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A Lot of Travel, A Little Bit of History, and a Whole Bunch of Photos

Tag: Black Hills

Epic National Park Road Trip Recap

Tetons

Whew! It only took six months, but I have finished the recap of our epic 3-week trip out west! This trip taught us a lot, especially about what we need to work on the road. Of course, we saw some amazing sites and the ones that I can’t wait to return to may surprise you!

For most of this trip, the weather was much hotter than I had expected. I feel like I wrote the phrase, “we were planning on hiking at X, but it was too hot” at least five times throughout the recap of this trip. The middle week at Yellowstone and Glacier was really the only one where it wasn’t oppressively hot. I would love more time to explore Badlands and Theodore Roosevelt without dying of heatstroke.

One thing that really surprised me through my recapping this trip is that three days in Yellowstone really seemed to be enough to see the highlights. Yes, with more time we could’ve gotten off the beaten path and explored some of the backcountry, but I feel like I saw what I wanted to see. I would love to return to Yellowstone someday, but it’s not going to be high up on my list.

On the other hand, with three days at Glacier, we barely scratched the surface. Yes, we managed to visit each of the areas in the park, but we were only able to do a few short hikes. I would love to go back later in the season and spend more time in the Many Glacier area and maybe even hike to Grinnel Glacier. I will definitely do my planning in advance to get a room at the Many Glacier Hotel!

Mountain in the Clouds

But the area that I really want to return to is South Dakota’s Black Hills. The other day, I was trying to figure out if we could manage a camping trip to Custer State Park next summer (no, I don’t think we can). Even though we had a full week there, it didn’t feel like enough! Of all the stunning National Parks we visited on this trip, it’s funny to me that this is the place that stands out the most in my memory.

I know I have mentioned this a few times already, but if you are looking to stay inside a National Park, lodging can be found less than a year out as long as you are flexible. I still hear people saying “I didn’t plan this trip a year in advance so I know I’m not going to be able to get a room in the park” and that is just not true. Keep checking for cancellations and subscribe to the park’s email list. We got our room at Rising Sun Motor Inn two months out and Old Faithful Inn two weeks out. Don’t give up!

Needles Highway

This was the first trip we took where Chris was working remotely and we learned a lot from that too. If you are working remotely from a hotel with at least one other person, spring for a suite with a door that closes. It was really nice when we were at the Roosevelt Inn and Suites in North Dakota and I was able to go in the bedroom and close the door when he was in meetings. Country Inn and Suites is a chain hotel that has this feature as well. The full kitchen at Roosevelt was nice to prepare lunches while he was working too. An AirBNB would also be good for this purpose.

Alright, I think that’s all I have to say about this trip! Check back next week when I share about some of our other explorations this summer!

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

Wordless Wednesday: Jewel Cave

Jewel Cave Stairs

Jewel Cave National Monument

Jewel Cave Header

Jewel Cave was discovered in 1900 when two brothers felt cold air blowing out of a hole in a canyon. They opened the hole with dynamite and found a cave lined with calcite crystals, which is where Jewel Cave gets its name. Word of the cave reached Washington and Theodore Roosevelt named Jewel Cave a National Monument in 1908.

Up until 1956, only about 2 miles of the cave had been explored. Famous rock climbers Herb and Jan Conn explored Jewel Cave for twenty years and mapped out over 65 miles of the cave. Herb Conn wrote a scientific paper about airflow in the cave and based on pressure changes, he estimated that 95% of the cave has never been explored. With 209 miles of cave mapped, Jewel Cave is the 3rd largest cave in the world. Experienced cavers are still exploring the cave and finding new rooms and passageways that no other person is known to have explored.

Calcite Crystals in Jewel CaveIn 2021, Jewel Cave National Monument is undergoing elevator maintenance to resolve chronic problems with the elevators. The elevators are expected to reopen in the late fall. When planning this trip, I didn’t think we would be able to visit Jewel Cave because of this maintenance, but for now, the park service is offering a modified tour. This tour involves walking down (and then back up) a steep hill and the park service describes it as “moderate to strenuous”.

I’m not sure if people were staying away from Jewel Cave because of the elevator repairs or if this park just isn’t as popular as Wind Cave because it doesn’t have the “National Park” designation. Either way, we arrived around 9:30 AM and there were only a handful of other people on the tour with us. It was a much more relaxed experience and even though we only go to see one room of the cave, I enjoyed this tour a lot more than Wind Cave. If you only have time to tour one cave in the Black Hills, I recommend Jewel Cave.

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Devils Tower National Monument

Devils Tower

Devils Tower National Monument is located in the northeastern corner of Wyoming, only about an hour and a half away from Rapid City, South Dakota. Signed into law by Theodore Roosevelt on September 25, 1906, Devils Tower was the first National Monument in the world. The monument is a popular place for rock climbers as well as hikers and others who just want to see this unique geological feature for themselves.

When planning this trip, I originally wanted to visit Devils Tower on the way from Custer to Yellowstone, which would’ve had us arrive mid-morning on a Saturday. Then, I learned that the parking lot fills up early, especially on weekends, and it is not uncommon to have to wait a while for a spot. Since we had quite a bit of ground to cover that day, I decided it would make more sense to make it a day trip from the Black Hills, and that way we could also see Spearfish Canyon on the way back.

We left Custer after Chris got off work and arrived at Devils Tower around 5 pm. There were only a handful of people around and we had no trouble parking. The visitor center closes at 6 but I was happy to see that the passport stamp is outside so that if you arrived when the visitor center was closed, you would still be able to get a stamp. Because we wanted to see Spearfish Canyon before sunset, we didn’t have much time to explore the monument, but we did get to walk a little bit of the Tower Trail.

Roughlock FallsSince this was our last day in the Black Hills, I may have tried to cram too much in, especially with the three-hour round trip drive to Devils Tower. But, we did enjoy the GyPSy tour of the Northern Black Hills and the drive through Spearfish Canyon. The Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway is a beautiful drive that follows a river that has cut through these high rock walls. Spearfish Canyon is an absolutely beautiful area that just blew me away! There are several places along the way to stop and enjoy the beauty of the canyon. We got out and stretched our legs at Roughlock Falls (left). Several scenes from Dances with Wolves were filmed in this area and maybe recognizable to fans of the film. We had planned to checkout Deadwood this day, but the road was closed for a parade or something so we just kept driving. I guess we will just have to come back with more time to explore the Black Hills!

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Wordless Wednesday: Wind Cave

Wind Cave National Park

Wind Cave Sign

Wind Cave National Park is located in the Black Hills of South Dakota, about 10 miles north of the town of Hot Springs. Wind Cave National Park was established in 1903 by Theodore Roosevelt and was the 7th National Park to be created in the United States, and the first cave to be made a National Park. With 149 miles of explored passageways, Wind Cave is the 7th longest cave in the world.

Boxwork in Wind Cave

Wind Cave is a barometric cave, meaning it equalizes the pressure in the cave to the air above which causes the cave to breathe. The cave got its name when two brothers discovered air blowing from a hole in the ground at the natural entrance to the cave. Wind Cave is known for a calcite formation known as boxwork (above). 95% of the boxwork in the world can be found in Wind Cave.

Aboveground,the park is home to the largest remaining mixed-grass prairie in the United States. The grasslands can be explored through 30 miles of hiking trails where bison, elk, pronghorns, prairie dogs, and other animals roam freely.

Wind Cave BoxworkThe park offers several different cave tours each day but they are very popular and can sell out by mid-morning in the peak season. Knowing this, I arrived shortly after the visitor center opened and had to wait an hour and a half in direct sunlight and unseasonable heat to get tickets. I ended up doing the Natural Entrance Tour which is a longer tour but it doesn’t involve crawling through the cave. They sell 40 tickets per tour so it was pretty crowded in the cave. They try to move so many people through that you are kind of herded through it without really being able to appreciate it. The group I was with was not great and they kept talking over the ranger so all-in-all I did not have a great experience.

I don’t understand why they are not selling tickets in advance. Recreation.gov already exists, the other cave parks are using it for this exact thing. They can save some tickets to be sold same day, but it’s ridiculous that you would have to wait in the hot sun to buy tickets for a tour. I wish there was a way to tour the cave with fewer people and be able to actually appreciate it. It’s possible that some of my bad experience was just due to the other people in my group and if I went back it might be better. If you really like caves or you have a goal to visit all 63 National Parks, obviously you should check out Wind Cave. Otherwise, I enjoyed Jewel Cave (which I will talk about next week) much more.

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Mt. Rushmore

Avenue of Flags

Mt. Rushmore, located in the Black Hills of South Dakota, is probably one of the most iconic sites in the United States. The image of Mt. Rushmore has been used in countless films and is seen to many as a patriotic symbol of the United States.

We used the GyPSy audio guide for our exploration of the Black Hills. The guide recommends approaching Mt. Rushmore from Iron Mountain Road, which is a road that was designed to give you views of the famous memorial as you approach it. I really appreciated this drive and without the GyPSy guide, I don’t know that I would’ve planned our visit this way. If you plan to visit the Black Hills, definitely spring for the audio tour, it really does enhance the experience.

Washington from belowMuch like the Alamo, I had heard from several people that they were underwhelmed by Mt. Rushmore so I went into this visit with pretty low expectations. No, Mt. Rushmore is not as big as a lot of National Parks and there are not a wide variety of things to do when you visit and it can get crowded, but you can escape the crowds by getting away from the Grand View Terrace. Personally, as a history buff and a proud American, I enjoyed the experience.

We visited Mt. Rushmore in the early evening and the crowds were fairly low. We took the .6 mile long Presidential Trail that gets you closer to the Memorial. I enjoyed one of the first viewpoints where you get to look at Washington through an opening in the rock (left). The trail takes you to the Sculptor’s Studio where you can see a scale model of the Memorial and learn more about what it was like to make such a large rock carving.

Mt. Rushmore lit up at nightWhile admission to Mt. Rushmore is free, parking costs $10 but it is good for a year. While I doubt many people return to Mt. Rushmore multiple times throughout a year, we did come back a few days later to see the monument lit up at night. The lighting ceremony is very moving and is something everyone should see.

Now, when talking about Mt. Rushmore, I think it is important to talk about the controversy surrounding the monument. The first issue with the monument is that it is located on sacred Lakota land that the United States government may not have acquired legally. The other controversy surrounds the sculptor, Gutzon Borglum. Borglum was working on another controversial carving of Confederate leaders in Georgia that was backed by the Klu Klux Klan and Borglum himself was most likely a member. The third is that Mt. Rushmore was designed to be a tourist icon. The original idea was to carve famous figures from the wild west, but someone in South Dakota leadership at the time decided that it would have more broad appeal if they chose American leaders instead. For a lot more information about these controversies, I recommend this article from National Geographic.

If you are in South Dakota, you really have to stop at Mt. Rushmore. You don’t have to spend a ton of time there, but I think it is something that everyone (especially Americans) should see at least once. But, go into it with your eyes wide open and understand the history and contention that surrounds the monument. Mt. Rushmore isn’t the only attraction in the area. There is a lot of natural beauty in the Black Hills to explore, especially Custer State Park.

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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