Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Badlands

100_6857Another of our many Black Hills road trips was to the Badlands National Park.   We took a back road out there that wound through the Buffalo Gap National Grassland.  That was a first for us, we had never been in a national grassland before.  Apparently after the Dust Bowl, the federal government acquired land in the plains with the intent of keeping it in native grasses ongoing.  It seems people can lease the land and graze cattle and bale hay, but it has to remain in grasses.  There has been a fair amount of rain around here this spring and the plains were very lush and green.

100_6890Millions of years ago a great inland sea covered the area now known as the Badlands.  When the sea receded rivers and streams left more sediment in the area.  Eventually these buttes and hills left 100_6906behind began to erode leaving the beautiful formations seen there today.  Because of the different layers that were built up, you see colorful layers in the formations as they erode.

100_6899This area has to be on the great money makers of the National Park Service.  The main road through the Badlands connects at each end to Interstate 90.  Anyone traveling along the freeway can make a very quick and easy trip through the park.  The fee is $15 for a week’s pass, but likely the vast majority just take an hour or two trip on the Loop Road.


100_6908We had to stop in Wall, South Dakota, the home of Wall Drug, one of the most heavily roadside advertised establishments in the country.  It is more more a collection of tourist trade business under one roof than it is a drug store.  We availed ourselves of one of there classic offerings – free ice water, except that there wasn’t any ice in it.  But after seeing so many many signs for the place we had to stop by.

Friday, June 28, 2013

South Dakota Caves

We visited two caves here in the Black Hills – Jewel Cave, a national monument and Wind Cave, a national park.  These caves are both huge in terms of the total length of their passages.  Jewel Cave has nearly 170 miles of passages and Wind Cave 140.  These passages are very dense and not stretched out over much distance.  As such, the caves are described as maze caves.  As the caves have huge volumes of passages and very small natural openings, the caves “breathe” very strongly in or out with changes in atmospheric pressure.

100_6748The day we went to Jewel Cave the weather was threatening rain, so it seemed like a good day to go under ground.  Unfortunately, many other people visiting the Black Hills had the same idea.  The only tour we could join was one which only went down an elevator and into one large room.  And worse yet, we got caught in a hail storm on the trip back.  We have had hail three times in the two weeks we have been here.

We secured a longer tour of Wind Cave, but neither of these caves have formations of the types you would see in Carlsbad or the Caverns of Sonora.  In caves that have a lot of formations as ground water slowly seeps down and into the cave it picks up minerals and deposits those minerals in the cave as stalactites and stalagmites and other beautiful formations.  Evidently, there aren’t enough minerals the the ground above these caves.  Wind Cave does have some very unique formations called boxwork consisting of thin calcite fins looking like a honeycomb divider in a cardboard box.  And we also saw an impressive flow stone formation.


100_6849After four caves in four months, we are about caved out now.  It may have to be something pretty spectacular to get us back under the ground again.  But we did see more buffalo and another prairie dog town.  This little guy definitely wasn’t happy with me taking the picture.  He was barking to the the other dogs, “where are my royalties for these pictures”.

Lead, Spearfish, Sturgis, and Deadwood

We took another of our day driving trips.  There are so many scenic drives in the Black Hills.  That must be one of the reasons why the annual Sturgis motorcycle rally is so popular.  No, the rally is not on right now.  It is in early August.  But there are always a ton of motorcycles on the roads here even when the rally isn’t here.  We can’t imagine what the roads would be like during the rally.  We only did a drive by in Sturgis.  It is not known for a whole lot other than the rally.

100_6784In the town of Lead we peered into the open pit of the Homestake Mine.  The mine which was closed in 2002 produced nearly 40 million ounces of gold and 9 million ounces of silver, the second most productive mine in the history of the United States.  Back in Denver we purchased a couple of gold pans, but were afraid to use them in the fast moving stream we had targets.  So we tried them out here in the creek at the back of the campground where we are staying.  They say you can find gold in any stream in the Black Hills, but we had no such luck.

100_6790From Lead, we drove up through the scenic byway of the Spearfish Canyon.  It is still hard to imagine how these streams ever could have carved these canyons, even in the time of the glaciers.  It was a nice drive and we saw a pretty waterfall.

In Spearfish, we visited a fish hatchery.  We were excited to go as we hadn’t ever visited fish hatcheries.  This one has a history of supplying trout to Black Hills streams.  But 100_6801the operative word there is “history”.  Unfortunately for us this hatchery was more of a fish hatchery museum than a currently working one.  They still are growing some trout there, but they are hatched at another hatchery in the area and the operations are more of a demonstration than true fish production.

We didn’t have time to seek out the other hatchery as Gary wanted to get to Deadwood for one more shot at tournament poker in South Dakota.  He was really disappointed in his play last Sunday and especially after declaring himself a poker pro.  We went to the first casino, but they didn’t have enough people signed up to support a tournament.  So we went to another casino and they had 28 people signed up.  He redeemed himself exceedingly well.  He WON the tournament.  For an investment of $33, his share of the prize pool for the victory was $475.  The poker pro is quite chuffed now.  In his last eight tournaments, he has cashed  five times including this win.  But by the time we got something to eat and with a long drive back we didn’t arrive back at the motor home until after midnight and the drive including slamming on the brakes for one deer and we saw two others just off the road as well.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Geology Museum–South Dakota School of Mines

We are really enjoying the geology and mineral museums as we travel up through the states with strong current and historic mining industries.  Our latest stop was the Geology Museum of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City, South Dakota. 

This museum was not just a mineral exhibit. This part of South Dakota is a paleontological region rich in dinosaur and other fossils of prehistoric life.  The museum has some of the finest skeletal specimens we have seen, not that we have a lot of wheelbase in this area,  But we know when something is impressive to us and these remains surely were.


100_6775-001The minerals of South Dakota were not quite as impressive as those of Colorado, but we enjoyed these beautiful agates from local areas. 




100_6757While we were in Rapid City, we also sought out and toured a unique church – Chapel in the Hills. This chapel is an exact replica of one constructed in Norway in the 1100s and is still in existance there.  There were many immigrants from Scandinavia who came to mining regions like South Dakota.  A descendant of a Norwegian immigrant gave the money for the construction of this chapel

Monday, June 24, 2013

Custer State Park

We drove over to Mt Rushmore again to catch the monument in the morning with the sun shining directly on the faces.  We had gone in the afternoon the prior time and there were quite a bit of shadows.  But our real mission for the day was to tour through Custer State Park and its three scenic byways – the Iron Mountain Road, the Wildlife Loop, and the Needles Highway.  The Iron Mountain Road was designed first and foremost to take advantage of distant views of Mt Rushmore and other natural attractions.  Roads often take the path of “least resistance”.  Not this one; it’s mission is to get people to the sights.  The road is famous for its “pigtail bridges” where you go right back around and over the road to gain elevation quickly.  The road also has tunnels that frame a view of Mt Rushmore as you travel through them.


This byway connects to the Wildlife Loop where we actually did see a lot of wildlife. Custer Park is home to a herd of 1,500 bison that roam the Park freely and openly.  We pulled up to a small group and one walked right past our open car window.  There is an annual roundup in the Fall to keep the herd at its manageable limit.  The roundup has become quite the attraction itself.


Along the way, we also saw, pronghorns and the ever cute, prairie dogs.


On the Needles Highway, the big attractions are a tunnel carved through the rock that is only 8’4” wide and the needle’s eye rock formation.  We waited for half an hour at the tunnel hoping to see one of the tour busses that squeeze through this tunnel, but finally had to give up.


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Mt Rushmore (And The Fifth Face)

100_6636Although there are many attractions in the Black Hills, the number one has to be Mt Rushmore.  It draws about 3 million visitors a year.  The sculpture carved into granite rock of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln was started in 1927 and was completed in 1941. Each of the heads is about 60 feet high.  The sculpture originally was conceived as a local project to draw tourists to the region but then the federal government appropriated the money for its construction and it is a National Monument.

There has been a lot of discussion about whether another “face” should be carved into the mountain.  Some have suggested Ronald Reagan.  Others have suggested Franklin Roosevelt.  And numerous other suggestions have been made.  Well, I have the facts in pictures.  In the first picture below, the sculptors are studying the head that they will add to the mountain.  And in the second photo is the finished product.  (With today’s super duper lasers they can carve these things in no time.)


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Dead Man’s Hand

100_6607On Sunday, Father’s Day, we drove up to Deadwood, SD.  Deadwood is another gold mining town from the 1800s.  One of its claims to fame is that it was where Wild Bill Hickok was shot and killed while playing poker in a saloon.  He usually played poker with his back to a wall, but on the day of his death the only available seat was one where his back was to the door.  A hater of Hickok walked in and shot him in the back of the head.  At the time he was shot, Hickok’s poker hand included two aces and two eights, all black.  That group of cards has since come to be known as “The Dead Man’s Hand”.  Wild Bill Hickok was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1979.

100_6599Deadwood is yet another old gold mining town that now has staked its claim to casino gambling just like we saw in Cripple Creek, Blackhawk, and Central City in Colorado.  Gary had to play a poker tournament in the town with such poker infamy.  When he lost out of the tournament, he didn’t have aces and eights.  He actually had a better hand as he had a flush, but unfortunately someone tabled a bigger flush and he had been quickly shot out of the tournament -- not much of a showing in his first tournament since declaring himself a poker pro.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Denver Area Epilogue

It was time that we finish up in the Denver area and move on.  Gary wanted to play one last poker tournament, so we trekked out to Blackhawk again, and this time he finished 6th out of about 60 players and got back exactly what he had paid to play.  In total, he played in six tournaments, cashed in three of them, and was a clear net winner.  As he is retired and can declare whatever occupation he wants for himself, he has decided that he now is a professional poker player.  Now, before you start laughing, he hasn’t just had success playing poker in Colorado.  He has been a net poker winner in Las Vegas including three small tournament wins and has probably about broken even in all his other poker play.  So, if he wants to say he is a poker professional, so be it.  We will be spending a month or so in Nevada later this year, so watch out poker players.

100_6519We also went out to Blackhawk so that we could stop in the town of Golden and take the Coors Brewery tour.  They bill this location as the largest single site brewery in the United States and it is a huge complex.





We hadn’t taken many good hat pictures lately but we found the opportunity for this one in the gift shop at Coors.  Wow, does he have a spiky head of blonde hair.





Our hearts went out to the people of Colorado Springs who lost their homes in the Black Forest fire.  The campground we were at was right at the southern boundary of the evacuation zone.  We don’t know if they ever had to evacuate or not, but hope everything is OK there.

100_6546It got hot in Denver.  One day it hit 100 degrees which was a new record for that day.  Such heat certainly didn’t help the wildfire situation.  It was nice to have a pool at the campground.



100_6567So, it was time to be moving on and further north.  We have moved on up to the Black Hills of South Dakota passing through eastern Wyoming on the way.  We will be here for around two weeks and then will go to a rally in Gillette, Wyoming for the fourth of July week.   We then will be working our way to the other side of the Rocky Mountains and starting the slow trek back south.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Moose Sighting And Elk Too

Last year throughout Maine, the Atlantic Provinces, and Quebec, I was always lamenting that I never saw a moose.  There were moose warning signs everywhere, but no actual moose.  We were in these areas for over two months.  You would have thought I would have seen a moose.

We weren’t really expecting to see moose in Rocky Mountain National Park.  But as they say…….when you least expect it…..  Within a couple miles of entering the park we saw a pack of cars ahead parked roadside.  That usually means some sort of wildlife sighting.  I told Gary to slow down and as we entered the traffic jam, sure enough, there was my moose scene.  And this was not just any moose scene.  This one was of a cow and her playful calf.  I was elated.


And we weren’t even thinking about elk, much less seeing them, but we wound up seeing a dozen elk in the park.  We saw another car stopped by the side of the road and got the shot below left of a magnificent buck.  Shortly thereafter, we saw many resting in a meadow including this group below right.


Rocky Mountain National Park

100_6457We took a huge day trip – as in over a 200 mile day trip – through Rocky Mountain National Park.  It is one of the larger and oldest of the National Parks.  It is a very alpine park.  It has 72 peaks that are above 12,000 feet in elevation.  Nearly one third of the Park is above the treeline at 11,400 feet of elevation in this area.  It has the highest major through highway in the United States – Trail Ridge Road -- topping out at 12,183 feet above sea level.

100_6470The Road has only been open a few days so far this year.  Here is a shot of the sign at the continental divide that had to be shoveled out to be seen.  The Road conditions were very good, but Gary had a bout of “height fright” as we were approaching the highest altitude of the road.  He was doing great as we came up through the trees, but as we went up above the trees, not only were the trees gone that could hold you back if you went off the road 1091981252_trailridgebut there were no guard rails either.  We were still doing great as were were on the inside lane as we traversed the mountains, but then there was a hairpin turn switchback that put us on the outside lane for the next cross of the mountain.  There was a visitor’s center right at the switch back so Gary pulled in there for a break.  He didn’t feel comfortable to drive that next stretch across the side of the mountain so I drove it even though I was about as scared of it as he was.  But we made it on up to the top and back down again, but for us it was about as scary a drive as it was beautiful a drive.




100_6490The park is beautiful – the mountains, valleys, lakes, and the fragile tundra as you literally drive across the tops of the mountains.  We planned ahead and a picnic lunch to enjoy in the Park. 

We’ll have more to report from Rocky Mountain in our next blog.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Colorado School of Mines

Now why would we visit the Colorado School of Mines?  Because it is in the town of Golden, home of the Coors Brewery?  Well, Coors is in Golden, but we haven’t visited there yet.  Was it to see the Big M for “Mines” on Mount Zion?  We saw the M but that wasn’t why we went.  Did we go to see the sports facilities of the “Orediggers”?  Nope.  The Colorado School of Mines happens to have a world-class museum of minerals.


We visited the geology museum at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, but its mineral exhibit paled by comparison.  This one didn’t beat out the mineral wing of the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington DC, but it was probably better than the Mineral Museum at Michigan Technical University in the copper and iron mining region of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.


We noted on the aquamarine above that the benefactor was listed at David Oreck as it was on several other pieces.  Also there were other specimens donated by Bruce Oreck.  As Oreck is not a real common name, we had to ask the Curator if these were the vacuum cleaner Orecks.  Sure enough, David Oreck is the guy in the commercials and Bruce Oreck is his son who is now the US Ambassador to Finland.

100_5747Colorado had many a gold mine back in the day and here some amazing specimens.



100_5746This amethyst geode is from Brazil but is one of the largest we have seen.






And finally they had two displays of fluorescent minerals, ones that light up under ultraviolet light.  The picture on the left is of the “rocks” under natural light and then under ultraviolet light on the right.