After leaving the Badlands, we spent several days in Custer State Park and exploring the surrounding area. Custer State Park is known for the bison herds that live there and we saw them almost immediately upon entering the park.
We found our campsite, a lovely spot right near a stream, and set up camp. Then took girls and dogs and went for a short hike up a big hill (or was it a small mountain).
Kaia, despite her short legs, likes to do some hiking on her own (as opposed to being carried) and we try and make sure that happens each time we go out. Sierra, for the most part, does a great job hiking with her little sister. Though, sometimes, we have to place down the "no holding your sister's hand while hiking" rule. There are time when the trail might be a little steep or rocky and well, Sierra is slightly erratic in her hiking and can inadvertently know the tiny one to the ground. Over and over and over again.
We travelled the Wildlife Loop Road and ran in to the big bison herd. We saw a couple pronghorn, and the pack of wild (not so wild, they come right up to cars) burros as they were trotting away from us across a field. We saw a field spotted with prairie dog holes and stopped to watch them for a bit. We were baffled when a teenage girl jumped out of her and went tearing across the prairie dog pitted field at top speed. Need I tell you how this ends? She stepped in a hole, and went down like a sack of potatoes. Poor, foolish girl.
We stopped at one of the state park lodges on the way back. And there in a little pond, was a mama duck with 14 babies! Fourteen ducklings! Is that even possible, or could she have adopted a second clutch?
The little stream by our tent was a whole lot of fun to play in and around, but our first night, it stormed like crazy for several hours: thunder, lightening, wind, pouring rain. Jason got out of the tent in the pouring rain in the middle of the night to make sure this little stream wasn't going to rise out of its banks and wash us away. I was just hoping that our broken tent pole could hold up to even more wind!
The stormed cleared by morning, and we headed out to visit Wind Cave. Kaia was in charge of the ticket.
Wind Cave is a dry cave, which means no stalactites or stalagmites, but our tour guide informed us that it is home to 90% of the world's box work, which is a totally crazy feature that looks like rocky spider webs. The cave systems is also largely unexplored. If you are a spelunker, you can get permission to go visit the unexplored parts.
We stopped for a picnic lunch after our cave visit. I climbed up a big hill for the view and came across two elk wondering what the heck I was doing in their territory.
The view was lovely, though.
Post picnic, picnic table slide!
We were close enough and had a wide open afternoon, so we also visited Mt. Rushmore that day. It was as expected. Yes, it's pretty amazing to see these giant faces carved in to the side of a rock face, but it seems I am more impressed by natural wonders than the man made variety.
We did all enjoy the Native American exhibit that existed off the short trail at Mt. Rushmore.
And this view of Washington looking up through a rock tunnel was pretty unique.
I'm glad we went, but adding this trip as an afternoon side trip to our day was the perfect plan.
The following morning, we are on the road again, but before we left, we had time for an early ranger program about panning for gold. Even Kaia gave it a try, but her technique was not particularly effective.
Look! Sierra found GOLD! Erm ... actually, I think she found a bit of quartz. Which happens to be the most abundant mineral on the planet. Better luck next time.
Kaia gave up looking for precious rocks and decided she would just play in the water.
Better than gold, Sierra found a friend who was at the program. They had a great time for the duration. Then we all changed in to dry clothes, said our good-byes and moved on to our next adventure.