dad just fine, but there is a part of me that thought that I was the reason we were here and I needed to step up to make sure we got back alright. The visibility at times was only ten feet. The wipers couldn't keep up and standing water lurked around every corner. Rain wrapped lightning flashed in every direction which was exciting for nerds like me that like weather, but I can't emphasize enough how scary that drive was. I can only think of one other time that I drove through a storm that made me nervous, but it was nothing like this one. There was no shoulder to the roads, nowhere to hide. The only thing to do is take it slow and power through.
 The rain stopped about two miles from the campground (lucky us) and with the exception of a sprinkle through the night the campground stayed dry. I think everyone was pretty happy to get out of that van that night. That storm continues to pop up in conversations when we're all together. 
 We did have a great time while visiting Mount Rushmore and despite what you might think, I wouldn't change it. I have some interesting photos and a fun story to tell. Had the weather been sunny this article would have been a lot shorter and a lot more boring. Average doesn't make a good story. Average is what everyone experiences everyday and I would rather have a little discomfort to have a fun story to tell over the average any day. 


Friday, March 1, 2019

Let's Ride the Black Hills

 Today we continue our series on South Dakota. For this article I'm going to focus on the side by side riding portion of the trip. Like I mentioned in the previous article, South Dakota is very ATV/UTV friendly. To me, this means that they embrace this style of recreation and make great efforts to create and map trails, as well as promote riding opportunities. They are one of the few states that allow OHV's to be licensed for the street and having the ability to leave your campground and take the streets to the trailhead widens the areas that you can explore in your allotted time. That's exactly what we took advantage of while we stayed at Mystic Hill's Hideaway. 
 We picked up a Forest Service map from the front desk of the RV park and combed over it, but we didn't stop there. The park had quite a few folks that were there to ride like we were and they had already been riding for a few days. So, naturally, we talked with them and got a few tips on what trails we wanted to hit. This is how we learned of a few sits that are not on the map. In fact, they tipped us off to a gas station that sold a map that had some of the more interesting points of interest marked out. This map became our most useful map of the trip. 
 The tree lined trails are similar to what we find in Utah. Some roads are tight and windy, others are long and wide. All of them were fun.
 From the trails we were able to access a historic cemetery where small signs tell stories of some of the earliest residents from the most innocent, like children, to the worst of the worst, murderers. A funny thing, we visited two cemeteries during this trip and both of them were placed on the side of a mountain. This may not seem like a big deal today, but these cemeteries were in use in the late 1800's. They had to haul the caskets up these hills. I'm not sure that I would be first in line to volunteer to be a pallbearer in this neck of the woods. 
 The highlight landmark, though, had to be one of the many underground caves that the Black Hills hide. This cave was nothing like the nearby Jewel Cave or Wind Cave, it is small in comparison and is really in the middle of nowhere. In fact, if you aren't careful you could actually drive right into it. The roads literally run over the top of the cave. We crawled down into the cool earth about fifty feet until we ran out of room to explore. Despite the shallowness, we really enjoyed crawling around down there. It sort of stokes the fire of adventure when you find a place like this, especially if you're a fan of geology.
 Well, this was short and sweet. Next week we'll expand our South Dakota trip as we hop in a rental van and explore the sites of the Black Hills. Until then, be safe and have fun this weekend.


Friday, January 25, 2019

Introduction to South Dakota

 The sizzling of cold hamburger patties meeting a hot grill pierces a sunny afternoon. Moments later the smell of seasonings float through the air, teasing your taste buds. Your mouth waters and the anticipation of another great 4th of July barbecue becomes almost too much to handle. You reach for your favorite ice-cold beverage to help stave off your hunger. It works, but not for long. Moments from now you will be surrounded by family and friends to celebrate another birthday for our great country. You’ll probably tell stories that you’ve already told, but you’ll hear a few new tales as well. Phone cameras will take snapshots and photos will be shared and swapped and for a moment, you’ll wish that this day could last forever. After the burgers and brats are consumed and there is nothing left but crumbs, the sun will fall behind the horizon and you will put on the perfect firework display, carefully planned with plenty of sparkling fountains and even a few aerials that you spent more on than you should have. It’s worth it though, when all the neighborhood car alarms start screaming and all the neighbors are standing in their yards watching your display. This may even be the year that you let the kids help light them. Either way, you will sit back and smile at how you’ve managed to put together another great 4th of July party.
 I hope that this is how your 4th of July parties go. We’ve had a few like this and I’ve always had fun. However, as you may know, we don’t really like to be home all that often and when we have an opportunity to travel, we take it. I suppose the hardest thing to do is choosing where to go. We’ve often gone to Yellowstone for the 4th, but for 2018 we wanted a change of pace. We wanted to go somewhere that we could get the perfect mix of site seeing and UTV riding. Well it just so happens that western South Dakota fit the criteria. The Black Hills, to be more specific.
 Okay, so, this trip has been planned and canceled multiple times for what I feel seems to be about eight years. We’ve had to move it around and push it off for a plethora of reasons and more than likely because I found something that sounded like more fun and was closer to home. I started to feel guilty about not going, so I planned it…after my wife and my mother told me we were going. As usual, upon our return, I wish we had gone sooner. Not only do I wish we had gone sooner, but I wish I had had a few more days. No, not even a week was long enough for everything we wanted to see.
We split the week about 50/50 on site seeing and riding. Like Utah, South Dakota is ATV/UTV friendly and you can take your licensed UTV on most of the highways there. You do need to pick up a permit to ride the trails, however. You have an option of a 7-day permit for $20 or an annual permit for $25. You can purchase the permits online or at various locations in the Black Hills. Lucky for us, our RV Park had them for purchase on site.
 Speaking of the RV Park, we wanted a place that was central to the places we were going to visit. We knew that we would be seeing Mount Rushmore, Deadwood, and the Crazy Horse Monument, but we would have to choose the other locations carefully due to time constraints. It turns out that the Black Hills area is very close to multiple National Monuments, National Parks, State Parks and countless other sites. With a group of ten people, most of which drove motorhomes, we knew we were going to have to rent a large van to get us to the places that we couldn’t get to by way of the UTV’s. This limited our time for exploring those faraway places because we only wanted to have the van for a few days. Knowing all of this, we chose to book our stay at Mystic Hills Hideaway. This would be the base camp for all of our riding opportunities. They had trail maps for sale in the office and they are close enough to Deadwood that we could cruise down in the RZR’s to explore. By the way, this was our first trip with street legal side by sides and wow, it felt a little crazy, but it’s fun.
 Mystic Hills Hideaway is tucked in the trees off of highway 385, just over 11 miles south of Deadwood. They are open year-round and offer access to some great trails with access directly from the RV Park. They offer rentals of UTV’s in the summer and snowmobiles in the winter and they even have a small restaurant at the office if you so desire. It does close a little early so make sure you check the hours before relying on it for your dinner. Also, if you don’t have an RV you do have the option of renting a small cabin or trailer. These are booked well in advance so, I would suggest you plan a visit here about a year in advance.
 The first ride we took from Mystic Hills didn’t take us far, but it is almost a must do trail. The trail took us 8 miles to the west of the RV Park and lead us to the Custer Peak Lookout. It is not a difficult trail, mainly because this is a Forest Service lookout post that is still in use but is a beautiful ride that climbs to a tall peak overlooking the park. The trail ends in a very small parking area just below the lookout and from here you have a little work to do. You must climb a short but steep hike to access the lookout, but you are rewarded with incredible views of the Black Hills National Forest. You also have a good chance of having an opportunity to talk with the ranger on duty. These folks don’t mind having visitors and, at least from our experience, enjoy answering questions and telling a few stories to those that take the time to say, hi.
 From Custer Peak we explored the trails around the area just to get our bearings and to explore the surrounding areas. At this point we hadn’t picked up a map of the trails, we just explored the roads on our own. We didn’t come across anything other than trees, but it was a great day of getting dirty. We picked up a map later that night and got some good information from those at the office and from our fellow RV neighbors that had already been in town for a few days. That’s what is great about the RV life. You already have one thing in common and if you find people that are doing the same things you are doing, it’s easy to approach them and ask questions. Most of the time, people are happy to talk and share their stories.
 I’ll be back next week to get into more detail about our trail rides and more about where we decided to explore once we got the van. Until then, stay safe and go find your own adventure.


Friday, January 11, 2019

The List

 Ah, yes. 2018 is over and a fresh start is upon us. It's easy to get caught up in all the New Year hype and we're guilty of it. As I've mentioned in previous posts, we have some big things coming up for this year, however, these trips eat up a lot of vacation time and tend to hit the pocket book significantly. What that means is that we need other things to do on the weekends in between our larger trips. So what is the first step in planning a year of adventures? You make a list, of course. 
  Thanks to our family doing the home school thing, we happened to have a large white board set up in our living room. Yes, this is weird, but it works for us. We erased the math problems to make room for the important things and we started naming all of the places that we would like to visit and the things we wanted to do. Nothing was off limits but we wanted to focus on things that we could do near home and on short notice. It only took us fifteen minutes and we ended up filling the board. The only reason we stopped was because Misty's hand got tired of writing and we had people coming over to plan our Moab trip coming up in April. After people looked over the list something interesting happened. People started commenting on some of the things on our list. Some had been to places on the list, others wanted to go to some locations. The best part was when they actually started adding things to the list. Why? Because adventure is contagious, adventure is fun.
  We're finding that the hardest part is deciding where to go first. We'll sort that out later. The thing I want to do is encourage all of you to make your own list. Don't worry, you can use a piece of paper if you don't have a big, white, dry erase board. Gather up the family and just brainstorm. Let them say whatever they want and you can write it down. After ten or fifteen minutes you'll have a great list of activities that you can enjoy with your family and maybe you'll learn a little bit more about what your kids are interested in doing and go ahead and scratch the really crazy ideas off the list later. 
  So for 2019 it looks like our family has a lot of National Parks and hiking trips coming up. Of course, I will be incorporating a lot of photography into those trips because that's what I like to do and it can be done anywhere. I suppose that whatever we don't get around to this year can roll over to the list for 2020 but I hope there aren't that many leftover. 
 So what are you waiting for? Grab your family and get to making your list because 2019 is already ticking away.