Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Visit to Historic Yate's Mill County Park

I am sad to say that I haven't been to this park in ages. The last time I was there was nearly 10 years ago when I worked for Wake County Parks, Recreation and Open Space. At that time, the mill, a historic landmark, had been restored and there was a simple trailer on site to facilitate the programming. What a difference a decade can make; it is lovely! Today, we enjoyed the short walk around the mill pond and investigated the Interpretive Center that has been meticulously designed to fit in with the mill and the surrounding natural area.

We put the park on our list of fishing spots too keeping in mind that we can only fish from the boardwalk - no bank fishing. One of the signs indicated that eels live in the pond - those would be interesting to catch! The park offers a decent selection of programs for kids as well. I definitely foresee future visits to Historic Yate's Mill County Park this fall.

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Monday, September 17, 2012

Jonah the Barber! Ack!

Today, Jonah decided Elisabeth needed bangs! If he had cut his own hair, he wouldn't have been punished, but he didn't. (Sigh) Fortunately, I was more upset about it than Elisabeth.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Devil's Tower

Images from Wednesday, September 5th 2012

On approach from the South
Getting closer
From the Park Entrance
Lopsided view from road to visitor center
From Visitor Center
View of Wyoming countryside from base of Devil's Tower
Kelly contemplating a climb
Us girls waiting on the boys
They made it up to some boulders

A Birthday in the Black HIlls

Tuesday was Jonah’s birthday so we let him determine the day's activities. 

We began with a visit to the Black Hills Institute in Hill City. They have a great store that has everything you can think of for “wanna be” geologists and paleontologists, young and old. If you pay an admission, you can also check out their museum which includes one of the most complete fossil skeletons of a Tyrannosaurus Rex ever found, dubbed Stan. 

The institute produces replicas and casts and other displays for museums and interpretive centers around the nation. Five (5) year old and younger are free and since it was Jonah’s birthday they let him in free even though he was turning 6. We were glad we didn’t have to pay for him because he was overwhelmed and quickly lost interest despite being beside himself with enthusiasm the night before when we walked by. I can’t blame him though; there was just so much to take in. Daddy and I enjoyed it, but even I was a bit overwhelmed. Jonah and sister got a token gift in the store and we left for our next destination. 

Before our trip, we watched a PBS documentary on Mount Rushmore with the kids and told them we were going to go there and see it in South Dakota. As a result, Jonah was interested enough to want to go on his birthday, so that was our second stop of the day. Upon arrival, we went directly to the amphitheater and the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center where we watched a short documentary. Then we walked the Presidential Trail that takes you in a loop out to the base of the mountain. We didn’t go very far before we saw mountain goats on the rocks above us and heard them bleating. (A handful were introduced to the adjacent Custer State Park in 1924, but they escaped and now approximately 200 live in the Black Hills area.) 

 After Rushmore, we drove into Rapid City and stopped at the historically significant Dinosaur Park. It was built in the 1930’s as a WPA project that was supported by Rapid City. The dinosaurs seem kind of cheesy until you realize they are solid concrete and steel and consider the age of the park. We stopped here for a late picnic lunch and to enjoy the view from the ridge. 

After lunch, we went to the Museum of Geology at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. There is free admission and free parking and they have a tremendous collection of actual fossils (no casts or replicas) as they have been sending out paleontological expeditions for more than 100 years – studying the fossil rich area of the upper Midwest and the world. Personally, I enjoyed this stop more than the Black Hills Institute mostly because the displays weren’t on top of each other and I wasn’t trying to figure out which where replicas and which were authentic fossils (all of them were the real deal).  

Plesiosaur Skeleton in foreground and Edmontosaurus in background
T-Rex skull
Fossilized marine reptile
The last thing Jonah wanted to do was the Pirate Cove minigolf. I took the kids last year myself when we were in Bar Harbor, Maine. They both had fond memories from that and were excited to go again with Daddy. They did really well. We tried to give some instruction to help them develop a somewhat consistent swing. By the end they were standing on the correct side of the ball and swinging with the correct hand position and enjoying it. They got the typical souveniers at the end and we won a Pirate Cove shirt for him with the scratch off card at the end.
Since Jonah's a lefty, we are showing him how to swing left handed
He's doing a great job here
Enjoying their booty while Daddy tally's the score card
Afterwards we made a Walmart stop for his gift – I had to get scissors tape and wrapping paper there as well and wrap it in the store. Then we went to Chili’s for dinner where he opened his presents and had a cupcake. 

On our way back to the RV we stopped at Rushmore to see it lit up – we missed the actual lighting ceremony. We left as they were closing down and went home to rest up for an early start the next morning.

I wonder if he'll remember his 6th birthday.........  I know I will.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Rafter J and the Needles Highway

After all the activity in the Badlands, we drove on towards Rapid City where we had a prolonged lunch at a McDonalds with great internet and a playground. We also took some time to restocked the RV. Then, we drove on to the campground I had found that morning online and for which I had made reservations, Rafter J Bar Campground in Hill City.

 I always get a little nervous reserving at a place we’ve never camped, but it turned out to be a great privately and family run campground. Because it is also a ranch, it has a very park like feel to it and it is run very efficiently. The laundry and shower house is top notch. There is a campstore for emergencies, as well as fuel. And let’s not forget the pool, hot tub and playground. The $2.50 all you can eat pancakes and access to the pool and hot tub ends on Labor Day. (On Labor Day the kids lasted all of 3 minutes in the pool before moving to the hot tub. It’s chilly here in the mountains.)

 So Sunday evening, ended with a nice hot shower (which we had gone without while in the badlands) and a relaxing campsite meal cooked on our propane grill. We quickly found out about the firewood and charcoal ban everywhere in the Black Hills which explained why we couldn’t even find charcoal at the Walmart in Rapid City. This area has had a very dry summer and the fire risk is very high everywhere – smoking is even prohibited on government lands (except in your car.)

Monday morning, Labor Day, we decided to take advantage of the onsite breakfast since it was the last day. The kids tried out the playground for a bit. Then we went for a site seeing tour on the Needles Scenic Highway. It was awe inspiring, both the geology of the area and the engineering of the roadway which included tight tunnels carved out of solid granite.

The biggest highlight for the kids though was when we stopped at an overlook and fed the chipmunks sunflower seeds. Before too long there were a dozen coming and going and a couple even ate from Kelly and the kids hands.

We stopped for a short hike near the Cathedral Spires and finished the scenic drive which included tunnels that framed the distant Mount Rushmore.

Then we went back to the RV for lunch while Kelly went for a bike ride. It just so happens that nearly every campsite on this trip has had quick access to a local multi-use trail. Rafter J Campground was no exception having direct access to the Mickelson Trail that stretches nearly the entire length of the Black Hills. Since it was the last day it was to be open, I took the kids to the pool in the warmest part of the afternoon. I had them jump in knowing they would balk at the steps. It was fine once you were in, but the were shivering after just a couple of minutes and asked to go into the hot tub. We stayed there for probably 40 minutes or so and by that time Kelly was back. For dinner, we went into Hill City for dinner and to check out the small downtown.
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Friday, September 07, 2012

Beautiful Badlands

We took our time Friday morning getting ready to move on from the Lewis and Clark Recreation Area. Kelly had time for one last bike ride there while the kids and I had some down time.

After a couple of hours on the road, we stopped at a park to have a picnic lunch in a little town called Armour. Afterwards we headed north to I-90, and then turned westward once again and stopped at a visitor center that overlooked the Missouri River where I-90 intersected.

 We made it to the campground in the Badlands National Park by 5 p.m. Before even entering the park we started seeing unique wildlife. At the gas station off of exit was a small prairie dog town.

After getting setup at the Cedar Pass Campground in the Badlands, we stopped at the café for dinner. Kelly and I split one buffalo and one regular beef burger. Afterwards, we set off to explore a bit while we still had some daylight left. We managed to explore a couple of trails before dark.

Saturday, we drove the loop road around the park as well as a spur road out to the primitive Sagebrush Campground. At one point we stopped and ate sandwiches in the car while watching the bison and prairie dogs. When we got to the campground we saw a herd of bison roaming a few yards from the campground. One big male strode right through the middle of the campground and rubbed his back on the picnic table shelter. (See Video)

After that excitement, we drove out to the Minuteman Missile Silo and then into the town of Wall where we visited the National Grasslands Visitor Center and the famous Wall Drug. Wall drug is quite the roadside attraction complete with an animatronic T-Rex and spray ground.

We had an early dinner there so when we returned to the campground we had time to go explore again at a nearby overlook. The evening sun made for some great pictures.  We witnessed a double rainbow and watched a blue moon rise. Before bed, Jonah and daddy went to an astronomy program at the campground.

Sunday morning, Kelly went for an early bike ride while the kids and I hung back at the RV. After a leisurely breakfast, we hooked up the RV.  On our way out of the park we first stopped at the Ben Reifel Vistor Center and then one final stop to hike the Notch Trail. The trail had a wooden ladder thing to climb a very vertical section and the kids did great (Elisabeth got carried at the steepest part though.)

The Badlands were named as such because the Indians and pioneers considered it a bad land to cross. But it’s a beautiful place if you plan to stop and smell the flowers.

The "common sunflower" is found along the roadside here in South Dakota