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1880 Train, Crazy Horse, Needles, Custer

Another weekend and another full day of sightseeing here in the gorgeous hills of South Dakota. You may need a map to plan your day but the roads and sites are so well marked that you sure don’t need one to find them.

I started off with the Crazy Horse Memorial which is the Indian answer to Mount Rushmore since they have heroes too. This is actually a work in progress which has been for quite some time. In fact, the original scuptor, Korczak Ziolkowski, died and work is being continued by his wife and 7 of his 10 children using books of his detailed plans and measurements he made sure to leave behind. At this time, you can see the face of Crazy Horse and the beginning of his arm. There is a large museum or art and indian culture there along with a fine restaurant, beautiful veranda over looking a water pool, indian crafts for sale, models of the scupture, and bus tours to the base of the memorial to watch the workers.

Crazy Horse MemorialCrazy Horse

The scupture shows Crazy Horse pointing and answering a question put to him, “My lands are where my dead lie buried.” After seeing the original Black Hills treaty broken and the failure of indian agents to provide the food, tents, blankets etc. that were promised them if they lived on a reservation, Crazy Horse never signed a treaty and refused to live on a reservation. He was stabbed in the back and killed by an American soldier under a flag of truce.

Next on to a 2 hour train ride on an 1880s steam train from Hill City to Keystone, SD. It is sooo popular that you have to have advance reservations. The engine used is the last one of it’s kind still in operation and it goes up and down the steepest grade for a train at 6%. The ride is very nice through the country with commentary and crosses the road 19 times so you do get to hear the whistle… alot! At crossings they sound morse code for the letter Q which is used by the Queen of England to get the right of way in port. I also found out that the very odd width of a standard railroad track comes from the ancient Romans. When building chariots, they built them 2 horses butts wide. LOL! Our covered wagons used the same measurements so I guess it seemed a natural for trains too. Now is this blog educational or what….

1880 TrainTrain1EngineTrain2

People who have known me for a long time know about my good buddy George. George has been traveling with me for about 28 years. He has served in the US Air Force with me, played spades on top of a baggage pallet in the back of a C130 aircraft, been to Switzerland and Germany, gone all over the country, and now rides shotgun in my SUV. George just couldn’t resist the train. He begged to come along and sucker that I am, I let him ride and chat with the engineer.

GeorgeGeorge2

BTW, If you are still into tenting, I spotted a campground from the train that seems to be very popular among tenters, probably because of the covered picnic table areas and pool. It is Kemp’s Kamp.

Kemps Kamp

Back on the road, I headed for the Needles Highway and Custer State Park by way of highway 87. If you want a fascinating and scary drive, try it. The road is quite narrow and not always divided by a yellow line. At one point a passing truck and I came within 1 inch of losing our mirrors. There are hairpin turns and numerous one lane tunnels through solid rock which are 10-12 feet wide. The scariest was only 8 foot wide and I wasn’t so sure my huge Yukon XL was going to fit through there. Thank goodness they provide a wonderful little area right at the entrance to that one where you can park to checkout the unbelievable views, play on the rock formations, chat with other not-so-sure drivers or veterans, and watch others biting the bullet and going through the tunnel. If you hear a horn sound, wait because someone is coming through.

tunnelRock formationRock PlayTiny tunnel

I finally reached Custer State Park in the evening hours. Custer is home to herds of tatanka (buffalo), deer, goats, etc. Inside it you will also find Sylvan Lake which is surrounded by rock and a fun place to swim, float, or hike around. The water is much warmer than I expected. If my bathing suit had been with me, I would have gone in most definitely. The fishing looked pretty good too.

Buffalo HerdDamSylvanSylvan

Sylvan

Darkness was falling very quickly at 9pm so to finish the day off properly, I drove back to the main highway on highway 16A from the park. You absolutely must drive it sometime for fun. Really tight hairpin turns, the road splits at several points so you have your very own narrow one-way, through woods and rocks that are even fascinating by headlight, over Iron Mountain, through the pigtails, and so on. If you get lucky, you will still see deer eating by the road in the cool night air.

OK, now for lessons I learned last night. Why should I be the only one? 😉

  1. Taco Bell tastes really great even when carted home 20 miles after being out all day.
  2. No matter how late you get home or how tired you are, if you know a rain storm is coming, you should close your sunroof.
  3. Leather seats are better than cloth seats after a storm because you won’t have to drive around with a wet ass.
  4. Putty tats only forgive you when you come home during a rain storm. If there is no storm and you come home at 11:30 pm, you are in big trouble!
  5. Forgiveness can be bought with a roast chicken from Walmart. 🙂




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