A Las Vegas Light Show — WOW!!

September 2017 – Just before I left on a whirlwind trip to Paris — the City of Light — we experienced one of the most dramatic light shows we have ever seen anywhere. It was put on by Mother Nature and staged in the valley north of Las Vegas, Nevada.

She used the city lights as a backdrop and spotlights mounted on a building in front of us as footlights!

Lightning in Las Vegas_

Bolts of lightning fill the night skies over Las Vegas

We were camped at the Clark County Shooting Complex RV park, a nice little RV park that sits up on a hill north of Las Vegas. We were there because we needed air conditioning in the 95 degree late summer heat during our stay.

RV at Clark County Shooting Range Las Vegas at sunset

Storm clouds light the sky in bright colors at Clark County Shooting Complex RV Park.

The high vantage point of the park gives RVers fabulous views of the city lights at night from every campsite. In the mornings we were woken by folks enjoying target practice.

As we stood outside, marveling at the majestic colors of sunset and watching thick and dark storm clouds swirl across the valley from the mountains on the distant horizon, we suddenly heard the wind pick up and felt some raindrops on our cheeks.

A lightning storm begins at sunset in Las Vegas

Rain falls from storm clouds at sunset.

Then we saw bolts of lightning flashing in the distance. Wow!!

Lightning over Las Vegas Nevada

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Lightning bolts in Las Vegas Nevada

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For the next half hour we stood and watched the most incredible lightning show either of us has ever seen. Huge bolts of lightning burst out of the sky and struck the ground in rapid fire succession.

Lightning storm over Las Vegas Nevada

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Lightning bolts over Las Vegas Nevada

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At first, as we stood there, we kept saying to each other, “We really should get out our cameras and try to capture this!” But lightning is hard to pin down in a photo, and we didn’t think the lightning show would go on much longer.

We have a fancy lightning trigger that attaches to a camera and automatically clicks the shutter button every time it senses lightning, and it works pretty well. But we had bought it for our old cameras and hadn’t upgraded its cable to match our new cameras.

Lightning in Las Vegas Nevada

A single bolt strikes from the heavens above.

Twin Lightning bolts in Las Vegas Nevada

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So we stood there with our mouths gaping open and our feet rooted to the ground as massive lightning bolts flashed across the valley in front of us. To our amazement, the show kept going and going and going.

Lightning bolts over Las Vegas Nevada

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Suddenly, Mark said something about how you could leave the camera shutter open for long periods and just let whatever lightning bolts fell stockpile themselves onto the image. That was all the hint I needed! I flew into the rig to grab my camera and tripod. As I dashed back out I bumped into Mark in the doorway. He was hot on my heels going to get his gear too!

Lightning bolts Las Vegas Nevada

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We set up our tripods and left the shutters open for 30 seconds at a whack with the aperture stopped way down, at f/22, and base ISO.

We took our first shots and let out whoops and hollers of excitement when we saw the images on the backs of our cameras.

OMG!!

Lightning storm over city lights in Las Vegas Nevada

Studying our photos later, we noticed different colors in the lightning bolts.

Lightning in Las Vegas Nevada

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The only hard part was guessing where the lightning would strike next, because it was all over the sky and all over the valley.

But we could see we were getting awesome images, and we just kept clicking the shutter buttons every thirty seconds for the next 10 or 15 minutes, jumping up and down and shrieking with excitement between shots.

Lightning storm over Las Vegas Nevada

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Lightning bolts over city lights Las Vegas Nevada

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Miraculously, after the first few drops of rain fell, Mother Nature pulled the curtain of dripping clouds away from the stage. We were able to stand in warm dry air — and blustery winds — and witness the stunning power of earth’s beautiful forces without getting wet.

Lightning storm Las Vegas Nevada

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What a night this was — a night we’ll never forget! And thank goodness we grabbed our cameras when we did, because there wasn’t a single flash of lightning in Las Vegas for the remaining 16 days we kept our buggy there!!

Lightning storm over city lights of Las Vegas Nevada

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Lots of people come to Las Vegas to experience the bright lights of the big city. But these bright lights, thrown from God’s hand across the valley surrounding Las Vegas, dwarfed any light show that might have been happening downtown!!

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Badlands National Park – Rugged Beauty on a South Dakota RV Trip

August 2017 – Several states boast rugged landscapes that are known as “Badlands,” and we have enjoyed two trips to the mysterious Bisti Badlands in New Mexico. But the Badlands in South Dakota are sizeable enough to have been set aside as a National Park.

Landscape Badlands National Park South Dakota

Badlands (along with dot-sized cows) in South Dakota

The town of Wall, home of Wall Drug, sits right next door to Badlands National Park, and after just a short drive from town we found ourselves immersed in the moonscape of a windswept desert where relentless erosion has shaped the sedimentary rock into an endless array of triangles.

South Dakota Badlands Scenery

Rugged “badlands” landscape

As far as our eyes could see, the land was rippled with peaks and valleys, natural pyramids and buttes.

South Dakota Badlands scenery

Slightly hazy from smoke coming from Montana’s wildfires, the golden glow was still beautiful.

Unlike Bisti Badlands, the rock in Badlands National Park is not brightly colored. There is a small section that features rolling yellow and red mounds, but for the most part the land is filled with shades of brown and beige. Despite the drab colors, it is a very stimulating place for photography, and we had fun trying to capture the essence of this desolate land on our cameras.

Photography Badlands National Park South Dakota

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Golden Hour Badlands National Park South Dakota

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Badlands National Park is quite popular, and there are several overlooks where you can get an outstanding view.

Overlook at Badlands National Park South Dakota

There are badlands as far as the eye can see!

For us, one of the coolest things in Badlands National Park was the large resident herd of bighorn sheep. These guys wander throughout the park at their leisure. They are well accustomed to tourists and totally unafraid of people. Best of all, it didn’t take long to spot them relaxing on the various precipices and promontories as they took in the views of the Badlands!

Bighorn Sheep Badlands National Park Overlook South Dakota

Two bighorn sheep enjoy the awesome view.

Like the wild animals at Custer State Park and Yellowstone National Park, this herd of bighorn sheep can hardly be called “wild.” The rangers keep a close eye on the herd and follows their movements about the Park. To help with their monitoring, some of the bighorn sheep have been outfitted with collars that carry rather bulky radio beacons, complete with a long antenna.

Bighorn sheep walks past an RV wearing a radio collar

Have radio, will travel! If the rangers gave this sheep an iPhone X, he could make calls and post pics on Facebook!!

This wasn’t the first time we’d seen bighorn sheep decked out with radios around their necks. The whereabouts of a herd of bighorn sheep at Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area is monitored this way, and the elk that have repopulated Great Smoky Mountains National Park are tracked via radio beacon too.

But the animals seem to manage just fine despite this bulky electronic gear, and only a few in the herd were collared. As the sun set, we found ourselves very close to the herd as they munched the grasses near the road, and we were able to get some wonderful portraits at close range!

Bighorn sheep at sunset Badlands South Dakota

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Bighorn sheep (ovis canadensis) really are in the sheep family (ovis), and they have been around on the North American continent for millenia. During our stay in Wyoming, we’d had a chance to get some fun mom-and-baby shots of domestic sheep too (ovis aries), and this made for an interesting comparison between the two species.

Mama sheep and her lamb

Very sheepish, but a little different looking!

Bighorn sheep in the prairie grasses Badlands South Dakota

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Pretty soon the herd began to leave the roadside and make its way across the shimmering golden grasses of the Badlands. The crowd of tourists on the side of the road murmured and held up their cell phones to capture this majestic and classic western sight unfolding before our eyes. How fabulous!

Bighorn sheep family at sunset Badlands South Dakota

A family of bighorn sheep moves through the golden grasses.

Big horn sheep family at sunset Badlands South Dakota

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Herd of bighorn sheep Badlands South Dakota

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Badlands National Park turned out to be an excellent place for wildlife viewing, and one day at a watering hole just outside the Park we spotted a flock of pelicans getting a drink and a bath. What an unexpected surprise!

Pelican Badlands National Park South Dakota

Here’s a Badlands visitor we didn’t expect to see!

But perhaps the most endearing animals were the prairie dogs. These little guys are just too cute for words!

Tourists like us love them, of course, because of their funny antics as they pop in and out of their holes. But they are not so popular with ranchers because their massive dog town communities spread out for acres and acres. They dig up the grasslands, leaving very recognizable little piles of dirt outside their holes, and it’s just too easy for a horse to step in a hole by accident and injure itself.

But we couldn’t resist them!

Prairie Dog Secrets Badlands National Park South Dakota

“I wanna let you in on a little secret…”

Two Prairie Dogs Badlands National Park South Dakota

“No… are you serious?!”

Prairie Dogs Badlands National Park South Dakota

“Hey! Guess what I just heard…!!”

We made our way across the Park, and at sunset the striped eroded sediment rock of the Badlands began to glow.

Badlands National Park South Dakota

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Badlands National Park South Dakota

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As we drove out of the Park the sun slowly sank out of sight and disappeared behind the hills, taking the rich golden light and dark shadows with it. Suddenly, we spotted one of the bighorn sheep standing on a ridge against the fabulous Badlands backdrop. What a classic image!

Bighorn Sheep Badlands National Park South Dakota

First there was one…

Then two of his buddies joined him.

Bighorn sheep Badlands National Park South Dakota

…and then there were three!

So often we have looked around at a classic western desert landscape and said, “Wouldn’t it be perfect to see a bighorn sheep standing right there!” And there they were right in front of us!

Red ball at sunset Badlands National Park South Dakota

The sun sets in a fireball of red.

If Badlands National Park seems a little out of the way, or if the scenery itself doesn’t lure you to the Park, perhaps the chance to see large communities of prairie dogs and a sizeable herd of bighorn sheep will. We were surprised at just how easy it was to spot these animals and how much they make an otherwise barren landscape come alive.

RV camping in the South Dakota Badlands at sunset

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Wall Drug – An Iconic Pit Stop on a South Dakota RV Road Trip

August 2017 – One of the most famous landmarks we visited on our South Dakota RV trip wasn’t a National Park or stunning natural feature. Instead, it was a plain ol’ drug store that opened in 1931 and has grown exponentially ever since, garnering a reputation that now spreads far and wide!

Wall Drug sign It's Cool Wall South Dakota

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The southwest corner of South Dakota is home to Rapid City, the second largest city in the state with a population of 68,000, as well as the charming small town of Custer City, the beautiful Black Hills National Forest, Custer State Park, the motorcycle mecca of Sturgis and Badlands National Park.

In between these jewels, the land is open rolling prairie, and the view from the highways, especially I-90, are lovely.

RV travel on the open road near Badlands South Datota

Rolling prairie views along I-90 in southwestern South Dakota


After seeing rolling yellow-brown hills, hay bales and cows for 15 minutes, though, the views do get a bit boring. Occasionally there is something really pretty that’s worth grabbing the camera to capture, but how many grassy hills, hay bales and cows do you really want to see?

Scenery on I-90 near Wall South Dakota

I grabbed my camera for this!

However, for RVers and all other drivers, the monotony is frequently broken up by billboards advertising Wall Drug.

Wall Drug sign Homemade Pie Wall South Dakota

Yum!

These signs are spaced every few miles, and they herald all kinds of fabulous things that you’ll see if you get off the highway in the town of Wall and make your way to Wall Drug Store.

Homemade Lunch Specials Wall Drug Store Sign Wall South Dakota

Yummy too, but maybe we’ll order that homemade pie first…!

Wall Drug Fast Food sign Wall South Dakota

For those in a hurry.

Back in 1931, in the midst of the Great Depression, a young couple named Ted and Dorothy Hustead bought the drug store in the small town of Wall (then pop. 326) on the edge of the South Dakota Badlands.

He had recently graduated from pharmacy school, and they were looking for a small town with a Catholic church so they could attend mass every day and raise a family in a wholesome setting.

Their story (link below) speaks of a different era when a young couple contemplating relocating to a new town would go and talk in person with the town banker, the priest and the local doctor.

Using $3,000 they had inherited from Ted’s father, they bought the store and moved into an “apartment” in the back of the store that was partitioned off with a blanket.

Something to Crow About at Wall Drug Badlands South Dakota

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Western Art Wall Drug sign Wall South Dakota

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Ted’s cousin had told him that Wall was “just about as Godforsaken as you can get,” and that it was “in the middle of nowhere” where “everybody…is flat broke busted.”

But Ted and Dorothy liked the feeling of the town, and they decided to give their dream a try for five years.

Wall Drug Western Wear Sign Wall South Dakota

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5 Cent Coffee at Wall Drug Badlands South Dakota

We loved the little cartoon drawings on many of these signs!

By July of 1936 their five year trial period was nearing its end, and they were just about flat broke busted. The Dust Bowl was in full swing, the Great Depression was as deep as ever, and they now had two children to support.

With such a tiny population out in the middle of nowwhere, there was little to bring people to this remote part of the country in those days, so their only customers were their fellow flat broke neighbors.

Nearby Mt. Rushmore had been under construction for nine years but was still five years from completion, and the Interstate highway system which would eventually bring them I-90 wasn’t even a twinkle in the government’s eye.

The only road connecting Wall to the outside world was Routes 14 and 16A, and there was nothing in Wall to pull passersby off those roads and into downtown.

Yet when Dorothy laid down for a nap one hot July afternoon, she couldn’t fall asleep because of all the noise the Jalopies were making out on Route 16A as they rattled down the road to Badlands National Monument (not yet a National Park), the Black Hills and Yellowstone.

Wall Drug Store Shootin Gallery highway sign in South Dakota

Stick ’em up!

As she laid there, she suddenly realized how she could lure all those drivers off the hot dusty highway and bring them into their tiny store — with free ice water!

She told Ted her idea and they quickly made up a series of signs to put out on the highway:

“Get a soda …” “Get a root beer…” “Turn next corner…” “Just as near…” “To Highway 16 & 14…” “Free Ice Water…” “Wall Drug”

Wall drug sign for free ice water Wall South Dakota

Just what hot and thirsty travelers need…

As soon as they had pounded those signs into the ground along the highway, customers began showing up at their drug store.

Where the tiny town of Wall had been empty of cars and people moments before, now there were Jalopies parked all over the place as tired, thirsty, dusty travelers stopped in for free ice water and then bought other refreshments too.

The little town of Wall and its humble drug store suddenly got a new lease on life, and this young couple’s simple dreams were fulfilled — and then some!

Wall Drug ice water sign Wall South Dakota

We’re almost there!!!

I first heard about this unusual drug store from Mark’s tales of his motorcycle ride across country in the early 1970’s. He and his buddy saw the signs for miles and miles. They had never heard of the store, but after seeing all those signs, they just had to stop in.

There wasn’t a whole lot there, but it was a fun and funky little pit stop.

Now, some eighty plus years after the first Wall Drug signs went up, Wall Drug signs can be found all over the world. One rather dated newspaper article I found on a wall indicated there are over 3,000 Wall Drug signs worldwide!

We even heard from RVing friends of ours that that they saw a Wall Drug sign in Mexico’s Copper Canyon!

We weren’t sure what we’d find when we got to Wall Drug Store, but we got off of I-90 to go have a look.

Wall Drug in Wall South Dakota

And there it is! Well, part of it anyway.

The town of Wall is still very small, although it has doubled in size since the 1930s and is now home to 766 people. But the Wall Drug complex is immense and is much more than just a drug store.

Wall Drug Store in Wall South Dakota

This is a very big place for a very small town.

The Wall Drug complex takes up a city block and includes an indoor mall filled with all kinds of classic tourist trap stuff. Across the street, there are even more tourist shops.

Downtown Wall South Dakota in front of Wall Drug

Downtown Wall — across from Wall Drug

Very frankly, there is a cheesy air to it all, but it’s still a very fun stop if you are taking an RV anywhere near all the other goodies that southwestern South Dakota has to offer.

The Disney-like tourist atmosphere is fun for kids and families looking for ways to entertain them. Seeing all those kids scampering around on the various little rides and statues in the courtyard, we couldn’t help but join them, and before I knew it Mark was up on the Jackalope saying, “Take my picture!”

Riding a Jackalope Wall Drug South Dakota

Mark was the biggest kid to climb on the jackalope!

There were lots of gimmicks inside too. Every so often we kept hearing this loud roar and noticing flashing lights at the far end of a hallway. We wandered down there and found a dinosaur that would come to life every few minutes. He’d gnash his teeth, wag his head and roar.

Dinosaur display inside Wall Drug in South Dakota

Every so often this dinosaur would roar to life and scare the littlest kids.

The Wall Drug Store highway signs had ended, but inside we found a wall full of newspaper and magazine articles that continued the promotion and told the story of Wall Drug.

A wall full of newspaper and magazine articles about Wall Drug

Wall Drug is famous!

The little idea of free ice water has come a long way in eighty years, and the mall-like interior of the complex was filled with curious tourists.

Inside Wall Drug Store and mall Wall South Dakota

Inside Wall Drug.

The signs on the highway don’t lie, and we found free ice water available in a water station in the courtyard. Wall Drug also still honors its highway signs for free coffee and donuts for honeymooners as well as five cent coffee for everyone else who wants to grab a cup.

Of course, there are lots of places to sit down for a full meal or grab a snack on the go.

Several walls are also filled with photos that tell the history not only of Wall Drug Store but of Rapid City, South Dakota, the Badlands and the settlers and Indians who lived in this area long ago.

Hallways of history at Wall Drug South Dakota

There is a ton of history told in photos on these walls.

One photo in particular caught my eye. It showed Wall Drug Store back in the early days, long before the arrival of the outdoor fountain and jackalope and automated talking cowboys and rocking western wagon rides for the younger set.

Wall Drug old photo of first store in 1950s

Wall Drug in the early days.

A replica of Wall Drug Store can still be found inside the mall.

Wall Drug Store inside the Wall Drug mall Wall South Dakota

The heart of Wall Drug is the drug store itself!

RVs are welcome at Wall Drug, and there is a special parking area just for big rigs like ours to one side.

The tourist shops sell lots of souvenirs for RVers too, and we got a kick out of them. There were some very cute hand towels featuring old style travel trailers:

Antique travel trailer hand towel Welcome

I love it!

RV towel Home is Anywhere I'm With You

This is what I tell my sweetie.

And there were lots of Happy Camper t-shirts and hats as well.

Happy Camper Hats

Is there any life that’s better? Not for us!

Wall Drug isn’t a destination for spectacular western scenery or authentic western anything, but it’s a hoot and is well worth a stop for RVers heading to Yellowstone, Devils Tower, or the Tetons, if for no other reason than to get a free cup of ice water and be able to tell your friends you’ve been there and done that!

RV sunset camping in South Dakota Badlands

South Dakota skies.

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Buffalo Wyoming – RVing Basque Style in the Bighorns!

July 2017 – During our stay in Buffalo, Wyoming, we were treated to a most unusual celebration: an annual Basque Festival which featured a parade of Basque sheep herders’ wagons rolling right down the main drag as well as a weekend-long fair and Basque Wagon Show at a nearby park.

Basque Festival in Buffalo Wyoming

A Basque wagon parade!
(What a cool RV!)

The only thing we knew about the Basques prior to this event was from watching the Euskaltel–Euskadi cycling team in the Tour de France. Whenever they rode through Basque country, an area that spans the borders of France and Spain, the locals would all be dressed in orange and green, lining the sides of the and road waving flags, and they would go absolutely crazy!

It turns out that the Basques have lived in their corner of Spain and France since long before the Roman Empire reached across Europe. Their language is the only living and spoken European language that doesn’t have Indo-European roots (actually, linguists have not definitively found its roots in any language, dead or alive!), and scientists say their DNA is unique as well.

In the 1800s and early 1900s many Basques immigrated from France and Spain to America and became sheep ranchers in the western states.

Quite a few Basques settled in and around Buffalo, Wyoming, in Johnson County, and there is a bronze sculpture in town that commemorates them and their line of work.

Sheep sculpture and Basque history Buffalo Wyoming

The Basques immigrated to Wyoming from France and Spain and became sheep ranchers.

When the shepherds were out on the prairie tending their flocks, they would set up camp in a covered wagon.

Many of the original wagons are still around and are still owned by Basque-descended families. As we stood watching the parade go by, we were amazed by the number and variety of these wagons.

Basque wagon Basque Festival Buffalo Wyoming

What a cool trailer — with the Basque flag on the truck bumper!

Some were pulled by a truck, some by horses, and some by antique vehicles. Some had rubber wheels and others had wooden wheels. All of them were very cool.

Basque wagon towed by antique car Basque Festival Buffalo Wyoming

Oops! A nifty antique car towing a Basque wagon needs a little TLC mid-parade!

Basque Festival Buffalo Wyoming Basque wagon

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The people in the parade were all descendants of the Basque families, and their excitement was palpable.

The Basques have a wild side (as we had noticed in those Tour de France bike races), and a few of them carried a leather pouch filled with wine that they squirted into their mouths as they paraded along!

One family float had big coolers of beer, and when they stopped in front of us a family member grabbed a beer and took it up to the driver of the truck pulling the float. Drinking and driving was okay for a day in this fun commemorative procession!

The families are very big now, and many family groups had lots of folks in the parade. Some carried cute signs.

Arno Flock Basque Festival Parade in Buffalo Wyoming

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The Arno family’s wagon had a funny sign on the back too:

Arno family wagon Basque Festival parade in Buffalo Wyoming

Party animals all!!

Some even brought the family dogs along in the parade.

Basque Festival Buffalo Wyoming

Rover got a ride on the back!

The Basque wagons are very cute travel trailers, and as RVers we were especially curious about what they were like to camp in.

After the parade there were a dozen or more of them at the city park, and each one was opened up so you could take a peek inside.

Basque trailers and Basque wagons Buffalo Wyoming

After the parade, we had a chance to see these intriguing trailers up close.

Basque wagon display Buffalo Wyoming Basque Festival

The design is generally the same with the front door at the hitching end of the trailer.
A big bowl for water, cooking and cleaning hangs on the door.

These trailers looked to be about 15 to 25 feet long and they were set up very simply.

Basque wagon display Buffalo Wyoming

Home, Home on the Range!

Basque trailer on rubber tires Buffalo Wyoming Basque Festival

A broom outside and wood stove inside
and a split door.

Inside, there is usually a wood stove on the driver’s side, a bed in the back, a bench/bed on the curbside and storage drawers all around.

Basque wagon interior Buffalo Wyoming Basque Festival

Most had a wood stove for heating and cooking inside plus a bed in the back and lots of storage.

One had been upgraded with an RV stove instead of a wood stove.

Inside a Basque wagon for camping and sheep herding Buffalo Wyoming

A few modern upgrades!

Each one was unique, and they all looked like a lot of fun to camp in.

Inside a Basque wagon for camping Buffalo Wyoming

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Of course, for Basque sheep ranchers on the wide open lands of Wyoming, watching the grass grow and the sheep eat it back wasn’t necessarily a life of thrill and adventure, so the Basques often passed their time making music. During the parade we had a chance to see several Basque dance troops showing off some of their traditional dance steps.

As we wandered among the Basque wagons, we were intrigued to see two Amish men walking around as well. America is home to so many unique lifestyles and traditions, it was really fun to see the Amish among the Basques!

I started to talk to one of the Amish men and discovered his name was David and he was from Lancaster, Pennsylvania (of all places!). He had a non-Amish neighbor back home who had a summer house near Buffalo, so he and another Amish friend had hopped on a train to come visit for a week.

He had never been out west and was really enjoying seeing the beauty of our country. He gave me his card and suggested I look him up next time we’re in Lancaster. Definitely! We both had a good laugh when we found out that he has a cell phone but we don’t!

Amish man and Basque wagon Buffalo Wyoming Basque festival

In the middle of this immersion in all things Basque we saw two Amish men checking out the trailers!

The festivities in the park included all kinds of things, from crafts to Basque flags and wine pouches to music performed by a Basque steel drum band.

Steel drum orchestra Basque Film Festival Buffalo Wyoming

I wouldn’t have associated steel drums with the Basque, but there they were!

In one corner of the park lots of kids romped around in a big playground. A group of kids was having a blast swinging on a huge self-propelled merry-go-round. Cowboys, of course, were everywhere, and we spotted a very young cowboy — in hat, western shirt, Wranglers, boots and all — nimbly scampering up a rock climbing wall!

Young cowboy climbs the rock climbing wall Buffalo Wyoming Basque Festival

Among the younger set, who can resist a rock climbing wall?

Buffalo, Wyoming, sits on the edge of the Bighorn National Forest, and we enjoyed several excursions into this beautiful wooded and mountain scenery.

The woods were filled with pine trees, and much like the Black Hills where big rocks and boulders predominate, there were lots of wonderfully craggy rocks between the trees in the woods.

Ponderosa pines and rocks in Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

Bighorn National Forest has lots of widely spaced pines and big jagged gray boulders.

We were surprised that in late July the Bighorn mountains were still snowcapped. The views of the Bighorns were beautiful.

Bighorn Mountains in Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

Wow!

Even though the peaks of the mountains still had snow on them, the wildflowers were in full display in the valleys.

Lupine wildflowers Bighorn National Forest Bighorn Mountains Wyoming

Wildflowers and mountains — love it!

Wildflowers Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

Pink ones.

Backlit wildflower Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

And a vivid orange/yellow one.

The lovely wild lupine were in full bloom, happily showing off their lavender glory.

Lupine wildflowers top view Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

The lupines were at their peak.

Carpets of these gorgeous purple flowers covered the ground between the trees.

Lupine wildflowers surrounding tree trunks Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

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Ponderosa pine forest filled with lupine wildflowers Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

Lupines blanket the ground in the woods — Beautiful!

We found wonderful streams and noisy babbling brooks.

Cascade and brook Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

A river runs through it.

And the skies were very dramatic.

Stormy skies Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

We saw some fabulously stormy skies.

Suddenly, we saw a huge flash of lightning and heard a loud crack of thunder just before a deluge of rain pelted us.

Lightning in Bighonr National Forest Wyoming

A summer thunderstorm!

Then, as quickly as the summer storm descended, it suddenly dispersed, leaving a beautiful sunset in its wake.

Fifth wheel trailer RV camping Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

Wyoming sunset.

One of the greatest joys in our traveling lifestyle is the many people we meet. While in Buffalo we started chatting with the owners of a side-by-side UTV, Jonette and Bill, and we peppered them with questions about it since we’re very curious about these things.

As we talked we were blown away to discover that they followed our blog! We became friends and they laid out the royal carpet for us during our stay, showing us many of the hidden jewels in the area.

One evening they took us out to the Bud Love wilderness area where we saw an incredible number of pronghorn antelope and deer. It occurred to us that for the Basques living in their wagons out on the prairie, “Home, home on the range” was definitely a place “where the deer and the antelope play!”

Pronghorn Antelope Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

A pronghorn antelope.

Doe and fawn Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

Mom and baby white tail deer.

The fawns still had their spots and they stuck close to their parents. If mom wandered off, baby had to run to catch up.

There were two types of deer roaming around: white tail deer, a slightly taller deer that raises its tail like a white flag whenever it runs, and mule deer, a smaller deer that has enormous ears and holds its brown tail down when it runs.

White tail fawn running Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

A white tail fawn waves his white tail as he runs!

Doe and fawn Bud Love wildlife area Buffalo Wyoming

A mule deer doe and fawn.

One group of mule deer was particularly unafraid of us and let us get quite close.

Buck and fawn Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

A buck and fawn.

Buck and fawn Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

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There were several bucks hanging around along with a fawn and doe, and when they stopped right in front of me in a perfect family Christmas card pose, I was just thrilled to get the shot!

Deer family Bud Love Wildlife Area Buffalo Wyoming

Family Portrait! Perfect for next year’s Christmas card!

Then they wandered off and the fawn began running and jumping to keep up.

Running fawn Bud Love wildlife area Buffalo Wyoming

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Jumping fawn Bud Love wildlife area Buffalo Wyoming

It always amazes me how deer literally bounce across the ground!

On another day we were driving down a dirt road when we noticed a fawn climbing out of an irrigation ditch right by the side of the road. He stopped and stared at us with a rather stressed look on his face. We pulled the truck over to get his portrait and noticed he was all wet.

Wet fawn Bud Love wildlife area Buffalo Wyoming

A little fawn fell into an irrigation ditch. He was soaked!

He disappeared into some tall grasses and then came running out again. Then he began running in very tight circles round and round.

Scared fawn Bud Love wildlife area Buffalo Wyoming

The poor little guy started running around and around in circles.

Frightened fawn running in circles Bud Love wildlife area Buffalo Wyoming

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We were really puzzled, but had learned from friends last year in Montana that herds of elk run in tight circles when they’re scared. We had seen a whole herd of elk doing just that on the side of the highway in the Bitterroot Valley (blog post here).

Scared fawn running in circles Bud Love wildlife area Buffalo Wyoming

Around again!

As we watched him, we suddenly noticed his mom was standing waiting for him on the other side of our truck. We had inadvertently parked our truck right between him and his mother, and besides falling into a ditch and getting drenched, he was now terrified he couldn’t get back to her. What a day!

We pulled the truck back out into the center of the road and drove off so the little tyke could get back to the safety of his mom’s side.

We were lucky to see the North American Basque Organization’s annual festival in Buffalo this year, but it will be held in other towns for the next few years. So, if you can chase it down to its next location, definitely do so. In the meantime Wyoming’s Bighorn National Forest is a true delight for an RV trip. We will definitely return for more!

RV boondocking and camping in Wyoming

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Buffalo Wyoming – Cowboys, Cowgirls and Sheriff Walt Longmire!

Buffalo, Wyoming, and the nearby Bighorn Mountains stole our hearts during our RV travels this summer, and we ended up sticking around for a while.

Fifth wheel trailer RV camping at sunset

A Wyoming sunset.

On our first day in Buffalo, we were astonished to find the streets were lined with throngs of really excited people. As we made our way through the mob, we noticed the cops were directing traffic at every intersection.

Something really big was happening. But what?

Soon we realized a parade was about to come through town. What perfect timing!

Longmire Days Parade Buffalo Wyoming Home of Longmire

We arrived in Buffalo, Wyoming, just in time to see a parade!

We watched the parade go by and gave each other quizzical looks as we tried to figure out why there would be a parade in this small town in the middle of July. The 4th of July was over, so this must be something else!

Longmire Days Parade Occidental Hotel Buffalo Wyoming

A band plays on a flat bed trailer as it passes the Occidental Hotel. What on earth was this parade for???

Suddenly a turquoise truck came by with a guy standing in the bed of the truck. A huge roar went up from the crowd, and the man waved at everyone. It was as if he were some kind of beloved celebrity.

The woman standing next to me saw I wanted to take a photo and eagerly stepped aside. “Go on!” she said urgently. “Push on out there and get his photo!”

Walt Longmire in Longmire Days Parade Buffalo Wyoming

A roar goes up from the crowd as this cowboy goes by in the back of a Bronco!

I got my shot and then asked — still confused — “Is that the mayor?”

She threw her head back and laughed. “No! Of course not!” She said. “That’s Walt Longmire!”

Sheriff Walt Longmire in parade at Buffalo Wyoming

Of course this isn’t the mayor.
This is the famous Sheriff Walt Longmire!

I stared at her blankly.

“You don’t know who Walt Longmire is?” She was clearly shocked at my ignorance. “Longmire is a huge TV show that’s really popular around here. That guy is the lead actor! The show takes place in this town, although it’s called Durant on TV rather than Buffalo.”

It turned out that we had arrived just in time for a special weekend celebration called Longmire Days when Buffalo, Wyoming, welcomes the cast from the Longmire TV series and also welcomes thousands of out-of-town guests who come from as far as California to see their beloved stars in person.

There is a store in town devoted to memorabilia from the show, and the store owners later told us it is really fun — and a bit funny — to watch these starstruck fans come from near and far to see the heroes of their series in person.

Longmire Headquarters Buffalo Wyoming

The Longmire TV show, developed from a local author’s book, depicts life in Buffalo, Wyoming, but calls the town “Durant, New Mexico.”

I’ve been starstruck by celebrities before too, so I totally understood. But I have to say that it is really hilarious when you have never heard of a TV show to run headlong into fan hysteria and the celebrities who are at the heart of it.

To me, this famous and adored actor (that women were truly going nuts for) just looked like a regular old cowboy standing in the back of a truck!

Then again, after a decade on the road, largely in the western states, I have become a huge John Wayne fan. We watch his old movies all the time. If I were to see John Wayne in person who knows what crazy hysterics I would fall prey to!

Ironically, it turned out I wasn’t the only John Wayne fan in Buffalo, Wyoming.

John Wayne T-shirt Buffalo Wyoming

I wasn’t the only avid John Wayne fan in town!

Buffalo, Wyoming, is home to about 4,600 people, and the heart of the town is a small grassy park called “Crazy Woman Park.”

The term Crazy Woman is popular in this area. There are both a creek and a canyon named “Crazy Woman” along with various business and shops. There are several legends behind the name, and they vary a bit, but each one references a woman (either white or Indian) who witnessed or was involved in a terrible tragedy that made her crazy. She lived out her days in a canyon not far from Buffalo.

Crazy Woman Park in Buffalo is decorated with several big, colorful murals that were commissioned in 2012 to show that Buffalo isn’t just a One Horse Town.

Horse mural and cowboy Buffalo Wyoming

Buffalo isn’t a One Horse (or One Cowboy) Town.

The murals were painted by Aaron and Jenny Wuerker. The first panel on the left depicts old black and white photos of cowboys around the turn of the century.

Old cowboys in "More than a One Horse Town' mural Buffalo Wyoming by Aaron Wuerker

Original cowboys in Buffalo way back when.

The next panel shows two cowboys chasing some horses across the prairie and bringing them into the town of Buffalo. This is definitely not a One Horse Town!

Horses on a mural Buffalo Wyoming by Aaron Wuerker and Jenny Wuerker

Cowboys chase horses across the prairie…

Horse mural Aaron Wuerker and Jenny Wuerker Buffalo Wyoming

…and into town.

The love of horses and the cowboy way of life and cattle ranching runs deep in Buffalo, and every week in the summertime there is a rodeo at the Johnson County Fairgrounds.

We stopped by one afternoon and had a great time watching both kids and adults dash all over the place with their horses.

Rodeo queen Johnson County Fairgrounds Buffalo Wyoming

A Rodeo Queen flies past on her horse.

The little girls were just too cute for words. They were fearless as they galloped past, and nothing would stop them from going full speed ahead, even if their hats flew off!

Rodeo princess loses her hat Johnson Country Fairgrounds Buffalo Wyoming

Hats off to this rodeo princess!

Rodeo Princess Hats Off Johnson County Fairgrounds Buffalo Wyoming

Woops!

From the pretty Rodeo Queen to the most adorable and tiniest Rodeo Princess, we loved them all!

Little Rodeo princess Johnson Country Fairgrounds Buffalo Wyoming

There’s no such thing as being too young to ride a horse.
Eventually both the helmet and horse will fit!

But there were plenty of adult cowboys putting their horses through their paces too.

Johnson County Fairgrounds Rodeo Buffalo Wyoming

There was full grown adult rodeo action too.

But this cowboy stuff isn’t just for show.

While in town one day, I had the really good fortune to meet an old cowboy named Dick and spend some time talking to him and listening to his life story. He described growing up in the area, and he painted a vivid picture of what it was like to be a rancher in the 1950s and 60s.

“It is the best life for a young man,” he said wistfully. The outdoors, the wide open spaces and fresh air — he had loved it all.

He passed his love of the ranching life to his two sons, and with great pride he told the story of putting his boys in charge of moving a hundred head of cattle from one pasture to another when they were very young. He told them he would meet them at an appointed hour and place, and he expected them to be there — with the cows — when he arrived.

I had to smile imagining two boys on horseback urging the beasts across the fields with their promise to Dad and his expectations weighing on their shoulders.

Sure enough, he told me, when he pulled up in his truck at the spot where the kids were supposed to be, they were there along with all the cows. Not one single cow was missing.

Chatting with an old cowboy Buffalo Wyoming

Longtime Buffalo area resident, Dick, shared his life story with me and painted an enchanting image of life on the ranch in Buffalo fifty years back.

There was an oil boom in Wyoming right about that time, however, and the lure of a better income in the oil fields took him away from ranching. As the years went by, he rose in the company and eventually ended up as the General Manager with a desk job in town.

But once a cowboy always a cowboy.

Dick had come to town on this sunny summer day wearing his cowboy hat and carrying his leather ranching gloves in his back pocket.

As we talked about the vibrant nature of the town, its festivals, its artwork and the bronze sculptures we’d seen around town, his eyes misted over when he told me that a locally noted bronze sculptor had created a beautiful sculpture of him with his grandson holding a calf.

There’s a romance to the ranching life, but there’s reality too. During our stay in Buffalo, we were touched by a bit of both as we paid quite a few visits to the small shops and tourist boutiques in town.

Cowboy boots Buffalo Wyoming

Cowbgirl boots are available in every style!

Several shops had fantastic arrays of cowboy boots. The pink and bling cowboy boots we’d seen on the cowgirls at the rodeo were all available in town. Just pick your favorite!

There were also lots of cowboy hats for sale, and we had fun at the hat rack trying different ones on. There were also lots of rifles for sale, many of them vintage guns from a bygone era.

Cowboy hat and rifles Buffalo Wyoming

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In one particular shop called The Office, I was idly scoping out the pens and pads when I saw a notebook on the display rack titled “Beef Calving Record Book.”

Beef Calving book for sale in stationery store at The Office Buffalo Wyoming

How often do you find a Beef Calving Record Book in your local stationery store?!

I opened it up, and inside were columns marked Calf ID, Cow ID, Sire ID, Birth Date, Sex and various measurements and weights.

Was this for real?

I asked the store clerk, and she said that oh, yes, those little notebooks were very much for real and the store often ran out of them in the spring when the calves were being born!

How totally cool is that?!

In this crazy era of history when we can’t let our cell phones out of arm’s reach and laws are being passed in Hawaii to remind pedestrians to look up from their phones as they cross the street, ranchers in the small towns of Wyoming are still recording the vital stats of their newborn calves with pen and paper in specialty “rain proof” notebooks!

Beef Calving book in Buffalo Wyoming at The Office stationery store

These little “weather proof” notebooks are hot sellers during calving season!

It is this very simplicity — not that calving is in the least bit simple — but it is this very straight-forwardness and closeness to nature and life itself that makes the cowboy lifestyle so romantic and appealling.

Lots of folks come to Wyoming to spend some time on a dude ranch, riding windswept trails past picturesque snowcapped mountains so they can savor a whiff of a the cowboy life.

We were photographing the mountains one afternoon when a group of horseback riders appeared out of nowhere.

As we got chatting with them, we discovered the ranch owner was a native of the area, but his wife was German. Decades ago she had made a career in the tourism industry in Austria selling western American vacations to Austrians who wanted to get a taste of our Wild West.

She ended up getting a taste of the Wild West herself one year when she took a short term job on a ranch, and she fell in love not only with Wyoming but with a Wyoming rancher too. In no time she was married, had started a family, and was hosting German and Austrian visitors herself!

Horseback riders in Bighorn National Forest Bighorn Mountains

German speaking tourists from Austria and Germany enjoy a tour with local guide Claudia.

We heard a lively exchange of English mixed with German as she talked with her guests on their horses, and the huge grins on their faces said it all. They were loving their week in Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains!

Back in 1879, just five years after the Custer Expedition into the nearby Black Hills, a fellow named Charles Buell pitched a tent alongside Clear Creek where the town of Buffalo stands today. Some miners coming out of the Black Hills who were loaded down with gold asked if they could bunk in his tent for a few nights and store their gold with him too.

Buell instantly realized that opportunity was knocking, and he decided that these miners would be his first customers at his brand new hotel, restaurant and bank! Within the year he had built a wooden hotel building.

Ten years later he was charging $2.50 a night to regular visitors from all over, and in the ensuing decades he hosted celebrities like Buffalo Bill Cody, Teddy Roosevent, General Crook and Calamity Jane.

Occidental Hotel Interior Buffalo Wyoming

When you dream, dream big!
The Occidental Hotel started as a tent by the creek!

By the early 1900’s the current brick building filled a full city block, and now, over a century later, people still stay in the rooms upstairs and enjoy live bluegrass music jams every week in the classic old western bar downstairs.

The hotel still stands right next to Clear Creek where Charles Buell pitched his tent nearly 140 years ago, and there’s a little dispenser on the bridge where you can get a handful of fish food to throw over to the fish swimming below.

Occidental Hotel Buffalo Wyoming home of Longmire

Kids throw fish food down to the fish below the bridge by the elegant Occidental Hotel.

Folks of all ages love to cast a fishing line off the bridge in downtown Buffalo, and one day as we walked by a young boy reeled in a really big fish. Wow!!

Proud kid with trophy fish Buffalo Wyoming

Nice catch!!!

Part of the Longmire Days celebration was an antique car show, and after the parade ended everyone wandered over to a nearby park where the cars were lined up on the grass and glistening in the sun.

1948 Chevrolet truck Buffalo Wyoming

A late 1940s era Chevrolet pickup truck — Sweet!

Since this is ranching country, a large number of the old vehicles were vintage pickup trucks.

We chatted with the owners, and in more cases than not we discovered that the truck we were admiring had been owned by Dad or Grandpa and had had a productive life on the family ranch before being lovingly restored and brought out to show off.

Antique truck at a car show in Buffalo Wyoming

An antique Ford pickup. Many of the trucks at the show had done decades of duty on nearby ranches.

Of course every ranch has dogs as well as trucks, and we spotted a particularly pretty dog in attendance.

Beautiful dog portrait

Sunset in the Bighorns.

We had loved our RV trip through eastern Wyoming where we visited the towns of Chugwater, Douglas, Newcastle and Sundance, but the town of Buffalo and the nearby Bighorn Mountains enchanted us.

Crepuscular rays of sunset Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

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Little did we know that first weekend that Longmire Days and the antique car show would be just the first of several delightful celebrations we’d enjoy on our RV trip to Buffalo, Wyoming!!

Sunset over an RV Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

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Buffalo Wyoming River Runs Through It mural seen on an RV trip to town

Allow a few days when you take your RV to Buffalo, Wyoming!

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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 watched 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 used a 24-120mm lens with a shutter speed of 1/200 at f5.6.

Here are the three time-lapse videos, the first two from our Nikon D810 cameras and the third from the Nikon Coolpix A. Each one is about 30 seconds long:

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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.

More On Photography: Photography Gear, Tips and Resources – What we use and how we learned photography

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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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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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