Thursday, July 26th
On the road by 8:30am for a very very long day of traveling.
We headed north on I-25 into Wyoming, another state I find incredibly beautiful. Made a quick stop in Chugwater (population 212) to sample some chili at the Chugwater Chili Corp. It was good, but not to brag or anything, my chili is better.
Veered away from the freeway and headed east on the 313 through Hawk Springs, then north on Highway 85 through Torrington (established late 1880s, population 6,501). We saw lots of pronghorn (Pronghorn!) along the way and at 2:45pm we crossed into South Dakota.
There is just something so beautiful about South Dakota. Everything seems fresher, cleaner, more colorful. Whenever we are in South Dakota, I seem more at peace, more relaxed and find it easier to breath. It's a feeling hard to describe, but I would not be unhappy living the rest of my days in South Dakota.
We followed Highway 18 through Hot Springs, then went north through the Black Hills to Rapid City. From there it was east on I-90 to Mitchell. We stayed the night at the KOA and I was so tired and grumpy I don't remember much else....zzzzzzzz.
Friday, July 27th
Rise and shine and off to the Corn Palace!
The original Corn Palace was established in 1892 as settlers displayed the fruits of their harvest on the building's exterior in order to show the fertility of South Dakota soil. The present building was completed in 1921.
Each year the exterior decorations are removed and new murals are created. This year's theme was "Saluting Youth Activities." While we were there, the youths were working on putting up new corn decorations.
At Sioux Falls we turned north and by late afternoon we were pulling into Milbank, the birthplace of American Legion Baseball. After checking into the campground at Farley Park, we headed to La Bolt for the Feeding Frenzy.
Every year there is a theme for the Frenzy. Last time we went in 2009, the theme was duct tape. This year it was the Olympics. The Frenzy kicked off with a torch run from Strandsburg to La Bolt (about 4-miles). The kids had a blast as they got to run around the lake with the torch. Some of them got a little too rambunctious, so by the end of the run the torch had fallen apart, but their enthusiasm got everyone into the spirit of having fun.
Olympic games were also planned for the weekend, which included a 3-legged race, wheelbarrow race, Wheel of Fortune, badminton and seed spitting. I came in 11th overall in seed spitting. I think a few kids spit further than me. A disappointing and embarrassing finish to say the least.
Mostly the games were for the kids, although Wheel of Fortune was a big hit with the older crowd. I think Robert's mom, Lois, had insider information as she kept guessing the phrases! Of course she was on the opposite team.
On the way back to Milbank, we watched the sun set over golden fields of hay and fields of corn that went on for miles. A wonderful ending to a wonderful day.
Saturday, July 28th
We stopped by Alice's Restaurant in Stockholm (pop. 108) for breakfast on the way to La Bolt. Alice's is owned and operated by Robert's Uncle Richard.
At Alice's all the women will sit on one side of the room, while the men gather on the other side. In the mornings, the men will shoot dice to determine who pays for coffee.
Alice's is different in that the menu is fixed. Alice's caters to senior citizens and is subsidized by the government.
The dinner menu on Monday, for example, will be meat loaf and other than a cheeseburger, that is all you can order. Prices are very low so seniors with limited incomes can afford to eat and the food is always good. The town's library is now inside Alice's and you can even access the Internet!
The rest of the day was spent visiting and eating and eating and visiting and then eating some more. My stomach hurt I ate so much.
Robert and his mom, Lois.
Some good ol' fashion squeeze box and fiddle music. Pat, the squeeze box player, also sang songs in Swedish.
Robert grabs some food and checks to see what games are scheduled for the day.
Robert and his grandmother, Lorretta.
Back at the campground, we watched the sun set over Lake Farley. Beautiful.
Sunday, July 29th
Bye Bye Milbank.
As soon as we entered the park, we saw several bighorn sheep on some rocks overlooking the road. Of course there was no place to pullover, so the pictures I snapped through the windshield are blurry, but just seeing them perched on the rocks was neat.
We stopped briefly at the Ranch Store to feed unsalted peanuts to prairie dogs. I think prairie dogs are cute, but they are considered a nuisance, like gophers. They are EVERYWHERE! Although the ones at the Ranch Store were rather fat and lethargic. Probably from eating so many peanuts.
We later heard an announcement on the radio that you shouldn't feed prairie dogs human food, because prairie dogs don't drink water and human food will mess with their digestive system and kill them.
Oops. Sorry prairie dogs.
We also learned (after feeding the prairie dogs of course) that prairie dogs are carriers of Black Death-style bubonic plague. Nice.
Monday, July 30th
After chowing down on some pancakes (cooked by the KOA staff, not the organic wheat crap we had before), we flashed our National Parks pass at the entrance and followed the rest of the tourists into Badlands National Park (elev. 3,080-feet).
We last traveled through the park during our honeymoon in 2007. We definitely like the park better during the winter. For one, it wasn't so darn HOT, plus we saw more wildlife and less people.
Nevertheless, it was still a fun day of exploring.
From the Badlands we headed to Wall, South Dakota. All along I-90 you can see signs advertising Wall Drug.
We spent some time wandering through Wall Drug, had pizza for lunch, and bought a few souvenirs.
And then it was back on the road to visit our 3rd National Park of the trip, but to get there we had to drive through Custer State Park.
Since we were just driving through, we didn't have to pay, but that meant we couldn't stop or take the wildlife loop road. The park was very beautiful and worth taking the time to explore the next time we are in the area. They had some really nice looking campgrounds too.
At 2:50pm we entered into Wind Caves National Park and less than ten minutes later, we were standing on the side of the road watching a herd of buffalo wallowing in the dirt and grazing.
We were a good distance away, but could hear them snorting and grunting as they roamed. It was very cool.
Thanks to Gabriel for seeing them as we passed, because Robert and I were looking in the opposite direction and would have missed them. We also saw some pronghorn and deer.
We took the 1-1/2 hour Fairgrounds Tour of the Wind Caves. It was interesting to learn the history of the caves and to wander through. It was a nice and cool 53-degrees inside the caves. On our way along the path to the tour meeting area, we spotted a wild turkey and several babies in the bushes. Turkeys are kind of ugly up close, but they do taste good.
Not long after leaving the visitor center, we saw another buffalo grazing alongside the road.
Welcome to Hot Springs and hot it was - 95-degrees! Pulled into the local KOA, hooked up the RV, and then took a swim in the pool to cool down. After a good dinner of chicken, corn on the cob, and mashed potatoes, we tucked ourselves in for the night.