July 13, Black Hills


We had just as much fun the second two weeks at Custer as we did the first two. It is hard to believe that our month in the Black Hills is over. Although not quite, as we have learned that the Black Hills extend into northeastern Wyoming and that the Devil's Tower National Monument, where we are now, is considered a part of the Black Hills. Devil's Tower is a great park, but not only does it not have utilities, it doesn't have a dump station. That makes it inconvenient for us to stay here as long as we might like. We plan to go to Glacier National Park when we leave here.

Shortly after I last wrote, there was a forest fire in Custer State Park, and sadly, it was arson. The state park manages its forests, which means they do quite a bit to prevent forest fires as well as suppress them. One of their prevention methods is to have the trees thinned and the undergrowth cleaned out, which would normally be done by fires. When the cleaning is done, large brush piles are left, which are then burned in the winter when there is a lot of snow on the ground. For the last several years there has not been enough snow to burn the piles--global warming, I'd say. Anyway, someone set fire to one of these brush piles and the result was a forest fire that covered over 2300 acres in the south part of the park. The road through that part was closed for about three days--that's how quickly they got it contained.


Black Hills views

Custer State Park is unusual in that it includes three resort lodges as well as the Black Hills Playhouse, which was built on a former CCC camp site. Riley and I decided to take in a play one night to see Agatha Christie's "The Mousetrap." We had a very enjoyable evening, though we both felt the performances were a bit amateurish and the play simplistic. We were surprised to learn that it was the longest running play in London history. Oh well, it was fun.


Black Hills Playhouse
On June 26 we went to the Crazy Horse Memorial to see the nightly laser show, as well as their twice yearly "Big Blast," which is a combination of pyrotechnic display and actual sculpting of the monument. This year they set off 81 charges in honor of the 81st birthday of the wife of the sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski, and to commemorate the Battle of the Little Big Horn. It was quite a show. We had gone over on the motorcycle, and once the sun went down, it got very cold--colder than we expected. We were cold watching the show, but even colder on the ride back to the RV park. It seems to me that the monument is as much a memorial to the artist as it is to the Indians. Mount Rushmore is sort of like that too, with the artist's workshop on site, while the Borglum museum is located in nearby Keystone. Crazy Horse looks about the same as it did two years ago. It is a very ambitious project and one that will not be finished in our lifetimes. Ziolkowski died at 74 in 1982; his wife, Ruth, and eight of their ten kids carry on the work, which he had fully detailed.


Crazy Horse Memorial
The state park was having a "virtual" geo-caching contest, and we decided to participate but not turn in our results so as to avoid being put on a mailing list. Since it is not legal to leave objects in the park to find, they just asked questions designed to prove you had actually been at the latitude/longitude they provided. We found all six places and answered the questions--it was fairly easy. I think it's the first time we have put our GPS unit to good use. It was different and made for a change of perspective from our usual "where can we find birds" attitude.


Custer SP view

Riley at Stockade Lake

Another touristy thing we did was to take the train ride from Hill City to Keystone and back. It was a pretty area, but there were lots of road crossings, so the whistle was being blown a lot (loud!). There is a county road that pretty much follows the tracks and there were a couple of vehicles--one car, one motorcycle-- that we saw at just about every crossing. Guess they were following the train. I got a bit of motion sickness from the rocking, so it was not my favorite entertainment, but I was still glad that we did it. For scenery, though, the Silverton to Durango narrow gauge run is still the more spectacular.


Engine in reverse to connect

Going 'round the corner

We did a lot more motorcycling, combined with walks on the Mickelson Trail. We took the Iron Mountain highway once again, this time with camera in hand. We tried to take a picture of Mount Rushmore through a tunnel, but it was a hazy day (smoke from the fire) and didn't turn out. We did get some pictures of the "pigtail" bridges which take the place of switchbacks--they curve up and around making a loop like a cursive "e"--very interesting construction. We also went out to the Jewel Cave National Monument and hiked a bit, but did not go into the caves. Then we rode up a gravel road to a fire lookout on Bear Mountain--good views!


Pigtail Bridge on Iron Mountain highway


Mickelson Trail view
After leaving the RV park where we had stayed a month, we spent one night at Wind Cave National Park, then started down to visit the wild horse preserve south of Hot Springs. Turned out the road was closed due to another fire between Hot Springs and the preserve, so we put off that outing for another time and headed northwest for Wyoming. En route we came into Spearfish on Hwy. 14A through Spearfish Canyon--what a great road with great scenery! We made a stop to look at the beautiful Roughlock Falls, then went on to Devil's Tower. Marmots inhabited our Custer RV park; prairie dogs are encroaching on the campground here at Devil's Tower.


Roughlock Falls

Spearfish Canyon view


Spearfish Canyon
Devil's Tower is very interesting geologically since it is the result of a magma intrusion into softer sedimentary layers, which over millions of years have eroded away leaving the tower to dominate the landscape.


View from our campsite

Devil's Tower

Love to all,
Margie & Riley

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Bird Report
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Since last writing, we have seen three new birds: the Cordilleran Flycatcher, Lewis' Woodpecker and the Red Crossbill (yea!). The first two we saw at the state park. The flycatcher was nesting on the porch of a cabin that was the home of Badger Clark, South Dakota's first poet laureate. The female was sitting on the nest guarding her chicks, and the male was sitting out on the wire providing electricity to the house. We saw the Crossbill while walking on the Mickelson Trail, thanks to Riley's sharp eyes. It was sitting on a fence post among many nearby Mountain Bluebirds, and was sort of lost in the crowd.


Badger Hole
At Roughlock Falls we saw two American Redstarts, as well as the Cedar Waxwing, for the first time this year. The Redstarts are so pretty--they were catching insects over the creek at the base of the falls. We saw an American Dipper here too.

There are birds galore here at Devil's Tower. I took a short walk one afternoon, identifying 15 species, at least three of which were first sightings this year. The Red-headed Woodpecker, Bullock's Oriole, Yellow Warbler and Mountain Bluebird provided plenty of color. There is a huge prairie dog town (approximately 1200) here, but while I saw several flycatchers (Eastern Kingbird & Western Wood Pewee) working the area, I could not spot a Burrowing Owl. Oh to see Owls....

Happy Birding!


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