Kicking back in Borrego Springs, California

Onward we traveled to trade in the Orange County crowds for peace and quiet in Borrego Springs on April 4, 2018, the 68th day of our 2018 Winter Tour. We arrived at Palm Canyon Hotel and RV with time to check out the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park visitor center.

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We watched the introduction movie and picked up a few pamphlets and maps to plan our days.

Anza-Borrego is known for its fabulous display of spring wildflowers when winter rains provide ideal conditions for the show. The winter of 2017-18 did not bring enough rain.

Wait, stop! A lone ocotillo in bloom. We wondered if someone drove by each day and gave it a drink.

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The Hikes

Borrego Palm Canyon Trail

Borrego Palm Canyon Trail is a popular hike that skirts a creek through a canyon. Doves cooed and bees buzzed, and sand-colored lizards dashed about as we walked by, and a few wayward cactus blooms poked out their heads

A white dot appeared on a ridge. Was it a bighorn sheep? I zoomed in to see and wished we were closer.

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The 2004 flood uprooted a bunch of palms in the canyon and scattered them along the trail and in the creek bed.

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After scrambling over creek boulders, we entered an oasis. The canyon must have been a beautiful site before the flood.

 

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JT navigates the creek crossing

We joined a group of people in the shade and enjoyed our snack before making our way back down.

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Resting in the shade
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California Fan Palms

 

The streaky clouds hardly subdued the heat.

 

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Fallen palms

 

The Slot

We woke early to hike The Slot, hoping to beat the heat. Although the sun had already risen over the horizon, the valley floor was still in shadow when we started out.

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It was a good thing we woke early to hike The Slot. The tight squeeze through the canyon would have been challenging if we encountered people coming toward us.

 

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How’d he fit through there?

Although the walls lacked the variated red of other canyons we’ve explored, the formations were still impressive.

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Only a few cliffs showed off iron oxide layers.

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Onward

These man-made formations enhanced the interest of the landscape.

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The rocks point the way, but which ones?

 

Yaqui Well

Yaqui Well is located near the Tamarisk campground. Parking along the road is available, some with shade. Sunscreen and plenty of water are recommended during hot weather. This trail is a desert botanical garden featuring several varieties of cactus.

 

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Hedgehog cactus in bloom
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California barrel cactus
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Ocotillo blooms but no leaves

 

 

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Backlit Teddy-Bear Cholla

 

We didn’t find a well, only a spring. The greenery was a clue water existed, but it was not visible.

 

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Where’s the water?

 

Narrow Earth Trail

We missed the turnoff for the Narrows Earth Trail and had to turn around. Although tire tracks were plentiful at our turn around spot, they disguised the deep sand. The back tires of the truck stuck hard. Our son, Kevin, and his girlfriend, Bailey, dug out sand from in front of the rear tires, then the three of us pushed the tailgate while Jon drove out, spewing sand all over us. We learned our lesson and now carry a shovel in the toolbox.

Bighorn sheep were our reward once we found the trailhead and started walking. We watched as a bighorn scrambled through the brush and climbed the hill. Then another one came and grazed while keeping an eye on us.

 

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“I’m keeping my eye on you.”

 

 

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“I see walking people.”
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“What you lookin’ at?”

They watched as we slowly made our way up the trail and whispered to each other, “Look, look, over there, kids and juveniles.”

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“Look, Ma, there’s people down there.”
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“Come on Joey, watch your step.”

Although it was a pain in the behind to get stuck, our timing was perfect to see the Bighorn sheep up close.

 

The Town and Surrounding Area

Christmas Circle Community Park

If something is happening in Borrego Springs, it is likely occurring at Christmas Circle Community Park. On Thursday, vendors set up shop at the farmers market. We chowed down on a couple of tamales from a woman who kept busy serving her patrons. The pico de gallo was the perfect complement for the chicken tamales.

 

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Christmas Circle Farmers Market
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“Hot tamales, come get your hot tamales.”
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Nice selection of vegetables

 

Borrego Springs is completely surrounded by the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and boasts a population of over 3,500 seasonal and year-round residents. It holds the distinction as California’s first International Dark Sky Community due to its distance of 55 miles from the highly populated California coastline.

With tourism as the primary industry, the town includes a variety of resorts and inns for all price ranges as well as restaurants. Borrego Outfitters offer clothing, footwear, outdoor gear, and gifts. Spas, fitness centers, medical services, a grocery store, and a library are other amenities available.

A chock-full calendar of events from October through May provides plenty of events for the tourists and residents.

 

Galleta Meadows Estate

Visitors to Borrego Springs have fun with the sky art throughout the area. Dennis Avery turned his private estate into an art museum when he commissioned Ricardo Breceda to create a series of sculptures inspired by the history and nature of the Anza-Borrego Desert.

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Permission is granted!

Dirt roads weave in and around the sculptures, which began arriving in April 2008, allowing visitors to get up close for photo opportunities.

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“Settle down now, Colt. I’m bigger than you are.”

The detail of the metal structures speaks to the craftsmanship that went into their creation.

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Detail of the horse

From prehistoric creatures to this miner and his mule, Breceda depicts life in the desert throughout the years.

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“Just one more pan full and we’ll go, Betsy.”

Not only does he depict a mule burdened with the miner’s supplies, he sets it in motion as if the jenny is spooked and pulling away from something that has frightened it.

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“What am I? A beast of burden?”

Breceda pays tribute to modern times with the jeep navigating boulders in the backcountry. In Anza-Borrego State Park and surrounding area offroaders have a dilemma figuring out which of the many primitive roads they want to explore.

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Whoa, Nelly!

Visitors crowd around the serpent that crosses the road, taking one photo, two photos, and more. We waited several minutes in order to take our selfies.  The tail of the serpent continues on the east side of the road.

 

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Serpent’s head on the west side of the road and tail on the east side

 

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Serpent detail

And here are a scorpion and a grasshopper poised for battle.

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“I’ll give you 5 to 1 the scorpion clobbers the grasshopper.”

I can’t wait to get back to Borrego Springs and Anza-Borrego State Park to explore all the places we weren’t able to visit. In the meantime, I’m praying for lots of rain during the 2018-19 winter. Come on, rain, bring on the wildflowers.

 

Safe Travels

 

Crystal Beach and Galveston, Texas

Yikes! It’s a Rain Forest in Here

After a wild night of thunder, wind gusts that rocked the trailer, and rain pounding the roof and windows, we woke to cloudy skies and calmer winds. Leaving Bryan, Texas, behind on February 21, 2018, we headed toward Crystal Beach, Texas, to attend our niece’s wedding on Saturday.

The rain started up again and the temperature rose from 40 to 70 degrees. A few miles outside of Houston, we stopped at a rest area for a break. When I opened the door the odor and feel of a rain forest smacked me in the face. The walls, cabinets, and all the surfaces inside the trailer dripped with moisture. Condensation obliterated the view through the windows. The fabric furniture, towels, and jackets were all damp. What the heck, did we spring a leak? If so, there wasn’t anything we could do about it while on the road. We had to get to our next location fast before too much damage occurred.

Thank goodness, the clouds had cleared and the sky was sunny when we arrived at Lazy D & D RV Resort.

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Lazy D & D RV Resort Office with Restrooms and Laundry Upstairs

I latched the door open and cranked out the air vents and windows. Beach towels soaked up the moisture on the walls, cabinets, and windows. On hands and knees, I ran my hands on the carpeting in the closet, under the bed, along the bedroom floor, around the mattress and bedding. Nothing found to indicate a leak.

“Hey, I found condensation on all the tools in the toolbox in the bed of the pickup. Maybe there is no leak,” Jon said. “No, there’s got to be a leak?” I said. The only thing we could figure out is that the humidity had been so high, moisture built up inside the fifth wheel. This was something we had never experienced before and don’t care to face again. Another hour or so and damage to the interior would have been severe. For the next few days, I still searched for the nonexistent leak, just in case.

While I searched for the leak and Jon set up the trailer, muscovy ducks waddled and grackles strutted around the trailer. Grackles are my new favorite bird for their whistles, squeaks, and croaks, but especially the guttural crackle noise they make and also for the way they make their tails stick out sideways as the walk. I should have recorded their songs because now I miss their serenade.

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Muscovy Ducks Walked Around the RV Park Like Security Guards
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Grackles Woke us up in the Morning and Serenaded us All Day (photo used under CC0 from Pixabay https://pixabay.com/en/grackle-with-long-tail-tropic-bird-3066964) 

Don’t Let Your Anger Show

 Word to the wise when taking the Galveston-Bolivar Port ferry across SH 87: Don’t show anger while waiting your turn for the ferry. A dump truck pulled up behind us. He talked to himself and waved his arms about, appearing agitated. When he saw other vehicles boarding before our lane, the driver yelled, cussed, and honked his horn. After a few minutes, the loader directed the vehicles in our lane to the ferry. She waved us through but signaled the dump truck driver to pull over into another lane.

As the ferry pulled away from the port, we saw the dump truck waiting on shore. Take that, dump truck driver.

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Ferry to Galveston from Bolivar Port

The State Department of Transportation operates the ferry and there is no fee. The ride took about twenty minutes and we only had to wait about ten minutes for it to arrive. On our way back, we drove right on without any wait at all.

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Seagulls Waiting for Handout
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Seawolf Park on Galveston’s Pelican Island Where a Submarine, Merchant Ship, and Destroyer Can be Seen
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Texas Flag on Ferry

The Wedding

We attended the fastest wedding and reception ever on Saturday, February 24, 2018. After three days of fog, we woke up to puffy clouds and bright sky along with a slight breeze, a perfect day for a wedding on the beach. We arrived at the beach house around 9:15 a.m. noting travel bags packed and lined up in front of the house for the 30 people who would board a cruise ship later in the day. The ceremony began at 9:45 a.m., formal photography session at 10:15 a.m., catered lunch at 10:45 a.m., champagne and toasts at 11:15, cake cutting at 11:30, and at 12:00 p.m., we waved at the bus as it whisked the wedding party and guests off to the cruise ship. Wham. Bam. The deed was done. I suspect, though, the merriment continued on board the ship.

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Our Niece Jessi Blackwell and her Father Chris Blackwell
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Best Man and Maid of Honor Tracy Blackwell Oversee the Ceremony and Vows

We hopped in our truck and headed for Galveston. A plate of fried calamari and a couple of Mai Tais at Olympia Grill on Pier 21 kept us busy while we waited for the Coast Guard to escort the ship out to sea.

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Olympia the Grill at Pier 21 on the Harborfront
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U.S. Coast Guard Escort for Cruise Ship
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Carnival Freedom Heading out to Sea

We stopped in at The Great Storm Theater, which tells the story of the September 8, 1900, Galveston Hurricane through the personal stories of some of the survivors and the recovery required to rebuild the city.

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Great Storm Theater

A few more sites near Pier 21.

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Statue of Boy and Seagulls
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Juxtaposition of Old and New Is Around Every Corner in Galveston Harbor and Strand Districts
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She’ll be Coming Around the Corner When She Comes

More photos and information about sites on Bolivar Peninsula coming up in next post.

Safe Travels

 

 

Columbia Falls, Montana

Going-To-The-Sun Road (GTTSR) was first on our list of things to do in Glacier National Park. The fifty mile road includes several points of interest for fantastic views of the wildflowers, snow-capped mountain peaks, and valleys below.

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Wildflowers, Peaks, Valleys, and Snow

Going-To-The-Sun Road

With speed limits ranging from 25 to 45 miles per hour, drivers can’t be in a hurry to reach the other end of the park. The park recommends an early start to avoid the traffic jams. This is fine if you don’t want to stop at Logan Pass Visitor Center or are only traveling one-way. For a round trip drive, however, plan on spending a full day and encountering significant traffic on the way back.

The road is an engineering marvel for the 1920s. Instead of creating a solid tunnel with no view, portholes were created so passengers can catch glimpses of the scenery as they drive through. This is an example of one of the tunnels.

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One of the Tunnels on GTTSR

Weeping wall is a remnant from construction of the GTTSR. Engineers created a cliff when they carved through the rock in this section. Water from springs and melting snow pour over and onto the road surface below.

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Weeping Wall

It was a good thing we took photos on our way eastbound because on our return trip it felt like driving through downtown San Francisco during critical mass when all the bicyclists arrive to disrupt traffic flow. Wildlife traffic jams are a common occurrence in national parks. On our return trip later in the day, the wildlife turned out to be two young women. One woman posed on the wall side of the road with the water pouring down behind her while her friend stood on the other side taking a photo. The vehicles going in both directions inched their way between them. It always amazes me how people put their lives in jeopardy all for the sake of a photo.

Enjoy a few more renderings of the scenery along the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

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Peaks, Valleys, and River
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Peaks, Forests, and Snow
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Falls Along the GTTSR
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More Falls
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More Peaks, Valleys, Snow and Falls
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Quite a Bit of Snow for July 8
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Hanging Valleys

We thought we had left early enough to make a stop at Logan’s Pass Visitor Center. Not so. We drove into the parking lot along with other cars circling around in search for a space. We spotted people getting into their car. Jon turned on his blinker and left room for other vehicles to pass. The car’s back up lights came on. A lady pulled up next to us. We thought she would drive on. No such luck. I got out and told her we were waiting for the car to leave, didn’t she see our blinker? Her reply, “I followed them from way over there. It’s my spot.” Really? Is that a thing? It wasn’t worth arguing about so we ended up taking turns driving around the parking lot so we could visit the restrooms. If we come back to Glacier, we’ll take the shuttle to Logan Pass Visitor Center.

Further down the road, only a few cars had parked along St. Mary Lake leaving plenty of opportunity to take pictures.

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St. Mary Lake

Many Glacier

We exited the park in St. Mary and headed toward Many Glacier. The road into Many Glaciers travels through the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. Although evidence of recent road work was visible, huge potholes and washboard areas made for a very slow and bumpy ride to the park entrance. A few yards from the gate, this cub was too busy foraging for his meal to raise his head for a photo op.

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Foraging Bear Cub

The Many Glacier Hotel in the Historic Swiss Chalet, looked like a great place to get a bite of lunch.

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Many Glacier Swiss Chalet

The rich wood paneling, high ceilings, gleaming floors, and stone fireplace created a sense of warmth that invited us into Ptarmigan Dining Room.

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Ptarmigan Dining Room

The view from our table could not be beat.

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View of Swift Current Lake
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Cabin and Dock at Swift Current Lake
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Swift Current Lake and Mount Wilbur
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Swift Creek Lake and Jagged Peaks

The food? Not the best part of our experience. My bison sloppy joe wasn’t the most enticing dish when the server placed it in front of me. Although it tasted okay, it was nothing special.

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Bison Sloppy Joe

Unfortunately, after Jon took a spoonful of his bison chili, he wanted to ask the server, “Where’s the bison?” The chili was mostly beans. We found the reviews on Travelocity similarly mixed.

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Bison Chili

After our meal, we walked along the Swift Current Trail that wraps around the lake in a loop.

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Swift Current Nature Trail
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View of Many Glacier Hotel from Swift Current Creek Nature Trail
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Swift Current Creek
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Clear Water in Swift Current Creek
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Deer Crossing Trail

If we make our way back to Glacier National Park, I’d like to spend a few days on the east side and explore the numerous trails around Many Glaciers, maybe even take a boat ride, or try out a kayak or stand-up paddle board.

Good to Know Information about Going-To-The-Sun Road

An audio tour of the road is available to download on the NPS website here. Transcripts of each recording are also available.

Tours:

  • Sun Tours imparts information about the Blackfeet Indian culture and the importance of Glacier National Park to their heritage
  • Ride in a historic Red Bus and enjoy the scenery in a convertible vehicle
  • Going-to-the-Sun Road Shuttle System travels between Apgar and St. Mary visitor centers making stops along the way, including Logan’s Pass

A few precautions:

  • Vehicles longer than 21 feet, wider than 8 feet, and/or taller than 10 feet are restricted. Visit the website for more information about the road conditions here.
  • Don’t be in a hurry
  • Watch out for
    • Construction zones
    • Bicyclists on portions of the narrow road
    • People walking into traffic at trailheads and points of interest stops
  • Cell and WiFi service is pretty much non-existent throughout the park
  • Pack snacks and/or a lunch

Stay tuned for more of Glacier National Park and a visit to Whitefish, Montana in next week’s post.

Safe Travels

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Mural in Art Alley

Others contained cartoon characters in contemplation.

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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.

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Superheros and More
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Art Alley Murals

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

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Is this considered art?

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I liked the detail in this mural of a man.

 

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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.

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Quartz Formation in Jewel Cave
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Different Formations On Same Wall
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Cauliflower, Broccoli, or Jelly Fish?
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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View of Devil’s Tower from Scenic Overlook
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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.

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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