Another week gone by and we’ve reached the end of our stay here in the Black Hills. Later this afternoon we’ll pull out and begin our three day journey to Missoula, Montana. Goggle tells us it’s a 10 hour drive, which for us means more like 12 since we travel at a bit slower pace than average. We’ve decided to split the journey into three manageable sections in an effort to make it more enjoyable. We try very hard to limit our drives to no more than three or four hours in one day. This seems to be the limit for how long either of us wants to sit in the truck. Enough about that though- let me tell you about our week in the Black Hills.
This was our first time ever returning to the same area. We only stayed one night last year, but managed to cram in a ton during that time. We stopped to view Mt. Rushmore, took a tour through the Wind Cave, and made the journey down Wildlife Drive where we spotted a whole herd of Buffalo. This year we had an entire week to explore, but things have changed and with our now limited schedule we chose to skip any more touristy activities in favor of some afternoon hiking in the nearby Custer State Park. It was a great choice. Custer State Park is huge- encompassing 71,000 acres of varied terrain including numerous lakes, wide open grassland and some very cool rock formations. Custer State Park is also very dog friendly which was perfect for our happy dog who got to enjoy several lakes.
Sylvan Lake was about a 15 minutes drive from our campground and the starting point for several hiking trails. It also had a short one mile trail that circled the lake and provided a bunch of entry points into the clear blue water. The lake is unique in that one side of it is bordered by a scenic ledge that juts out of the water. The lake was created in 1881 when a very small dam was built between the rocks.
The trail around the lake goes behind the rocks and offers a few glimpses of the water through some narrow cracks.
Also behind the rocks is the trailhead for the Sunday Gulch Trail. One cloudy afternoon we took this hike which started off with a steep downhill section through some rocky terrain.
The trail leveled off and meandered though a dense forest before beginning the long climb back up to the lake. Along the way we saw quite a few deer, some large patches of wildflowers and more cool rocks.
By the time we reached the high point with a view of the hills it was pretty dark and starting to drizzle. We quickly snapped a photo and moved on hoping to make it back to the truck before the rain started. No such luck. For the last mile we hiked very quickly through the rain. As we got back around the far side of the lake where we parked the rain stopped and the sun came out.
There was another lake only a few minutes down the road from our campground. This is Stockade Lake.
One morning Phin and I ventured over there for a hike and a swim. After Sylvan lake it was kind of a disappointment. First of all, you can’t tell from this photo but the water was full of slimy green algae, so I didn’t let Phineas go in. Last summer he got a UTI that the vet said could have come from contaminated water, and since then we’re very careful about where we let him swim. Second, the trail did not go around the lake, but instead climbed up a hill next to the lake and then circled back around to the shore. The trail was pretty boring and except for at the very end you couldn’t even see the lake. So instead of showing you a photo of a boring trail through the woods, here’s a cute one of Phin on the trail. Don’t ask me what he’s doing with his tongue.
The final trail that we hiked in the park was the Little Devil’s Tower hike. This was a short trail through the forest with some steep terrain and rock climbing at the end.
The Bark Beetle has caused as much devastation here as it has in Colorado, and the lose of trees was very evident on this trail. I imagine that at one time this now open trail once traveled through a deeply wooded forest.
After a short section of rock scrambling we made it to the top and were greeted by an amazing 360-degree view.
On the way back to the campground we drove the famous Needles Highway. The route took us through a very skinny tunnel and past some pointy needle-like rocks that I managed to snap a few photos of as we drove past. We also saw some Big Horn Sheep, but they were too far away to photograph.
One evening we took a stroll down Custer’s main street. It’s a very small town with a tiny one street downtown filled with old west themed buildings and stores catering to to the millions of tourists who visit every year.
We also made the hour long journey to Rapid City to take care of the main reason why we are in South Dakota. I think I’ve mentioned here before that we are in the final stages of changing our residency to South Dakota. I am not going to go into all the mundane details, but many full-time RVers use South Dakota as their state of residency for a variety of reasons. The top reasons are that they don’t have state income tax, the insurance rates are really low, and they make it very easy to become a resident. We’ve been using a mail service here in SD for a while now as our address. This service also helped us to resister both the Airstream and truck in SD. The final step was to obtain SD driver’s licenses which had to be done in person. So here we are. I meant to take a photo of us in front of the DMV with our new licenses, but completely forgot.
Finally, we really enjoyed our stay at The Roost Resort. One of the requirements for establishing residency in SD is to spend one night at a campground or hotel and bring the receipt with you when you apply for a driver’s license This meant that we couldn’t stay at a forest service campground with a self check in like we normally would. In our search for a private park we stumbled upon this place by chance and could not be happier with our choice. The Roost is a very small park with only 12 RV sites and a handful of cabins. For most of the week we only had one neighbor one site away from us, and then a few days ago some tenters moved in on our far side. Unlike most of the private parks around here which cater to families and tourists this place was extremely quiet and peaceful.
As a bonus we even got a daily wildlife show. Every evening and early morning the field in our back yard filled with grazing Pronghorn Antelopes. They were never close enough for me to get a good photo, but here you can see a pair of them off in the distance.
That’s it for our week in South Dakota. Next up, one night in Wyoming followed by a week in Montana.