Old Cars and Boxwork.

Photos and exploring western South Dakota, August 8, 2014

Karen needed to get some thread for one of her quilt projects, so we ran into Hot Springs to a quilt shop

We often run across local vintage car shows in our travels.  I’m not interested in old cars other than looking at them and taking pictures.

2014-08-09 006 -1

Sometimes we even come across some that are rigged up as campers – sort of.

2014-08-09 007 -1

2014-08-09 008 -1

We also, on occasion, see true vintage recreational vehicles, like this travel trailer.

2014-08-09 009 -1

Later, we went on one of the Wind Cave tours.  Wind Cave National Park was one of the first National Parks, established by President Theodore Roosevelt in the early 20th century.

We’ve been in quite a few caves over the years.  Wind Cave wasn’t especially remarkable for us.


Caves, normally dark interspersed with artificial light are hard to photograph in a way that shows what the visitor is actually seeing.  Flash photography , like Karen’s picture above, shows much more than what one actually sees.

I try to do as much as I can without using flash.  Unfortunately, this time, my camera battery died before we got in the cave.  I had forgotten to charge it and forgotten to bring along the battery that had a full charge on it.  Double OOPS!

I did have my iphone and took some video and some photos with it, but I’m not particularly happy with what I got from it.

Wind Cave does have some formations, called boxwork, that are somewhat unique to it. Some of the most extensive boxwork deposits in the world are found in Wind Cave.


Boxwork is an uncommon type of mineral structure, or speleogen (similar to a speleothem, but formed by erosion rather than accretion), occasionally found in caves and erosive environments.

Boxwork is commonly composed of thin blades of the mineral calcite that project from cave walls or ceilings that intersect one another at various angles, forming a box-like or honeycomb pattern. The boxwork fins once filled cracks in the rock before the host cave formed. As the walls of the cave began to dissolve away, the more resistant vein and crack fillings did not, or at least dissolved at a slower rate than the surrounding rock, leaving the calcite fins projecting from the cave surfaces.

Until next time.


Wrong Time to Visit the Black Hills.

Near the end of our last trip to this part of the country, in 2010, we stopped at Custer State Park, camping there a couple of nights.  Unfortunately, we arrived during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, one of the largest motorcycle rallies in the world. While we had no desire to to go to Sturgis, one of the very popular activities adversely affected us:


The Black Hills Run is a route favored by motorcycle riders, across the Black Hills from Deadwood to Custer State Park, South Dakota. It reached the height of its popularity between 1939 and 1941. The popularity of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally attracted additional attention to the route in recent years. The pine forested mountains of the Black Hills make for a unique scenic motorcycle ride. (Wikipedia)

There were just to many motorcycles on the roads and many of the places we would have stopped were too crowded for us.

Never again.


Before our trip, I intended to check when the rally was going to be, but forgot among all the other things that needed to be done.  I even thought about it along the way.

I guess I just rationalized it away, thinking that it had been September of 2010 that we had been stopped.  Therefore, the rally this year was still weeks off.

We started seeing motorcycles heading away from the Black Hills while we were still in Nebraska.  I started to get an uneasy feeling.

Maybe it was already over for his year and these were stragglers….

As we went through Hot Springs, South Dakota, heading for Wind Cave National Park and the campground, we saw quite a few more bikes, but nothing like we saw four years ago.

Well, it turned out that we pretty much nailed our time in the area to match the rally schedule.  Looking back at photos from that trip on a portable hard drive, it turns out our trip in 2010 was earlier in the year than I thought. With the contracting work I had been doing, most of our trips had ended up being in September.  In 2010, it was July and August, with our visit to the black hills falling in the first week of the month – just like this year.

Fortunately, most of the biker activity didn’t penetrate down into Wind Cave National Park.  Also we were able to visit some places early in the day before the bikers got there.

Unless you’re into motorcycles, the first week of August is the wrong time to visit the Black Hills of South Dakota.

The following short video shows some cycles going through a narrow  tunnel on Needles Highway in Custer State Park.

Image credit:

AttributionNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by bk1bennett

Rankin Ridge.

Photos and exploring August 8, 2014 – after lunch.

Rankin Ridge trail is a 1 mile loop trail through a ponderosa pine forest in Wind Cave National Park.  There are several points, such as the one below, where the peaks of the Black Hills can be viewed and others overlooking the South Dakota plains to the east.

Rankin Ridge trail, Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota, August 8, 2014

Rankin Ridge trail, Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota, August 8, 2014

Rankin Ridge trail, Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota, August 8, 2014

Rankin Ridge trail, Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota, August 8, 2014

Fire Tower, Rankin Ridge trail, Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota, August 8, 2014

After we finished Rankin Ridge trail, we went down into Custer State Park and, along the way, saw some antelope and elk.

Antelope, Either Wind Cave National Park or Custer State Park, South Dakota, August 8, 2014

We’ve never seen such a tight herd of elk before.  It was different, with young bucks mixed in with females and calves.

Elk, Custer State Park, South Dakota, August 8, 2014


Wind Cave and Hot Springs.

Photos and exploring August 8, 2014

The skies were quite threatening the morning of our second full day in the Black Hills, where we camped at Wind Caves National Park. Deciding to stick close until we saw if the weather was going to clear, we headed to the nearby town of Hot Springs, South Dakota.

Wind Cave National Park campground, South Dakota, August 8, 2014

For some reason, my camera settings over exposed the first batch of photos of Hot Springs.  A young man I met while watching and photographing a sunset in May had asked me if I used RAW (basically a digital negative for each image).  I didn’t, but, after talking to him, I decided to save images in both jpg and RAW for a while. I haven’t used RAW in the past because my image program didn’t process it.  The version I’m using now does. The images below show an example of one of the overexposed shots and the result after processing the RAW image.

Hot Springs, South Dakota, August, 8, 2014

Hot Springs, South Dakota, August, 8, 2014

Just going with JPG format, as I have for most of the last 7 1/2 years, I would never have been able to retrieve as much detail.  I’ll be shooting in RAW for at least the rest of this trip.

We spotted these stairs going through town a couple of days earlier, but didn’t know where they went.  Since we were on foot doing a bit of exploring, we decided to climb.

Hot Springs, South Dakota, August, 8, 2014

It turned out that the stairs go up to – or down from, depending on your starting point – a 105 year old Veterans Administration hospital (Black Hills Healthcare System – Hot Springs Campus). This interesting building, part of Battle Mountain Sanitarium,  opened its doors in 1907. Battle Mountain Sanitarium was the first, and only one of the soldiers homes built to focus on the short-term medical needs of Veterans as opposed to being a “retirement home”.

VA Hospital (Black Hills Healthcare System - Hot Springs Campus), Hot Springs, South Dakota, August, 8, 2014

We did a little more exploring after going back down the steps. However, it started raining lightly and we, not thinking, had left the umbrellas in the car, several blocks away. The stores and shops were either closed or had nothing in them to interest us.  The shop that said “donuts” and “coffee” on it’s sign was no longer in business. We decided to head back the camper for lunch.  By the time we got back to the car, we were pretty damp.

City Hall, Hot Springs, South Dakota, August, 8, 2014


A Drive and a Hike in the Black Hills.

Camped at Wind Cave National Park, August 7, 2014.

Taking a drive through Wind Cave National Park and Custer State Park, which are right next to each other in the Black Hills of South Dakota, we came across our first buffalo (American bison) of the trip just after leaving the campground.

Buffalo, Wind Cave National Park, August, 2014

Scenic roads wind their way through the hills, picturesque bridges and through narrow tunnels.

Bridge, Wind Cave National Park, August, 2014

We were surprised to see these mountain goats in Custer State Park.  They are not native to the area.  Apparently, sometime in the early 20th century, there was a captive group of Canadian mountain goats in area, some or all of which escaped.  The mountain goats in the park are their descendants.  If this were a federal park, I believe that the goats would have been removed since they are not native to the area.

Mountain Goats, Custer State Park, South Dakota, August 2014

Mountain Goat, Custer State Park, South Dakota, August

A favorite short hike is the trail around beautiful Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park.  This was the third time we’ve done it.

Sylvan Lake, Custer State Park, South Dakota, August 2014

While I had intended to have several posts drafted to be scheduled for publishing over the next several days, that didn’t happen.  One afternoon, evening and part of the next morning to try to catch up on groceries, wash the car, and check email, facebook, and blogs that I follow wasn’t enough.  We have just over an hour before checkout time. I still need to get a shower.  Stuff in the camper needs to be stowed and the car hooked up to the back of the camper.

We’re heading west for a new remote location with several days of precipitation.  All batteries have been recharged and Kindle loaded with new reading material.

Until next time….. Mike


Wild Asses

I guess they’re actually burros, though, off-hand, I don’t know the difference.  If I weren’t sitting in a campground away from all cell service, I would look it up.  No Google here, though.

Wild Burros of Custer State Park, South Dakota, August 2014

Going from memory, it seems burros were once used in what is now Custer State Park in South Dakota to haul people up one of the larger peaks in the Black Hills.  At some point, the owner of the beasts released them for some reason, probably no longer economically viable.  The wild burros of Custer State Park are their descendants.

Wild Burros of Custer State Park, South Dakota, August 2014

We came across these critters on August 6th on a drive through part of Custer State Park after we had set up camp just south of there in Wind Cave National Park.

Wild Burros of Custer State Park, South Dakota, August 2014

Wild Burros of Custer State Park, South Dakota, August 2014

Wild Burros of Custer State Park, South Dakota, August 2014

Wild Burros of Custer State Park, South Dakota, August 2014


Western Nebraska Images

From Kinsley, Kansas, on August 5th, we drove to North Platte, Nebraska, where we stayed at another Passport America campground.  The savings have almost paid for the cost of the annual fee.  While I lived in North Platte until I was 15, it’s been 47 years since I left and I have no connections there any longer that I know of.

On the 6th, we headed towards the northwestern Nebraska on our way to the black hills country of South Dakota.  The images below are from stops along the way, mostly in the sandhills, and a lunch stop at a park in Alliance, Nebraska.


Nebraska Sandhills, August 2014

Nebraska Sandhills, August 2014

Nebraska Sandhills, August 2014

Nebraska Sandhills, August 2014

Alliance, Nebraska - city park, August 2014

Alliance, Nebraska - city park, August 2014

Alliance, Nebraska - city park, August 2014

Alliance, Nebraska - city park, August 2014

Alliance, Nebraska - city park, August 2014

Lunch in Alliance, Nebraska - city park, August 2014


Reducing camping costs.

This year for our trip, we are going to save money on our camping fees. We prefer staying in federal or state campgrounds at parks, forests or lakes. Sometimes, though, there aren’t any of these where we are traveling.

2014-08-04 127 -1edIn the past, we used Kampgrounds of America (IKOA) as our fallback camping solution if none of our preferred type campgrounds were available.   With campgrounds all over the country , we’ve found KOA to be relatively dependable for our needs over the years.

(The horse sculpture in the photo is in the Four Aces Campground in Kinsley, Kansas.)

Now, though, I am fully retired and we need to watch our expenses a bit closer.  KOAs prices start at somewhere around $35, depending on location and can go quite a bit higher in popular areas.  That can add up, particularly on an extended trip.

Before we left on this trip, we joined Passport America.  The annual fee is $44.  The main draw, for us, is that campground fees at Passport America member campgrounds are 50% of their normal fee.  For instance, the fee for the campground in Kinsley, Kansas, our stop after visiting Fort Larned, is normally $38.  We paid $19.  That one stop recouped almost half of the annual fee.

Another way that we’ll be saving money camping is through The National Parks and Federal  Recreational Lands Pass.  Priced at $10, this pass is good for lifetime entrance to national parks and recreation areas and reduced prices for many amenities, including camping.  If we’d had the card at Kaw Lake, the camping fee would have been $9 instead of the $18 we paid.  With this kind of price federal campgrounds will be our preferred stops.

Some people will suggest stopping overnight at a Walmart or other big box store, a truck stop, or a highway rest area.

In all the time we’ve been camping, we’ve done that exactly once – at an I40 rest area in western Oklahoma. 

We prefer to get a good night sleep.  Camping in a parking lot, whether it’s a Walmart, truck stop, or rest area won’t be restful for me.  That’s the only thing I have against that kind of overnighting on the way to somewhere.

Some images from Kinsley, Kansas:

Kinsley, Kansas - August 4, 2014

Kinsley, Kansas - August 4, 2014

2014-08-04 135 -1ed fine lines with coloation

We stayed at Four Aces Campground in Kinsley, Kansas on August 4th, 2014.


Fort Larned, Kansas

We visited Fort Larned on August 4th.

Fort Larned, Kansas is typical of an 1860s Great Plains Army post.  It doesn’t have the stereotypical wall of sharpened upright logs so often seen in the movies. fort Most forts established on the Great Plains never had a wall of any sort. Direct attacks by plains Indians were rare, surprise attacks on smaller groups of soldiers being the preferred tactic.  In the 1860s, this part of Kansas was vast treeless plains, making construction of any sort of log wall very difficult.  Trees in this region were so rare that, for many years, fence posts were cut from limestone.

Fort Larned,  Kansas

Situated about 50 miles northeast of modern day Dodge City, Kansas, Fart Larned was 20 days travel along the Santa Fe Trail from the Missouri River steamboat landings at Independence, Missouri. For 60 years, the Santa Fe Trail was one of the most important trade routes in the world. Freight wagons could make the 781 trip – one way – in eight weeks, with luck, facing semi-arid prairies storms, flooded rivers, wildfires, dust, plagues of gnats and mosquitoes, mud, Comanche, Kiowa, Cheyenne, Arapahoe, and Apache.

Fort Larned,  Kansas

Most of the Army posts of the Great Plains are long gone, building materials often scavenged or sold after the post were closed.  Fort Larned was purchased for a local ranch, it’s buildings put to varied uses over the years.  The ranch family lived in the commanding officer’s home, shown below.

Fort Larned,  Kansas

According to the park ranger that we talked to, the family that owned the property welcomed visits by the local public.  Families would picnic on the parade ground.  Kids would even ride their bikes out from the nearest town. Many left inscriptions in the sandstone walls of the fort’s buildings.  While most were names or initials, many with dates, a few others had historical significance.

Fort Larned,  Kansas

How many today would understand who “Kaiser Bill” was?


Our modern camping and travel.

On the road 2014, 2008 Navion IQ and 2010 Honda CRV

August 4th, 2014 – Somewhere in Kansas.

We’ve explored our local area and our country quite a bit over the last 42 years.  These days, we usually travel the longer distances with our little Navion iQ Class C motorhome towing our Honda CRV.  Once we’re set up in camp site, we explore further afield using the CRV.

It’s quite a difference from when we first got started.  Our earliest exploration was by foot in Vallejo, California.  Then we got our first car, and, boy, did we put the miles on that little car.  We visited San Francisco, the Marin Peninsula, and up the coast to Fort Ross.  We made it to Donner Pass, Lake Tahoe, and Yosemite – all in a few short months before I was transferred to the next school, which was in Idaho.  It was there that we did our first camping, renting a tent from Navy special services.  Over time our camping included buying our own gear, dabbling in backpacking and, in the late 80s, graduating to a used, very small travel trailer.  That lasted for 3 long camping trips, but, on the last one it was totaled when we were rear-ended in Tulsa.  Then it was back to tent camping and another couple of backpacking trips.

All of that was before the modern era of the internet and social media.  When we were traveling, we just went.  We might drop a post card to family from somewhere on the road, but there wasn’t any constant contact like there is today.  Of course, that made it difficult if someone needed to get in touch with you, but that’s the way it was.  Sure, you could call, but that was pretty much before the advent of phone cards, too, so calling long distance generally meant short calls on a public coin operated phones.  You either needed a pocket full of change or you called collect.

We didn’t make many calls like that.  Too expensive for us, too expensive for our families if we called collect.

HP laptop and iPhone 5Today, though, it’s instant communication, any time you want it – most of the time.  We can make a phone call from most places where there are concentrations of people and along most major traffic arteries.  We can also send a text message and check in on all of our social media.

On this trip, we will often be away from the concentrations of people and traffic arteries where cell service is concentrated.  Quite often, our cell phones will have a message at the top of the screen: “no service.”

That’s okay.  We’ll check in when we can but we’re not going to go out of our way very often.  Our kids will know about where are and where we will be going for the next week or so as does Karen’s mom.

Our modern mode of travel without constant contact: it works for us – and we really don’t know yet where all we’ll be going.