2017 – Black Hills, SD National Parks Caves


We’ve enjoyed tours of both National Park caves in the Black Hills. We took the Historic Lantern tour of Jewel Cave. The park ranger was in Historic costume with a fitted coat and riding pants. That was the standard uniform of the 1930’s. We met at the log cabin rebuilt to the specifications of the cabin lived in by the first Park Ranger and his wife. Half the people were given kerosene lanterns to carry just like they did in the early days. We were warned that the tour was considered strenuous, we would climb up and down about 600 steep wooden steps (some ladder-like) and be required to bend and stoop in some areas.

Our guide was very knowledgeable about the history of the cave as well as providing plenty of information about the crystals on the walls and the various bats that inhabit the cave. It was interesting to see how the early cave explorers saw the caves and fascinating to think they could see so little of the path ahead as they went through the cave. I was very tired when we finished but glad I took the tour.

Our second cave was Wind Cave and we took the Fairgrounds Cave Tour. We enjoyed this hour and half tour. The cave continually equalizes the atmospheric pressure of the cave and outside air causing it to “breathe” in or out. Our tour was part of the upper and middle levels of the the cave. It is considered the most strenuous walking tour of the park with 450 stair steps along the 2/3 mile hike, but there are rails to hold on to. One flight has 89 steps going up. Our tour guide was a young lady in her first year with the Parks service. She was very knowledgeable about the cave, its history, and the formations. The major attraction of this cave is the Boxwork formations found in the middle level of the cave. We also saw popcorn and frostwork formations. This is an excellent tour and I recommend it for anyone who doesn’t mind a strenuous hike.

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2017 – Arrow Campground, Wall, SD

We were looking for a campground with full hookups near Badlands National Park and Wall Drug and Arrow Campground in Wall, SD was one of our two choices. This is an older campground that is showing its age. We ended up in an area with a crew of construction workers. The hard working people left early in the morning and returned in the evening. Some of the campsites are set up with sites “back to back” so our neighbor’s 20 year old travel trailer on the driver’s side was pretty close. I’m sure we could have stayed in a different site had I asked. (Note to self: speak up!) The bathhouse was clean, but worn. After we were starting to set up I realized that there had been a sewer backup on the site on the other side of our camper at some point that needed to be cleaned up. However, someone cleaned it up shortly after that. Wall Drug is close by and if you don’t mind walking across some railroad tracks, it is easy walking distance. Speaking of the railroad tracks, we heard, I think just one train a day and none at night. One of the entrances to Badlands National Park is just a few miles south of town. Campground WiFi wasn’t very good but my Verizon 4G was fine. I had no problem getting my Dish Network satellites. On a future trip I think I’d try the other park or maybe forgo staying at or around Wall and just drive out from the Rapid City area.

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2017 – Badlands National Park – Wall, SD and vicinity

The Badlands National Park is a very different experience. We have an America the Beautiful Pass for those of us over 62 so we avoided paying the $20 entry fee. We arrived midmorning and it was already getting warm. There is a wide variety of wildlife here. We saw some Bighorn sheep, several prairie dog towns, an antelope, and a few birds. Although the loop road was busy we had no difficulty finding parking at the overlooks. We stopped at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, had our picnic lunch in a covered shelter, watched the movie, refilled our water bottle, made a few purchases, and headed on out.

On our way home from the Badlands National Park we stopped at the Minuteman Missile National historic Site. There is a variety of hands on displays showing the significance of these sites in the Cold War and the arms race. The memorabilia is a reminder of those who served and the effect of the Cold War on the civilian population. There are actually three sites in the area, but we only stopped at the visitor center.

As you can tell, we enjoyed our time in Wall and especially, Badlands National Park.

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2017 – Farm Island State Recreation Area, Pierre, SD

Our final day at Farm Island was “eclipse day.” We woke to a severe thunderstorm that was pretty scary – wind, hail, and a downpour. Really, we should have bugged out to one of the shower houses. However, the storm was on us before we knew it. After 10 or 15 minutes of (thankfully) small hail, things let up. We feared the heavy clouds would block our view of the eclipse which was at nearly 90% for the area. However, at just the right time the skies cleared and we had a good view of the impressive display of God’s handiwork.

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2017 – Sightseeing Pierre, South Dakota

With less than 14,000 residents, Pierre, South Dakota is the second smallest state capital. We stayed in Farm Island State Recreation Area on the edge of town. Although it was cool in the morning when I walked it warmed up in the afternoon so we went into town for an ice cream cone and a few groceries. We stopped by the state capitol and saw the beautiful grounds including a park area with the Veteran’s Memorial and fountain. At one time there was enough natural gas in the water that a flame was lit from it, causing fire to “float” above the water. However, the level of natural gas has dropped and, while there is still the odor of gas, it is no longer the famous “flaming fountain.” There are several walking paths and another flowing fountain as well. Afterward we went to a busy Zestos ice cream for a tasty cone. As we drove around town I saw beautiful old buildings, many biking-hiking trails, and lovely homes with playgrounds nearby. For shoppers there is a Walmart, Menards, and small shopping Mall. While Pierre isn’t a tourist destination, we did enjoy some relaxing downtime there.

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2017 – Codington County Memorial Park, Watertown, SD

On a related note, our arrival in South Dakota was a milestone for us. South Dakota completed our goal of visiting all 50 states! Not all of that was done in the RV but through the years, we’ve been privileged to at least set foot in all the states. Pretty cool, huh!

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2017 – Visiting the real “Little House on the Prairie” – DeSmit, SD

The first building we toured looks like a one room school but inside has a coved wagon you can get into plus many displays about the travels of the Ingalls family bringing them to this place. From there we saw a dugout similar to the one they lived in on the banks of Plum Creek in MN. Near it is an original claim shanty similar to one they lived in that was moved from Spirt Lake. After living on the land for five years Charles had to file a governmental document called “proving-up papers” which describe the improvements he had made to the land. Apparently, he more than met the required standards. We saw the barn, water pump, and a reconstruction of Ma’s Little House. At the barn there is a calf and kittens to pet. The pump works and, for Scott, using it was a return to his childhood. At the house the docent told us several stories that took place in their home, reminding us of stories from the books. The visiting children were invited to help wash and hang clothes, beat the rug, and shake cinders out of the cook stove. There is a lush vegetable garden, herb garden, and wildflower display. The original Flindt’s garage building has been moved to the site and is now used to demonstrate and allow hands on rope making, corn shelling, corncob doll making, and hay twisting; all things that were done by the Ingalls family. We enjoyed riding the coved wagon across the fields to see a country schoolhouse like the one Laura and her sisters attended. The “teacher” told about a typical school day. She had everyone participating in her presentation, including having the children read from early readers. She talked about the lunch pails and lunches the children might have brought. We found the Ingalls Homestead to be a very fun and active place and well worth the visit.

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2017 – Shortstop: Kidder Recreation Area, Wahpeton, ND

Mention, of course, must be made of the “World’s Largest Catfish” statue which is at the campground. We couldn’t resist taking a few photos!

Since our stay was a short one I didn’t set up the satellite dish, but I’m confident I would have gotten a signal. My Verizon signal was nearly full scale. While this campground isn’t a destination spot (except maybe for people who love giant catfish statues) it works as a nice place to land for a night or two.

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2017 – Lake Geneva Christian Center – Alexandria, MN

This is a beautiful place with great lake views, nice, up-to-date facilities plus a several old time camping cabins. We limited our involvement to attending the worship services which we felt were very good. As always happens with Church of the Nazarene events we met many people who know the same people we know.

One new friend suggested we put Prairie Lakes District Family Camp on our schedule for next year. I don’t think our travel plans will bring us to this part of the country next year, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we find our way back sometime over the next few years.

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2017 – Lebanon Hills Regional Park Campground – Apple Valley, MN

Being that this is a really nice campground in an urban area you might deal with some sticker shock on the price, even though it is a county park.

Our TV found many local channels and I had no problem getting the satellite signal. Our Verizon 4G signal was a usable 1-3 bars.

If you can plan ahead, this is a very good Minneapolis camping option.

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