After we fulfilled my Laura Ingalls Wilder fandom on our road trip, we continued on toward the Black Hills for camping. Before then, we fulfilled another wish of mine: visiting the Badlands.
For years, we've traveled on I-90, seeing the green rolling hills and way past them, near Wall, was something else (click to see images bigger):
This is a bad picture, but you can see some striped, rocky cliffs in the back. NOT the green rolling prairie. On the map I could see it was the Badlands, but I wanted to see them, especailly encountering them in books--yes, they're mentioned in the Little House books--These Happy Golden Years, maybe?--and Peace Like a River, I think. And so we did.
We did what most people do: drive through the park and stop at some trails and vistas. It was gorgeous, though we learned later that we shouldn't have brought Lola on the trails. Oops. I learned that these stone patterns were caused by ancient erosion when South Dakota was at the bottom of an ancient sea bed. I've oversimplified that terribly, sorry. When the boys are older and Lola is kenneled, I'd like to go back and hike.
We camped at Custer State Park, which was terrific. We stayed at the Blue Bell Campground, which was nice, though on a hill. Every day deer and turkey walked through the campground. Awesome. Although they drove the dogs nuts.
To see the sites, we packed 4 adults, 2 kids, and three dogs into our Ford Freestyle and went touring. Here's where we went and what we did:
We of course went to Rushmore. I'd forgotten how the Needles Highway involves one-car tunnels that spotlight the mountain on your way. Truly outstanding.
The next day we went to Wind Cave National Park, which was again outstanding. We divided in half and went on two successive cave tours, the first group (Derick, Don, and Dominic) on the Natural Entrance tour, which starts at the teeeny original hole (they've built stairs down in a man-made hole) and walks down to the elevators, and the second group (Melinda, Rowan, and I) on the Fairgrounds tour, which starts and ends at the elevator.
Even better, you can take dogs everywhere except in buildings and in the caves, so we got to walk the dogs on trails while waiting for the other group. LOVE that national park.
Later that day we hiked up Mount Coolidge, where I took a photo of us in the sunset. On the top of the mountain were 4 cell-phone towers, which means we got more bars here than anywhere on our trip. Wind Cave N.P. actually had zero bars. I almost made a phone call on this mountain, just on the principle of the thing.
Every night in the campground we attended presentations, where we learned a lot about bison, the park history, and sights to see. We decided to go to Gordon Stockade after the boys became infatuated with it at one such presentation.
Followed by a brief trip to Stockade Lake. (Just a note: driving around Stockade Lake, we found the Stockade Lake Campground--that looks even better than Blue Bell--still tucked away so it's not on a major road, but level.)
We went on a long hike on the Prairie Trail in Custer's Wildlife Loop.
You'll notice two dogs on the right in the water; one of them is not Lola, who was such a wimp about water I had to carry her across each stream. She would not wade through the water, go over rocks or bridges, nothin'.
We drove the Wildlife Loop a couple times--we never saw bison (just one at Wind Cave National PArk), but we saw antelope, white-tailed deer, pheasants, turkeys, pronghorns, and wild burros, which came up to the car looking for a snack and some pets.
On our way out of the Loop, we saw this massive thunderstorm building which hit later that night. That was significant because it was our first rain while camping. The hill we camped on meant our tent was at the bottom of a run-off. Did we get wet? No. Not at all. Thank you, REI Kingdom tent! Worth every penny.