Thursday, July 26, 2012

The 1880 Steam Train, Keystone & Hill City, South Dakota

All aboard!

We took the 2-hour, 20-mile round trip this morning along the 1880 steam train from Keystone to Hill City and back. Another freebie on our VIP card (a benefit of workamping at the Mt.Rushmore Bookstores), this trip would normally cost $24 per person. 

We decided to take the first train from Keystone at 8:45 in the morning. There was a lot of seating on this trip and very few people, which was nice as it afforded a peaceful ride as we enjoyed beautiful scenery ~ Keystone Junction, Old Baldy Mountain (elev. 5605’), Elkhorn Mountain (elev. 6200’), Tungsten Mine, Harney Peak (elev. 7242’), and Tin Mine Hill (elev. 5160’).  The return trip (just 15-minutes after arriving in Hill City) was much busier with lots of children and their parents – it was a much louder journey back to Keystone.

Interesting notes:
  • We were initially disappointed that the first trip of the day is not with the famed steam engine, but rather a diesel one, as this would mean workers would have to wake at 3am to get the steam rolling.
  • This might not have been a terrible thing, since the return trip with the steam engine was much louder – not only due to the increased number of people, but the toot-toot of the whistle was louder with steam than diesel.
  • Brad remembers the 1880 Train running on coal as a child, but they abandoned coal and now use used-motor oil to create the steam as coal is a fire hazard.
  • It was very cool to see the conductor filling the train with water when we arrived in Keystone – a bit of oil was needed as well.
Easy and affordable - no matter where you are! 

Escapees RV Club Commercial Member #693

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Rushmore Cave, Keystone, South Dakota

With temperatures near 100-degrees today, we decided staying underground (and in air conditioning) was a good idea, so we went to the nearest cave ~ Rushmore Cave – just five miles from Keystone. Would we normally go to Rushmore Cave? No, probably not, but it was on our VIP card, so we were able to enjoy a free cave tour, free zip-line ride, and free Gunslinger 7-D Interactive Theater (at a savings of $54 for the two of us).

First, we did the one-hour guided cave tour which took us (and our group) through a few different rooms (the Post Office, Image Room, Floral Room, and Big Room) with various cave art: stalactites, stalagmites, columns, etc…..  There were 400+ stairs, but an easy walk, nice and cool, and interesting. Our guide (Kevin) was very knowledgeable and informative, which made the tour quite enjoyable.  In fact, everyone we met that worked for Rushmore Caves was nice, affable, and professional, which always makes an experience all that more enjoyable.

After our tour, we went on the zip-line, which was a two person seat and quite the quick ride. 

Finally, we enjoyed the Gunslinger 7-D Interactive Theater where we sat in moving seats and had “guns” to shoot the bad guys and saved the good guys. 

Overall, we had fun, but glad we didn’t have to spend the $54 for the hour-and-a-half of enjoyment. :-)
Easy and affordable - no matter where you are! 

Escapees RV Club Commercial Member #693

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Bear Country U.S.A., Rapid City, South Dakota

Along with our foray to Reptile Gardens, we also went to Bear Country, mostly because our friends who were visiting wanted to go.  Again, as with Reptile Gardens, The Mammoth Site, and other area attractions Bear Country was free with our VIPcard (normally $16 per adult).

What to say about Bear Country? Well, not our thing.  It’s a drive through animal park, and we’ve seen many of these animals in the wild when we’ve hiked. Yes, bears included. Upon first entering, one drives through the elk area where, yup, there are elk, and yup, we’ve seen them in the wild (think Jasper National Park among others). 

There was one very cool “Northern Exposure” moment:

After the elk area is the arctic wolf area, which, no, we haven’t seen these on one of our hikes

But we have seen sheep (Glacier National Park)

Then one enters the bear area where you will see bears – there were probably 40-50 bears in a 3-4 acre enclosure.  This is where we had the most problem/concern with Bear Country USA – this many bears are not meant to be in this small of a space. There was no room for these guys, no stimulating play toys, nothing. Granted it was a hot day and many were snoozing, but this simply does not seem healthy for any of these bears. In fact, when our neighbors went to Bear Country, two bears had a fight right in front of their truck, to the point where our neighbors came home with bear blood on the front bumper.

We wonder who oversees an operation like Bear Country, but we hope there is some overriding agency that ensures these bears are safe and healthy. A google search (a quick one) did not bring forth any answers, but did illustrate that we are in the minority – people love Bear Country.
Easy and affordable - no matter where you are! 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Reptile Gardens, Rapid City, South Dakota

Yes, we went to very touristy Reptile Gardens. Normally, we would not go, but it was free for us, as it is on our VIP card (normally $16 per adult in the summer). Surprisingly, we actually liked it!

We arrived just in time for the Alligator/Crocodile Show, which was quite enjoyable, mostly due to the chatty and fun presenter (whose name we do not remember). He shared interesting information about the similarities and difference between alligators and crocodiles, fed the reptiles, and led us through a demonstration on how to ride an alligator.  There is also a snake and bird show, but we missed those ~ perhaps another time…….
 Also inhabiting Reptile Gardens are Giant Tortoises where one can walk within their yards and touch them. (There was always a keeper with them to make sure they were safe.) 
The Safari Room was full of interesting attractions – lots of snakes, amphibians, bugs (which Suzanne skipped ~ yuck!) and more.

. Also part of Safari Room was a garden with beautiful flowers and exotic birds ~ we were obviously more interested in the flowers.

A few more photos ~
Easy and affordable - no matter where you are! 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Mammoth Site, Hot Springs, South Dakota

In a nutshell ~ The Mammoth Site was a very cool place to visit.

A bit of history ~ in 1974 a housing developer, Phil Anderson, was bulldozing the land to build houses, when he realized he found some very old bones and fossils, and more importantly, recognized the significance. He sold the land for what he paid for it, and as of today, the remains of approximately 60 mammoths have been found, along with Giant short-faced bears, camels, llama, prairie dogs, wolves and fish.

As an active archeological site, paleontologists are still digging and working, discovering more bones and fossils from the ice age. As they work, visitors are offered a 30-minute tour of the facilities, where one can learn about the history of the site, the ongoing research, and about the animals and their lives. Basically what happened was this was a sinkhole in which the mammoths fell into and could not get out, thus died, and were preserved.  For the record, all of the mammoth bones found are male, which might answer the question for men, “If your friend jumped off a bridge, would you follow?” Obviously for the mammoths of the ice age, the answer was a resounding, “yes.” :-)

After the 30-minute tour, guest are welcome to meander the site (not the dig area, but on the walkways) and take pictures and look at the fossils some more.  There is a small museum with various other fossils, such as the ever-popular elephant dung!

Easy and affordable - no matter where you are! 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Independence Day Celebrations at Mt. Rushmore

Independence Day is a HUGE celebration at Mt Rushmore and most of the activities take place on July 3rd, so as not to interfere with other celebrations. Along with roving presidents, music and dancing will occur, as well as a special evening ceremony beginning at 6pm with a Welcome from Superintendent Cheryl Schrier. There will be a Veteran’s Recognition, POW/MIA ceremony, and the USAF band from Ellsworth AFB will play. A detailed listing of all events can be found at Mt. Rushmore’s NPS website (click here). 

For us, we’ll be busy, busy, busy! Come and stop by and say HI!
Happy Independence Day!!!
Easy and affordable - no matter where you are! 
Escapees RV Club Commercial Member #693

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Wall Drug

On our way to Badlands National Park, we also stopped at the infamous - or-famous (depending on your perspective) Wall Drug. Originally just any ‘ole drugstore in the middle no nowhere, purchased by the Husteads in 1931, business was not good. But it was when they started offering travelers free ice water in the summer of 1936 that business soared and Wall Drug started becoming the tourist attraction-or-trap (again, depending on your perspective).

Wall Drug is a huge conglomerate of smaller stores – some sell shoes and boots, others candies and chocolates, others trinkets, and so on……

Also known for it’s 5-cent coffee (paid on the honor system)
 where else can one ride a jackalope

or pay a quarter to see a monkey play the piano?

So we did stop, spent about 5-10 minutes wandering around, can now say we’ve been there, but don’t need to go again. Should you stop at Wall Drug? Sure – enjoy that free ice water (still free) or 5-cent cup of coffee! :-)
Easy and affordable - no matter where you are! 

Escapees RV Club Commercial Member #693

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