Black Hills, SD
Morning friends and family! I'm writing from Spearfish, SD. A beautiful small town in the northwestern corner of SD. It's actually a town I've become quite fond of (in fact, I think we all have)! My fondness started with the Spearfish City Campground when we stayed here for two nights on the way to the Black Hills. The campground is walking distance to town and is located in a beautiful lush park that is well taken care of. But from there it has grown during this last visit because of the small town feel, the nice people, the restaurants, the kid bike ride that takes place every Tuesday morning from the local bike shop (which Isla did yesterday), the easy access to everything, and the nice neighborhoods. I then fell in love with the place yesterday when we took the girls to the Rec Center and we experienced this!
We had a great day of family fun playing in the water, sliding down the three different waterslides while listening to music blasted from the speakers! Good old fashioned fun! I wish our Rec Center had a waterpark like this (and it was only $8 per person for the whole day!!)
When we left Thermopolis, WY about twelve days ago we drove directly to Devils Tower National Monument. Devils tower is a huge mass of rock that juts up out of the lush green prairie that surrounds it. There is nothing else like it in the vicinity. Honestly, I didn't now much about Devils Tower, but John has always wanted to check it out. Perhaps because of the movie "Close Encounters", perhaps because of the pictures he's seen in climbing magazines. But, whatever the reason, it's an important place for him so we stopped there, hiked around it, and took in it's beauty. I'm happy to report that all of John's Devil Tower dreams have come true, except for climbing it. Maybe he'll do that next time!
Initially we weren't going to travel this far east just to see Devils Tower, but when we were in Lander, WY our friends told us about the Mickelson Trail. The Mickelson Trail is a 109 mile Rails-to-Trails trail that goes through the heart of the Black Hills from Deadwood, SD (south) to Edgemont, SD. When John and I were told about it we knew we had to check it out (or at least part of it). The Shaw girls (the smaller ones) are not new to bike touring, but this would be there first bike tour on their own bikes (in the past they've been on tag-a-longs). John researched the trail, possible places to stay, and the shuttle options. We decided three days of touring would be a good start for the girls and he picked a great stretch for us to do. Our plan was to leave from Deadwood and bike to Custer, riding 64 miles of trail over three days.
The bike tour was a total success! We all had so much fun. The girls rocked it!! However, right before we started John began to second-guess our decision. During the shuttle ride he heard from several people that the first 20 miles was super hard and many people avoid it or have quit along the way. But, we decided to go for it! Our girls are tough and at best, it would be fun, at worst, it would be a "character building day" and possibly a family story to tell! We're happy to share that it all went just fine not only on the first day, but all three days! The complain-o-meter was low and there were a lot of smiles!! We couldn't be prouder and I know the girls feel a real sense of accomplishment.
With all that being said, I want to let you know that when we got to our rig in Custer, SD it took the girls NO MORE then 5 minutes to be out of their bike clothes and in jammies and it was only noon! Any quiet dreams John and I had of possibly continuing another day were put to bed!
Celebrating the 4th of July in Custer was really fun! There were tons of games and activities set up for kids and a DJ playing music right down town....so we did that for a while. Then we went on a Chuck Wagon Dinner in Custer State Park where we wore cowboy hats, ate grilled meet, cowboy beans, cornbread, coleslaw, and drank coffee. We did the hokey pokey (literally), sang songs and heard great stories from a guy called Kowboy Keith (yes, with a "K") about the Black Hills.
And, then from there we went to Custer Hospital to watch the fireworks (Kowboy Keith told us it was a great place to go). When we got to the parking lot we realized we weren't the only ones who knew the scoop! A Boy Scout Troop was already there and before you knew it, we were all playing kickball in the parking lot together! It was really fun! That night we slept soundly in the hospital parking lot. As our friend Daniel Murray would say, sleeping in a hospital parking lot is always a good, safe, quiet, convenient option!
Following in true Shaw style, we woke up the next morning and found ourselves in the Black Hills during the July 4th weekend without camping reservations!! After a few phone calls and a little poking around we came across an open campsite on the lake in Horse Thief Campground just south of Hill City, SD. It was a great find and we felt super lucky!! We swam (in the warmest water so far on the trip), played on the paddleboards, made new friends, caught minnows and crawfish, and both girls swam all the way across the lake and back before we left.
We spent three awesome days camped on the lake. One of those days we drove back to Custer State Park and climbed Black Elk Peak, the highest peak in South Dakota and coincidently the highest peak east of the Rockies
And, one of those nights we drove to Mt. Rushmore. They have a "lighting ceremony " every night and we were told it was a great way to see the monument. Seeing Mt. Rushmore was way more powerful and meaningful then we all had expected. The evening "show" was informative and moving. I would definitely recommend seeing the monument in the evening.
We are thinking about leaving Spearfish in the next couple days and heading back west through Wyoming and into Idaho. Who actually knows what we will end up doing...but we will keep you posted. Thanks for following along with us!
Francesca & the Shaw Fam!!