Just got back from a road trip out west June 17th to June 28th. This took us to two primary destinations. The first destination being the Black Hills of South Dakota. The second destination being our nation's first national park Yellowstone.
The Black Hills were awesome as always unfortunately we did not get to spend as much time as we wanted in the Black hills region for the fact that Yellowstone was our primary trip destination this year. So I will mention some highlights you might want to consider visiting when you are in the black hills.
Of course the obvious is Mount Rushmore and the carving of men who shaped and made our nation what it is today. Parking at Mount Rushmore is 8 bucks for a car load unfortunately your national parks pass does not wave this parking fee. The lighting of the faces ceremony occurs each day between 9:00pm and 9:30 pm. I will mention this, for those of you that might remember what the old visitor center and viewing platform was like. The new visitor center and viewing platform is drastically different it allows for high traffic and congestion. However and doing so looses some of its old personal feel that the old viewing platform and visitor center allowed for. They did preserve maybe 1/20th of the old viewing platform and in my opinion this allows for the best pictures you can get of the faces. Slightly off center and at an angle that allows you to truly feel how massive an undertaking this was.
Some other things to see and do in the black hills,
Wind Cave National Park where you can explore the cave features below ground and then explore the Great Plains wildlife the range free inside the park boundaries. The cave tours are designed for everyone in mind and range from a half hour tour to tours that can last a couple of hours. These tours cover the history of the cave and why it is truly one of the nations greatest national wonders. Be sure to bring your camera and take lots of pictures of things that have survived for centuries both below and above ground.
Custer State Park is another location not to be missed. It is one of the nations largest state parks and also home to many varieties of free ranging wildlife. 12 dollars get you access to all of the fee areas inside the park for 7 days. These areas include needles highway and wildlife loop road and captures some of the truly unique features that is home to all the spirit of the black hills.
One thing to keep in mind when visiting these two parks is this there are free ranging bison inside each park. Bison are big and appear to be lumbering and may even appear to be tame THEY ARE NOT TAME. Heed the posted signs and do not approach bison. Take it from one who has lived in the black hills the second you do not respect the power of a bison is the second someone will be paying you your last respects. Bison may appear to be a lumbering, tame beast but they can easily jump vertically 6 feet in the air and from a standing start can be at 30 mph in half its body length. Cattle horse trainers have taken to using bison to train horses because they do not tire quickly, can out run a horse, and can cut like a cutting horse in full gallop. You will not be able to out last, out run, or out turn a bison. Keep your distance, never get out of your car when you are in the middle herd, never get out when you can see babies among the herd, If you do get out stay near your car where you can use it as some protection should you be charged. Nothing will dissuade a charging bison only slow them down for a second. Each year a person is killed or seriously injured from bison inside both of these parks. And all these people have approached bison that they thought were slow and tame. Bison have killed or injured more people then bear have in the entire history of the national park system.
Now for some other things to see and do in the black hills
Crazy Horse Monument just north of Custer, SD pays homage to one of the great leaders of the Sioux nation and tells the story of a people who were wronged far to many times and continue to be wronged to this very day. When it is completed it will dwarf Mount Rushmore and will undoubtedly be taken over by the government.
Blue Belle lodge offers horseback riding for anyone from no experience to the advanced rider with rides ranging 1 hour, 2 hour, half day, and all day rides. All of which cover parts of Custer state park. Of course there are other trail riding places located within the black hills and one should consult travel websites and tourism sites to find out more information.
The black hills offer various types of activities and locations to satisfy any person from the youngest to the young at heart. Unfortunately there are too many to cover and not enough time to do it in. They range from mild activity to extreme activity and will be sure to fill any taste you may have.
Yellowstone the crown jewel of our trip. One could spend two weeks here and still not touch everything this park has to offer. My family stayed at canyon lodge cabins and we will be staying there again for any future trips to Yellowstone. They are centrally located within the park and perfect for anyone planning to have an extended stay within the park. From the canyon lodge area one can go north south or west in the park and it is located within 1/2 mile of the northern rim of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. This location is teaming with wildlife and is just north of Hayden valley, which is considered one of the primary spots with in the park to spot almost every type of wildlife with in Yellowstone. It is also the prime spot to view grizzly bear. During our stay we were able to spot and view two grizzly bears. One suggestion to anyone wanting to view wildlife get up early in the morning at dawn and go out and view your wildlife return to your room at around 10-11am sleep for 4-6 hours and then go back out at 5pm-dusk for the best views of wildlife in their natural environment. Yellowstone is another place that has something for everyone so know your interests and ask around. Rangers and park employees have some of the best ideas and suggestions and are more then glad to help you have the best experience you can get of Yellowstone. Over 3 million people visit Yellowstone every year and of that number on average only 1% venture into the backcountry. When you consider that only 3% of Yellowstone is developed that leaves 97% of the park only being seen by just over 300,000 people a year. Given this information one might consider the suggestion GO TAKE A HIKE. If you should decide to TAKE A HIKE remember in Yellowstone one should follow the buddy system and never hike alone. So if someone in Yellowstone says, "TAKE A HIKE" say to them "ok, care to join me" who knows they just might take you up on your offer. If you are not all that into physical excursion then one might decide instead of taking a hike why not take a ride. Yellowstone has three trail riding stables within the park and each one offers a unique view of the park. You can see the park as early explorers did when Yellowstone was first established as the first national park. They each offer a 1-hour and a 2-hour ride. My suggestion would be, take an early morning ride no better way to wake up then putting yourself on a horse in the cool mountain air of the morning. Also it offers a truly unique perspective of wildlife doing what they do best being wild. On our morning ride we got to see herds of bison and elk and watched a coyote catch a rabbit for his breakfast. And we got some useful information from the wranglers on were to go for the best areas to watch wildlife. Also we got to exchange info one types of wildlife we had already seen. Which included relating our story to one of the wranglers how at twilight the previous night me, my wife, and son gone for a walk thru a meadow and down a service road from our cabin. We spotted a two-foot tall owl as he sat perched upon an old stump in the meadow he even allowed us to quietly approach within 100 feet of him to get a picture. As time allows I will try to give more information about this trip in the near future.