The kids had fun pushing a handcart on a short trail, and we took a short hike around the area. After a couple of hours at the site it was time to move on. We had another 4 hour drive still.
It was just after dark when we reached our little rental in Custer, SD. I had checked the weather several times over the last few days, as they were calling for thunderstorms for the next few days. It appeared the next day would be sunny. So in the morning we packed in as many activities we could.
We started the day with a 7 mile hike up Black Elk Peak, the highest point in the area with a beautiful view. We hiked up trail 9, it was a nice hike that increased slowly in elevation throughout the hike. On the way back we took trail 4 by the cathedral spires, to make a nice loop hike. The boulders throughout the area are just beautiful! I think David is trying to figure out how to get one in our backyard.
Then we headed out to the Badlands National Park, about an hour and a half away. It's desolate and isolated, and beautiful in it's own way. The kids had fun getting their Junior Ranger Badges.
We had decided if the sky was clear in the morning we'd try a bike ride on the rails to trails system here. The 109 mile long George Mickelson Trail. I picked a section about an hour north of us that was mostly down hill with one section of incline. It covered 4 tunnels and several bridges. We stopped at a bike shop in Hill City to pick up trail permits and asked if they could provide a driver to drive up to the trailhead we wanted to start at, then drive our van back to their shop where we would pick it up after our 32 mile bike ride, that would end in Hill City. Sure enough for $65 they were able to do this for us.As soon as we arrived at the trailhead to unload, it was as if the kids were hit with a dose of extra whininess. All of them were full of complaints, from "I don't want to ride that far" or "I hate my bike!" or "I don't want to carry the backpack!" I was planning to buy them all ice cream when we arrived back in Hill City, but threatened to not buy ice cream for any whiners that continued. There were still a few tears, but most of them quit complaining. After a few miles of what should have been coasting we realized both Isabel and Matthews brakes were rubbing their back tires, so they were having to pedal instead of coast. After fixing those it was a more pleasant ride, until we reached the incline. The scenery was absolutely beautiful! We even stopped for a break at a waterfall. But once we started the incline, it was 8 miles of crying. Mostly from Matthew, but Isabel would pitch in occasionally too. It wasn't a steep up, but a long long up. But then we reached the top, and it was a sweet, sweet 8 mile coast into Hill City. The tears all dried up and the kids finished on a high note. We then topped it off with ice cream. We walked to the local shop and Matthew pointed to the waffle cone and declared "I want this!" I pointed to the regular cone and said how about this one. Savannah then looked at me and said "Mom, 32 miles!" I relented. Waffle cones for everyone! If I were to do it again, I would have dropped David and the kids at the same beginning trailhead and then driven the van myself to the Mystic Trailhead just as the incline is starting. It's still a 22 mile ride and all downhill. You'd miss 2 tunnels, and more beautiful scenery, but it would have been an easier ride on the younger kids. Also I would have missed out on riding with the kids, but I could have ridden it backwards till I met them, then finished the ride with them. I do think it might be fun to make a couples trip and come do the whole 109 miles over 2-3 days.
The weather was still perfect outside. No storms in sight. But the locals had told us that while it may say it's going to rain or storm in one town, that the next town over the hill, 10 minutes away could have sunny skies. Regardless, we headed back over to Mt. Rushmore to learn about it. The kids earned their junior ranger badges there too.
The next day it was raining, but that was okay. Today we planned to see the caves-- all indoors. We had reservations already for Jewel Cave at 10am, but Wind Cave required we get tickets the same day. So David woke up early and headed out to Wind Cave at opening time to get tickets for after lunch. I made breakfast while the kids scrambled out of bed. Both Jewel and Wind Cave are National Parks so the kids were excited to work on junior ranger badges at each. Jewel Cave is the 3rd largest cave system in the US. They are still exploring and expanding it's map. It has all the usual features of stalactites, stalagmites, and ribbon formations. It was a pretty cool cave. We've been to some amazing caves and this one was just cool, not spectacular.
After lunch we drove out to Wind Cave for our tour. Neither cave has a self guided tour, you must have tickets to go in. Wind Cave was really cool. We did the fairgrounds tour there which went through 2 different levels of the cave. They measure barometric pressure in the cave and find that it attracts storms to the area. The pressure also tells them, the cave is way larger than they have explored. This particular cave has a formation we had never seen before, mostly because it is mostly only found in Wind Cave. The Boxwork formation. It looks like honeycomb and it has a sound proofing effect in the cave. It was really cool to see and learn about this formation.
It started raining as we headed in Wind Cave, and was still drizzling a bit when we left. On our way home we stopped in Custer at the Purple Pie Place to order 7 different pieces of pie to try. A unique pie was the Raspberry Rhubarb Jalapeño. It was delicious. The kids enjoyed taking a bite and passing, so we could all try every kind.
It was so nice to rent a house through VRBO. We had a washer and dryer which made it easy to do laundry and leave for our next stop with all clean clothes! Next Stop Minneapolis and Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
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