Monday, September 30, 2013

Jewel Cave

Yes, that is my husband peeking through someone's windows.

Actually, he wasn't the only one.  We all peeped. 

 We went to visit Jewel Cave while we were in South Dakota and this is the cabin built for some of the surveyors around 1935.  We weren't allowed to go in so we had to satisfy ourselves with looking through the windows.  

Jewel cave was discovered in 1900 by two brothers who noticed a hole in some rock.  They could feel a blast of cold air coming out of the hole and that means only one thing - there's a large area behind this rock. The hole wasn't big enough for them to fit through so, being men, they got some dynamite and very carefully and delicately blew it up.

The original entrance is gated now, but when you stand in front of it, a very strong cool wind still blows all over you.

It's wonderful on a hot day.

Inside the cave are tons of calcite crystals which sparkle in the light - 
which is where the name "Jewel Cave" came from.

Much in the same way "Diamond Head" in Hawaii got it's name.


Wait.  South Dakota.  I was talking about South Dakota.

There are several different guided tours you can take, ranging from just going in one cavern to spelunking through tiny tunnels while worming along on your belly.

We opted for the Scenic Tour which lasts about an hour and a half and requires you to go up and down 723 stair step over about a half mile.  I thought they meant 723 steps down and then 723 steps back up.

Thankfully the steps go up and down, then up and down, and there are platforms where you stop and listen to the guide talk.  So even though it is listed as a "somewhat strenuous" tour, it isn't too bad.

The guide stops to point out interesting features in the cave and tell you about the history.  

This particular formation looks like a bunch of jellyfish crawling down the wall.

And this one looked like a giant slab of bacon.

Giant bacon, ya'll! 

And oddly enough, there is a naturally formed map of the United States on the ceiling in case you get lost!

The tour guide also turned out the lights in one cavern so we could experience "total darkness".  That was cool except for the one dork who had his phone out and the little indicator light on it was like a beacon.  

The amazing thing is that they've mapped over 157 miles of caverns underground and they believe it's less than 2% of Jewel Cave.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Sylvan Lake

In Custer State Park, there is a lake......

 It's the prettiest lake you'll ever see.

I was absolutely blown away by how gorgeous this area was.

In South Dakota.

Who knew?
Sylvan Lake was created in 1881 when a dam was built across Sunday Gulch.
 You can walk all the way around the lake and even walk out over the dam.

 It was absolutely the most gorgeous sight I've seen in a long time.

 We had intended to rent canoes, but it rained lightly the entire time we were there.

 It was worth it just to hike around in the rain and look at this beautiful place.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Finally.....Mt Rushmore

When you get to Mt Rushmore, the first thing you are going to want to do is take a picture in front of the monument.

Then you go closer to get a better picture.

Then you go even closer.

Then you take a picture of all your friends in front of the monument.

Then you walk to the base of the monument and you take another picture from that angle.

Then you take a shot practically looking up their noses.

Then after a while, when someone tells you, "Ooh, take a picture from this angle" you say no.
You can only take so many pictures of the same monument from a different angle before you fill your camera up with photos of what is essentially the same thing.

There is a great trail to walk around the base of the monument. 

There are a lot of steps, but not so many that it will wear you out. 

 And some cool museum areas where you can learn about the monument.
Did you know the monument was originally going to show more of their upper bodies?
 And also, there is a secret "cave" where documents are stored.  It's not accessible to the public, but we know it's there!
And then it rained, and I did take one more picture of the monument with the rain running down the faces because that was actually a little different.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Crazy Horse Memorial

On our way up to Mt Rushmore from the campsite, we took a slight detour to see the Crazy Horse Memorial.
It's been under construction since 1948 which is before I was born

It's a long time, but the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation does not accept state or federal funds to speed the work along.  So this is going to be a long term project.

Some of the folks in our group went in and went through the visitor center.  They said it was very interesting and totally worth the admission price.  I stayed with the group that was heading on up to Mt Rushmore so I can't tell you anything about what it was like in there.  This is as close as we got to the actual memorial.

A sign in the parking lot shows you in general what the monument should like when it is completed.  I hope to come back here one day and see a lot of progress!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Custer State Park Critters

At Custer State Park, there are a lot of critters to see.  There are many roads which wind throughout the park and your chances of seeing some wildlife are excellent.  The roads are easy to find; some are gravel, some are paved. Just head out and keep your eyes open!

The first animals we saw were prairie dogs.  When we were stationed in Texas, we went through a wildlife park where they sold bags of food for you to give to the animals as you drove through the park.  The prairie dogs were the first ones to come a runnin' for the food.  These ones clearly new they were not getting fed (it's against the rules) and kept their distance.

We spotted a herd of buffalo on our first outing as well as this solitary fellow who didn't look much like he was impressed with the paparazzi.

 Not sure what Texas Longhorns were doing in South Dakota, but I guess everyone needs a change now and then.

The no feeding rule does not apply to the donkeys.  They are the one animal in the park that you are allowed to feed and don't think they don't know it.  They hang out in the road and you won't be going anywhere for a while for all the stopped cars and stopped donkeys.

They show no embarrassment at coming right over and asking for a nibble of whatever you've got.

Fortunately we had apples in the cooler so we were able to share.  That was pretty cool.  The donkeys don't hang out when you are out of food.  They move right on to the next car and discard you like a used napkins.  We took pictures of them and everything but apparently we weren't special to them.

We saw lots of antelope.  Lots and lots.  Every day. 

And some wild goats who, coincidentally, give a great incentive to not feed wild animals.

Apparently in years past, people would feed wild animals anyway, even though everyone everywhere tells you not to.  I'm sure everyone thought it was cute and just one time wouldn't hurt.  Problem is, there were a lot of people who were giving the animals "just one" treat.  The goats in particular really liked this set-up and they became disgruntled when people didn't feed them.  And they would head-butt these folks to let them know they weren't happy that the snacks weren't being doled out in a timely manner.  But they head-butted a few people right over some cliffs.  And the people died.  And the goats still didn't get a snack, but that didn't seem to be a lesson learned for the goats.  The goats had to be *ahem* removed to a safe little farm somewhere.

So don't feed the wildlife, people.

(Except for the donkeys)

Monday, September 16, 2013

Buff. Buff.

While we were camping at Custer State Park, a buffalo decided to wander through our campground on three separate occasions. 

I guess he just liked the grass in our neck of the woods.

The park rangers would wander along with him, warning everyone not to get close.  Not only can buffalo jump six feet straight up (yes, you read that right - we attended a lecture while we were there, I know everything now) they can run 30-40 miles an hour.  Which is assuredly faster than I can go.  

The first time the buffalo wandered through our camp, I ran to get my camera from the tent where Emily was napping.

I flew into the tent excitedly telling Emily to wake up and come see the buffalo while snatching up the camera and simultaneously stepping on and breaking Emily's glasses.  We've had a running argument ever since over whose fault it was - mine for stepping on them, or hers for leaving them on the floor in the first place. 

(It was her fault.)

Anyway, Mr Buffalo had meandered over to our friend Lia's cabin and decided to just hang out for a bit rather than continuing on.  Shortly before, Lia had decided to go take a nap in her cabin and had no idea that big honkin' buffalo was standing by her front porch.  Everyone in our group was concerned that she would wake up, walk innocently onto her porch and be ground into hamburger by a startled two-ton buffalo.   Plus, Lia's a red-head and who knows if buffalo react to the color red the way bulls do?  

It wasn't covered in the lecture.

So we all tried calling Lia's cell phone.  But she didn't answer.  Turns out she didn't have service or a battery or something.  Once the vacation was over and we left the park I'm sure she had a dozen loud messages screeching something about a buffalo and red hair.  

So, when we couldn't reach her by phone, all the kids started yelling, trying to get her attention to tell her not to come out of her cabin.  Because letting her sleep inside her cabin is never as good of an option as making her come outside to find out why everyone is yelling only to be told they are yelling for you not to come outside.

Fortunately, Lia heard the yelling, couldn't understand what anyone was saying and thought, "I wish they'd quit yelling, I'm trying to nap."

Fortunately, the buffalo decided to move on down the road before any harm was done but he did come back twice more just to visit.

And Emily's glasses were held together by some very stylish duct tape from that point on.

(And it still wasn't my fault)

Friday, September 13, 2013

Custer State Park

 We camped at Custer State Park in South Dakota with 43 of our closest friends from Hawaii.

Talk about an ultimate reunion!

We were the third family to arrive at the campground.  We pulled in to our space and started to unload.  We figured if we got our tent set up quickly, we'd be available to help others set up their tents as they all arrived.

Before we could even start unloading, a park ranger whipped up in a little golf cart.

"Do not set up your tent," he told us.  "Hail is predicted and we are under a tornado watch.  You need to head for shelter!"

Well, "shelter" meant the cinder block restrooms or the tiny little cabin one of the families had reserved.

We piled into the cabin.

 And we watched the marble-sized hail rain down.

As more families in our group arrived, we just crammed more people in.  Some stood on the porch under the awning.  We kept waiting for a break in the weather so we could set up the tent before it got dark.

It finally got down to a drizzle and we tried to throw the tent up really fast but the rain picked back up before we were done and the inside of the tent got wet enough that every time we stepped inside the ceiling released a patter of rain on us.  We used all the towels we had brought to dry it out.  
Then the temperature started dropping.  It sunk into the low 50's every night.  One night it actually got to 48 degrees.  If I didn't have the world's smallest bladder, I would probably still be under the covers.  

I don't know what it is with me and camping but our last two campouts have included a flash flood on one and rainy cold weather which kept us confined to our tent on the other.

Now we can add hail and tornado weather to my camping stories.  I'm not positive, but I think God is telling me "thou shalt not camp anymore". 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

South Dakota

It was a sixteen hour drive to Mt Rushmore.  We took two days to drive it so that we could have a break halfway along the ride.  Sixteen hours in a car packed to the ceiling with camping gear and people can wear on your nerves a bit.   

 And South Dakota is a whole, flat, lot of nothing.

 For a long, long way.

 If you see anything even remotely interesting (like a human skeleton walking a dinosaur skeleton on a leash) you'd better stop.  And I'm not kidding.

 The sight of something other than flat land and no buildings means "there is a bathroom and food here, maybe gas, and who knows when you'll see any of that again".

I don't know the number of times we would get hungry and decide to stop for lunch and not be able to find anything, anything, to eat.  We would make a statement along the lines of, "Let's pull off at the next exit and get some lunch, not fast food though, maybe a Cracker Barrel!"  Then as the next exit would come into sight, we would see nothing.  No signs advertising gas, lodging or food.  No buildings.  Just a road heading off into the distance and disappearing.

We nearly starved.  

We ate gas station food to survive.

The isolation was terrible!  

We learned early on to get gas when we saw it even if we weren't low.  

Finally, after hours and hours and hours, we started to see hills and itty bitty mountains.

Mt Rushmore was just over the horizon.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Heavenly Biscuits

At Red Lobster the other night, Emily decided to try one of their famous garlic cheese biscuits.  Although she's allergic to dairy, and that thing is just loaded with butter and cheese, she occasionally decides to risk an eczema break out and eat something that is normally not on her diet.

After taking a bite, she closed her eyes for a moment and savored it.  Then she opened her eyes, looked at me and said, "If I were an atheist, this would single handedly restore my faith in God."

That's quite a biscuit!

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Party

 Katie had her 13th birthday party at the local roller skating rink.

I love when the kids want to have the party at some place other than the house.  I don't have to plan food, games, or activities - it's all done for us and we just show up.

 The roller rink does a great job too.  They put Katie in a glass booth with crumpled up coupons for free treats and then turned on a fan that blew them all around her.  Any that she caught and put on the box at the front of the booth, she got to keep.

 The pizza, cake, ice cream and gift opening were all done in a blacklighted party room.

 They even provided the birthday cake......with a number 7 candle on it.  

We quickly discovered that there was another birthday party going on in another room for a "Kaitlyn" who was turning seven.  Not only did we have her cake, we had a few of her gifts, and the treat bags for her guests.

It didn't take long to get it all sorted out.  New candles were provided, gifts were sorted out, happiness prevailed.

And not just happiness, but hilarity.  My mother had given Katie a gift bag with presents in it while we were in Georgia.  Katie decided to save it and open it on her birthday.  My mother intended to let me know later that she had included a bra in the package, but it slipped her mind as a few weeks had passed.  When Katie pulled that out of the bag, (and promptly shoved it back in the bag) with a 14 year old boy sitting next to her, that became the humor highlight of the party.

The other main attraction at the party was the laser obstacle course.

 Katie's trip through the maze.

The kids would go into a vault one at a time, and try to work their way past a maze of laser beams.  They had to carry a large glass "diamond" and trade it out for a different diamond on a pedestal at the other end - Indiana Jones style - and carry the "real" diamond back to the door of the vault.  The scores were based on how many laser beams they broke and how long it took them to make it through the maze.

Katie had chosen Red Lobster as her birthday party restaurant so we (just the family) headed there for dinner and she opened her final gifts from us.  Emily had picked up gifts for Katie while in Hawaii as well as making her several items from duct tape.  

Red Lobster doesn't give a free dessert for your birthday any longer, which was a disappointment, but they did sing to her which was nice.  We could have ordered a dessert but we were stuffed!

Happy Birthday, Katie!