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.