Black Hills / Eastern Wyoming - Final Thoughts

Let's put a nice bow on this vacation recap that has taken far too long to compete!

In summary, here are some my “best of” type things and a few final thoughts on my Black Hills/eastern Wyoming excursion:
Favorite Place(s):
I can’t narrow this down to just one. Every day was fun, every place I went to was different in its own way, and I would happily visit them all again. If forced to decide, I would have to call it a tie between Devils Tower and Wind Cave National Park.

My day at Devils Tower was simply outstanding. It is such a strange and interesting location, worth it for the scenery alone. And I loved it that I found a place that offered some solitude away from the crowds to enjoy the sights, birds, and animals and soak everything in. The weather was perfect, too. A fantastic day, for sure.
My impression of Wind Cave was that a lot of people go there just for the cave, but the hiking trails seemed almost a little underappreciated. Unlike Custer State Park to the north which wa…

Wind Cave National Park

June 3, 2016
Today’s itinerary was the only one that didn’t really deviate from the original in any way. The plan was to explore Wind Cave National Park and work my way back through Custer State Park, and that is exactly what happened.
Wind Cave National Park is billed as having one of the largest networks of caves in the world. I guess it is spectacular, and judging by the line of people buying cave tour tickets at the visitor center early that morning (at least 30 people deep at the counter at 8 AM), it must be.

But I was not here for the cave. My cave touring history began and ended with my college geology class. I remember we were crawling around through claustrophobic confines in the dirt, it was very dark, and (at the risk of dating myself fashion-wise) I ruined a pair of acid-washed jeans.
No thanks, I’ll do my exploring above ground! I’m here for the birds and animals.
Wind Cave National Park is located directly south of Custer State Park, although it is slightl…

The Badger Hole

June 2, 2016
After leaving the French Creek trail, I made my way around the Wildlife Loop looking for another area to hike. I stumbled upon the next location somewhat by accident. I saw a sign for something called the Centennial Trail, and I made a quick left turn.

The Centennial Trail is a 111 mile long hiking trail that traverses the Black Hills region, perhaps not unlike the Superior Hiking Trail that we are familiar with here in Minnesota. I figured this would be a good place to do a little exploring.

The trailhead at this location was a place known as The Badger Hole. Here was an old cabin that belonged to Charles Badger Clark, South Dakota’s first Poet Laureate. It was a beautiful place nestled in a stand of tall pine trees. The cabin is now a historic site in Custer State Park.

I headed out on the Centennial Trail, which passed right behind the cabin. The first bird I saw was a gorgeous male Western Tanager (never did get a picture of one, unfortunately, but they were so pretty…

Custer State Park

June 2, 2016
Today marked the start of two full days of exploring in and around Custer, SD.
Before heading out, I had breakfast at Our Place, a diner doubling as a museum of Betty Boop memorabilia. Clearly this was where the Custer locals eat. I was the only person in the restaurant that the server didn’t know by name, yet she still called me “hon.” A fantastic plate of eggs, sausage, hash browns, and dark rye toast, and I was on my way to Custer State Park.
The first stop at Custer State Park was Sylvan Lake, only a short drive from the town of Custer. I referenced in an earlier post that both my grandparents and parents stopped here on their honeymoons. That seemed like a good enough reason for me to stop as well.

An incredibly picturesque little lake. I did some hiking around and exploring. This is also a trailhead for the hike to Harney Peak, the highest point in South Dakota, and I met some hikers pursing that challenge. I did manage to see a new bird here as well – the Red-nape…

The Road Not Intended

I departed Devils Tower in the early afternoon. The next destination was Custer, SD, a little over 100 miles away.

Because I bumped Spearfish Canyon up on the schedule on account of the weather, the Devils Tower trip altered the original plans to drive from Spearfish to Deadwood and down through the Black Hills to Custer. Instead, a contingency plan was implemented. Logistically it made more sense to head south from Devils Tower to Newcastle, WY, and then east to Custer.

I had no expectations, yet this ended up being the most unexpectedly enjoyable drive of the trip.
The roads between Devils Tower and Newcastle were fantastic. Not only were they in great shape and very quiet (downright sleepy in fact with almost no traffic), but they were hilly with sweeping turns, making for an engaging driving experience.  The 70 MPH speed limit on US Highway 585 (a two-lane road!) was a foreign concept where I am from. But you aren't going to hear me complain, and it allowed for som…

Devils Tower National Monument

June 1, 2016

It’s pretty hard to miss Devils Tower National Monument. You can see it from miles away with its majestic silhouette rising above the landscape.
Blessed with a positively beautiful day after yesterday’s wild winds (bright, sunny, crisp, and cool - perfection!), I arrived fairly early and spent a good hour and a half walking the trail around the tower. I took the precaution of lining my hat with tin foil in case there were any unexpected close encounters of the third kind, but those fears proved to be unfounded. ;-)

It was a lovely hike through the pines in the shadows of this imposing rock formation. Looking at the tower through the binoculars, you could see several mountain climbers; tiny specks on the sheer cliffs, tenaciously making their way to the top. That looked quite daunting, and I was greatly preferring being on solid ground down below!
Along the tower trail, I got to see some new birds; the Plumbeous Vireo (closely related to the Blue-headed Vireo that we see i…

The Sunny Divide

June 1, 2016

Do you like Google Street View as much as I do?  I enjoy spending a little time zooming in on maps and different sections of roads to see some of the sights and the landscapes before I go somewhere.

Prior to my trip while I was looking at US Highway 14 north of Sundance, WY, I noticed this quaint building called the Sunny Divide Community Hall.

(Here is the what it looks like from Google Street View - feel free to do some additional navigating if you wish!):

It appeared to be an old, somewhat dilapidated one-room schoolhouse from once upon a time. I have always liked these buildings, and we see many examples like this in Minnesota. Their histories are known only to the locals. Generally they get repurposed for community events, 4H Club meetings (as this one appeared to be), rural voting precincts, or other things like that.

There’s just something kind of interesting about these places - especially this one, sitting all by itself in an open field with the Bear Lod…