Black Hills, South Dakota – Part V

Finally, the last post for the Black Hills in South Dakota with Rapid City, Jewel Cave, Deadwood, Devils Tower, and a few more sights.

Rapid City

None of the jewelry stores near Custer could replace watch batteries so off to Rapid City we drove. With a new battery and refreshing drinks in hand, we explored the downtown area. John Adams looked thirsty so Jon gave him a sip from his Frappuccino

Jon Making Friends with John Adams

Bronze statues of 43 US Presidents stand on almost every corner of the downtown city blocks earning Rapid City the honor of the “Most Patriotic Best Small Town in the United States.” We had fun guessing who the statues portrayed before we read the plaques. Visit the City of Presidents visitors center for to see the original statues, information on the presidents, and a map.

The City Park was hopping while we were there. On stage groups of children performed while family, friends, and neighbors beat the heat by playing in the water feature or huddling under umbrellas.

Keeping Cool in Rapid City Park

Independent bookstores have a tough time these days keeping the doors open. Diversifying the business model to include jewelry, music, and T-shirts seems to help this store make ends meet.

Again Books & Bazaar

The popularity of brewpubs has done wonders to revitalize run down buildings in older cities. Firehouse Brewery converted the old Rapid City Fire Department building, complete with a 9/11 tribute mural on the side.

Firehouse Brewing Co.

I’ve seen other breweries housed in old firehouses during our travels. Buildings renovated by breweries throughout the country include banks, churches, factories, and old hotels. What would have happened to all those buildings without the popularity of craft beer?

One of the most interesting parts of the city was Art Alley. A one-block alley filled with art painted on the walls of buildings, staircases, and dumpsters. Some of the art expressed a message.

Mural in Art Alley

Others contained cartoon characters in contemplation.

Contemplative Homer

As is often the case with any rules, not all artists obtained the required permit from participating businesses or honored the prohibition against painting stairwells and dumpsters.

Superheros and More
Art Alley Murals

Looks like the owner or tenant of this building gave up the idea of having a pristine canvas on the wall.


Is this considered art?


I liked the detail in this mural of a man.


Art Alley


Although we only stayed a couple of hours, we liked the feel of the town. We encountered friendly people, a thriving downtown scene, and other amenities a population of 73,000 might enjoy. I wouldn’t mind going back and spending more time.

Jewel Cave National Monument

Jewel Cave was the last place on our list to visit before leaving the southern end of the Black Hills. Tickets for the 80-minute scenic cave tour are distributed on a first come, first served basis. We arrived around 10 a.m. and the next available tickets were for the 12:40 p.m. tour. Jewel Cave is not as pretty as other caves we have toured. There aren’t as many stalactites or stalagmites. But the sparkling quartz gives Jewel its own unique beauty.

Quartz Formation in Jewel Cave
Different Formations On Same Wall
Cauliflower, Broccoli, or Jelly Fish?
Great Example of Bacon Drapery Formation

Other tours are available: A 20-minute program, a historic lantern tour, and a wild caving tour, and internship for students. Jewel Cave is the third longest cave in the world, only about 3% of which has been explored. Some people believe it is possible that Jewel Cave and Wind Cave, 20-miles away, are connected.

Roubaix Lake

On Monday, June 26, we drove a short distance to Roubaix Lake Campground in the Black Hills National Forest hoping to snag a campsite for a few nights.


The campground host directed us to the unreserved sites and I think we managed to get the best site in the campground. The large space that overlooked the rest of the campground made it easy to maneuver the fifth wheel in place for a patio view of the forest and no close neighbors.


Upon viewing the lake and learning that the Game Fish and Parks Department had recently stocked trout, Jon found a place to purchase a three-day fishing license.


While Jon went fishing for two days, I enjoyed sticking around the trailer. Although cellular service, Wi-Fi, and electricity were non-existent, I kept busy writing with pen and paper and catching up on my reading backlist. Jon was thrilled to have reeled in one of the biggest trout he has ever caught.


Deadwood and Sturgis

One afternoon we took in the sights at Deadwood and Sturgis. Deadwood was a typical western town complete with gift shops, restaurants, bars and grills, and even a cigar bar below street level.

View From Atop the Parking Structure
Another View from the Parking Structure
This Close to Sturgis a Motorcycle Shop is a Must
Below Street Level, End of Walkway is a Cigar Bar
Candid Street Shot

Sturgis did not impress us. Then again, we arrived on a slow day. Motorcycles, Camaros, or Mustangs did not fill the streets. Perhaps it’s not the city itself that is the attraction, but the rallies that occur several weeks out of the year and the people who attend. Or, maybe we went to the wrong part of town. Only one lone photo to prove we had been there.


Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway

Fall must be a magical time to drive through Spearfish Canyon. Ponderosa and spruce pines share the Spearfish Creek banks with aspen, birch, and oak trees. The damp rainy weather that accompanied us on our drive coated the leaves and branches with droplets of rain. Layers of limestone in beige or tan, mauve, pink or red hues, sit atop layers of brown sandstone.

Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway

I had picked out a couple hikes for us to try along the canyon. Unfortunately, the inclement weather kept us in our truck. That is until we came to Bridal Veil Falls where we had to make a stop long enough to dodge the plops of drops to snap a photo.

Bridal Veil Falls in Spearfish Canyon

Sundance, Wyoming, and Longhorn Saloon

After driving through Spearfish Canyon, we drove out to Sundance, Wyoming. This small town is where Harry Longabaugh spent eighteen months in jail for stealing a gun, horse, and saddle from a nearby ranch. Longabaugh continued his criminal activity and later earned the nickname the Sundance Kid. We ate the best burgers and service ever at the Longhorn Saloon and Grill.


Devils Tower National Monument

Devils Tower National Monument was our next stop. The tower was visible for miles as we approached. Several vehicles stopped at this viewpoint to take pictures.

View of Devil’s Tower from Scenic Overlook
Red Canyon Next to Scenic Overlook

We were glad we hadn’t towed our trailer to the monument. Parking was limited at the visitor’s center and not suitable for a truck and trailer rig.

The 1.3-mile loop trail around the base of the formation delivers views of the surrounding area, spots to check out the progress of climbers, and a multitude of perspectives of the tower. Sacred to the Northern Plains Indians and other tribes, it is a place requiring reverence.

Devils Tower

We made it back to the visitor center with only a few raindrops on our heads, but while I was in the restroom, a hailstorm let loose and bombarded me on my way back to the truck.

What caused the geological formation to rise from the landscape with such significance? Geologists agree on what formed the tower, but not how. Visit the National Park Service online for more information.

We had a great time in the Black Hills, but for now, it was time to move on. Next stop? Little Big Horn Battlefield.

Safe Travels

Rawlins and Douglas, Wyoming

We pulled into Western Hills RV Park in Rawlins, Wyoming on June 15, 2017, for a one-night stay. The doors nearly flew out of our hands when we opened them to step out. Sand pelted my bare legs as Jon and I set up the trailer. What was up with all the wind? Good thing we weren’t staying more than one night.

On to Douglas KOA in Douglas, Wyoming and more wind. The wind was great when it pushed us down the road, not so much when it hit us broadside. After driving for about an hour, I realized we were going the wrong way. That will teach us to rely on only the GPS. Back to using a paper map.

When we stepped out of the truck at the Douglas KOA, the most wonderful perfume greeted us to the RV park. Was that scent coming from those dusty leafed trees with yellow flowers?

Campsites at Douglas KOA
Russian Olive Tree Blossoms

Yep, they were Russian olive trees. Once used as a drought resistant windbreak, the state now considers them a noxious weed, banned from sale by nurseries. Also, county weed and pest control departments throughout the state are required to determine whether removal or control is warranted. Although I wanted to bottle the smell and take it home with me, I had to be satisfied with enjoying the aroma while in Douglas and then say goodbye.

Two nights in Douglas allowed us to explore a few places in the area. First up was the Douglas Railroad Interpretive Museum. They had a restored train engine and a few cars on display.

Douglas Railroad Interpretive Museum
Train Cars and Depot at Douglas Railroad Interpretative Museum
Caboose and Depot at the Douglas Railroad Interpretive Museum

The dining car was impressive as was the gleaming stainless steel galley.

JT is Ready for his Meal in the Restored Dining Car at the Douglas Railroad Interpretive Museum
Tables Set for Customers
Galley in Dining Car at the Douglas Railroad Interpretive Museum

Many towns claim to have the original Jackalope and Douglas is known as the first town to claim such a creature. The city’s version is this statue.

Jackalope Statue

We walked the North Platte River Pathway Trail taking in the views of the river, admiring the wildflowers, and enjoying the aroma of the Russian olive trees along the riverbank.

Bridge Over North Platte River
North Platte River View from Trail
Oak Tree Along Platte River

Fort Fetterman is a Wyoming historic site preserving the military post, which was established in 1867. The museum and ordinance warehouse are the only buildings remaining, but visitors can walk the grounds where the different buildings that did exist are identified. A gazebo at the end of the trail has great views of the Platte River valley below from the plateau.

Fort Fetterman State Historic Site and Museum
Historic Wagon Chassis
Ordinance Warehouse
Donated Building Waiting for Restoration
Trail To and From Museum and Gazebo
View of River Valley from Gazebo

We found out why so many vehicles drove around town covered in red mud when we tried to drive out to Ayres Natural Bridge. Caterpillars and construction signs warned us this might not be an easy drive. We didn’t expect the bumpy muddy mess to continue for three miles, but that appeared to be the case. Although we wanted to see the natural bridge, it wasn’t worth getting stuck in the muck. Other cars and trucks continued on the road as if they were driving on a freeway. The first car wash was our next stop. Letting the clay-like red earth dry out would not have been wise.

We also spent time at the Wyoming Pioneer Memorial Museum. Located at the county fairgrounds, it holds several collections including guns and memorabilia from the Johnson County War between the regulators and rustlers near Buffalo, Wyoming in 1892, art depicting life in the West, Native American decorative arts, the 1864 Sioux style teepee used in the 1990 production of “Dances with Wolves,” and much more.

Another interesting place in Douglas is the Camp Douglas Officers’ Club State Historic Site. The camp housed 2,000 Italian and 3,000 German POWs and 500 army personnel during 1943 through 1946. A few of the POWs even returned to Douglas to live after the war. Only the officers’ club building has survived. Fortunately, much of its original construction remains intact and restorations are completed when funds are available. Original murals created by three Italian prisoners still grace the walls, many of which are re-creations from movies and western artists of the time. Examples of wooden boxes, laminate wooden bowls, and colored pencil artwork are also displayed.

Douglas, Wyoming turned out to be a great place to stay for a few days and soak up the history of the area. We also recommend the Douglas KOA as a place to stay.

Black Hills South Dakota, here we come.

Safe Travels.

The Trail Home

We plotted a route home and left the Grand Tetons on August 12, stopping for lunch at the Heart & Soul Bakery in Pinedale WY. Pinedale is a place I’d like to spend some time in the future. They offer an abundance of recreational activities in the winter and summer months, from swooshing down hills on skis and riding snowmobiles to hiking, fishing, horseback riding, and hunting. You can even hop on the free wagon shuttle to get around town.

The Rock Springs/Green River KOA in Rock Springs WY,  just north of Flaming Gorge National Recreational Area provided a nice spot for the night. After setting up camp and eating dinner, we took Highway 530 on the west side of the gorge to an overlook and then a marina. In the distance, beyond sagebrush-covered hills, stood tops of buttes banded with red, orange, yellow, and white. A few miles later, a small herd of pronghorn antelope was feeding a few yards off the road.

The Flaming Gorge Reservoir area is a great place if you have a four-wheel drive vehicle and/or a boat. Having neither we couldn’t get close enough to see the canyon walls and the water below. The next morning we packed up and took the east road, Highway 191, crossed over the reservoir bridge and made our way to Dinosaur National Monument.

We arrived early enough to snag a spot along the river in the Green River Campground and take the tram up to the dinosaur bones and see other sights in the area.

When I read they displayed dinosaur bones, I imagined boredom setting in while we wandered around a building housing glass-covered tables filled with bones. Instead, the two-story building protects a preserved dig site from weather and erosion. The bones are still encased in the sandstone mountain.


Next, we took the driving tour around the park. First stop, Swelter Shelter where a short walk later we viewed petroglyphs. I can see why some people would believe in ETs after seeing the carved designs in the sandstone. The images do look otherworldly.

Hills across from Split Mountain Campground show how the earth has lifted revealing the different layers of sediment.

Erosion from wind and rain on the sandstone created Turtle Rock and Elephant Toes Butte. The tour pamphlet did not mention the three mounds in front of Turtle Rock, so I named them The Three Crabs.

Our final stop on the tour was the Josie Morris Cabin. Josie arrived in the area in 1914 and built several cabins on her homestead. The cabin shown in the pictures was built in 1935. She tried married life five times but eventually chose to live alone and work her land by raising and butchering cattle, pigs, chickens, and geese. Until her death in 1965, she lived without electricity and burned wood for heat inside her cabin. The box canyon in the photos is where she corralled her livestock. I admire Josie for her bravery and toughness to eke out a living on her own terms in such a hostile environment.

The next morning we took US Route 40 out of Vernal UT, the gateway to Dinosaur National Monument. In Vernal, they decorate their streets by lining them with baskets and planters brimming with purple and white petunias. The petunias distract from the billboards and signs advertising the businesses.

We then turned southwest on US Route 91, west on US Route 6 and south on Interstate 15 to the Big Mountain Campground just a few miles east of Nephi and south of Provo. This campground was my favorite of all the places we stayed. The huge trees provided shade, and the green grass and sprinklers cooled the air. They rent cabins and offer tent spots in addition to the full hookup sites for RVs. It looked like a perfect place for a writing retreat, family reunion, or just a respite from traveling. I would have liked to stay there more than one night, but we had to get back on the road.

US Route 6 took us through Utah and Nevada, connecting with US Route 395 in California after an overnight stay in Tonopah NV. Jon and I did a double take when we saw a Tesla charging station in the middle of this old mining town. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stop to get a picture.

We decided to stay a few days in June Lake, one of our old stomping grounds from when we took our kids on vacation. Jon finally got an opportunity to wet a line after renting a boat at Gull Lake Marina. Although both of our mouths watered for fresh trout, Jon wasn’t able to catch our dinner. We opted for dinner out that night at the Sierra Inn Restaurant.

On August 19, we pulled up in front of our house with visions of a luxuriously long hot shower and a good night’s sleep in our king size bed.

In case you are interested, here are the stats from our Yellowstone Summer 2016 trip:

  • Nights – 44
  • Total miles driven – 4,780
  • Miles pulling fifth wheel – 2,525
  • Diesel Fuel – 379 gallons
  • RV Parks/Campgrounds – 12
  • States – 6
  • National Parks – 3
  • National Monuments – 2
  • National Forests – 8
  • National Historic Trails – 3


Grand Tetons National Park

Wanting to avoid the wildlife-sighting traffic jams in Yellowstone Park, we left early in the morning on August 9 heading west on Highway 14 through Yellowstone Park and then south on Highway 191 into Grand Teton National Park. Few drivers were on the road, and it reminded me of how calm and peaceful most of our trip had been so far. Jon and I often commented on the friendly and polite people we had met so far on this trip, even the drivers. Navigating the traffic in the San Francisco Bay Area can be a challenge with millions of people rushing to work or school or to shop. We were able to relax more since we weren’t on constant alert to avoid pushy or inattentive drivers.

I enjoyed the scenery of trees, sagebrush, and mountain peaks as we rolled along the road until a car passed our rig and barely made it back in the lane before causing a head-on collision. I gripped the door’s grab handle and scanned the traffic for possible danger. Then we approached a four-way intersection crowded with cars stopped and waiting to make their moves. No stop sign, we had the right of way. A car pulled out from the right side and turned left in front of us. A Mercedes jetted out from the same direction, turned right, then reduced speed. We were not slowing or stopping. “Watch out.” Red lights illuminated the rear of the Mercedes. “Stop!” Brakes slammed, tires squealed, a horn blared, burnt rubber lingered in the air, my heart pounded, and hands shook. The Mercedes finally got the message and took off. Whew! We survived without any damage. With caution, we continued on our route to the Gros Ventre campground.


I finally calmed down from the near miss when we arrived at our campsite and took in the view from the back of our trailer and camp spot. Washing dishes will be a pleasure with that scene in my picture window.

View from Gros Ventre Campground Spot

We set up camp and drove into town for a leisurely walk along the streets of Jackson, wandering in and out of stores and finding one-of-a-kind souvenirs. What we found was the hustle and bustle the likes you’d see in New York City. People crowded the sidewalks, drivers ignored speed limits and honked their horns and not a parking spot in sight. A car zoomed past us almost sideswiping our truck. My knuckles turned white. The grocery store was no different. The impatience we saw on the road spilled over into the grocery aisles with shoppers using their carts as battering rams. I thought for sure I’d be run over while deciding which product to buy. Somehow, we managed to make it back to our peaceful campsite surrounded by trees and grass and sage with lots of elbow room and space.

We braved the chaos the next day to take in the majestic towers of granite that are The Grand Tetons. The peaks rise out of the Snake River Basin reaching heights of 13,775 feet. What is unique about these mountains is the lack of foothills surrounding their base. Throughout our stay, it seemed like they were always there, whether front and center or in the background, rising up from the earth in all their splendor.

Grand Tetons

We first explored the Bridger-Teton Gros Ventre Slide Geological Area where a slide occurred on the 9,000 foot Sheep Mountain and deposited debris in the valley. It is remarkable that evidence of the destruction is still evident 90 years later.

I love the contrast of the red iron oxide hillsides with the green trees and blue sky.


Our next stop was Mormon Row, which was a community of homesteads settled by the LDS church during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Several buildings and a barn have been preserved and improved. It took hearty folk to settle in this valley where the growing season lasts only two months out of the year.

At the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center, we learned of a ranger talk at Menor’s Ferry Historic District. The ranger told the story about William Menor who operated the general store on the west side of the river and Holiday Menor, William’s brother, who operated a lime pit on the east side of the river. William rigged a system to transport local residents and travelers across the Snake River. The replica ferry is large enough to hold a wagon and a four-horse team.

William sold out to Maude Noble who added a cabin and barn to the Menor homestead. The cabin was the meeting site in July 1923, where Horace Albright, Yellowstone National Park superintendent, met with local ranchers and businessmen to discuss the process of creating Grand Teton National Park.

The red Robert Miller wagon is one of three that entered Jackson Hole in 1885. The yellow wagon is from the JY Dude Ranch opened in 1906 by Louis Joy. John D. Rockefeller purchased the ranch as part of a 35,000-acre acquisition. The Rockefellers used the ranch as their private summer retreat for nearly 70 years then donated the property to the park service. He also donated the funds to return the ranch to its natural habitat, and convert it into the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve Center.

Nearby was the Chapel of Transfiguration where visitors enter to pray and meditate under the watchful eye of the Tetons. Even children who entered the chapel quieted their voices and walked softly on the wood floors.

The next morning as we left to sightsee, we came across a group of female moose (cows) eating their breakfast in the campground.


We took a tour of the Miller House, which was the first property purchased to create the National Elk Refuge established in 1912. The elk (7,500 on average) return to the refuge each winter and leave for the high country in April and May.

Parking was limited at the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve, but the 15-minute wait was worth it to hike to Phelps Lake. As I walked along the 2 ½ mile loop trail, through the towering trees, over hills, beside creeks, across a road, and on to Phelps Lake, I thanked LSR for conserving this paradise so all that visit can experience the power that nature can exert on one’s soul.

The architecture of the ranger station and restrooms at the preserve was so different from what I’ve seen in any of the national parks. Instead of the typical log buildings or forest-green siding, the modern mid-century look with clean lines, angles, and reflective surfaces welcome the observer.

We could have stayed for another three or four days and seen the whole park, but we decided to explore the northern part on a future trip. Before leaving the area we ventured into town early in the morning for a hot breakfast and friendly service at The Bunnery. Then as we packed up to leave for our next destination, a mother deer and its fawn grazed on the grass a few yards from our campsite, a memory of our stay at Grand Teton National Park for us to tuck away.