Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Wrapping Up a Fun Two Weeks in Custer SD

My last three posts highlighted our favorite hikes during our stay in Custer, but we had a few other fun little adventures that I'll summarize here.

The town of Custer is pretty touristy, but they have a decent grocery store and laundromat and a variety of restaurants and bars. There are about 30 RV parks and campgrounds within minutes of town as well as dozens of lodging options...this place gets hopping in the summer!

Colorful bison statues are all over town.

Our first night in town Hans was able to meet up with Dave, an old friend whom he hadn't seen in over 30 years!
They had fun catching up over beer at the Buglin' Bull along with Dave's wife Lisa and friends Julie and Dennis.

View of downtown Custer from atop Big Rock Park.
There is a fun 18 hole disc golf course at this park overlooking town, as well as a couple of miles of steep trails.

Our Custer State Park pass was good for seven days so we did a hike in the park each day and took several beautiful loop drives through the park.

Lover's Leap trail was so neat we hiked it twice, once in each direction. Excellent variety of terrain on this trail, from piney forest to lush creek side beauty, this trail had it all in a short, but steep three mile loop.

Goofing off at Lover's Leap!

We met Scotland natives Karen and Ian on Lovers Leap trail and had a great time sharing travel stories as we hiked.
Thanks for the bear spray...it will come in handy when we are in bear country later this summer!

Pretty Amanita mushrooms were popping out in all the piney forests we hiked.

We drove the Wildlife Loop through Custer State Park, stopping at Coolidge Fire Tower (still in use) and got our only look at Crazy Horse and Mt Rushmore.
Crazy Horse. 

A bit of Mt Rushmore, probably a good 20 - 25 miles distant.

We didn't know there were burros in the State Park!
These are descendants of burros brought in to haul visitors to the top of Harney Peak back in the day.
They caused quite the traffic jam further up the road, with many folks stopping to feed them!

Every long drive through the State Park had a bison jam!

Baby bison cuteness!

The State Game Lodge is a beautiful old building and the site of many weddings
(that's a bride at the top of the stairs).

The Needles Highway in Custer State Park took us through dramatic granite spires, where we searched for mountain goats or bighorn sheep.

Needles Eye

This scruffy looking guy was the only mountain goat we saw...right in plain sight in the busy tunnel area.

A marmot at a pullout among the spires. You can barely see one of the tunnels just above the marmot.

The chipmunks are friendly around here!

Cathedral Spires trail took us right into the forest of spires.

The bison were eating and licking the dirt along the road...salty perhaps?

Custer's Gulch RV Park was a fine place to stay. It's situated 3 miles East of Custer and far enough off the highway to be nice and quiet. The sites are good sized with excellent separation from the neighbors. Roads and sites are gravel, each site has a picnic table and fire pit. We had decent 4G Verizon signal with our booster, the parks wifi was slow.

We had only one issue during our stay, the park seems to be having trouble with its well, as the water was various shades of tan or brown during our stay. It never smelled or even tasted funny, but we drank bottled water exclusively the whole time. We did notice that most bodies of water or streams in the area are full of tannins, perhaps the problem is related to how very full the wells are around here right now.

The National Forest land adjacent to the RV park is open to everyone, including dogs. ATV's are available for rent at the park and you can ride on forest roads right from the park. We took an eight mile walk right from the park one day, making a big loop on local dirt roads and forest roads, through lovely pastoral and forested land. Another day we biked the loop as well. It's really gorgeous around here!

Our site, #25, backs up to National Forest land.

Clouds building up one evening over the Black Hills.
We had brief but strong thunderstorms about every other night during our stay.

We saw this gorgeous greenie on our long walk from the RV park, it's about 15 inches long.

Picturesque French Creek running through a meadow just a mile from the RV park.

Today we moved just a short distance north so we've got more Black Hills adventures coming soon!

Monday, June 29, 2015

A Delightful Trip Into Hell!

Hell Canyon lies about one mile west of Jewel Cave National Monument and about 14 miles west of our current home base in Custer, SD. We loved the variety of terrain and plant life on this 5.3 mile loop trail. Hiking clockwise, we climbed to the rim of the canyon first and enjoyed wide open views due to the 2000 Jasper fire that devastated 130 square miles of the Black Hills. At about the halfway point we dropped gently into the canyon and entered lush forest for the return to the trail head.

There was only one thing about Hell Canyon that could be considered hellish...the bugs! Mosquito's are becoming pesky due to the wet spring we've had and ticks are found in this canyon as well. We wore long pants and bug spray which definitely helped, but we're now on high alert for ticks every time we hike.

Highway 14 curves gracefully through the Black Hills near Jewel Cave National Monument.
Even 15 years post fire the trees have not returned on the south facing hillsides.

We hiked near the rim of Hell Canyon admiring huge ledges of limestone jutting out of the barren hillsides,
while below us in the canyon a lush forest promised cool shade.

Hans blends into the scenery on this hike!

The trail took us right to the edge of precipitous limestone cliffs where we could see a vibrant green meadow below.

The cliffs and canyon were alternately drenched in bright sunlight or darkened with cloud cover,
making photos a bit of a challenge.

Soon the trail took us just below the limestone pillars.

A delicate bridge on the cliff wall below us.

Red sandstone joined the limestone as we hiked deeper into Hell Canyon.

Some of the canyon bottom was burnt, providing a view of our return trail far below.

Can you see Hans on the trail next to the red rock cliff?

This bright lily was impossible to miss amidst all the greens and browns!

Dropping into Hell Canyon we were immediately surrounded by lush forest.

Wild roses lined the trail for miles.

Small alcoves peeked out of the cliff faces here and there.

The meadows were beautiful but the grass was quite tall in places...this is probably where we encountered the ticks!

Surprisingly all creek beds were dry until about the last mile or so near the trail head.

A last look back into Hell Canyon.

Despite the bugs, we'd hike Hell Canyon again, the beauty and variety win out over the pests any day!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Trail or Creek? Sunday Gulch Adventure

Sunday Gulch is described as the most unique hike in Custer State Park due to its path down a steep ravine lined with enormous granite boulders. This ravine handles the outflow from Sylvan Lake, which happens to be overflowing right now from the very wet spring we've experienced. It's a 2.8 mile loop trail that's rated strenuous; sounds like a good way to spend a beautiful Sunday morning!

Sylvan Lake is a boulder lined beauty in the Black Hills.

Sunday Gulch trail starts behind the Sylvan Lake dam,
an interesting feature itself as it is built between existing giant granite boulders.

Metal railings mark the trail as it descends into the gulch between enormous granite walls.

Within moments the trail was completely overtaken by the fast flowing creek.

Once we determined that we'd probably have to get our feet wet we decided to hike the trail in reverse, saving the fording for the end...hoping that the force of the water was not too extreme or that we could find a way over the boulders to bypass the water...if all else failed the hike was short enough that we could retrace our steps!

Now heading clockwise on the trail, we admired the granitic core of the Black Hills jutting out of the lush forest.

Sunday Gulch drops away from us, lined with granite boulders many stories tall.

Spring bloom is just beginning in South Dakota.

The trail dropped steeply through dense forest to the bottom of the gulch.

This American Avocet was a surprise, hopping awkwardly among downed trees near the creek as though it were injured.
Later I read that it is normally found in open wetlands and it lays its eggs on open ground.
Perhaps it was trying to lure us away from its nest.

We were thrilled to see this bridge once the trail started to head up the ravine...

Soon, boulders began to enclose the canyon and metal railings and cement stairs helped us through difficult places.

Hans is dwarfed by the granite walls surrounding us.

Uh oh...missing bridge!

Normally these rocks would be easy to walk across, not this year!

I guess it's time to get my feet wet!

At this point Hans decided to find a way to bypass the trail because he didn't want to submerge his new hiking shoes. He ended up getting a full body workout doing some major boulder scrambling...but he did keep his shoes dry! Since I was wearing old shoes I was thrilled to grab onto the railings and work my way up the creek/trail...it was exhilarating!

I knew I was near the top once I saw other people contemplating the flow!

Scrambling up this trail was a blast...I was sorry when it was over!

Sylvan Lake dam.

That's the dam nestled between the boulders.

Sunday Gulch would be an extraordinary hike any time, but this spring it's truly a unique experience!