June 30, 2012 – Jewel Cave and Harney Peak

Since Wind Cave was such a hit, we decided to go see Jewel Cave as well.  Jewel is the 2nd longest cave in the world.

jewel cave

Since the caves are so close together, people often wonder about the differences between Jewel Cave and Wind Cave.  Wind Cave has the cool blow hole and seems more intimate – the passages are narrower and you seem more like you are in a cave.  In Jewel Cave, the passageways are much larger, most of the hike is on aluminum walkways, so you feel more distant and it’s a bit noisier, but the formation are much more varied and interesting than in Wind Cave.

jewel cave

This is from of one of the “wet” rooms in Jewel Cave.

jewel cave

More funky formations.

Then it was off for lunch and a hike starting at Sylvan Lake.  Let’s just say there was a great difference in attendance between visiting in March and the weekend before the 4th.  So, off to the trails to leave all the people behind.

Here’s our designated vacationers – we are now on 17 straight years of summer vacation!

Linda on the “trail” up the mountain.

More “trail” up to the peak.

A look down the trail, from near the top.

cathedral spires

Finally, nearing the top, the Cathedral Spires come into view.

In the distance is Harney Peak, the highest point in South Dakota, at 7242 feet.  This photo also shows the extreme fire danger, her it looks like about more than half of the trees are dead.  It won’t take much of a spark to light the place up.  It’s easy to see why the fire danger is “explosive” now and even outdoor smoking and BBQ grills are prohibited.

I happened on one of the most intriguing creatures I’ve ever seen on this giant thistle blossom.  It’s a Snowberry Clearwing Hummingbird Moth. It was as though some genetic engineers mixed up moth, bee, and hummingbird DNA and this was the result. It was only a bit smaller than a hummingbird, it flew like a hummingbird, but looked like a giant bee or a moth. It also had a very long proboscis.

June 29, 2012 – Devil’s Tower

Universally acclaimed as one of the best hikes of the trip was the Red Beds trail around Devil’s Tower, Wyoming.

Here’s a good-looking family in front of the exposed batholith.

This year’s vacation group shot, for the first time in about 15 years, not in Northern Minnesota.

The visitor center and parking lot were very crowded – so we took the road less traveled and instead of taking the 1 mile hike around the base, we took the longer three mile hike around the red beds trail.

The trail starts off in a pine forest – very welcome shade on a 97 degree day.

Eventually the trail opened up to some meadows.

There were wonderful vistas looking out over the Wyoming landscape and Belle Fourche river valley below.

At one point the trail dropped into the “desert” as the kids called the exposed red beds that is the trail’s namesake.

Up from the red beds, the trail traversed through an area that had been burned.

Martin taking a look at the imposing rock near the end of the trail.

A well-deserved break near the end of the trail.

I hadn’t noticed this strange object in the sky when I took this photo and didn’t see it until I arrived home!

All in all, the trail had great diversity of landforms, and on this trip we were the 1%.  We only saw one other hiker on the trail. So we were in the 1% of people who left the visitor center!

June 28, 2012 – Mt Rushmore and Wind Cave

We made the All-American visit to Mount Rushmore – almost like a constitutional requirement when visiting the Black Hills. But I sure wish someone would tell me if the cost of entering in a car is a tax or a penalty for not walking in by foot.

It is a nice public space, much like a monument in Washington DC.

mount rushmore, mount rushmore flags

You travel through stone pillars with flags from each of the states.  There are usually four flags per pillar – if I had to be picky, I would have had each flag on its own pillar and make the walk longer.

The obligatory Rushmore replacement photo featuring Emma.

The same place as a toddler.

The obligatory photo featuring Martin!

Finally, the obligatory Rushmore ice cream.

The next visit was to Wind Cave, the 5th longest cave inthe world, named for the wind that blows through it. On the natural entrance – a hole only about as big as your head, the air is either blowing out or sucking in. This photo shows off the cave’s most prominent feature – boxwork.

More boxwork – this cave contains about 95% of the world’s known cave boxwork formation. It was nice to go underground for a bit to escape the heat.

Some more delicate cave features.

June 27, 2012 – A Cabin in the Valley

Here’s our home for the week – a cabin in a mountain valley tucked up in the Black Hills somewhere between Deadwood and Hill City.

The meadow in front of the cabin was appreciated as a buffer for possible fires that are in the area.

A view of the cabin from further away, showing the setting.  We have used the web site VRBO (vacation rental by owner) many times now and have never been disappointed in the accommodations.  There is enough room for two families to stay here and it is cheaper than two motel rooms – plus you get a full kitchen and all this space!

In the evening after the day’s activities are over, sitting on the front porch is a great way to pass the time.  Even though it was toasty during the day, because the cabin was over 5,000 feet in elevation, it was in the 50’s at night – a welcome relief.

Here’s the great room in the cabin.

June 26, 2012 – Road Trip!

Family vacation is here!  Family vacation is here!  We’re on our way to experience the West.  Our first stop is in Chamberlain South Dakota.

On the banks of the Missouri River, we stretch our legs after a long afternoon and early evening drive.

When heading west on I-90, I consider crossing the Missouri river to signify the beginning of the West.  After crossing the river, farm fields are rare and open range becomes predominant.