Several weeks ago, shortly after my daughter's birthday party, Husband came home from work and we sat down to dinner. Nothing out of the usual, except that the gears in his head were turning. He was talking about camping earlier in the day with a co-worker, and at dinner he did some calculating in that head of his. We hadn't been on a vacation in 2-1/2 years.
We were overdo.
Fast forward to two weeks later. We had our camping checklist and gear laid out, maps marked up for the campgrounds and trails in the Black Hills area, and our sitters lined up for 6 full days of an 'outdoor adventure'.
Lesson Learned #1: Have a Solid Understanding of the Size of your Vehicle.
While husband and I did a vast amount of research into the proper gear, food and supplies required for camping, we neglected to remember that our last vehicle, a 'small class SUV,' had far more trunk space than our updated 'crossover.' After a good hour of finessing, all four doors could close and we had almost 18 cubic inches of space to spare! Next time... pack less.
Lesson Learned #2: It Isn't a Good Idea to Take the Highways to South Dakota when it is Apparently Flood Season.
Evidently 'April Showers' took a raincheck into June this year (pun intended). While the interstate would probably have been an easier way to drive to South Dakota, the highways through rural Nebraska are far prettier. We opted for this route, and planned to break up the driving into an afternoon of driving, an overnight at a small hotel, and a late morning check-in at the camp site.
While this was a great idea in theory, we did not plan for the sandbagged roads and detours we ran into along the way. We also did not adequately check the current weather situation for that evening in Northwest Nebraska. So we were caught on a highway with no ditches, no tree cover, and no turn offs, during a severe thunderstorm with 70 mph winds. Next time, interstate, you are my friend.
A few highlights of the Black Hills:
Little Devil's Tower Hiking Trail: One of the shorter trails in Custer State Park, we took this trail on our first day. The Custer State Park brochure listed the trailhead as a way to reach Harney Peak, but did not mention much about the 'spur trail' to Little Devil's Tower. This trail is strenuous. The hike is not pretty for much of the time, as this area contains many dead & dying trees, and due to this there is also very little shade. However, once you reach the summit you will find gorgeous views of the Black Hills. This trail is also not very travelled, so you will have far more solitude than the various other trails in the park.
View from Little Devil's Tower Summit
Harney Peak Hiking Trail: There are two trailhead points to reach Harney Peak, and this is the most popular hiking in the park, as evidenced by the t-shirts you can purchase at the State Park General Store which proudly proclaim, "Take a Hike! Harney Peak, elevation 7,242". The hike is 3 miles one way to the tower at the summit. You can see across four states from the tower, and the view is spectacular.
View from Harney Peak Summit
Iron Mountain Road heading north (early morning if at all possible): While we took this road into Custer State Park after leaving Mt. Rushmore and the town of Keystone (which is north of the State Park area), we did not leave the park using this road until the final day of our trip. In general it is a twisty, scenic road through the park with beautiful views of the hills. However, if you take this road north, as we did on our final morning in Custer, you have a *the best* view of Mt. Rushmore in the Black Hills. Well, at least far better than if you go to the monument, pay your $10 to park, and stand next to the hoards of other tourists with their cameras. If you go in the early morning, this road is also full of wildlife still out & about in the woods. A beautiful drive worth making.
Sadly, as our camera was packed under various other things in the car on this last drive out, we have no photographic evidence of this.Lesson Learned #3: Camera always in the front seat.
Wildlife Loop Road: Also in Custer State Park, this loop is in the southern portion of the park. Through this long stretch of road you will see the prairie of South Dakota... oh yeah, and as the road name eludes, wildlife. Our first drive through yielded a couple of sightings of lone deer... over the 30 mile drive. On the second drive through we saw the herd of buffalo. While they are impressive creatures, there is something anti-climatic about shooting photos of wildlife out of your car window as you sit in a long parade of vehicles on a paved road... But still. Worth the drive if you have the time.
Now that I am properly rejuvenated by my summer vacation, I will be back soon with more posts!