Solar Eclipse 2017: Time-Lapse Videos from the South Dakota Badlands

August 21, 2017 – We first noticed the mania about the 2017 solar eclipse when we took our RV through the cute towns of Chugwater and Douglas, Wyoming, a few weeks ago. There were solar eclipse glasses for sale at checkout counters and all kinds of tourist pamphlets advertising the event.

We debated hustling back to the area this week to witness the 100% total eclipse, but in the end decided we’d rather stay out of the fray and watch it in the Badlands of South Dakota where the eclipse would 95.7% of maximum — pretty close to total.

Timelaps video setup for Solar eclipse 2017 Badlands National Park South Dakota August 21 2017

Timelapse video setup for Solar eclipse 2017 in the South Dakota Badlands!!

We set up three tripods with our cameras facing the rugged Badlands landscape to capture time-lapse video sequences of the two and a half hour progression from normal daylight through the dark skies of the eclipse and back to normal daylight again. We started the time-lapse videos a little more than an hour before the max eclipse time, and set the cameras to take images every four seconds. Then we got busy doing other things.

Solar eclipse 2017 Badlands National Park South Dakota tripod set up for timelapse video time-lapse August 21 2017.

We set the time-lapses to take a shot every 4 seconds.
It was cloudy at the start, and we had no idea how dark it would get, so the exposure settings were a wild guess!

Because of the clouds, it was a little hard to tell that anything was happening. However, the sun eventually came out and it was a little dimmer than normal. Using a technique similar to the pin-hole boxes we had both made during solar eclipses as kids, Mark flipped a pair of binoculars upside down to show the image of the moon crossing the sun on the back of a white pizza box.

He thought of this technique at the last minute, and impressed the heck out of me. What a creative mind he has!! I asked him how he came up with the idea, and he just said, “Well, I needed something with a round hole.” Oh. Right. But of course!

Solar Eclipse 2017 Badlands National Park South Dakota viewing through binoculars August 21 2017.

It’s started!

We were in a quiet area, but as the eclipse progressed we noticed a fire engine pulled up to park a bluff. One firefighter climbed up on the roof of the truck to look at the changing landscape and the other stood out front. Cool!

Solar eclipse 2017 Badlands National Park South Dakota fire truck on hill August 21 2017.

A fire truck showed up on a bluff.

I remember when I was child there was a solar eclipse visible across North America (in March, 1970), and my great-uncle, who was 85 at the time, began telling stories of a solar eclipse he had lived through as a kid in the last years of the 1800’s. He said the animals had gotten confused and had settled in to go to sleep. The chickens all roosted, the dogs curled up on the ground, and all the critters thought it was time to go to bed.

I don’t know if he was pulling my leg or not, but all of a sudden we saw a pair of big horn sheep babies playing out in the grasslands. They were romping around together bounding over the tall grasses when all of a sudden they stopped dead in their tracks and turned around to look at something behind them.

Baby Big horn sheep solar eclipse 2017 Badlands National Park South Dakota

A pair of baby big horn sheep pause in the grasslands to look over their shoulders.

Mark grabbed his Nikon D500 camera and very long lens and snapped a few priceless pics. As we watched this sweet pair, we were both amazed when they suddenly laid down right there on the ground.

Resting big horn sheep solar eclipse 2017 Badlands National Park South Dakota

Time for a little rest.

Baby Big horn sheep solar eclipse 2017 Badlands National Park South Dakota-2

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I’m not sure if they thought nighttime was coming, but one of them dozed off for a moment!

Sleeping Baby Big horn sheep solar eclipse 2017 Badlands National Park South Dakota

Nighty-night!

And then the magic moment arrived. 11:51:36 am was maximum eclipse time for us, and for the next two minutes we were at maximum moon-over-sun darkness of 95.7%.

Mark put his 16-80 mm lens on his camera, attached two 10-stop neutral density filters, popped out the live view display, and took a few shots.

Solar eclipse 2017 Badlands National Park South Dakota photographing 95.7% eclipse August 21 2017.

Mark sets up to see what he can get at the moment of maximum eclipse.

I sneaked behind him to see what he was getting. Very cool!!

Solar eclipse 2017 Badlands National Park South Dakota photographing 95.7% eclipse August 21 2017

There it is!

solar eclipse 2017 Badlands National Park South Dakota 95.7% eclipse at maximum August 21 2017 11-51 am

95.7% of total eclipse.

I wandered around with my pocket camera and got some images of the Badlands. Frankly, it wasn’t really that dark. At least it didn’t seem to be to me.

Solar eclipse 2017 Badlands National Park South Dakota 95.7% maximum eclipse August 21 2017 August 21 2017.

It didn’t seem all that dark during the maximum solar eclipse.

The sun was definitely still shining and there were distinct shadows on the ground. I took a shot of my shadow.

My shadow Solar eclipse 2017 Badlands National Park South Dakota

I could see my shadow plain as day at max eclipse time.
Friends of ours in Idaho said the true total eclipse was as black as night. They even saw stars for a few minutes!

But when we looked at the time-lapse videos later, we discovered the cameras had picked up the darkening light very well. I had a polarizing filter on my Nikon D810 with an 18-35mm lens set to about 20mm with a shutter speed of 1/50 and aperture of f8. Mark didn’t have a polarizer and shot quite a bit wider with a 14mm lens with a shutter speed of 1/200 at f5.6.

Here are the two time-lapse videos. Each one is about 30 seconds long:

The third time-lapse video was on a Nikon Coolpix A camera which took 900 sequential shots but unfortunately left it up to us to stitch them together into a video! Once we figure out how to do that we’ll post that video too!

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The solar eclipse I remember from childhood was on March 7, 1970, and occurred in the middle of my weekly piano lesson. My wonderful piano teacher and I kept peeking out the window and looking into my pin hole box between recitations of Bach’s sonatas. Very fun! Here’s some info about that eclipse.

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An RV Trip through the Small Towns of Eastern Wyoming

August 2017 – Our favorite places to travel are small towns tucked into rural areas across America, and during our RV trip through eastern Wyoming this summer we found some real charmers. These small rural towns were not only really scenic, but each one had a different flair.

Eastern Wyoming landscape scenery

Driving through eastern Wyoming was a sheer delight.

In all our years of traveling full-time we have been enchanted by many small towns. From Joseph, Oregon, to Eastport, Maine, to McCall and Sun Valley, Idaho, to Sedona and Oak Creek Village, Arizona, to our all time favorite, Maysville, Kentucky, we have loved getting to know what life in small town America is like.

Whenever we look at the map to choose our RV travel itinerary to get from one place to another, we always opt to drive the back roads and stop in the many small towns along the way.

RV trip on eastern Wyoming scenic roads

Eastern Wyoming landscapes…beautiful!

This year we chose a back roads route through eastern Wyoming that took us through several towns and villages (there’s a map in the reference section at the end of this post).

 

CHUGWATER, WYOMING

The first town, Chugwater, Wyoming, turned out to be a thriving metropolis that is home to all of 212 people! And its name is no accident. Recently, Chugwater was voted to have the best tasting water in all of Wyoming. So, in February 2018 the town will compete for that honor nationwide!

We were so busy tasting the various gourmet offerings at the Chugwater Chili tasting room, however, that we forgot to taste test the water in town. Next time!

Chugwater Wyoming Chugwater Chili Company

Chugwater Chili Corporation makes not only a fabulous chili powder but fantastic chili dip powders too!

Chugwater Chili is absolutely delicious, and we stocked up and have made several batches since we left. They also have a sweet chili pepper jelly that is divine with cream cheese and crackers, and a yummy chili pepper sour cream dip too. Oh my!!

Another fun stop in Chugwater was at the Chugwater Soda Fountain which has a true 1950s style soda fountain inside where we got an ice cream soda (Mark) and a root beer float (me)!

Chugwater Soda Fountain Chugwater Wyoming

Chugwater Soda Fountain is a great place to get a root beer float!

But what we love in villages like Chugwater is simply to walk the streets, because you just never know what you’ll find. When we rounded a bend, Mark suddenly said, “Look, it’s a serpent — or a dragon!” Sure enough, there was the undulating and scaly back of a serpent going through the grass!

Chugwater Wyoming Dragon in the grass sculpture

A serpent makes its way across the grass in Chugwater!

By late afternoon we figured we’d seen all there was to see in Chugwater when we suddenly heard music coming from a tiny covered stage in the town park. We hurried over and soon became spectators numbers 24 and 25 sitting in the grass and listening to a wonderful musical performance by the duo Davis and Mavrick.

They were playing pop hits from the 1950s to the 1990s, and the whole audience (including us) sang along with gusto. They invited a few people to join them up on stage for each song to play percussion, and before we knew it, Davis was pointing at us and inviting us to come up. Oh no!!

Then a trio of boys who had been riding their bikes in and around the park got stopped in their tracks and invited up too. One of the kids was a real ham bone, and we all just loved his antics.

Chugwater outdoor concert with Davis and Mavrick in Wyoming

All of a sudden we were up on stage with Davis and Mavrick along with a trio of very adorable boys who were snagged right off their bikes as they rode by!

 

DOUGLAS, WYOMING

Lots of towns have an artistic theme of some kind, and they often decorate their public space with sculptures highlighting their mascot. In Sarasota, Florida, we found the Tube Dude, and in Custer, South Dakota, we got a kick out of the life-size buffalo sculptures.

Douglas, Wyoming, is into the Jackalope, an unusual animal that is part desert jack rabbit and part pronghorn antelope. Westerners love to tease easterners on their first visit out west by asking if they’ve seen a jackalope yet in their travels and describing what it looks like.

Jackalope Square in Douglas Wyoming

Douglas, Wyoming, is home of the Jackalope!

Jackalopes are fictitious, of course, but that doesn’t stop folks from trying to trip up their friends with a good natured jest.

Douglas Wyoming Jackalope sculpture in city park

Have you seen a jackalope lately?

Jackalope park bench Douglas Wyoming

We even found jackalopes on the park benches in Douglas!

Small towns also tend to have lots of celebrations, especially in the summer months, and we always enjoy these gatherings, especially if we accidentally stumble onto them without knowing anything about them ahead of time.

In July, we just happened to be in Douglas on the day of the Knight Kruiser’s Car Show where we saw a wonderful display of antique cars from old Model A’s to woodies to muscle cars and more.

Douglas Knight Kruiser's car show in Wyoming

Knight Kruiser’s Car Show was a great display of antique cars from all eras.

Knight Kruiser’s Car Show in Douglas Wyoming in front of Princess Theater

Cars lined up in front of the old Princess movie theater transport us to the past!

While we admired the classic cars filling the town streets, I glanced at the store fronts and the names of the shops behind them. Not far from the old fashioned movie theater there was a small sewing shop called The Prairie Stitcher. The big mall stores Joann and Michaels have their place elsewhere, but you don’t find them here on the main drag in Douglas, Wyoming!

The Prairie Sticher Sewing Shop Douglas Wyoming

We love finding small, one-of-a-kind shops where you park right out front and can meet the owner inside.

 

NEWCASTLE, WYOMING

Another town with a fun theme is Newcastle, Wyoming, where we found every street corner was adorned with an American flag made from an old wooden pallet. The designs were very creative and a lot of fun.

Wooden pallet American flag Newcastle Wyoming

Newcastle, Wyoming, had wooden pallet American flags on every corner!

American flag made from a wooden palette Newcastle Wyoming_

What a neat idea!

Rather than having conventional parking meters on the public parking spaces, Newcastle has little horse heads with loops. If you ride your horse to town, it’s easy to find a good place to tie him up!

Horse head hitching post Newcastle Wyoming

Parking meters in Newcastle? Nope! Just some very slick hitching posts!

I’ve written before that one of the best ways to get to know a town is to get a haircut at a local barber shop or hair salon because you are guaranteed a lively 20 to 30 minutes of conversation with the stylist. We often find that we learn a lot of little things about the area that we might not otherwise discover.

During our cruise in Mexico I gained some really heartwarming insight into Mexican culture while getting a haircut, and our visit to Newcastle, Wyoming, offered the same opportunity.

Besides a wonderful conversation with the barber, who had moved back to his hometown after some years away, Mark got a true straight blade shave as well. How many places offer that?

Haircut and straight blade razor shave in Newcastle Wyoming

Mark gets a haircut and a straight blade shave in Newcastle… fun!

 

SUNDANCE, WYOMING

Sundance, Wyoming, also has a creative western mascot theme — the cowboy boot! We saw just two in town, but what a neat idea.

Sundance Wyoming Cowboy Boot sculpture

We found colorful cowboy boots in Sundance, Wyoming

We were in Sundance during the famous nearby Sturgis Motorcycle Rally week, and the crowds of motorcycles in town were thick. There’s a Harley-Davidson dealer in Sundance, so lots of the bikers were stopping by to get repairs or souvenir gear.

One rider in particular had just gotten himself a pair of very cool motorcycle goggles.

Motorcycle riding dog at Harley-Davidson of Sundance Wyoming

Ready to ride…

Talking with the locals and getting to know them a bit is our favorite aspect of traveling, and finding common bonds is often very easy. Sometimes we find that our cameras help break the ice.

Sharing a photo with a special friend

Mark shares pics with a new buddy in Wyoming.

 

BUFFALO, WYOMING

Shortly after our very enjoyable stay in Custer, South Dakota, Buffalo, Wyoming, stole our hearts. Buffalo is extraordinarily warm and hospitable, and we soon learned that there is something special going on there almost every weekend all summer long.

Buffalo Wyoming downtown mural on brick building

Buffalo, Wyoming, has some wonderful murals on its buildings and some unique summertime festivals too.

We’ll be sharing a few tales from Buffalo, Wyoming, soon, but we wanted to urge RVers to check out these special eastern Wyoming towns as you make your way to or from the Black Hills or the Big Horn Mountains, especially if you’re headed to the area to view the upcoming eclipse!

RV boondocking in rural Wyoming mountains

On your next RV trip to Wyoming, check out the small towns on the eastern side of the state!

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More info about these small towns in eastern Wyoming:

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Sturgis Motorcycle Rally – Wild and Free in South Dakota’s Black Hills!

August 2017 – The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally has been lighting up the roads around the Black Hills of South Dakota for 77 years, and ever since we experienced the Daytona 200 years ago, we have talked endlessly about taking our RV to Sturgis — until this year when we finally got there!

And what a welcome we received as we drove into town on the first day and discovered the Bikini Bike Wash was already in full swing!

Bikini Bike Wash Sturgis Motorcycle Rally South Dakota

WOW!!! Welcome to Sturgis!!!

During the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally the little town of Sturgis, South Dakota — population 6,627 as of the 2010 census — is suddenly inundated with 500,000 crazy motorcycle enthusiasts in a wild mix of political incorrectness and patriotism along with a passion for all things Harley Davidson.

Welcome to Sturgis Motorcycle Rally South Dakota

Ahem… a lower key welcome…

Overnight, Sturgis transforms into Hog Heaven as thousands of Harleys fill the streets of town. From both rusty and restored antiques to the most recent brand new models, and from plain Jane Harleys to the most exotic and customized hogs imaginable, the love of freedom and the open road is celebrated in grand style for ten days.

Zippy motorcycle with ape-hanger bars Sturgis Motorcycle Rally South Dakota

Some babes wear bikinis at the bike wash. Others zip around town on cool Harleys.

The town of Sturgis first hosted this motorcycle rally back in 1938 when it was known as the Black Hills Classic. After all these years, the town has become expert at rolling out the welcome mat for visiting bikers.

People from all income brackets come to the rally, and no one is left out in the cold. Besides traditional rooms at motels and campsites in campgrounds, signs on the front lawns of the houses and small businesses in town offered tent camping and a chance for a front row seat to the 24/7 parade.

Tent camping in front yards at Sturgis Motorcycle Rally South Dakota

Entrepreneurial home and business owners rent out tent space on the front lawn!

Even the local Episcopal church had temporarily transformed into the Church of the Spoke ‘n Wheel.

Church of the Spoke and Wheel Sturgis Motorcycle Rally South Dakota

Church of the Spoke ‘n Wheel — Great sermons, by the way!

In downtown Sturgis both sides of all the streets were lined with motorcycles, and they were parked right down the middle too. Meanwhile, a steady stream of bikers rolled by.

Welcome Bikers Sturgis Motorcycle Rally South Dakota

Motorcycles everywhere!

Motorcycle wheels Sturgis Motorcycle Rally South Dakota

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Motorcycles pass Jack Daniels booth Sturgis Motorcycle Rally South Dakota

Jack Daniels had a huge vendor tent with free tastings!
Other whiskeys, bourbons and wine were on offer too along with $2 pints of Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Suddenly, Mark insisted we stop at the Rebel Yell Bourbon booth. This was weird, because Mark is a beer drinker not a bourbon guy.

Rebel Yell Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey babes Sturgis Motorcycle Rally South Dakota

Hmmm. Why in the world would Mark want to check out Rebel Yell bourbon?!

Choppers of every style were on glorious display.

Big wheel motorcycle Sturgis Motorcycle Rally South Dakota

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Big wheel motorcycle Sturgis Motorcycle Rally South Dakota

Some hogs are exquisitely crafted and decorated.

Hot babes were hanging out at a lot of vendor booths and we even saw an angel crossing the street.

Angel Sturgis Motorcycle Rally South Dakota

An angel walks by.

But there were some real dogs too.

Little pooch gets a ride Sturgis Motorcycle Rally South Dakota

Pooch gets a ride.

Corsets are a favorite outfit for women bikers, and there were plenty to be found. The guys lean towards more bad boy images, and they go for skeletons of all kinds.

Skin tight leather corsets Sturgis Motorcycle Rally South Dakota

Corsets for the ladies…

Bad boy skeleton t-shirt designs Sturgis Motorcycle Rally South Dakota

…and T-shirt images for the gents!

One of the favorite pastimes for everyone at Sturgis is people watching. Not only do folks set up chairs in front yards all over town, but the bars have outdoor seating, and temporary standup bars are set up along the roads so you can hang out with a beer and watch the wild procession go by.

Bar scene Sturgis Motorcycle Rally South Dakota

Real bars and makeshift bars were filled with people watchers all over town and beyond!

We saw lots of wild animals in Custer State Park, but Sturgis has a lot of wildlife too!

For lots of Sturgis-goers, the longer the beard and the wilder the duds the better. They even have a beard contest (with a dozen categories) that is a qualifier for the National Beard Contest (who knew there was such a thing?!). We saw quite a few good ones:

Tie-dye hippie Sturgis Motorcycle Rally South Dakota

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Beard contest Sturgis Motorcycle Rally South Dakota

Ready for the beard contest.

We even saw a beard-and-horns combo:

Long beard horns and leather vest Sturgis Motorcycle Rally South Dakota

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And there were a few headdresses that were totally over the top.

Crazy hat Sturgis Motorcycle Rally South Dakota

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Black leather was favored by the motorcycle rally crowd, and leather vests were particularly popular with the guys. Folks put huge patches on the back that told a little about themselves.

Hells Angels California Sturgis Motorcycle Rally South Dakota

Hells Angels showed up!

There was a huge contingent with Combat Veteran patches on their backs, and each had additional patches for where they had fought. There was a strong comaraderie among these guys, and their service had been extensive, across continents and decades: Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Desert Storm, Vietnam and more.

Combat vets vest Sturgis Motorcycle Rally South Dakota

Combat vets gathered with pride.

Sturgis draws people from all over the world, and we saw people from very far-flung destinations!

Rally

A pair of visitors from Mazatlan, Mexco…

German visitors Sturgis Motorcycle Rally South Dakota

…and from Germany too!

Tatoos are really popular with the Sturgis crowd too, and anyone who didn’t come to the rally with one — or who had a bare spot where they could squeeze in another — had plenty of options around town for getting the tatoo image of their dreams, short term or long!!

Get a tattoo Sturgis Motorcycle Rally South Dakota

Need a tatoo? Come get it here!

One of the most impressive tatoos we saw peeked out from behind a leather vest…

Belly tatoo artwork Sturgis Motorcycle Rally South Dakota

Now that’s a tatoo!

The tatoo artists weren’t the only talented graphics designers around town. We watched one attendee plop down on a bench, pull out a sketch pad, and start drawing the crazy motorcycle scene in front of him.

Motorcycle artist Sturgis Motorcycle Rally South Dakota

An artist begins a drawing of the crazy street scene on his sketch pad.

At one vendor booth a pinstripe artist drew fantastic curvy designs on motorcycle tanks and fenders. I had no idea these guys did this freehand. What skill!!

Motorcycle Pinstripe artist Sturgis Motorcycle Rally South Dakota

The confidence and steady hand this pinstripe artist had was astonishing. He worked really fast too!

The engineering design at the heart of the whole motorcycle rally, of course, is the Harley Davidson engine. A massive mockup of the engine was on display in the middle of it all.

Harley Davidson engine Sturgis Motorcycle Rally South Dakota

At the heart of Sturgis — the Harley Davidson engine!!

There were oodles of really clever motorcycle designs everywhere, and we got a huge kick out of seeing them. One beautiful silver one caught my eye, and I idly looked at the price tag. My eyes jumped out of my head when I saw $94,048. It was handwritten and a little funky looking, so I checked the next bike to see if I’d missed a digit or something. Nope! The next (really gorgeous and extremely customized) bike was nearly the same price. Holy smokes!!

Corvette style motorcycle Sturgis Motorcycle Rally South Dakota

What a cool ride — with a Corvette style back end!

Motorcycle with rear engine Sturgis Motorcycle Rally South Dakota

The engine is back here — under the lid!!

Motorcycle tailpipes Sturgis Motorcycle Rally South Dakota

Spitting hellfire and fury out the tailpipes!!

Some people stay in the many motels around town and in the surrounding communities, but many people camp in one way or another. Lots of people camp in big beautiful toy haulers, and Jayco was in town with two brand new models that we walked through and checked out. But bunches of folks were camping in tents.

A few even towed a tiny popup tent trailer behind their motorcycle!!

Motorcycle popup tent trailer Sturgis Motorcycle Rally South Dakota

Motorcycle camping in style with a popup!

The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is as much an industry trade show as it is a social gathering for like minded motorcycle enthusiasts. Every open piece of land throughout the town and out in the hinterlands was filled with vendor booths, and you could buy anything and everything you ever dreamed of for your bike.

And if your bike needed a tune-up or an oil change, you had a choice of at least a dozen places to get that done!

Every so often as we roamed around we’d here the deafening roar of a motorcycle “giving it all she’s got.” It turned out that several vendors had brought enormous trailers that had a complete laboratory dynamometer inside. After installing an engine tuner on a bike, they would dyno the motorcycle to find out its horsepower and torque!!

Motorcycle speed shop Sturgis Motorcycle Rally South Dakota

What’s your bike’s horsepower and torque? Find out here!

As we walked through one area, we heard the whine of motorcycle engines revving like crazy. Slithering through the crowd, we found some motorcycle tricksters doing all kinds of crazy stunts. Wow!!

Motorcycle wheelie Sturgis Motorcycle Rally South Dakota

These guys rode their Kawasakis like they were tiny BMX bikes!

Front wheelie bike tricksters Sturgis Motorcycle Rally South Dakota

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Motorcycle brake torque burnouts Sturgis Motorcycle Rally South Dakota

Brake torque!!

For those who couldn’t quite pull off a wheelie or do a brake torque on a motorcycle, there was a bike set up on a permanent tilt where you could hop aboard and pose for a photo finish in a motorcycle race. I couldn’t pass that up!!

Motorcycle races Sturgis Motorcycle Rally South Dakota

Weeee!!

In many ways, Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is a street photographer’s heaven, and we saw cameras and photographers of all kinds roaming around. When we noticed one fellow with a really elaborate setup, we stopped to chat. It turned out he was from the Travel Channel! He was busy videoing bikes on the road, but inside a nearby bar we found the rest of the crew interviewing rally-goers right at the bar!

Travel Channel TV Crew Sturgis Motorcycle Rally South Dakota

The Travel Channel was interviewing folks at the bar!

The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally isn’t limited to the small town of Sturgis. Sturgis is just party central!

People bring their bikes to this part of the country because the roads outside of town, and all through the Black Hills, are so ideal for riding. Knowing they’ll be seeing thousands of bikes roll through during the ten day rally, restaurants, campgrounds and motels in all the outlying towns cater to their every need.

There was live music galore at all hours of the day and night at a dozen different venues in town and many more on the outskirts. Some were lesser known bands, but big headliners including Ozzie Ozbourne performed too!

As we drove around the area, we noticed that a lot of bikes kept heading down one particular road, so we decided to follow them one day.

Sturgis motorcycle rally South Dakota

Rolling thunder! Huge groups of bikes dominated the roads for a 50 mile radius from town. Just incredible!

They were heading to the Full Throttle Saloon, and on the way there we passed several sprawling tent city campgrounds that had been set up to house the motorcyclists for the ten day event.

Tent city Sturgis Motorcycle Rally South Dakota

Tent city campgrounds had sprouted up all over the place. Is $75 a night for a tent site too much?

Even here at the Full Throttle Saloon, about 3 miles from the heart of downtown Sturgis, the place was flooded with beautiful motorcycles.

Full Dressers Sturgis Motorcycle Rally South Dakota

Pick your favorite color…

The candy colors were eye-poppingly pretty, and we wandered from one stunningly gorgeous full dresser big wheel bike to the next.

Full Throttle Saloon Sturgis Motorcycle Rally South Dakota

Stunning full dresser big wheel bikes lined up at the Full Throttle Saloon outside of town.

The rally went on for days, and although we had thought we would just pop in for a few hours on the first day, we ended up spending nearly a week in the area. There’s just so much going on–and we didn’t do even a fraction of it–that it’s very hard to leave!

But every so often you do need to take a break. Among the casual, fun-loving and slightly geriatric crowd at Sturgis, taking a breather is never a problem. You can kick back on your bike and take a snooze right in the middle of it all!

Bike snooze Sturgis Motorcycle Rally South Dakota

Long night last night? Catch a few winks on your bike!

If you have a chance to go to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally at some point, it is a really fun event to attend. I’ve got a few links below to help plan a trip.

Custom motorcycle travel trailer Sturgis Motorcycle Rally South Dakota

Sturgis Motorcycle Rally — a really good time!!

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More info about the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally:

Other blog posts about fun vehicle rallies we’ve seen in our RV life:

Other things to see and do in South Dakota – Blog posts from our South Dakota RV travels

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Highlights from our RV trip to Custer, South Dakota

July 2017 – We loved our stay in South Dakota’s Black Hills, and this plaque we found hanging on a wall in a restaurant says it perfectly:

RV Vacation in the Black Hills with an RV or travel trailer

Yes, definitely do!

The cute town of Custer is in the heart of the Black Hills, and one of the things that charmed us is that it is decorated with a slew of brightly painted life-size sculptures of buffalo. We found these fun creatures roaming all over town!

Buffalo statue Custer South Dakota

Life-size buffalo sculptures stand in front of businesses and homes all over town.

We had fun finding these guys and posing with them!

Buffalo statue Custer South Dakota

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Of course, the real ones are close by in Custer State Park too.

Buffalo with bird on his back Custer South Dakota

A bird catches a ride on the real thing!

We visited the town of Custer quite a few times, and each time we stopped at Calamity Jane’s for a fancy fluffy latte. This is a great little espresso shop and wine tasting bar that does a brisk business.

For decades the owners, Jim and Deb, ran a camera shop in this location, but with the advent of the cell phone camera age and tourists who love espresso and wine, they’ve switched gears and created a very friendly place to hang out a while!

Calamity Jane Wine Bar and Coffee Shop South Dakota

Mark jokes around with Jim, the owner of the Calamity Jane Wine & Espresso shop.

Calamity Jane Coffee Shop Custer South Dakota

Coffee is up front. The wine is in the back!

A little sign on the floor of Calamity Jane’s says “Go ride a bike!” and we followed that advice and headed out on the Mickelson Trail one day. This is a wonderful rails-to-trails crushed gravel path that goes on for 109 miles. The town of Custer situated near the middle of the trail.

Go Ride a Bike Custer South Dakota

Good advice!

Mickelson Trail Custer South Dakota

The 109 mile long Mickelson Trail is a wonderful rails-to-trails path through the Black Hills.

We did out-and-back bike rides in each direction from town and thoroughly enjoyed the scenery. The Black Hills are filled with fabulous pinnacle rock formations, and we passed a few beauties while riding the Mickelson Trail.

Scenery on the Mickelson Trail Custer South Dakota

One of the signatures of Black Hills landscapes is pinnacle rock formations jutting up out of the earth.

Rock formations Custer South Dakota

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The Black Hills region was one of the last areas to be explored in the 19th century, and in 1874 Lieutenant Colonel George Custer arrived with his expedition to check out the area. This expedition has given us much pause for thought.

In our travels, Mark and I roam around the country in our cozy little fully self-contained luxury fifth wheel trailer. We travel easily at 65 mph, enjoy hot and cold running water, refrigerated meats and fish from every corner of the continent and veggies from all over the world.

Our barbecue, stove, oven and microwave stand ready to cook a meal at a moment’s notice, and our rolling home’s climate control gives us ample heat and air conditioning in all conditions. Most astonishing of all, we have 24/7 instantaneous access to much of the world’s populace via the internet.

Traveling effortlessly in this kind of style makes it very hard for us to fathom such a primitive expedition as Custer’s was, even though it took place less than 150 years ago, not even twice our parents’ age.

Custer undertook this expedition into the Black Hills 70 years after Lewis and Clarke did their cross-country trek to the west coast. Not only were there were well over 1,000 men in Custer’s group, they brought along 2,100 horses, 110 wagons, a herd of cattle for food (most of which returned home with them because the group found plenty of game along the way), plus surveyors, engineers, geologists, a photographer and a media crew of five newspaper reporters.

The whole caravan stretched out for over two miles when they were traveling!

Welcome to Custer South Dakota

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The expedition went from the current location of Bismarck, North Dakota, to the Black Hills and back, and lasted from July 2nd to August 30th, 1874. Custer discovered gold in the Black Hills as well as bountiful wildflowers and animals aplenty.

In 2000, a local photographer went around and took photos that matched the locations of where Custer’s photographer, William Illingworth, took his. There is a comparison photo on a plaque on the Mickelson Trail that brings the expedition to life. The scenery hasn’t changed much, but it was remarkable to stand in the spot where Custer’s photographer stood 143 years ago when the Black Hills were known only to the Indians who called them home.

It didn’t take long for prospectors to head to the Black Hills once they heard about the gold discovery. Just two months after Custer’s expedition was completed, a group set up camp near the modern day town of Custer.

However, it was illegal for them to be there, because the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie gave the region to the Plains Indians and prohibited white settlement. So, they built a stockade for protection but were evicted five months later by the US Cavalry.

The Stockade Custer South Dakota

The Gordon Stockade protected a small band of gold prospectors…but they were there illegally!

This was the wild west, of course, and on another day while we were mountain biking on a trail in the woods, we came across a sign that told of the fate of one murderous Billy Fowler. Yikes!

Frontier Justice sign Custer South Dakota

In the old days folks took matters into their own hands.

Pretty Stockade Lake is right next to the Gordon Stockade, and we wandered along the road that lines the shore taking photos near sunset one day.

Stockade Lake Custer South Dakota

Beautiful Stockade Lake is between the town of Custer and Custer State Park.

It was the new moon, and Mark returned to the lake in the darkest hours of the night to catch the Milky Way reflecting in the water. His photos were sensational and were well worth the near all-nighter that it took for him to get them.

Milky Way at Stockade Lake Custer South Dakota

The Milky Way is mirrored in Stockade Lake.


Milky Way at Stockade Lake Custer South Dakota

It was worth getting up in the dark to capture these images!

I was happily snoozing away under the blankets back at the trailer while Mark was out having fun in the dark that night. As he drove down the main drag in Custer he found it was utterly deserted. So, he set up his tripod right in the middle of the street and got a neat shot of the city lights.

Custer South Dakota at night

The town of Custer is so quiet at night you can do a long exposure on a tripod in the middle of the main drag.

Custer has many charms, and one of the big highlights for us was a stop at the Purple Pie Place. The pies here are out of this world, and we joined the throng of happy customers who were savoring scrumptious slices of blueberry(yum!), strawberry rhubarb (double yum!) and apple pies (all American yum!).

Purple Pie Place Custer South Dakota

The Purple Pie Place makes AWESOME pies!

As we wandered the streets of Custer, I looked down to see an odd collection of painted rocks right by the sidewalk. I looked a little closer and saw a small sign next to them that said, “The Kindness Rock Project.” I picked up a rock and looked it over. Just then a woman came over and said, “Keep it!”

Kindness Rock Project Custer South Dakota

A school counselor’s ingenious idea — a Kindness Rock Project.
Pick up a rock that speaks to you and share it with a friend. Leave one if the spirit moves you.

She went on to explain that she was a school counselor and that this project had been her idea. The kids painted the rocks, and the idea was to spread a little bit of joy with the townsfolk and with the many tourists who came to visit the town.

How cool is that?!

It reminded me of the fantastic walls lined with hand tiles that the students in Maysville, Kentucky, had created in the tunnel through their flood wall. Creative teachers and counselors who dream up these projects give a priceless gift to their communities.

Custer has a wonderful vibe, and we thoroughly enjoyed our 4th of July there. Down at the VFW Hall we got a huge kick out of the American flag mural that decorates the entire front of the building.

Americn flag VFW Hall Custer South Dakota

The entire front wall of the VFW Hall is a vivid American flag!

Inside, we found another clever idea. A small crate filled with little plastic toy soldiers was on a shelf, and a small sign on the crate said, “Please take a soldier home and place it somewhere that will remind you to pray for those who serve our country.”

Love it!

We took one and now have it on one of our window sills.

Toy soldiers to take home VFW Hall Custer South Dakota

Inside the VFW hall we found another clever idea: take a toy soldier home and put it in a place where you’ll be reminded to give thanks for the real ones serving in the war torn parts of the world.

There is a ton to see and do in the Black Hills, and one day we set out to drive the Needles Highway which twists and turns through some of the most dramatic scenery in the area. We had driven this beautiful road on our previous visit to the area ten years prior, and had been able to sneak through all of the very narrow tunnels in our old truck.

We knew our new truck would theoretically make it through the tunnels with an inch or two to spare on either side. After all, tour buses take groups through these tunnels all day every day. But it looked awfully skinny, so we turned around and saved the drive for another time.

Iron Creek Tunnel Custer State Park South Dakota

Threading the needle with a dually at Iron Creek Tunnel on the Needles Highway…or not!

There are many ways to enjoy the Black Hills. We saw kayaks ready to go on a lake and we came across lots of people on horseback too.

Kayaks at a lake in South Dakota

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Horse riders Custer South Dakota

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Zipping around in a Corvette Stingray is an awesome way to enjoy the many scenic drives around Custer, and bringing a side-by-side in a toy hauler is another great way to go.

Corvette Stingray and RV Toyhauler Custer South Dakota

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We saw a ton of RVs cruising through town, and there are both private and state park campgrounds to choose from too.

Travel trailer drives by Custer Historical Museum Custer South Dakota RV trip_

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There are loads of things to do in the Black Hills, and as is so often the case, we didn’t manage to “do it all” before our time in Custer came to a close. Oh well. Now we have a great excuse to go back!

RV trip to Custer South Dakota

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Custer State Park Burros & Bison – Close Encounters of the Animal Kind

July 2017 – Custer State Park in South Dakota is a wonderful place to see wildlife up close, and we ended up driving the Wildlife Loop Road quite a few times during our stay.

Wild burros with RV Custer State Park South Dakota

The “wild” burros in Custer State Park are surprisingly tame!

The “wild” burros are actually feral burros that were “set free” many decades ago. Now they are known as the “begging burros,” and for good reason!

As we drove on the Wildlife Loop Road with pro wildlife photographer, Steve Perry, and his wife Rose, we were astonished when some very bold burros walked right up to our car.

Car with wild burro Wildlife Loop Custer State Park South Dakota

Wild burros approached our car.

Wild burro approaches car Wildlife Loop Custer State Park South Dakota

Steve reaches out to pet a “wild” burro in Custer State Park.
The burros here rightfully earned the nickname, “begging burros!”

The white burro pressed his nose against a closed car window and made funny faces at us…

Wild burro at the car window Custer State Park South Dakota

A burro presses his big nose against the car window.

The other poked his whole head right in!

Wild burro head in car Custer State Park South Dakota

Another burro sticks his nose right inside the car!

It turns out that these begging burros are the rather lazy descendants of a very hard working group of burros who began taking Custer State Park visitors on rides from Sylvan Lake up to Harney Peak back in 1927.

Little girl with wild burro Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota

The wild burros are very accustomed to people, but not all the people are accustomed to the wild burros!

After a few years of providing these fun sounding burro rides, Custer State Park officials decided to end the rides, and they simply let the burros go.

Petting a wild burro Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota

“Look what I found. Can I keep him?”

Nowadays, the burros are so accustomed to human visitors — and are so fond of the treats that many humans bring them — that they are quite fearless and are more than happy to mingle with tourists. They even let folks pet them.

Boy and wild burro Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota

The burros don’t mind being petted.

Custer State Park encourages people not to feed the burros, but while we were there loads of people got out of their cars with bags of food for them. Keeping the burros’ waistlines in mind, though, most folks showed up with something nutritious like a bag of carrots or romaine lettuce.

Feeding a wild burro Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota

Although signs say not to, lots of visitors bring snacks for the burros.

On our first foray into Custer State Park, we had been amazed just to see the wild burros and their foals from a distance, period. But this time we found ourselves standing right next to them.

Wild burro mare and foal Custer State Park South Dakota

We saw several moms and babies.

Wild burro mare stands watch over foal Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota

Standing watch.

Wild burros nuzzing Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota

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The burros were so darned laid back that one mom suddenly did a barrel roll in the dirt, letting a cloud of dust fly.

Wild burro dust bath Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota

Mom takes a dust bath!

I was smitten by the little foals. They had such sweet and innocent faces.

Portrait wild burro foal Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota

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One foal was particularly mellow. It must have been nap time, and when I knelt down next to her and stroked the soft fur on her head and neck, she leaned her whole weight against my leg and closed her eyes. Naturally, I was thrilled!

Burro foal resting Wildlife Loop Custer State Park South Dakota

I could not believe this little foal was so trusting.

Wild burro foal on the Wildlife Loop Custer State Park South Dakota

“Look what I found. Can I keep her?”

Custer State Park’s herd of bison is another big draw for tourists, and the opportunities to see them are plentiful. Custer State Park’s 71,000 acres are fully enclosed by fencing, and there are roughly 1,300 buffalo in the Park’s buffalo herd. The herd is carefully culled and maintained each year.

On the day that we were out photographing prairie dogs with Steve and Rose, we suddenly noticed there was a huge group of bison approaching us from the distance hills. As the leaders drew near, we turned our cameras away from the prairie dogs and focused on the approaching buffalo.

Group of buffalo in Custer State Park South Dakota

A huge herd of bison came down out of the hills towards us.

There were both buffalo cows and bulls in the herd and lots of buffalo calves as well. They came down from the hills in a long, steady stream.

Buffalo herd approaches Custer State Park South Dakota-2

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The herd fanned out and approached us like an approaching army. It was a little unsettling, even though they were walking slowly.

Bison herd approaches in Custer State Park South Dakota

The herd approaches.

Even the prairie dogs stood up on their hind legs to see what was rattling the roofs of their underground compound.

Prairie dog stands up when herd of buffalo approach Custer State Park South Dakota

“Who’s making all that noise?

As they approached us they stirred up the dust with their hooves.

Buffalo herd Custer State Park South Dakota

The dust flies as the herd approaches.

A few even stopped for a dust bath as their comrades marched on.

Buffalo dust bath Custer State Park South Dakota

A buffalo takes a bath.

The herd easily numbered a hundred, and they moved steadily towards us, getting closer and closer. We kept taking photos, but we all began to back up towards the car.

Bison herd Custer State Park South Dakota

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All of a sudden they were within just a few feet of us, and let me tell you, these animals a huge.

It felt like a gang was surrounding us as they walked towards the road and then circled around us and the car. We could hear them breathing, and we could hear the grass rustling as they moved pass. The gravel in the road crunched under their feet. Their huge heads swayed slowly back and forth as they came right towards us.

Photographing buffalo in Custer State Park South Dakota

Steve takes photos of the approaching bison.

It was an incredible opportunity to take some portraits! Each buffalo was completely different. Some had tall horns, or widely spaced horns or sharply curving horns. Some had long faces and others had broad faces.

Approaching buffalo Custer State Park South Dakota

Every buffalo portrait revealed a totally different face.

Bison head Custer State Park South Dakota

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Buffalo head Custer State Park South Dakota

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The bison were big and burly and a little frightening up close, but as we studied them, we could see they lead very hardscrabble lives.

Mark got photos of one that had a big open sore on its side that was bleeding. We weren’t sure if it had been gored by another buffalo or had scraped itself on a tree branch, but it was a surprise to see a bright red oozing wound. Another had a horn that had broken off.

Bison with broken horn Custer State Park South Dakota

A buffalo’s life can be rough and tumble.

As we clicked away with our cameras, all I could think of was the scary statistic from Yellowstone National Park: Each year more people are gored by bison there than are attacked by grisly bears! I backed up to the car and stood in front of the open door for a few last shots and then dove into the car in a panic.

Steve’s wife Rose was already in the car, and she cracked up as I fell all over myself getting in.

I sorted myself out, and then we both watched anxiously as Steve and Mark remained outside the back of the car, madly taking photos as these enormous animals closed in around us.

Buffalo head Custer State Park South Dakota

Watch out for those sharp horns!

Finally the two crazed photographers threw their tripods in the trunk and then jumped inside with us, slamming the doors closed and rolling the windows up.

The bison surrounded us like a big black sea, walking slowly alongside the car within a few feet. Then, like water flowing around an island, they moved on down the road, more interested in finding greener pastures than in bothering with the silly photo crew in the little car.

In the distance, we could see other members of the herd running across the meadow. It was amazing to see the huge creatures nimbly galloping, the calves dutifully scampering right behind.

Buffalo on the run Custer State Park South Dakota

Buffalo on the move…

Buffalo cow and calf runnning in Custer State Park South Dakota

A buffalo cow runs at full speed with her calf following close behind.

And then, as quickly as it started, the show was over.

The entire herd had easily covered a few miles of ground in a very short time, moving from the hills on one horizon to the stream, trees and meadows on the other. What a fabulous experience that was.

Buffalo on dirt road Wind Cave National Park and Custer State Park south Dakota

We’ll always treasure our memories of this unusual buffalo encounter.

Buffalo calf Custer State Park South Dakota

Not quite as sweet as a baby burro, perhaps, but the buffalo calves were still pretty cute!

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Custer State Park Wildlife Loop Road – Where the Animals Are!

July 2017 – Not only is Custer, South Dakota, a charming place for RVers to enjoy a spirited, small town 4th of July celebration, it is situated next to enormous Custer State Park where beautiful scenery and unusual wildlife abound. While Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park are famous for bison leisurely strolling down the road, Custer State Park offers the same thrill but in a much less visited setting.

Photographing a bison Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota

The animals were easy to spot in Custer State Park!

The Wildlife Loop Road is the place to see the animals in Custer State Park. When friends told us this drive was their favorite part of the Park because of all the animals they saw, I wondered how in the world the animals knew they were supposed to hang out there to greet all the tourists. I still don’t know, but it doesn’t take long on the Wildlife Loop Road to see them!

Buffalo at Custer State Park South Dakota

We had to share the road…with bison!

We arranged our 2017 travels to take us to Custer State Park because we knew a professional wildlife photographer that we have admired for a long time was headed there to test out some new camera gear for one of his video reviews. His name is Steve Perry, and he has a very popular YouTube channel as well as two excellent books about photography (links below).

Buffalo head through the grass Wildlife Loop Custer State Park South Dakota

Up close and personal in Custer State Park.

Ever since we purchased and devoured Steve’s first book on wildlife photography a while back, we have studied his tutorials closely and learned a lot from his many tips.

So, we were absolutely thrilled to meet Steve and his wife Rose in downtown Custer. We agreed to catch up with each other again out on the Wildlife Loop Road in the early dawn hours the next day.

Wildlife Photographers Custer South Dakota

Mark with pro wildlife photographer Steve Perry.

We were out on the road before sunrise, and in no time we spotted a little group of wild burros. Several mares were accompanied by their adorable foals. How fun!

Mother and baby wild burros Custer State Park South Dakota

Mom and her foal.

Mare and foal wild burros Custer State Park South Dakota

There were wild burro moms and babies everywhere.

Suddenly, the sun appeared above the trees, and cast its soft rays across the meadow. But we hardly noticed as we watched this herd of burros, utterly enchanted by the sweet little knobby kneed foals.

Wild foal Custer State Park South Dakota

Adorable!

Wild burro mare and foal Custer State Park South Dakota

The babies are all legs…!

We drove a little further on the Wildlife Loop Road and spotted a gorgeous young white tail deer with soft, fuzzy antlers.

Young buck Wildlife Loop Custer State Park South Dakota

A young buck.

There were pronghorn antelope too.

Pronghorn antelope Custer State Park South Dakota

Pronghorn in the grass.

All these animals live in the middle of a smorgasbord of their favorite foods. There are not only grasses to munch…

Pronghorn antelope Custer State Park South Dakota

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…but there are wildflowers too. Yum!

Pronghorn eating flowers Custer State Park South Dakota

Flowers taste good!

All these animal sightings were great, but where were Steve and Rose? It hadn’t occurred to us that meeting “somewhere” on the Wildlife Loop Road was a little non-specific, and that we would probably all get totally sidetracked by watching the animals and possibly miss each other completely.

Fortunately, with split second timing, just as we passed a dirt road that intersected with the Wildlife Loop Road when we were leaving, we saw Steve’s car bumping down the lumpy road. What luck! Steve excitedly told us what fun they’d just had photographing the prairie dogs in a dog town commonunity just a ways back on that road.

Steve Perry Wildlife Photographer 00 601 Wild foal Custer State Park South Dakota

Steve Perry showed us how it’s done!

He offered to lead us back there, and soon we were looking out on the open prairie where dozens of these adorable little creatures were busily popping in and out of their burrows.

Two prairie dogs in a burrow Wildlife Loop Custer State Park South Dakota-1

A pair of prairie dogs peeks out of their burrow.

Pair of prairie dogs Custer State Park South Dakota

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Prairie dogs tell secrets Custer State Park South Dakota

Psst! Can you keep a secret??

Steve crouched down with the new Nikon D7500 camera and a mammoth Nikon 600 mm lens to get photos for his review, but before he did, he lent me his Nikon 200-500 mm lens to see how I liked it. Wow!

Prairie Dog Wildlife Loop Custer State Park South Dakota

“Watcha doin’?”

Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota Prairie Dog

Pretty in pink.

Mark was using our Tamron 150-600 lens on a Nikon D500 camera, and all three of us hunkered down on the dry prairie grasses and aimed our cameras at these little bands of comedians. What a blast we had watching their capers and taking pics. After growing accustomed to our presence, they stopped barking warnings about us to each other and began going about their daily business and munching breakfast.

Prairie Dog Custer State Park South Dakota

A prairie dog sits in the middle of a breakfast buffet.

Prairie dog eating grass Wildlife Loop Custer State Park South Dakota

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The prairie dogs appeared and disappeared all across the meadow, like bubbles forming and popping in a fizzy drink, and we had to think and act fast to catch their antics before they vanished from sight. I realized, as I sat there, that one of the keys to wildlife photography is having a vast reserve of patience.

Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota Prairie Dog

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Prairie Dog munching grass Wildlife Loop Custer State Park South Dakota

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We had seen prairie dogs at Valles Caldera National Preserve in New Mexico just a few weeks prior, but we had been in a rush to see other things and had given them about five minutes to strut their stuff for us. No wonder our pics had been mediocre. We learned from Steve that if you’re going to shoot prairie dogs and capture their adorable cuteness, it takes time.

For RVers traveling to South Dakota, another great place to watch prairie dogs is in front of Devils Tower National Monument.

Prairie Dog trio Wildlife Loop Custer State Park South Dakota

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It also requires good equipment, and I couldn’t believe the quality of the photos that were coming from the lens I was borrowing from Steve! As I checked my images, it suddenly dawned on me that when we’d decided to come all this way to watch and learn from a pro wildlife photographer, we had inadvertently signed up to start lusting after some really nice camera gear!

After we filled our cameras’ memory cards with pics of prairie dogs and packed up to head out, we told Steve he might have cost us some big bucks if we couldn’t keep our lust in check. He laughed and told us how he had been in the exact same boat when he first got serious about wildlife photography years ago. He said photography buffs have a name for it: GAS or Gear Aquisition Syndrome. Oh dear!

Prairie Dogs standing Custer State Park South Dakota

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Driving a little further on in Steve’s car, we got another lesson on the patience it takes to get great photos of wildlife. Ever since we’d arrived in Custer a few days prior, we had been hearing the most beautiful birdsong. But we hadn’t been able to track down the bird that was responsible for it. The bird always seemed to be out of sight.

Suddenly, just as we heard the familiar birdsong, Steve stopped the car and backed up slowly, and we noticed that a little yellow bird was sitting on a fence post singing his heart out.

“That’s a Meadowlark,” he said. “I’ve been wanting to get a good shot of one while I’m here, and we spent hours trying yesterday!”

Well, this little guy had no problem with the car being parked right next to him, and as we all pointed our lenses out the car windows, he belted out verse after verse of his angelic song. Every time he opened his beak to sing, a rapid fire rat-a-tat-tat erupted from our camera shutters, providing a funny drumbeat accompaniment to his melody as we all shot as many pics as we could.

Meadowlark Custer State Park South Dakota

A meadowlark was singing his heart out.

We returned to our little camping spot in the woods absolutely elated. We’d each gotten some really cool wildlife photos, and we’d learned the key tip for how to do it: Patience, patience, patience!

If you see some prairie dogs, have a seat, relax, and let them get used to you. Eventually they’ll begin to do their thing at their own pace. And if you see a row of fence posts, don’t drive past too quickly, because there might be a little bird using one of them as center stage for performing his full repertoire!

Sure enough, the next day we were driving down a dirt road that ran alongside a fence line, and suddenly Mark spotted a Mountain Bluebird sitting on it. The bird was on my side of our truck, so I quickly grabbed Mark’s camera with the long lens attached. Following Steve’s tip we’d learned, I rested the lens on the partially lowered car window, and fired away with abandon.

When I paused for a second to check out my images, I was thrilled to see that the bluebird had a bug in its mouth!

Mountain bluebird with bug Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota

OMG – That bluebird has a bug in his mouth!

He hopped and turned to show me his other side. Perfect!

Mountain bluebird holding bug Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota

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Suddenly, Mark said, “Look, there’s another bird on the wire over there!”

I turned and fired away again, and then I noticed that it was the little bluebird’s girlfriend, and she too had a bug in her mouth! Thanks, Steve!

Female Mountain bluebird with bug Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota

His little girlfriend had found breakfast too!

Talk about getting some wonderful shutter therapy and having a satisfying feeling of success!

If South Dakota is in your sites for your RV adventures, the cute town of Custer and nearby Custer State Park make for a fantastic RV destination, and driving the Wildlife Loop Road a few times can easily end up being the highlight of the whole trip.

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The Best Way to Enjoy Colorado’s Scenic Drives? In a Porsche!

Back in June 2017, we took our RV into the Colorado Rockies and unexpectedly met up with a special friend of mine from high school the day she was hosting a rally for the Rocky Mountain Porsche 356 Club. Before we knew it, Mark and I had each hopped into a cute little roadster.

Heading out in a Porsche 356

We arrived in Colorado just in time to participate in a Porsche 356 rally.

We started in Georgetown, Colorado, and once the group of twelve colorful vintage sports cars had gathered, we were off on a beautiful day of driving west of Denver through some of Colorado’s best mountain scenery.

Rally for the Colorado Rocky Mountains Porsche 356 Club

Colorful little roadsters ready for a ride!

Porsche rally in Georgetown Colorado

We did a big loop through some of Colorado’s most breathtaking scenery, starting in Georgetown.

Our planned route would take us over four of Colorado’s big mountain passes: Loveland Pass, Vail Pass, Tennessee Pass and Fremont Pass. Almost as soon as we hit the highway, the snowcapped mountain peaks began to frame every view.

Rocky Mountain 356 Porsche rally in Colorado

Happy drivers take their vintage Porsches for a ride.

Rocky Mountain Porsche 356 Rally in Colorado

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Rocky Mountain Porsche 356 rally in Colorado

Beautiful scenery!

The Porsche 356 is a sweet little car that was made from 1948 to 1965. It has two seats up front and a tiny seat in the back. We switched our seating around a few times, and my favorite spot was that little back seat where I had a view of the mountains in every direction.

View from back seat of Porsche 356 convertible in Colorado

I had a great view in all directions from the back seat.

Rocky Mountain 356 Porsche rally in Colorado

In June the mountains were still covered in snow.

The best view was out the back, and I just snapped away with the camera while Mark rode in another car and talked with the driver about all things Porsche for a very happy few hours.

Rocky Mountain Porsche 356 Rally in the Colorado Rockies

What a place for a Saturday drive!

It was a glorious late June day and the snow glistened in the bright, warm sun. We weren’t the only ones out enjoying the gorgeous roads and mountains scenery. A cyclist crested Loveland Pass just as we did.

Cyclist on the top of Loveland Pass Colorado

It was a lot easier to get to the top of this pass in a Porsche!

The snow was still surprisingly thick on the mountains, and at one point we even saw skiers zooming downhill at a ski resort. It was a blast to sit in the back seat and watch the line of Porsches snaking around all the curves behind us.

Scenic drive Rocky Mountain Porsche 356 Rally in Colorado

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Rocky Mountain Porsche 356 Rally in Colorado

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At one point we all parked and got out to stretch our legs and enjoy the views. The mountains were lovely, but I got a kick out of seeing the back sides of all the Porshce 356s lined up in the parking area!!

Colorado Porsche 356 Rally

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Colorado Porsche 356 Rally

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When we got back out on the road again, I was reminded of some of the really fun experiences we’ve had with sports cars out on the open road during our RV travels.

One of the best was the Idaho’s Sun Valley Road Rally, which takes place around the third weekend in July each year. We were fortunate to see the second edition of the Sun Valley Road Rally in 2009 when four members of a family each raced the family Porsche down a straight stretch of the Sawtooth Scenic Byway, achieving higher and higher speeds. The son won the day with a top speed of 188 mph.

We saw it again in 2014 when a fleet of Bugatti Veyrons entered the race. One hit a top speed of 246 mph! A cute 81 year old woman raced her Corvette too, reaching a peak speed of 166 while the loudspeakers played “Little Old Lady of Pasadena.” When she hopped out of her Corvette after she finished, she turned around and her T-shirt said, “Go Granny Go!”

Rally for Porsche 356 Club in Colorado

This fun Porsche rally brought back memories of other exotic car events on the open road.

Porsche roadsters in the Rocky Mountain Porsche 356 Rally in Colorado

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At one point our group of Porsche 356s had to stop and refuel.

Gas stop on Colorado Porsche 356 rally

How fun to see all the Porsches taking turns at the gas station.

But soon we were out on the road again, winding our way through majestic mountain views.

Yellow Porsche Rocky Mountain 356 Porsche rally in Colorado

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A few years ago, we saw the amazing Nevada Open Road Challenge which is held each May. Sports car enthusiasts from all over brought some of the most exotic looking racing cars to Ely, Nevada, to race against the clock on 90 miles of back roads to Las Vegas.

Rally for Porsche 356 roadsters in Colorado

Big mountains. Little Porsche!

Just like the Sun Valley Road Rally, spectators are allowed to mingle with the drivers in the Nevada Open Road Challenge. What a thrill it was to see the drivers get suited up and take off in that race.

It turned out that there are lots of opportunities for people to volunteer and help with the Nevada Open Road Challenge, and we talked with some of the folks about what a good time they had being a part of such an unusual car race.

Rally for Porsche 356 roadsters

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Near the end of our beautiful ride through Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, all the Porsches parked in a line for some photo ops. We were delighted to capture these colorful cars all in a row, and the owners proudly posed next to their cars for another round of pics.

Rally for Porsche 356 roadsters in Colorado Rockies

A rainbow of pretty Porsches.

Pretty Porsche 356 roadsters lined up in Colorado

More Porsches join them.

Rocky Mountains Porsche 356 Club Rally

Classy class photo!

I can’t think of a better way to get an overview of the magnificence of Colorado’s mountain scenery than to hop in the back of a friend’s convertible Porsche 356 and drive all around the state for a day. What luck!

Driving a Porsche in the Colorado Rocky Mountains

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But even if you don’t have a friend who has restored a vintage Porsche to take you on an exquisite ride, this part of Colorado is stunning no matter what vehicle you’re in. A map of the route is below in the reference links.

RV camping at sunset in Colorado

We never know where our travels will take us!

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The Porsche 356 Rally Route:

Other cool car rallies & races – Model A’s in Maine, sports car races in Sun Valley & Nevada, and Porsches in San Diego:

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RV Boondocking in Black Hills National Forest, SD – Camping with Cows!

July 2017 – The US Forest Service, which manages all the National Forests in America, dubs its land the “Land of Many Uses.” The uses we love most are camping with our RV, hiking, biking and photography. But when we are on public land, we share it with folks who hunt, fish, ride horses, graze cattle and extract various natural resources.

For urban and suburban folk who come out to America’s public lands to smell the pungent fresh air and see the stunning scenery, the omnipresence of cattle can be a bit of a surprise. In our many years of nightly boondocking, we have found ourselves sharing our back yard with cows quite a few times. It is, after all, open range.

Open Range Grazing Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

In the west, the public lands are Open Range. Literally!

Cattle ranching is very much alive today, and cowboys really do exist in the real world, far from the classic TV shows and western movies. The other day, as we were driving to town in Buffalo, Wyoming, we came across a cattle drive going right up the highway.

Cattle drive across highway

On the highway one day we came upon a cattle drive. How cool is that?!

We crept past and were amazed at the huge number of cows and calves. The cowboys herding them were on horseback.

Cattle drive on horseback

The cattle were being driven by cowboys on horseback.

Slow traffic for horseback cattle drive on highway

This is what a traffic jam in the big western states looks like!

As we went down the line of mooing cows and watched the calves trotting along to keep up with their moms, it was like stepping back in time. America has a rich history in cattle ranching, and in many ways it is a way of life that hasn’t changed all that much in the past 150 years.

But technology has definitely made deep inroads, and besides using ATVs to zip around the many square miles of a ranch, it helps simplify many other things too. Towards the end of the herd of cows we came across a cowboy riding his horse with a coiled rope in one hand and a cell phone in the other! How much easier it must be to coordinate the herding process when you can simply call your buddy cowboy at the other end of the herd!

Cowboy on cell phone during cattle drive

Modern day ranching: a coiled rope in one hand and a cell phone in the other!

In South Dakota’s Black Hills National Forest we found a lovely spot to camp with our RV for a few days, and as we were first setting up, we couldn’t help but take a few photos of our idyllic little campsite.

RV boondocking and camping in the US National Forest

Finding a beautiful place to camp in the National Forest is one of the biggest highlights of our lifestyle.

Boondocking in the National Forest is always a treat for the senses. In the early mornings we spotted deer nearby.

White tail deer in Black Hills National Forest South Datkota

Hi Neighbor!

A wild turkey caught Mark’s eye on a solo hike he did at dawn another morning.

Wild Turkey Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

A wild turkey fluffs his feathers and shakes his tail.

He’s not a birder, but his camera managed to catch a woodpecker searching for bugs, a robin carrying a bug in his mouth, and a stunning Western Tanager.

Woodpecker in Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

Woodpecker.

Robin with bug in its mouth Black Hills National Forest

Robin.

Western Tanager Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

Western Tanager.

Flying Western Tanager Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

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The nights were glorious. The Milky Way marched across the sky all night every night for a few days.

Milky Way with RV boondocking in Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

Starry, starry night!

Beautifully mysterious trail of clouds crossed the sky one night, and we were astonished later when Mark lightened his photos on his computer later and saw how much orange and pink lingered in those clouds.

RV under the Milky Way in Black Hills South Dakota

Wispy clouds cross the Milky Way.

RV under the Milky Way in Black Hills South Dakota

Clouds whirl past the stars.

But the most humorous and heartwarming aspect of this particular South Dakota campsite wasn’t the stars or the natural wildlife.

We were both jolted out of bed one morning by the raucous braying of a huge animal standing right under our fifth wheel’s overhang. Right under our bed! Good grief, what was that?

I jumped out of bed and poked my head out the door and found myself face to face with an enormous brown bull with a white face and an expectant expression. It was the ideal photo op. Our trailer and awning framed this huge bull’s head as he stared at me.

But I was in my PJs and was still wiping my eyes with disbelief, while my camera was tucked away in some safe place out of reach. By the time I got my hands on my camera, the bull was walking away to greener grass.

Cow by an RV in the US National Forest Black Hills South Dakota

This big bull stood under our bedroom and bellowed loudly to wake us up!

It turned out that his noisy braying — he sounded suprisingly like a very loud donkey on steroids — was a call to the herd to come check out our trailer. Before I knew it, our little buggy was surrounded with USDA Choice Grade A Grass Fed Beef!

Cows around fifth wheel trailer RV Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

Cows and calves check out our trailer.

Fifth wheel trailer RV boondocking with cows in the National Forest

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Over the next few days these cows came by our campsite on a regular basis. They seemed to be fascinated by us. And we were fascinated by them. We’d be sitting quietly minding our own business in our trailer when suddenly we’d hear the sound of grass being ripped out by the roots and footsteps clomping around in the dirt. We’d look out the window, and sure enough, there they’d be.

Herd of cows surround RV boondocking in the National Forest

We’re surrounded!

On a few mornings we woke to the trailer rocking as the cows rubbed their shoulders and scratched their itches on its corners.

Cow outside RV window camping in Black Hills South Dakota boondocking

I look out the window to see a peeping Tom!

Cow outside fifth wheel trailer RV Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

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Moms and calves would gather together and stare at us whenever they heard us come out of the trailer. The calves were skittish and would run away if we got too close, but the moms would stand calmly facing us, slowly grinding grass in their mouths and staring.

Cattle herd with fifth wheel camper RV in Black Hills National Forest

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Fifth wheel camper with herd of cows in Black Hills National Forest

The herd moves in on us.

One morning we were both woken from a deep sleep when we heard another strange sound just outside the trailer. We ran outside to see what it was and saw a balloon floating past. The sound we’d heard was the balloonist firing up the gas flame. Every few seconds he’d do that and the flame would fill the balloon with hot air to make it rise.

Balloon over RV boondocking in Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

The sound of a balloonist filling his balloon with hot air woke us up at dawn.

But it was those darn cows that kept the smirks on our faces and gave our days a special funkiness. I began to imitate their mooing, and that would make them turn around and look at me. I had to laugh when Mark commented, “That’s pretty good. You sound just like them!”

Grazing cattle Black Hills National Forest

All ears perked up when I mooed.

Mark took out his guitar one day and sat on our steps and played for them. They seemed to like the music and began mooing. Just like howling dogs, they seemed to want to add their own melody to his tunes.

Playing guitar for cows in US National Forest

The cows responded to Mark’s guitar playing by adding their voices in a moo-along!

A few calves got bold and ventured close to our truck. They were very intrigued by it.

A calf visits our truck in the National Forest

A brave calf approaches our truck.

Baby calf sniffs our pickup truck US National Forest

Another calf sniffs our bumper.

One day I came out of the trailer to find myself facing a lineup of cows. If I hadn’t knowd better, they would have seemed a little intimidating. They looked a lot like a gang of thugs in the hood.

Herd of cows and grazing cattle Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

The gang’s all here — in the hood!

Mark got busy taking portrait shots of a calf one day, and it was hilarious to see the little guy’s mind turning as he approached the camera.

Cow checks out Nikon camera

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Photography cow inspects Nikon camera

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Closeup of calf face

By placing the camera so low, Mark got a neat angle on this calf’s face.

Suddenly Mark saw his big wet nose and thick black tongue going for his camera. Uh oh!!

cow inspects Nikon camera Photography_

What does that thing taste like?

He pulled his camera away just in time, but when we started to pack up to leave the campsite a few days later, he discovered that one of the cows had gotten into our barbecue and had damaged the latch on the cover. He did a quickie repair job on the fly before we hitched up to leave.

Mother cow and calf in US National Forest

Camping in the National Forest sometimes gives us close encounters with cows.
It’s most fun with moms and their calves in Spring!

After we arrived at our next campsite, we found gooey prints from cow lips in a few places on our truck and trailer. Oh well! That’s all just part of the unusual experience of RV boondocking in the National Forest.

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An Old Time Country 4th of July – Custer, South Dakota

Some of our favorite 4th of July celebrations have been in small towns, and this year we were very fortunate to be in Custer, South Dakota, in time for their festivities which they call their Old Time Country 4th of July.

Custer town is nestled in the Black Hills of South Dakota, and the normally quiet streets were overflowing with visitors as the townspeople gathered for the parade.

Fourth of July Parade preparation Custer South Dakota

An RV in town for the 4th of July is passed by fire trucks as they head to the parade start.

There are loads of little tourist shops in town, and red-white-and-blue-wear was available in every style and every size.

Red white and blue clothes for 4th of July

Local shops offered many ways to wear red, white and blue!

The younger set were particularly fashionable.

Children's parade 4th of July Custer South Dakota

Kids went all out to dress up for the 4th.

We had arrived in Custer a few days earlier, and we had heard from everyone we met that Custer’s 4th of July celebration was very special. And they were so right. We got a huge kick out of it!

As people arrived with chairs in hand to stake out a spot along the parade route, an announcer got the crowd fired up on the front steps of the museum. He called on people in the crowd to find out where they were from. Lots of folks were from Utah, Arizona and Colorado, but there were people in town from North Carolina, New Hampshire and other far flung states as well.

Announcer 4th of July Custer South Dakota

There was a hub of activity around the museum in the middle of town.

The hallmark of Custer’s 4th of July parade is the kickoff when nearby Ellsworth Air Force Base, over in Rapid City, South Dakota, sends a B1 bomber right down the main drag for a flyover. What a rush! I got a video clip, but like the real thing, it’s over almost as soon as it starts!

B1 bomber 4th of July Custer SD

After burner glow…

The parade began with all the town kids dressed up in America’s colors riding their bikes. What a great idea!! From toddlers on balance bikes to little kids with training wheels to big kids zipping along on two-wheelers, they were all decked out. Some even had balloons.

Children's Parade kids on bikes 4th of July Custer South Dakota

The parade started with all the local kids on their bikes decorated and dressed up in red, white and blue.

Then Old Glory arrived followed by the Mayor carrying the Custer city flag, and soon after we saw Uncle Sam strolling past on stilts.

Flag bearers 4th of July Custer South Dakota

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Uncle Sam on stilts 4th of July Custer South Dakota

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There were lots of cars and trucks including an old Fire Department Salvage Truck. The junior fire fighters put their fire hats on and plugged their ears as the big fire trucks drove by.

Old fire truck 4th of July Parade Custer South Dakota

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Junior fire fighters 4th of July Parade Custer, South Dakota

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A snake oil salesman snuck into the parade, along with several vehicles honoring American veterans. Then a very cool old yellow truck went by with a huge flag representing a group that cares for disabled vets. We got a closer look at it after the parade was over as it drove back through town.

4th of July Celebration Custer South Dakota 4

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Operation Black Hills Cabin 4th of July Custer South Dakota

“Operation Black Hills Cabin” cares for disabled vets.

Later on, the day was capped off with a fantastic fireworks display.

The fireworks were shot off at Pageant Hill, but they could be seen from all over town. Before the fireworks began, the city’s fire trucks circled the town with sirens blaring. At first we thought something had gone wrong, but as people continued to arrive all around us and calmly set up their chairs to watch the fireworks, we realized the parade of fire trucks with lights and sirens whirring was all part of the show.

It seemed to take forever for darkness to fall, but at last the fireworks began. The show went on for a very long time and ended with a big finale. We had a blast taking photos…

4th of July Fireworks Custer South Dakota 1

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4th of July Fireworks Custer South Dakota 2

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Fireworks 4th of July Custer South Dakota

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Fireworks 4th of July Custer South Dakota

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4th of July Fireworks Custer South Dakota

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Fireworks 4th of July Custer South Dakota

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4th of July Fireworks Custer South Dakota-2

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4th of July Fireworks Custer South Dakota

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Fireworks 4th of July Custer South Dakota

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4th of July fireworks Custer South Dakota

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4th of July Fireworks Custer South Dakota 3

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4th of July Fireworks Custer South Dakota 4

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4th of July Fireworks Custer South Dakota 5

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4th of July Fireworks Custer South Dakota 8

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When you begin planning your RV travels for next summer, if you’re looking for a fun town to celebrate the 4th of July, head to Custer, South Dakota!!

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Bandelier National Monument – Fun Pueblo Cliff Dwellings in New Mexico!

May 2017 – A priceless jewel of antiquity lies just west and north of Santa Fe, New Mexico, not far from Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. It is the classic ancient pueblo ruins at Bandelier National Monument.

Ladder to cliff dwelling Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

Bandelier National Monument is a “hands-on” (actually “feet-on”) kind of place!

We’ve visited lots of cliff dwellings and pueblo ruins over the years at Tonto, Wupatki and Montezuma’s Castle in Arizona and Aztec Ruins in New Mexico, but the glimpses of the past and the evidence of the ancients’ ingenuity at Bandelier National Monument makes this place my personal favorite so far.

One of the most wonderful aspects of Bandelier National Monument is that the National Park Service has installed lots of replicas of pueblo ladders for visitors to use so they can get a closer look inside!

Ladder climb Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

We loved climbing up and down the ladders
to peek into the cliff dwellings.

The Ancestral Puebloan people lived here between 1150 and 1550 AD. They lived not only in the caves in the cliff walls but also in adobe brick dwellings. A large group of buildings very similar to those at Aztec Ruins National Monument fills a field and is called Tyuonyi Village. Other adobe brick buildings were built as extensions off the cliff dwellings in the cliff walls.

Rebuilt cliff dwellings Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

The Ancestral Puebloans took advantage of the huge bubbles in the volcanic rock,
building out from there with adobe brick.

Adolph Bandelier first saw the ruins in 1880. Then, in the early 1930’s, CCC workers created a huge camp to house themselves as they set about stabilizing and reconstructing the ruins. A reconstructed “Talus House” has been rebuilt and was easy to see as we passed it on the Main Loop Trail.

Renovated cliff dwellings Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

This reconstructed building is what all the buildings looked like at one time.

Bandelier National Monument is so popular that visitors arriving during the prime daytime hours between mid-May and mid-October must take a free shuttle bus into the park. The free Atomic City Transit bus picks people up in nearby Los Alamos, home of the secret Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb in the 1940’s.

We wanted to see the ruins without the bus crowds, however, so we were at the gate with our truck when they first opened, before they close the parking lot to private cars. We ran out on the trail and discovered to our delight that we were the only people there.

Ladder to cliff dwellings Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

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Being at the ruins in the quiet morning air was fabulous. We scampered up and down the ladders in sheer delight.

Climbing ladder to cliff dwelling Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

Going for a peek inside!

The astonishing highlight of the Main Loop trail is the very long Long House. This is a huge expanse of sheer rock cliff that has dozens of indents and holes in it where the Ancestral Puebloan people anchored their homes.

The Long House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

The Long House is a series of apartments that were built to butt up against the sheer cliff walls with adobe brick construction extending out from there.

The cliffs are part of the Jemez Volcanic field, and the bubbly nature of the cooling lava is readily apparent with thousands of one- or two-person sized holes and crevices lining the stone.

Long House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

Each indent is the end of a room. Holes bored in the rock supported tree trunk beams
that were floor joists and roof trusses.

The ancients used these holes — and carved others — as rooms or as ends of rooms. They also bored holes in the cliffs to support the ends of wooden beams. These beams supported ceilings and floors and second and third story rooms.

Ancient pueblo Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

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What amazed me as I looked a little closer at these ruins along the cliff face was that these people of 500 to 900 years ago took the time and had the inclination and ingenuity to decorate their interior walls.

They kind of plastered the walls and impregnated them with colors. The cracked and faded “plaster” is readily visible today.

Cliff holes for timer ceilings Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

Dozens of rooms are lined up along the cliffs. The structures were two and three stories tall.

They also created rectangular holes in the cliffs, perhaps for storage purposes.

Pueblo ruins Long House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

A kind of colored “plaster” decorated the interior walls.

I was really taken by this idea that the ancient puebloans decorated their walls.

Pueblo fresco wall art Long House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

The “fresco” walls are peeling but are clearly visible.

Some of the indents in the cliffs were deeper than others, and many seemed to have been decorated with a kind of wainscotting. The plaster on the lower half of those walls had been painted, while the upper half of the walls and roof were black from soot and smoke from their household fires.

Pueblo architecture Long House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

Some walls had a kind of wainscotting with the lower half decorated in colored “plaster” and the upper half black from soot. A bullseye petroglyph adorns the wall of top floor.

Wall fresco Long House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

A closer look at the “wainscotting.”

One of the indents was decorated with an artistic gemoetric pattern. The National Park Service has black and white photos of this wall from years ago where a ranger was pointing it out to visitors, right up close.

Now visitors have to stand far back from the cliff wall and the decocrative pattern is covered with a protective covering so it doesn’t vanish too quickly in the elements.

Fresco art pattern Long House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

One wall with a particularly vivid pattern is protected from the elements.

The Long House goes on for a very long distance with room after room lined up along the cliff face. It seems that the adobe brick structures that fronted these back walls extended out about two room’s width from the cliff wall, and the buildings were generally two or three stories tall too.

Ancestral Pueblo ruins Long House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

The Long House is very long and the trail wanders alongside it.

Holes in rock walls Long House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

Some holes, or caves, are natural but others are rectangular and very obviously man-made.

We saw only two petroglyphs, but there are probably more. A bull’s-eye was pecked out of the cliffs in an upper story in one area, and an unrecognizable animal was pecked out high up in another.

Petroglyph rock art Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

Some strange animal…

Eventually, leaving the Long House behind, the Main Loop trail took us through a ponderosa pine tree studded woodsy area. Pretty wildflowers looked up at us.

Wildflower Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

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Then we arrived at Alcove House, a massive natural cave that lies high up on the cliffs. The ancients must have used ladders to get up to this cave, and the National Park Service has placed ladders leading up to it for us modern visitors to use.

Alcove House ladders and cave Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

Alcove House is reached by two very long ladders and a third shorter ladder.

Climbing ladder to Alcove House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

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What a climb!

Long ladder to Alcove House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

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Climbing ladder to Alcove House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

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The Alcove House cave is huge and may have housed all kinds of rooms and other things. There are remnants of a circular kiva which has been restored but can’t be entered.

Alcove House Cave Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

The cave at Alcove House is very deep and must have offered great natural protection.

We liked the two person-sized openings that went into very small closet-like rooms!

Storage rooms in cave at Alcove House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

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After getting our fill of these ruins (for one day), we returned to the visitors center where we saw a very cool RV parked in the parking lot. It had animal tracks painted on one side and Chinese letters on the other and sported a German flag by the door.

Ironically, as I write this post a month later, we saw the exact same rig parked in Custer, South Dakota, earlier today. It is a small world!

Unusual rugged RV

Back at the Visitors Center we saw this unusual rig…and then saw it again a month later 700 miles away!

Another day we ventured out to Bandelier National Monument’s waterfall which lies at the end of the mile-and-a-half long Falls Trail.

Waterfall Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

A beautiful waterfall is the reward at the end of the Falls Trail.

There are ancient ruins all over America’s southwest, and various groups of modern day Native Americans believe they are descended from certain ancient cultures in different locations.

Interestingly, the modern Pueblo Indians who claim descent from the ancient people who built the Long House and Alcove House at Bandelier National Monument are the Cochiti Puebloans who live a ways away near Cochiti Lake and Tent Rocks.

The modern Pueblo Indians who live closest to Bandelier National Monument, the San Ildefonso Puebloan people, claim descent from the unexcavated ruins that lie just outside Bandelier at Tsankawai Ruins.

The hike through Tsankawai Ruins began with a ladder climb as well, but it was totally different in nature because the ruins don’t back up to a massive cliff face and they are hard to spot on the grassy plateau since they haven’t been dug up yet.

Tsankawai hike Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

A ladder at the beginning of the Tsankawai Ruins Trail.

Unlike all ancient archaeological sites where the ruins have been studied, thoroughly excavated, stabilized and rebuilt, the Tsankawai Ruins site is an explorer’s dream because some artifacts are still lying around.

I was shocked when Mark pointed to a rock that had some pottery shards lying on it. It didn’t take long for us to find a few others in the grass and dirt nearby.

Obviously, we left them in place so the next visitors could enjoy the same surprise as we did, but how fabulous it was to see the finely painted decorations on these centuries old bits of pottery.

Pottery Shards Tsankawai Ruins Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

Painted pottery shards on the Tsankawai Ruins Trail.

The Tsankawai Loop trail can be done either clockwise or counterclockwise, and we chose to go in the clockwise direction (taking a left at “Loop Trail” sign). After crossing a high plateau where the ancient ruins lie sunken into the dirt, the trail seemed to end. After a little scouting over the edge Mark noticed a ladder going down, so down we went.

I wonder how many people simply turn around at that point not knowing the trail continues down the well obscured ladder! Going in the counter clockwise direction, this ladder would be very obvious as the trail leads right to its base.

Tsankawai Ruins hike Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

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We skirted along the edge of a sloping hillside with wonderful views to one side, and rounded a bend to find some petroglyphs on a rock wall next to us.

Except for a spiral, the imagery was nothing like other petroglyphs we have seen elsewhere.

Petroglyphs Tsankawai Ruins Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

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We continued on and were absolutely floored by the many very narrow foot trails that have been carved into the rock.

Hiking the Narrow Carved Trail Tsankawai Ruins Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

The Tsankawai Ruins Trail includes some very cool skinny and curvy paths.

These were very clearly man-made and not the work of water or wind. But they weren’t made by the National Park Service either!

Skinny groove trail Tsankawai Ruins Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

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In another spot, we looked up along the rounded rock hills and noticed a little staircase that had been carved out of the rock.

How ingenious of the ancients to make these trails and staircases, and what a wonderful way for us to be transported back to a time centuries ago.

Strange stairway Tsankawai Ruins Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

In the footprints of the ancients…

If you are traveling in New Mexico with your RV — or if you find yourself anywhere near this area without an RV! — Bandelier National Monument is a true jewel that is well worth visiting.

For the Main Loop Trail to the Long House and Alcove House, be sure to get there early on a weekday if you want to see the ruins without the crowds. The Falls Trail and Tsankawai Ruins are much less visited.

More links and info below…

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More info about Bandelier National Monument and Tsankawai Ruins:

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