Go See Do Photography

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

Author: Ashleigh (Page 2 of 65)

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.

Wordless Wednesday: Mt. Rushmore at Night

Avenue of Flags at Night

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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Wordless Wednesday: Sylvan Lake

Sylvan Lake

Custer State Park

Path Around Sylvan Lake

Sylvan Lake

Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota is a large park on the scale of some of the most popular national parks. If there is some type of outdoor recreation you enjoy, I’m sure it can be found at Custer State Park. From hiking and camping to rock climbing and scenic drives, there is something for everyone at Custer.

Getting Ready for the Hay RideThe 71,000 acres of Custer State Park is home to a variety of wildlife. The best way to see the wildlife is to drive the Wildlife Loop Road. Bison, Big Horn Sheep, Mountain Goats, and Prairie Dogs can be seen along the road. For my birthday, we took the Hayride through the wildlife loop road (left) and it was fun because our guide slowed down in areas where the animals are likely to be found and talked to us about them. At the end of the tour, we had a chuckwagon cookout and sing along which was a lot of fun and the food was good too! If you’re in for an off-road experience, the Buffalo Safari Jeep tour looked fun too!

Needles Highway

Probably the most scenic drive in Custer State Park is the Needles Highway. The Needles Highway takes you through pine forests and the unique needles rock formations. The drive isn’t for the faint of heart or those with oversized vehicles because there are some hairpin turns and one-lane tunnels through the Needles. I have heard that the road can get pretty crowded in the summer but we found that driving in the late afternoon or early evening we were able to enjoy the drive without crowds. We enjoyed the drive so much that we did it several times while we were staying in the area.

There are several good lakes for paddling in the park but Sylvan Lake (top) is probably the most popular. The unique rock formations are fun to paddle around and explore. It is a landscape unlike I had ever seen before. The downside of Sylvan Lake is that is fairly small and we had gone around it twice in probably less than half an hour. We were going to check out the bigger Stockade Lake after but when we got there it was closed due to bacteria. Oh well, I guess that gives us a reason to return, right?

The Black Hills really surprised me. I didn’t expect the scenic beauty that can be found at Custer and the surrounding area. I would love to return and be able to explore deeper into the park. I would love to stay at one of the many campgrounds or lodges. If you are going to be in the Black Hills, be sure to check out Custer State Park. You will not be disappointed.

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: Badlands

Badlands Overlook

Badlands National Park

Badlands Rock Formation

After our day exploring the I-80 corridor through Illinois and Iowa, we continued to head west across South Dakota to Custer. Since we were so close, we decided to take a detour into Nebraska to cross another state off our list and headed to Ponca State Park.

Three State Overlook

Ponca State Park is located on the Missouri River and is a big destination to explore the National Scenic River. Fishing, paddling, boating, horseback riding, golf, and hiking are popular activities at the park. One thing we were really impressed with was the modern cabins around the park. They looked like a fun place to stay and explore the area without having to “rough it” too much. We also enjoyed the Three State Overlook over the river where you could see Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota. To learn more about Ponca State Park, visit OutdoorNebraska.com.

After leaving Ponca, it was a little over five hours drive through rural Nebraska to get to Badlands National Park. The Badlands of South Dakota is one of the most interesting landscapes I have ever seen. The unique formations were formed by deposition, the rock building up over time, and erosion, the rock wearing away. The colorful layers in the rock formations show moments in geologic time with different layers forming at different times. (https://www.nps.gov/articles/000/badl-geologic-formations.htm)

Badlands Window Formation

Badlands Window Formation

Badlands National Park got its name from the local Lakota people. They called the area mako sica, meaning “bad lands”. Before modern roads, this area was not easy to traverse and is probably how it got its name. It has been said that the name doesn’t do the park justice and that it scares some people away.  I can tell you that wasn’t the case when we visited. While it wasn’t as busy or as hard to find parking as Yellowstone, there were plenty of people exploring these bad lands.

We had planned to do some hiking in the park but arriving in the middle of the day during a heatwave put a damper on that. While we were driving through the park, it got up to 96 degrees. Because of that, we stuck to exploring the park by car and stopping at the scenic turnouts. We did hike the quarter mile Window Trail (above) but that was all I could manage in the heat.  I would love to return to the park when it’s cooler and get off the road a bit.

Of course, near Badlands National Park is the famous Wall Drug. This is really the only tourist trap we stopped at on this trip (our detour through Nebraska caused us to miss the corn palace). In case you’ve never heard of it, Wall Drug is a giant cowboy-themed store adjacent to Badlands National Park. It’s hard to miss the many billboards along I-90 advertising free ice water, 5 cent coffee, and their giant dinosaur. We decided to get dinner in their cafe and I was surprised by the quality of the food. Yes, it is a giant, crowded gift shop but it was a good stop to get a bite to eat and cool down after exploring the park. To plan your visit to Wall Drug, visit their website.

We used the GyPSy Guide to the Badlands and the Black Hills while exploring the area. The app gives suggested routes while also teaching you about the region. If you are planning a trip to this area, I highly recommend it!

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: Blacksmith at Work

Blacksmith

I-80 Road Trip

Herbert Hoover's Birthplace

We left for our road trip after work on a Friday and drove down to Ottowa, Illinois. From Ottowa, we continued on I-80 through Iowa to our next stop at Dakota Dunes, South Dakota. Using RoadTrippers, I had planned a few stops along our route to get out and stretch our legs and break up this 7 hour driving day. The first stop was very close to our hotel, Starved Rock State Park. From there we planned to see the world’s largest truck stop at Iowa 80, with a final stop at the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site.

Frenchman's Canyon

Frenchman’s Canyon

Starved Rock State Park is frequently described as the most beautiful State Park in Illinois with 13 miles of trails through 18 canyons. We left our hotel early in the morning and headed to the park and even though it wasn’t that hot when we arrived, I want to say it was in the 70s, there had to be 100% humidity. It was like trying to hike through a swamp. The first place we headed to was the Starved Rock Overlook which is about a half-mile trail from the visitor center. The trail takes you to the top of Starved Rock with a view over the very industrial Illinois River. We decided to explore some of the canyons the park is known for and headed to the Frenchman Canyon. It was much cooler in the canyon but because of the hot and dry conditions, the waterfall was practically nonexistent (left). With much more of the park left for another trip, we headed back to the car and continued our drive to Iowa.

Inside the Trucking Museum

Right around lunchtime, we pulled into Iowa 80, the World’s Largest Truck Stop. I have to say, if it wasn’t for the See America Podcast, I don’t think I would’ve stopped here. I’m not a trucker and I’m not really into tourist traps, so I probably would’ve driven right by this. But, it was a perfect spot for lunch with a full-service restaurant as well as a food court with seven fast-food options. After eating lunch, we decided to check out the free trucking museum. I have to say, it was more interesting than I expected and if you have kids who love trucks, they would probably be able to explore this small museum for hours. It reminded me a lot of a smaller version of the Henry Ford Museum, with historic trucks from around the world, all with different purposes. All in all, I was very glad we stopped here to eat and explore a little bit before continuing our drive westward.

Isis Statue at Herbert Hoover National Historic Site

Isis statue was a gift to Hoover for his humanitarian efforts to Belgium during World War 1.

After a half an hour drive from the truck stop, we arrived at Herbert Hoover National Historic Site. This is a small National Park Service Site honoring the early years of the 31st president. The highlight of the park is the tiny one-room cottage where Hoover was born (top). Nearby, you can explore the blacksmith shop where a ranger was stationed to explain how Jesse Hoover, Herbert’s father, made horseshoes and wagon wheels. Probably one of the most interesting buildings was the friend’s meetinghouse where the Hoovers attended Quaker meetings every week. Also in the park, you can visit Herbert and Lou Hoover’s final resting place. I remember learning about President Hoover in school and not much positive was said about him in our textbooks. It was good to learn a little bit more about the man and to understand where he came from and how his early life shaped the president I read about in school.

After visiting the site, we continued on to Dakota Dunes, South Dakota, just outside Sioux City, Iowa. After spending the night, we took a jaunt into Nebraska before continuing on to Badlands National Park and Custer, South Dakota. Be sure to stop back next week as I continue recounting our western expedition!

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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Epic National Park Road Trip

For the benefit and enjoyment of the people

We are back from our biggest trip yet. We were gone for 23 days, visiting 7 national parks, 4 other National park service sites, and 4 state parks spanning 12 states (8 of which were new to us). We had incredible luck on the trip securing a reasonably priced rental car and managing to score last-minute reservations at two incredibly popular national park lodges. To top off our luck, the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National park opened for the season on the day we needed to use it to get from one end of the park to the other.

This was a once-in-a-lifetime trip during the busiest summers for our National Parks ever! Throughout this trip report, I will share our experiences with the crowds and ways to avoid the worst of the congestion.

Here’s a little breakdown of the trip and a sneak peek of what is to come throughout this trip report:

  1. Ottowa, IL
  2. Dakota Dunes, SD
    • Ponca State Park
    • Badlands National Park
  3. Custer, SD
    • Custer State Park
    • Mt. Rushmore National Memorial
    • Wind Cave National Park
    • Jewel Cave National Monument
    • Devils Tower National Monument
  4. Old Faithful Inn
    • Yellowstone National Park
    • Grand Teton National Park
  5. Rising Sun Motor Inn
    • GlacierNational Park
  6. Watford City, ND
    • Theodore Roosevelt National Park
  7. Moorhead, MN
    • Mall of America
    • Wisconsin Dells
  8. Madison WI
    • Indiana Dunes National Park

We did SO much on this trip, this will probably take me months to recap, but I am looking forward to it! Thanks for stopping by!  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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