That Time We Ended Up in South Dakota...


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Preamble Boogie:

It started out as a winter’s trip to southern Florida. Morphed into a fly in tourist tour of California. Almost was a trip into the deep forests of northern Maine. Came close to being a group run with @Scott B. and Laura and finally despite the swirl of COVID, closures, possible quarantine it settled into a F...It run to South Dakota.

With the trip to Cali out and our backup plan of Maine collapsing I drew a circle on the map centered on the Clanhold that was within the radius of the planned Maine trip. I was looking for someplace new to us, with interesting bits to poke around and room to distance ourselves. Hey, South Dakota is the same driving distance as Moosehead Lake in Maine. Who would have thought. Umm, wanna go?

It was a last minute thought, utilizing already scheduled vacation time but no real planning we just loaded up the Mouser and headed West early one Friday morning.

We were already in Ohio as the sun rose...


As we drove Michelle was researching points of interests. Hiking trails, historic sites, national forests, state parks and tourist traps. Anything that caught her interest was noted, collated and than turned into a basic itinerary.

Indiana, Illinois (Chicago traffic sucks), and Wisconsin rolled under the Tacoma’s treads. We crossed the Mississippi by vehicle for only the second time for me and a first for Michelle.


We turned off I-90 someplace in extreme western Minnesota at some little town, grabbed a decent motel room and a take out meal.

Snagging some sleep we were back on asphalt long before sunrise. We crossed the South Dakota border in pitch darkness. As the sun rose the terrain was very much foreign to us. Flat grasslands and low rising hills in all shades of browns, golds and greys where we were use to never ending greens of forest canopies. The more me drove the more enthralled we became.

With plenty of time to putz around we were putting the emphasis on chill, giving us the opportunity to stop anywhere that caught our interest. The Corn Palace was cool...


Though all 836 roadside billboards proclaimed it as the best stop in the known multiverse...Walls Drug not so much.


We had determined that the Black Hills of South Dakota was going to be our main focus but than Wyoming called...


And with that the trip really began.

This will be episodic as my rural internet sucks and I have way too many pictures i’d love to share with you all. I’ll do my best not to chase ya off.


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Wyoming, thou are a temptress. With Devils Tower National Monument just over the border let’s go check it out. We never expected to see it and being this close why the hell not? We pulled off the interstate and through a small village...

EE3E9490-5D44-40A4-9987-3ED74BB347D9.jpeg we followed along the marked signs to the tower. Red rock cliffs with bases and crowns covered in evergreens passed by our windows.


Soon the Tower came into view 0E43D98F-255F-47EC-BB95-6391F76D73C6.jpeg

Pullimg into the parking area we were surprised that it wasn’t too crowded. There were people here but by no means packed for an afternoon. We talked a bit with a park ranger that liked our travel set up and made our way up to the monolith. Boulders lay strewn about its base and a hiking trail circumnavigates through the trees below its flanks. At various spots we spotted climbers daring its heights and mule deer nestled in the shade of the Tower. Mule deer were a first for us as we have never seen one before other than from photos or videos.

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People of the First Nations call this one of their spiritual places and you will come across prayer flags and offerings along the scree.


The view looking away from the imposing basalt tower is damn fine as well...

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Our sightseeing done we continue on the eastern side of the Tower loop and found dirt roads leading into the Wyoming portion of the Black Hills National Forest. It was getting nigh time to use all the stuff on and in this truck and make camp.

Happiness is hitting dirt roads for the first time in a new to you state.


Wyoming is teeming with deer. Around every corner we saw both whitetail and muleys. Game is abundant. As are cows. Lots and lots of cows as the National Forest is also prime grazing for the local ranchers.

We followed the forest road for some miles and than came onto a site tucked off the road that would do. This became marked on our maps as Camp Cow Pattie for obvious reasons. Maggie popped, turkey blind pitched as a latrine we cooked some supper, took a hike in the woods and had a peaceful night sleep. Wyoming was tempting us to delve deeper.



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Up and at it the next morning we climbed out of the Maggie and started the day. As we were breaking camp a truck stopped up on the road and asked how the hunting was going. They saw the turkey blind and presumed we were out here to bag some critters. Turned out to be some local boys out pig sticking’ and once they realized we weren’t a bunch of city slickers we BSed with them for a bit exchanging stories. Wyomingers (?) are nice folk just takes a bit for them to warm up to outsiders. This is how I found out a good dose of Appalachian charm works just as well out west as it does in the backwoods of our own hollers.

It was time to head back into South Dakota, although Wyoming almost drug us deeper in. That will be another trip, another time. Maybe this summer when we head out to get our GFC camper. As we travelled we checked out lakes, poked around some cricks (are they creeks out here? I don’t know) and ran some two tracks.

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Eventually we were back in SD. Pulling off at Spearfish we drove through the scenic byway of Spearfish Canyon, stopped in Deadwood (lame), pulled in at Lead to check out the mine as we made our way towards Mount Rushmore.


Arriving at Rushmore, I myself was a bit ambivalent at the interest level here but Michelle was stoked. Michelle was right though, Mount Rushmore was pretty cool. The hiking trail that follows along the base of the hill was really interesting and seeing the presidents profiles from different angles changed their perceived expressions on their stoney countenances. The Visitor Center had some good displays as well. Again the crowds were much lighter than we expected so much so as there was no crowd. Folks were being repectful of each others distance but were also friendly and good natured. It really added to experienced.

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All done gawking at stone effigies we loaded back in the Mouser and went looking for some dirt. It was getting time to make camp.
poked around some cricks (are they creeks out here?
I’ve always used the rule that if it had a name it is a creek, if not, then crick. Indian Creek vs the crick out back. Mostly, it comes out sounding like crick either way. It’s where we get water to warsh!

Enjoying the trip, by the way. Our 42 day meander back from Seattle had us spending a lot more time than anticipated in Wyoming and South Dakota. I want to go back again!


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Driving into the National Forest we came across more of the darn cows. Though we did spot a rare brown cow as black cows seem to be the predominant variety.


A good five miles in at least we came upon a two track leading up towards the ridgeline. On a hunch we turned up it and found one lone spot flat enough to park the truck on. Good enough.


Tent popped and camp set I found a couple good pines to hang a hammock and took full advantage.

This will do. We saw just two other rigs on our way up here and they had set up camps down in the creek valley below a couple miles down the road. One was a Sprinter van, the other a nice early 90’s 4Runner with a ground tent setup. Though we saw plenty of those overlandy types driving around we encounter none in the backwoods. Here it was just us...and the cows...and as evening set the coyotes. Supper cooked we hiked across the road to the far ridge line to see what we could see. ‘‘Twas well worth the walk.


As sun set we climbed up in the tent and let the ‘yotes sing us to sleep.


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There’s a damn heffer bawling outside my tent. It’s early I get it, time to get up but this is an unnecessary morning wake up call. I pop my head out of the Maggie, spot the noisy bovine just down the hill mooing her brains out for her calf. Just go down and get it you dumb cow. Thoughts of fresh cut steak, home fries and dippy eggs for breakfast pop into my head. Nope, no cattle raids on this trip, don’t want to piss off the locals. Well damn, now I”m hungry. Might as well get up. Looking over Michelle is still fast asleep, oblivious to the cow. My snoring must have desensitized her to loud, obnoxious noises over the years. She can thank me later. I’m hungry, let’s prep breakfast.

When Michelle woke up venison steaks and hash browns were sizzling and I had eggs ready to plop on the skillet. Mmmm...speed beef. Normally breakfast is a quick affair but that damn cow got into my head. That all settled we broke camp and headed back down the forest road.

This morning we were heading over to the Crazy Horse monument which was only five miles or so as a crow flies from where we camped. About 8 miles of driving on roads though. We pulled into the center just a bit past past 7:30 in the morning and we’re pleasantly surprised to see the entrance gate manned and letting folks in. Pulling up into the parking lot there wasn’t hardly anybody here. We entered the Visitor Center, git the skinny on what was what and walked out to the observation deck to check it out. Pretty damn impressive.. B81E498D-96B0-4D9C-9D0F-B4756EF27A85.jpeg

The scale of this sculpture is hard to convey and the Nations work is impressive. Not only will it be the largest stone effigy in the world when (if) completed by also the largest flipping of the bird ever. Loved it.


The Visitor Center and surrounding galleries are impressive and should not be overlooked. Displays on the history of the build, First Nation living displays, historic pieces and living crafts are exquisit. We really enjoyed wandering the halls.

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Walking around the upper tier of the main hall it’s construction drew me in. The building is constructed around a timber frame and the walls are dry stacked rocks that surround and fill in between the upright posts. The walls are thick at the base and taper towards the top. One of the curators noted my interest and asked me what I thought. “Must be a bitch to keep these rubble stack walls dust free” I joked. She said that was the first time someone had mentioned rubble stacks and we started talking about legacy construction techniques. I shared photos from my historic log home restoration days and what I had learned from my maternal grandfather about dry stacking. He was a well known mason in our hometown, known for his dry stacked walls. Meanwhile she pointed out details of how they had merged the various building materials. Asking what they did about water mitigation around the post lead to the Head Curator joining in the conversation and than the Building Manager and the next thing you know we are all back in the archives looking at construction photos and comparing notes on best methods. It was awesome. Must of spent two hours in the stacks seeing stuff few get to see. Hated to leave really, but the trip goes on. As we went to leave they brought us out some big rocks from the blasting to take home (there’s smaller ones inside for anyone who comes) and we left a hefty donation to help the progress.

Pulling back onto the main road we went to check out Custer State Park... 19808603-4F43-4579-A6AA-81D0B9D6A940.jpeg 5A0E0C39-13D5-41BD-AB39-C314C8653915.jpeg

Hope this place doesn’t suck.


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We drove up Route 87 and turned onto the Needle Highway at Sylvan Lake. This was a Monday afternoon and we finally had found crowds of people. But that was okay, today we were just getting the lay of the land as we developed plans for latter in the week. Sylvan lake is high up in the hills, and lays within a crown of granite spires. It’s just gorgeous.

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We tore ourselves away, and continued down the Highway. The scenery is just spectacula and Custer is the nicest state park I’ve been to as of yet.

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^Thats the Needles passage, took a bit to get all the vehicles to pass through especially when folks stop in the middle and walk away from their cars. Sigh.
While driving we found a pull off that was empty and also had a trail going off into the ridge. Let’s check that out. Damn that was worth it...

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We found out that we had stumbled onto the Sunday Gulch Trail and we knew we had to hike its full course. That’s tomorrow’s focus.

We pulled of again a bit further down and opened up the truck for lunch. Grabbing our backpacking chairs we enjoyed what Custer was serving up.


It was rolling into afternoon and we needed to restock the fridge so we pulled out of the State lands and headed to the town of Custer itself.


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So where was I? Oh yeah, we were heading towards a town. Than we got distracted, Michelle saw a sign for a fire tower and it pointed up a dirt road...


We ended up at the Mount Coolidge Fire Tower. Climbing the stairs to the deck we were treated to some fine 360* views of the Park. Off in the distance you could even spot both Crazy Horse and Rushmore monuments, there was placard that made finding them a bit easier.

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Curiosity satisfied we pulled back on the highway and started back towards Custer. But than we got sidetracked again this time by a pretty little lake with a splash of history on its shores. Groceries can wait. We pulled into the loop around Stockade Lake, its blue waters framed by evergreens and rock escarpments. Once again we were itching for our kayaks, but traveling with the Maggie leaves no room for them. Another reason we are going the wedge camper route. We found a nice timber pavilion back a little lane and had a peaceful lunch overlooking the lake.


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At the end of the loop we came upon the Lake’s namesake, the Gordon Stockade. Part recreation and part original (two of the cabins within the stockade’s interior are original) the marks the expansion west by settlers. Unfortunately this was an illegal settlement infringing on the local tribes reservation lands so things went downhill. Another case of treaties only be as good as the paper their signed on. The roof design of these cabins was new to me with the gutter and trough design similar to Mediterranean tile work. Must have been a bitch to chink that roof to hold in the heat unless there was wattle under the roofing logs or some other method that didn’t survive the years.


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Poking around done we finally hit Custer. We bought some food, picked up some ice cream cones and fueled up the truck. Custer is a tourist town with one Main Street but folks were friendly. They like to paint their buffaloes vibrantly...


Provisions gathered we made our way back in the Black Hills NF to go find tonight’s camp.


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We entered the National Forest west of Stockade Lake and cruised around forest roads on the lookout for a campsite. Today there were a lot of SXSs running the forest roads and other than a couple of loggers in pickups we weren’t really seeing anybody else utilizing the backcountry. Campsites were sparse here but we did find a decent spot on what looked like an old farmstead. A small track turned off the forest road and ended in a possible small pasture. One could tell that this had been a log landing a couple of decades ago although the presence of apple trees and some daffodils suggested that at one time someone lived here. It would do. Michelle got out to spot the truck for a level camp and as I was backing up and watching her in the mirror I could see a mule deer about 20 yards behind her just watching our encroachment. Eventually it stomp its hoof and bounced up the hill. Muleys run funny.


We deployed the awning to shade the evening sun. This would be the only time it got used. Awnings are overrated. Camp set we just shared pics with family as we had decent internet here, napped and cooked up some dinner. The night past uneventfully.

We get up early as it allows us more doing time, gets us ahead of crowds and gives us the best chance to see critters. No lollygag going on with this crew. Today we would resume our wander through Custer State Park with a drive down the Wildlife Loop. As we left the gulch, what we would call a holler, the sun still hI’d behind the hills.

Before arriving at the Wildlife Loop turnoff we got into a traffic jam of sorts as a local horse tour was herding their pack of trails horses across the road from the pasture to the stables. There must have been 200 horses in total of all colors. I have a cool video of the crossing but we don’t have a format to share without linking from somewhere else. Oh well..


A little farther down the road we saw our first buffalo, bison, thunder cow...whatever...just laying down in a scrape along the road. That’s a lot of protein on the hoof, a feller could eat off one of those for a long time.


Not many folks were on the Loop this morning, just a few but there was plenty of critters to see. We did get stuck in a bison traffic jam for about 45 minutes as bison are just rude.

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Sorry about the windshield pics but there they were blocking the road as a large herd passed across. The Park claims that their bison are free roaming, and that’s sort of true. But when talking to a ranger at a Visiitor Center we found out that the Buffalo are sectioned of in fenced off sections and are herded about for best viewing. It’s still pretty cool to see all that protein scattered over the hills. This day was also the start of our new favorite game “Is that a buffalo or a bush in the distance”. As morning passed into afternoon we jumped off the Loop and explored some of the dirt roads in the Park.

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As lunch time crept in Michelle wanted to hike around that Sylvan Lake so we left the Loop and made our way over.
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As a teenage a friends parents had a buffalo ranch, they had 100 acres at the house and leased land around the county to graze them in other pastures during the summer months. We baled hay, ground milo and corn for winter feeding all summer long. The Bulls would bash a truck on a whim if they were displeased with your presence.


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As it was the middle of the week, Sylvan Lake was much less crowded allowing us to hike around its perimeter and poke around without any bother. It is a great place to just soak up the visuals. On the backside of the granite wall we found the actual trailhead for the Sunday Gulch Trail. We decided to hike that first thing tomorrow.

A short hiking trail circumnavigates the lake and there’s plenty of spots to do some rock hopping.

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As the afternoon rolled in the skies changed from the bluebird skies to an ethereal haze as a result of all the forest fires further out west. I thought it added to the atmosphere of our surroundings. Lake time complete we set out looking for a campsite. Realizing we really weren’t that far from our pitch on the second nights stay we headed back in that direction. What the hell, it was a lovely spot might as well utilize it again as long as no one else has claimed it.

We bumped into more cows. There always more cows.


As we turned up the two track our previous spot was unoccupied. We were not surprised though as we had only seen only 4 vehicles utilizing the NF for camping. Heck, we had barely seen anybody running the forest roads other than ranchers and loggers. The roads seemed to be utilized more by SXSs than anything and they weren’t that numerous either. Never the less we were a camp and had the Mouser situated and engaged in Lodging Mode.

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After supper, I walk up onto the ridge line above camp. Camping Nirvana...

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Michelle was happy and lovin‘ life out in the backwoods so that made our surroundings all the more special. Having a great traveling partner is irreplaceable. Soon dusk came in quietly and though our stargazing was hampered by the haze, it was a splendid night in the Dakotas.


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Nice trip. Wish we could have joined you.

I want to get back to SD and Wyoming - such beautiful country.
Yeah, with changing travel restrictions with Michelle’s hospital, my works goofy vacation rationing scheme and the whole uncertainty of COVID it was a hard thing to coordinate. When this is all settled let’s get something planned, it would be a hoot.
Yeah, with changing travel restrictions with Michelle’s hospital, my works goofy vacation rationing scheme and the whole uncertainty of COVID it was a hard thing to coordinate. When this is all settled let’s get something planned, it would be a hoot.
I think we should pick a date in 2021 now, that way we can all plan for it.

If you're lucky, you'll get some trail pizza and brownies! ;)


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Up early again, we rolled out of camp and our way back to Sylvan Lake and the Sunday Gulch hiking trail.


We elected to do a counter clockwise circumnavigation of this loop trail starting down the course of Sunday Creek. Lots of boulder hopping as you descend down and your feet would definitely be wet in springtime run off. There’s iron pipe handrails at the start to aid the passage down. The third of the hike is down the gulch. It’s beautiful...

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Than the trail crossed the creek and started to regain elevation on its way up to a ridgeline.

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The last third was through the crown on top, the area we had stumbled upon two days before.

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About 5 miles of absolutely gorgeous scenery.

With that we loaded back up in the Mouser and said goodbye to Custer. Time for the Badlands.
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