Badlands National Park and Buffalo National Grassland

From Rapid City we looped back east to spend some time in Badlands NP. We had fabulous weather which enhanced the spectacular scenery. We did several short hikes and were fortunate to catch spectacular sunsets. We also took advantage of the Baja Motorized Travel Area within Buffalo Gap to spend some time driving overland and putting the “Beast” to the test on some great terrain.

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Baja Motorized Travel Area

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Gold Mounds

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Rapid City, South Dakota

Dahl Art Center

Dahl Art Center is a small art museum located in downtown Rapid Center. We were fortunate that one of the current exhibits at the center is the photography of Chuck Kimmerle. This exhibit consists entirely of black and white photographs which are all depictions of the prairies and and grasslands of the west. His work creates stark images of landscapes which lack notable features. The second exhibit was a water color exhibit featuring notable regional artists.

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South Dakota Air & Space Museum

Yes one of us is an airplane geek! Nice collection of Air Force aircraft predominately consisting of bombers. The museum is adjacent to Ellsworth AFB which is the home of the B1 Lancer long range bomber.

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B1 B Lancer
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Boeing B52
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Boeing B29

Fika & Wine

Rapid City played well with three local roasters producing quality beans delivered well in their own cafe, I highly reecommend you visit The Essence of Coffee,  Harriet & Oaks and Pure Bean on your next trip to Rapid City. In the event you wil not be in the vicinity any time soon you can order their beans online.

We also had a fun time at the Firehouse Winery. There reserve cabernet is made using 100% Napa cab sav grapes and proved to be worthy of the purchase of several bottles to support the next segment of our journey as we prepare to push west into Wyoming cowboy country.

Wind Cave National Park

We camped one night at Wind Cave National Park just south of Custer Sate Park. We did some hiking, toured part of the cave system and were serenaded by the bugling of the park’s elk herd as we relaxed by our campfire. We were forced to turn back on our first attempt to hike because the bison pictured below would not budge from the trail and we decided ticking off a 2000 pound bison that can sprint at 30 miles an hour is just a bad idea! We were able to instead hike the Wind Canyon trail pictured below.

Wind Cave is the sixth longest cave in the world with 140 miles of cave discovered to date. The cave has three lakes at 600 feet below the surface. We toured with a park ranger and descended to a depth of 212 feet. This cave system is truely a maze with all 140 miles of passage contained within a square mile. The cave is also notable in that 95% of the known boxwork (photo below) in the world is contained within this cave system. 

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Calcite Boxwork

Black Hills, South Dakota:

Iron Mountain Road and Mount Rushmore

Route 16A , also known as Iron Mountain Road, is a very exciting drive on a narrow winding road which climbs through and over Iron Mountain. The drive presents distant views of Mt Rushmore as you exit tunnels and from overlooks along the way.

Iron Mountain Road is only 17 miles long but has 314 curves, 14 switchbacks, three pigtails and three tunnels (pigtails pictured below).

Seeing this monument is far more impressive in person than the photos you have seen all your life. The history is just as fascinating as the entire genesis was to boost an ailing economy by creating a tourist attraction. During the 1920s the mining based economy in the area was ailing. Initially this effort was completely a private endeavor until President Coolidge became a supporter and pushed funding through Congress. Today the monument draws three million people annually so I would have to say that it was a heck of an idea. Fourteen years in the making and not a single worker fatality (obviously a former insurance underwriter)! 0040

Custer State Park

CSP is the largest state park in the United States and would stack up well against many national parks in regard to scenic beauty, wildlife and opportunities  for recreation (hiking, biking, horseriding, kayaking, canoeing and ohv). 0038,0039

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Mickelson Trail

This 109 mile trail runs through the heart of the Black Hills NF. The trail is the former Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad which came about as the result of the gold rush which started in the 1870s. This particular line was abandoned in 1983.

We biked several sections of the trail and were treated to many spectacular views and the opportunity to bike through rock tunnels and across numerous trestles. 0037