Great Yellowstone Adventure 2009, Days Three and Four.

Custer State Park / Mt. Rushmore, S.D. – When last we left the BoneBlog family, they had just finished having lunch at one of the finer establishments in Sioux Falls. Shortly thereafter, they returned to the campground, wherein Laurel promptly asked a young girl, “What percent Mexican are you?” (the young lady was Guatemalan) and the avowed non-religious family was treated to a discordant refrain from “Shall We Gather at the River” from a well-meaning elderly man with an acoustic guitar. This last fellow would be a candidate for Character of the Day if it weren’t for the lady who requested the BoneBlog Family re-seat themselves so she and her pug could sit closer to their SUV.

That night, Greg and Michelle suffered severe lack of sleep, mostly due to the monster truck rally taking place at the nearby speedway. Aside from that, they gave rave reviews to Big Sioux Recreation Area.

Day Three was Fathers Day, and the family hit the road early to make their way to Custer State Park, which lies very near Mt. Rushmore. Naturally, it was just beginning to rain as they broke camp, so they busted tail to try to get the pop-up in before the canvas was wet, succeeding only marginally. They hit the road around 6:15 a.m., headed west through South Dakota…and rain. Plenty of rain.

About an hour out, the family pulled into Mitchell, home of the Corn Palace. They didn’t stop, but took photos from the truck. “I really didn’t want to get out and walk around in the rain,” Greg said.

Mitchell SD Corn Palace

South Dakota, as it turns out, is chock full of farmland – and it’s boring. And the interstate is straight. For miles. After stopping for fuel, Michelle had to give up the wheel to Greg. “I just couldn’t stand it anymore,” she said. “I was exhausted from being unable to sleep the night before.”

After crossing the Missouri River, the terrain became infinitely more interesting, with verdant rolling hills. On top of that, the rain finally moved past and the sun took over, bringing fluffy white clouds along which cast shadows over the hills:

SD Shadows from Clouds

The family eventually reached Badlands National Park. “It was really amazing how quickly the landscape changed,” Greg reported. Added Michelle, “There was very little transition.”

After a picnic lunch at the visitor center where Laurel earned her Badlands Junior Ranger badge, the park dropped our sleepy family in the little town of Wall, home of Wall Drug. The family (and the camper) trolled the parking lot for parking, then entered the store, where Michelle promptly lost patience. “I do NOT do well with hordes of people milling around with no direction. Navigating through aisles full of rotund people who fail to respond to ‘excuse me’ is NOT my idea of a good time.”

Our family promptly changed course, bought ice cream cones at the soda fountain, and perched themselves on a bench outside the store. “Ice cream two days in a row?” Michelle remarked, “These kids better not get too used to that!”

Moving along, it was just a short trip past Mt. Rushmore to Custer State Park. “Short in odometer reading, not in clock time,” remarked Greg. True, the hairpin turns and long climb took quite some time, but the family reports the scenery was worth it.

Pulling into camp, everyone was sleepy, particularly Michelle, who had taken Dramamine in order to survive the trip through Custer. “I didn’t care,” she said, “it was important to celebrate Fathers Day, so we went to one of the park lodges and had dinner.”

During dinner they met Day Three’s Interesting Character of the Day. Their Asian server had only a rudimentary grasp of the English language, and Greg really got the short end of the stick. “I asked for a New Belgium Amber Ale and she didn’t understand – finally she got it, and asked, ‘You want Fat Tire?’ But she never brought it, telling me instead she had to put it in the freezer and did I want something else. I took something else, but then wanted to have a Moose Drool beer – she never brought it but tried to charge.”

So while the Fathers Day celebration was perhaps not what Michelle expected when she planned for it, it was memorable, the campsite was beautiful, and the day ended well.


Day Four dawned chilly, and…

…we interrupt this report for a special word from our sponsors.

If ever you are in Custer State Park, and you need this…

Locked Out

Call this guy:


Yes, folks, it’s true. Laurel accidentally locked the BoneBlog family out of the truck and they only had one key, in spite of having repeatedly discussed having copies made. Michelle gritted her teeth to keep from blowing up and walked off her aggravation at the situation when she hoofed it down to the lodge. “By the time I got there, I was laughing and shaking my head at the whole situation.” Naturally, the nearest locksmith she could call without incurring long distance charges was in Rapid City, a good distance away. While she was gone, Laurel asked Greg, “What’s taking Mommy so long?” Greg responded, “Uh, Mommy had to walk like 2 miles just to call someone. THAT is what is taking Mommy so long.”

As is usual with these kinds of things, the family was fairly quick to recover. “This is one of those things that becomes a funny story to tell later in life, you know?” Michelle remarked. “Besides, a little R&R never hurt anyone, even if it was forced by circumstance.”

About 1.5 hours after her call, the family was back in business, headed for Mt. Rushmore. Both kids earned their Junior Ranger badges and wore them the remainder of the day. While at Mt. Rushmore, our family encountered the Interesting Character(s) of the Day:  The Plaid Family:

Plaid Family

Upon seeing the family, Michelle remarked to Greg, “You reckon they do that so they can find each other in a crowd or what?” Greg was at a loss.

The family left Mt. Rushmore and drove into Keystone, a quaint tourist town with all manner of kitschy shops. They rode a chairlift to the top of a mountain, had burgers and beer — “Do NOT tell people my kids had beer,” insisted Michelle – and then rode a sled down a flume.

After that, they still had not had enough, so they treated themselves to a helicopter ride over the Black Hills followed by a long and winding trip down the Iron Mountain Road and back up the Needles Highway . “These crazy wooden bridges,” Greg remarked, “They’re everywhere.” The pigtail bridges and tunnels kept the kids relatively amused, as did the wildlife along the way. “We saw mountain goats, bison, deer, and wild mules,” Laurel reported.

The highlight of the Needles Highway was Tunnel 5, where Michelle exited the truck and ran through the tunnel, then photographed the pickup coming through. “The tunnel is very popular, and people park on both sides. I’m sure they were surprised to see a crazy broad come running through the tunnel with a camera, and most likely they noticed she was not wearing a sports bra.”

Finally, the family ventured back to camp, where they made the short trip to Sylvan Lake so Laurel could fish, Ethan and Greg could ride a pedal boat, and Michelle could run. “This running at high altitude malarkey is for the birds,” Michelle reported. “My lungs were burning so much, and I intend to blame the high altitude rather than the 2 beers I had at lunch. So there.”

Miles traveled as of publication: 1258

Photos in order of occurrence (mouse over for caption, click to enlarge):

Mitchell SD Corn Palace Badlands 1 Badlands 2Badlands 3Badlands 4Wall DrugWall Drug Ice Cream Pit Stop Custer State Park SD CampsiteDouble-Fisting Chicken Strips Resting Mt Rushmore 1Mt Rushmore 2Mt Rushmore 3 ChairliftTop of Alpine Slide HelicopterOh Shit I Changed My Mind Can We NOT Go On The HelicopterCathedral SpiresPigtail BridgeWild FellowsWildlife SignWild Fellows BoneBlog Truck Tunnel 5Laurel fishing at Sylvan LakeEthan in a pedal boat