Wednesday, 5 October 2016

South Dakota road-trip (days 7 & 8)

It;s our last day at the Battle Creek Lodge and we wake at a reasonable time and have a leisurely breakfast of French Toast. After chatting to the lovely hosts and some of the other guests we load the car for the trip home and check out.

Glancing at the odometer we have done 1240 miles so far this trip. We leave Keystone and pick up the highway to Rapid City where we stop and fill the tank and I gave the windows a wash to remove the bugs.

We then get back on the I-90 heading towards Wall, our previous stop-over. Our first destination today would be the Badlands - the park ticket we purchased being valid for the entire week - on Sunday we had seen the beautiful Badlands at dawn, dusk and during the blazing heat of a late summers day, today it was more overcast and we saw yet again another set of stunning hues. We do love it here!

Driving west to east we stopped at many view points, some we had used on our previous trips and some entirely new ones, all felt new in the overcast light. We were delighted to see some Longhorn sheep taking in the stunning scenery and others running along the roads.

Driving out of the Badlands we stopped at the shop and visitors centre for postcards and souvenirs before picking up the I-90 heading east again towards the Missouri River. Getting ready for some lunch we stopped at Al's Oasis on the west bank of the Missouri River for another 5c coffee and grilled cheese sandwich each. These 5c coffees that we get in South Dakota are actually rather good and include free refills! Als is a strange place with some 'interesting' clientele.

Crossing to the east bank of the Missouri we again stop at the Chamberlain rest-area to take another look at the fantastic 'Dignity' statue that we had seen the dedication of on the previous Saturday. We got to get much closer and had a really good look at this impressive edifice.

About eight and a half hours after setting off from Keystone we arrived at Sioux Falls, first stopping for fuel and then on to the Super 8 - when in South Dakota and all that! - for the evening. We crashed out in the hotel and had a decent enough coffee from the lounge. It was not that late but although we were quite tired we thought we should do something. Brew-pub it is then, Victoria located the Hydra Beer Company about 15 minutes drive away and we headed over there.

The Hydra Beer Company has a metal aesthetic and we shared a lovely flight of Hefeweizen, Hexenbiest V1 (a nitro coffee brown ale), Unholy Vanilla Stout and Morning Star Berliner with a generous helping of the free popcorn and pretzels and a chat with a really nice bloke we met in the bar. We bought a bottle of Morning Star Peach Berliner to take home with us before heading back rather tired to the Super 8 where we crashed for the night.

Up for breakfast we went down to the lounge and had a passable repast but the most disgusting coffee we have ever tried before again mounting our trusty Honda for the last mere 450 miles! First stop was the post office to post the last handful of postcards (Jasmin likes to have one from everywhere we go!) and then on to the I-90.

First stop was a McDonalds somewhere in Minnesota so that Victoria could start her day with a decent cup of coffee and myself a Coke, our next stop would be an hour or two later when we stopped at the rest area just outside Austin to 'lose' the aforementioned coffee and cokes from earlier.

The weather was pretty miserable by now with quite heavy showers as we crossed back over the Mississippi and into Wisconsin, the last fuel stop at Tomah and then heading back to Madison. We were getting hungry again so stopped at Wisconsin Dells for a pretzel and coffee before blitzing the Disney Store for some goodies - Cheshire Cat, don't ask!

The last 50 miles back into Madison to unpack and crash out with a lovely Chinese take-away and Deadwood season 3.

2084 miles all told, what an adventure, bye bye South Dakota, you certainly have a lot of geography!

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

South Dakota road-trip (day six)

We were up and ready for breakfast by 0730 and we started the day with scrambled eggs on toast and fruit. 

Today, we wanted to make an early start to head out to the Wildlife Loop Road in Custer State Park, we had heard this was the best time to try and spot the wildlife, so we had left Battle Creek Lodge by 0815. Driving down to the park we first stopped at an idyllic lake for some photos and then drove on passing the Crazy Horse sculpture, through the town of Custer and were soon into Custer State Park and on the winding road to the Wildlife Loop. 

We didn't have to stop at the pay point as we had already paid our $20 yesterday and the pass lasts a whole week. Our early start paid off and as we entered the Wildlife Loop some delightful Mountain Bluebirds welcomed us, Paul very quickly spotted some deer in the undergrowth, and we stopped for our first of many breaks to enjoy the wildlife and take photos. 

Carrying on, we both had an eye open for something much bigger and we soon got rewarded by the sight of a lone Bison just to the side of the road, the mature males tend to be more solitary.

Continuing, we were soon surrounded on both sides by a large herd of the huge beasts, the Bison herd included several delightful babies - which I had been hoping to see. As we watched we could hear the snorts and see the steam coming from their nostrils, I for one wouldn't like to get to close. 

Leaving the large herd of Bison behind we continued on our journey around the loop and before we knew it we had come across the famous Wild Burros, although luckily, they were behind a fence and not trying to stick their heads through the windows. We parked up and got out the bag of carrots that we had remembered to buy for this very reason and began feeding them, some were very keen to show the others they were in charge by pushing themselves to the front of the queue. 

Once we felt we had seen enough of the Burros we went on our way, stopping off to buy postcards at the Wildlife Station Visitor Centre and as we drove on we spotted a couple of Pronghorns. A few moments later we really did get lucky as we came face to face with another of the Pronghorns in the middle of the road, after staring at us and trying to decide which way to go it ran straight down pass the car and away. 

Coming to the end of the Wildlife Loop loop road we came upon the brand new Custer State Park Visitor Centre which is very well done and very informative of the locale. The Visitor Centre has many great exhibits including a life-size replica of the 'Eye of the Needle' rock formation that we had passed yesterday. 

Next up we were to the drive the Iron Mountain Rd a 17 mile stretch of extreme driving including 314 curves ( a rarity on American roads), 14 switch-backs, 3 piggy-tails, 3 very narrow tunnels, 2 splits and many views of the 4 presidents on Mount Rushmore.

We were now more than ready for a coffee, so on our way back into Keystone we popped into the quaint little Peggy's Place diner for coffee and a cherry pie with two spoons. The day was still early so we made the decision to continue on the couple of miles to Mount Rushmore. Compared to the all of the of the places we had visited this trip this was certainly the most busy, we decided to head to the Presidents trail and walked our way around the vast sculpture. After an hour we both felt it was enough, I'm sure if you are an American it would capture you attention for much longer. 

We fancied a beer at Sick .n' Twisted Brewery, but when we got there we found it was closed for the season, along with many of the other local shops. including the Iron Mountain Road shop. So straight back to Battle Creek Lodge and crashed for a couple of hours. It was around 1530 that we'd decided to roust ourselves and walk into New Keystone and purchase some souvenirs and take a look at Dahls chainsaw sculptures. 

Having breakfasted early we decide to grab an early dinner at Ruby's House Restaurant, we both had the very tasty Black Bean Burgers and followed it up with a Black Tooth Brewery Wheat for Paul and a very strong Bourbon Old Fashioned for me at the Red Garter Saloon adjacent to the restaurant. 

We still weren't ready to head back just yet so we took ourselves on a round on the the Historic Old Town Keystone walk, the original gold-mining settlement along east flowing Battle Creek, including the original Big Thunder Goldmine. 

Back in our room we pass an hour or so relaxing before we took supplies down to the fire pit for S'mores and beers. Later being joined by some other guests and finished the evening chatting to them before making our way to bed.

South Dakota road-trip (days four and five)

Sadly it was time for us to leave the beautiful Badlands, so after a much better nights sleep - where we were not woken up by the neighbours dogs - we had packed up the car and were ready to leave by 0900. As we stopped to drop the key off we grab bananas and juice from the breakfast buffet. We picked up the I-90 and headed north west to Rapid City to refuel ($21.99 for 9.7 gallons).

We noticed a Target store across the road and thought it was as good a place as any to pick up a few bits included the much sort for 'Pumpkin Spiced Cheerios' to take back home with us as they seem to be out of stock everywhere in Madison. We also pick up a pair of lovely enamel mugs so that we don't have to use the paper cups in the hotel rooms and a handful of other supplies.

We pick up the road heading to Spearfish Canyon, and, getting close to our destination our tummies began to rumble and we decided to stop for brunch, after negotiating the many road works we pulled into Perkins Family Restaurant where we split a breakfast of eggs, hash brown and toast, coffee and a stack of pancakes, just what we needed. Back in the car we did not have long at all until we parked up just outside Spearfish to enjoy a mile long walk along the creek. The autumnal colours we're just showing and everywhere was looking rather lovely, on our way back to the car we were lucky enough to catch sight of a deer as it ran along the creek and up into the woodland.

Back in the car we continued on our way and began the drive along Spearfish Canyon towards Cheyenne Crossing, before taking the mountain pass to the mining town of Lead and then on to Deadwood. The scenery was absolutely stunning the vast height of the bluffs on either side reached up to meet the sky. We stopped off for several photo stops along the way including the beautiful Bridal Veil Falls.

Finally reaching Deadwood we parked up at the visitor centre - only $1.00 per hour - and walked to Main St and onto the Welcome to Deadwood sign. We stopped for photos under the sign and again at the statue of Wild Bill Hickok before continuing back up the other side of Main Street where we decided that a stop at the Wild Bill Bar was in order. This is on the original site of  Saloon No 10 where Wild Bill played his last hand of poker before he was shot in the back of the head by the assassin Jack McCall. A lesson for everyone to never sit with their back to the door. We took a seat at the bar and ordered a couple of beers, Paul opting for local Rapid City Firehouse Breweries Red.

Next we wanted to check out Mount Moriah Cemetery, we had read that it was a short walk from Main St, what it didn't tell you was of the incredibly steep climb up and that you felt you was ready for your own grave rather then looking at them when you got there. At the cemetery, we first headed to the view point overlooking Deadwood, it was here that we got confused about how much time we had left on our parking meter so after visiting only the graves of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane we rushed back down to the visitor centre - turns out we had a good 40 minutes left, typical!

With the extra time we decided to head back up Main St for the all important postcards, then set of for the final part of today's drive to Keystone and Battle Creek Lodge where we were staying for the next 3 nights.

After a very friendly check in we were given our room key and went to take our stuff up. On opening the door the first thing we notice was that there was a case in the room, strange. It was then we noticed that the room was already occupied! So quickly locking it back up we went back to reception and received another room by our most apologetic host and was finally able to settle in.

Supper was left over pizza from the previous day in Wall which we ate in our room, then down to the fire pit for an evening of beers and s'mores. What a charming evening, we had a good chat with the residents whose room we had gate crashed earlier and enjoyed the evening until the gas for the fire-pit ran out. Must be bedtime then!

We awoke this morning after a lovely nights sleep to find the room decorated for my 44th birthday - someone had been busy, thanks Paul. We made a coffee and settled down to open some cards and pressies that had arrived before we had left, a Suicide Squad graphic novel, cash, craft things, to name but a few which were greatly received. We then headed to a lovely breakfast in reception and tucked in to toasted bagels and fruit before leaving about 0845 to head into Custer State Park and Sylvan Lake where we planned to hire a canoe.

We couldn't have asked for better weather, the sun was shining, the air was still which made for really impressive reflections on the Lakes surface. We filled in the necessary paperwork, which basically says they accept no responsibility, no matter what!, paid the $34 for the hours canoe hire and donned life jackets and we were soon out on the water.

I was up front, (I think you will find the pointy end is called the bow - P.) Paul steering at the rear. Slyvan Lake is absolutely beautiful, the views we had were stunning and so peaceful, there were very few folk about, we probably only saw another ten or so on the water plus a few hikers passing by. I think we did rather well, no crashes or near misses. It was all too soon to take the canoe back in and we treated ourselves to an ice cream to share - we know had to live.

Now it's here in the tale that depending who tells the story you will get a very difference of opinion on how much we enjoyed the Sunday Gulch Trail. It started all well and good, our hike started just off the lake-side trail, and had short steep pull up. We were both mesmerised by the sparkling quartz and mica that seem to be in abundance everywhere we looked, a true faerie path. We hiked through delightful wooded areas spotting little critters as we slowly climbed down to reach the riverbed. It was a well marked path and only once did we take a wrong turn over the tops of some boulders, but we quickly realised and didn't really go far off the trail. Now the problem when you go down is that you then have to go up, we slowing began to climb back up crisscrossing the river, over stepping stones and makeshift bridges made of logs. The terrain becoming more and more strenuous as we continued.

Now Paul was rather enjoying the challenge, me not so much by this point, and I made sure Paul understood my feelings with many expletives and stern looks along the way. The final part was technically very difficult with large boulders that you needed to use the hand rails to pull you up, I had well and truly had enough! Although the trail is only 2.8 mile loop it's rated as strenuous, but it only lets you know this via a sign when you already half way round!!! No pictures at this point, if Paul had got out his phone I would not have been held accountable for my actions (google Sunday Gulch Trail and remember we were having going up).

Thankfully we dragged ourselves back to the car, and celebrated by way of sharing an apple and a bottle of water, I did contemplate chucking my boots in the lake just to make sure Paul couldn't drag me on something like this again, but I resisted. Back on the road and we headed to drive the Needles Highway, a 14mile road through granite mountain and spruce forest. The name comes from the needle like granite formations that pierce the horizon along it. We briefly stopped at the tunnel to catch a glimpse of Needles Eye, named for the opening created by the weather. It's not a quick road to take out of the park, it takes about 45mins, but it's incredible scenery that you wouldn't want to fly by.

Picking up the highway we drove past the ambitious Crazy Horse monument.

Now out of the park and on a mission to buy a cake suitable for a birthday celebration we headed through Custer and into Hill City, where we found a local supermarket and brought a blackcurrent crumble cake and some Reds Apple Ale for later. Whilst at Hill City it would have been rude not to stop at the Miner Brewing Company and partake of their beer flight of six 4oz pours, we also included a pineapple cider to the tray. Favourites were the pineapple cider, a mango cream ale and light sweater weather ale. There wasn't much to eat at the brewery and we were feeling ready for late lunch/early dinner so we went next door to the Prairie Berry Winery and had a delicious birthday meal of hummus and crudités, pitta breads, olives and Greek orzo salad, and a glass of delicious Lawrence Elk for the Birthday girl.

Feeling suitably stuffed we headed back to our lodgings at around 6.30 and our plans of beer and s'mores round the fire pit went out the window in favour of slobbing out in the room with birthday cake, a beer and our books. Crashed out by 10pm.