Thursday, August 28, 2014

Grand Tetons National Park

Time to drive west.  Look towards the setting sun.  Try and sneak in a last bit of summer (though the morning temps in the high 30s are chilling our resolve!!) to one of our favorite spots -- Grand Tetons National Park.  The Park has a bit of everything we enjoy:  alpine lakes, hikes, birds, wildflowers, bike paths, scenery.  All in a compact geographic area.  This year we are camping at Signal Mountain -- happy to splurge on the electric connection to run that space heater in the morning.

PLUS...the weather seems to have cleared up for a few days.  It has been a cool and wet August here so we are glad for the sunshine.

I will let the pictures tell our story.

Our first moose this season...along the Gros Ventre River as we rode our bikes!
Calf was in field behind the River

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Wind Cave National Park

The forecast was for rain:  what a great time to go caving!!  At Wind Cave National Park, one of the oldest National Parks (1903) and first to protect underground resources.  The Park features both above ground prairie lands (where tall grass prairie meets the Black Hills) and below miles of below ground features, formations, and tangled web of passages (142 miles in 1 square mile.)  Imagine a bowl of spaghetti for the passages above, below, around...where does that passage way go!

Wind Cave is unique among the world's caves:  it have less active water flow thus fewer dripstones --stalactites and stalagmites.  And not so much color.  What does it have???  It contains 95% of the known boxwork worldwide; and boxwork is formed BEFORE a cave so it dates to 320+ million years ago.

We signed up for a tour -- and like all our National Park experiences this summer -- incredible.  The guide was articulate, knowledgeable, and had a great sense of humor.  The tour lasted about an hour and half; up and down paths (paved by those CCC boys in the 1930s); looking at boxwork, popcorn, frostwork, and other cave formations.  The rooms were smaller but every view was amazing.

The name given Wind Cave is from the one small opening that "blows a wind" based on barometric pressure (inside vs outside).  Standing by the opening the grasses were blowing and the cave was "singing."  The Lakota consider the Cave actually the spot of their creation story and the spot where they were led to the light.

Mica is common throughout the Black Hills.  Sparkles and twinkles...

Finally, a tall grass prairie walk at Wind Cave


Popcorn and frostwork

The one known opening to Wind Cave.  

Leaving South Dakota...Happy Trails!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Harney Peak -- Custer State Park

Time to stretch those legs after miles & miles of scenic drives!  And where better than a ramble up to the top of Harney Peak, the highest mountain east of the Rockies, measuring in at 7,242 feet.  Among the trail options we went for the "moderate" approach of about a 6.5 mile round trip.  Along with MANY others we made our way up the mountain!

It felt so great to be back HIKING -- rocks, trees, streams, vistas.  Slowly we wound our way up the trail.  It was the type trail where you have an early view of the peak and then -- until the final climb -- it is hidden behind trees or rocks.

The reward...360 degrees of view.   Miles and miles of hills.  Time to sit and smile!

Our goal -- the tiny box on Harney Peak

Stairs for the final push UP

Come around the corner....WOW...the trail goes up to the CCC Lookout!

Prayer Flags show a continuing relationship to the Place for the Lakota

Down We go.... 

The Needles Highway -- Custer State Park

Part of the continuing legacy of Peter Norbeck, the Needles Highway in Custer State Park is an extraordinary man's masterpiece of art and engineering.  He mapped out a route through the Park to showcase "the Needles" in 1919.  The engineers said they could build the road, only if he would give them "enough dynamite!"  And that turned out to be 150,000 pounds!  But 2 years later the Needles opened and the grandest views became accessible to anyone with a car.

We drove the Needles Highway on our way to the trail head for Harney Peak.

Come along....

That tiny box is the CCC Lookout on Harney Peak...time to get hiking!

Custer State Park -- Tatanka

Custer State Park amazed and thrilled us.   Truly a park of Nature's Playground -- wildlife herds reminiscent of the old west, scenic drives with narrow (one way) tunnels, rock spires, mountain lakes, and Mt Harney Peak (tallest mountain (7,242 feet) east of the Rockies).

Custer State Park is celebrating the 100th anniversary of their purchase in 1914 of 36 bison to start the park's herd.  (Today's herd is maintained at 1,500.)  The Plains Indians called the bison Tatanka -- the giver of all they needed for life.  And so the park honors this heritage.

The Park was the summer White House for President Calvin Coolidge in 1927.

We drove sections of the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway from Custer State Park up and through Mt Rushmore.  This road includes some of the most dramatic natural and historic features in the Black Hills.  The stunning section is the Iron Mountain Road.  Norbeck, a Governor, US Senator, and early conservationist from South Dakota, envisioned a road in the Black Hills to show case the unique beauty of the area.

He hiked and rode (horse back) to find the most scenic route.  The challenge in the 20 mile Iron Mountain Section:  3 tunnels and a corkscrew spiral road to connect the tunnels without adding miles to the journey.  And the tunnels aligned to frame Mt Rushmore.  The road opened in 1933 -- and is still wowing drivers!

His philosophy:  You are not supposed to drive here at 60 miles an hour.  To do the scenery half justice, people should drive 20 or under; to do it full justice, they should get out and walk.