Showing posts with label South Dakota. Show all posts
Showing posts with label South Dakota. Show all posts

Video: More Than Just Parks Takes Us to the Badlands

The filmmaking brothers of Will and Jim Pattiz have returned with the latest edition in their More Than Just Parks series. This time, the subject of their lenses is Badlands National Park in South Dakota, which is home to some of the most dramatic landscapes you could ever hope to see. As usual, this video lives up to the high level of quality that this video series has set for itself, almost transporting us to this fantastic designation. If you're ever in western South Dakota, this is a must see destination for sure.

BADLANDS 8K from More Than Just Parks on Vimeo.

Adventures in South Dakota: The Badlands and Rapid City

Having already explored the Black Hills by ATV and climbed to South Dakota's highest point, my recent visit to that state was filled with plenty of interesting adventures. But with just one day left before I'd have to return home, there were still other things to see, most notably the incredible landscapes of the Badlands National Park.

For those unfamiliar with the Badlands, it is a place that is otherworldly. Beautiful and stark, the national park stretches out across more than 244,000 acres that upon first glance appear desolate and bleak. But upon closer inspection, you'll see a place that is teeming with life, as very hardy plants and animals have evolved to live in a place that is extremely challenging to say the least.

We set off well before dawn and reached the Badlands in dark of an early Saturday morning. Our hope was to catch a sunrise over this amazing landscape, as the first light of the day illuminates the reds, pinks, and oranges that are so prominent in the rock formations found there. Unfortunately, the wildfires from the western U.S. had created a smoky haze that hung over the area which muted the suns effect to a degree. But while the sunrise didn't have the chance to show us its full glory, spending the early hours of the day in the park were still something to behold. There was a quiet stillness to the place that brought a strong sense of peace and tranquility. Sitting there silently, as thousands of acres of canyons and rock formations stretched as far as the eye could see brought a zen-like calm that bordered on a meditative state. It was certainly a wonderful way to experience the Badlands, and a great way to get the day started.

After that, we went in search of a trail to hike, and found it in the form of the Medicine Root Loop. This 4 mile (6.4 km) round-trip hike starts with a challenging climb up Saddle Pass, but upon reaching the top, it turns into a mostly flat walk that provides impressive views of the surrounding area. The trail is very clearly marked and easy to follow, passing through a surprising amount of vegetation as it meanders through the Badlands. In fact, when I was there in late August there were thousands of sunflowers in bloom, bringing a nice touch of color to the landscape. If you do go hiking in the park however, be sure to bring plenty of water. The Badlands are incredibly dry, and during the summer months they can get quite warm too.


We finished our hike and it was still mid-morning, so we dropped by the Badlands National Park visitor center to learn more about the region. It was fascinating to learn not only about the geological history of the place, but the numerous prehistoric creatures that have wandered the area in the past too. The park has several places where fossils have been discovered, with new ones being unearthed all the time. Sharp eyed hikers might even spots some while walking the trails, as even I managed to come across an exposed bone at one point along the way.

Following a full morning in the national park, my companions and I set out for a return to Rapid City, the most prominent city in western South Dakota. It is a thriving metropolis with its own unique history that offers great dining, plenty of entertainment, and a jumping nightlife. If you plan to visit the area, than Rapid City would make a great base camp for your trip.

But before we could explore the culinary delights of the city, there was still more to be seen. For instance, we took a tour of a new trails project that is being conducted just on the edge of town where new mountain biking paths and hiking routes are being built. Many of Rapid City's residents are outdoor enthusiasts, and as a result there are numerous opportunities to hit a trail either within the the city limits or close by. In fact, we were told that there are roughly 300-400 miles of single track mountain bike trails within a half-hour drive of town. That's an impressive number, and should give you an idea of what the terrain is like too.

Following our short walk along the new trails project, it was off to the South Dakota Outdoor Campus located in Rapid City. This state-funded organization offers classes and seminars that provide outdoor education, information about wildlife and conservation efforts, and a place for both kids and adults to commune with the outdoors. The campus features a beautiful building that gives visitors a chance to learn about the different environments found in South Dakota, allowing them to walk through each of them and discover what plants and animals thrive in those places. It is a wonderful space for sure, and it is available to host events like a birthday party or family gathering. I can't imagine what it would have been like to visit the campus when I was a child, as it would have been like heaven.

The Outdoor Campus is unlike any program I've ever heard about in any other U.S. state. It provides classes for hunters and anglers to learn more about those activities, and gives outdoor enthusiasts a chance to practice some important skills. For instance, there is a small lake on the premises that is used to teach basic kayaking. Beginner paddlers can jump into a boat and get acquainted with the sport in a safe environment. We took the opportunity to spend a short time the water paddling around the lagoon ourselves, and while experienced paddlers wouldn't find it very compelling, it was certainly a fun way to get on the water.

With my South Dakota visit quickly coming to and end, we left the Outdoor Campus behind and headed to our hotel for a quick shower before a night out on the town. That included a stop by the Firehouse Brewing Company for a great dinner and some locally made craft beers, followed by a stop at the Independent Ale House, where they keep 40 fresh beers on tap at all times. Both where a great example of the opportunities that Rapid City offers to visitors, and a fun way to wrap up the visit before heading home.

The following day I caught a very early flight as was on my back home. We had packed a lot of great experiences into just a few short days, and I left wishing I had more time to take it all in. But South Dakota is such an approachable place, I knew I'd be back again in the future to experience more of what it has to offer. For anyone who loves the outdoors, it is certainly a place to keep on your radar.

Adventures in South Dakota: Climbing to the Highest Point in the State

Before I left for the South Pacific on my honeymoon, I had just started to share my experiences from a recent trip to South Dakota, where I got the chance to see first-hand everything that that state has to offer in terms of outdoor adventure. In my first report on that trip I talked about the opportunities I had to go cycling in Deadwood and offroading in the Black Hills, as well as a few other fun activities. But that was just the warm-up of what was to come, as we eventually ditched our wheeled transportation in favor of good old fashioned hike along a very scenic trail.

After spending a day getting acclimated to the Black Hills by bike and ATV, I was more than ready to stretch my legs and go for a nice long walk. Fortunately, there are plenty of trails that can accommodate that urge, although we picked one that just so happened to lead to the top of Harney Peak, South Dakota's highpoint at 7244 feet (2207 meters).

The day began bright and early with a very scenic drive along the Needles Highway (SD Hwy 87), a 14 mile stretch of road that is so gorgeous that it has been declared a national scenic byway. The route leads to Custer State Park, a massive stretch of wilderness that covers more than 71,000 acres. For those who haven't visited Custer before, it can come as a real surprise. The place is incredibly beautiful, and on par with some of the best national parks that the U.S. has to offer. With its towering rock spires, tranquil lakes, and lush forests, Custer is definitely a place that any outdoor enthusiast visiting South Dakota will want to see for themselves. It perfectly encapsulates the majesty of the Black Hills in so many ways, and is home to a wide array of wildlife, including bison, deer, and numerous other creatures.

While all of us were excited to explore Custer, we couldn't wait to hit the trail to Harney Peak either. The route begins near the stunning Sylvan Lake, which is also amongst the most beautiful places you'll find in the area. Its placid waters reflect the rocks that line the lake's shores, making it an incredible place to snap photos. The lake itself is so enchanting that it would be easy to spend the day just enjoying that view alone. But we had bigger fish to fry, and after donning our daypacks, we soon set out on our trek.


The hike up to Harney Peak is roughly 3.5 miles in length. It winds it way through parts of Custer State Park before moving into the Black Elk Wilderness area. The route is clearly marked, and very easy to follow, with good signage to ensure that you're always headed in the right direction. For the most part, it is an easy walk, although there are sections that climb a bit more steeply than others, particularly as you approach the old lookout tower at the summit. It is estimated that it should take about 2.5 hours to make the hike from the trailhead to the tower, although my group managed to do it in well under two hours, so your mileage will vary.

Once at the top, you'll get an outstanding view of the surrounding countryside. As mentioned, Harney is the highpoint for the state, and there isn't much else around to block your view. The Black Hills stretch out in all directions, making it a great place to take in the scope of the area and survey the terrain. Obviously the watch tower is a good place to do that, but hikers can also scramble across the rocky terrain on the summit to get even more amazing views of the landscape. Unfortunately, while I was there smoke from the forest fires taking place in the western U.S. obscured some parts of the area, but it was still evident just how great a vantage point Harney Peak truly is.

My group took an early lunch at the top of the mountain, and it proved to be a great place to enjoy a meal and rest our legs before starting back down. We reached the top by late-morning, and upon arrival there weren't too many other hikers there just yet. But the longer we stayed, the more people arrived, and it was clear that the trail could get rather busy at times. If you're walking it yourself, be sure to bring plenty of water too, as it can get quite warm on the way up.

The hike back to the trailhead was just as scenic and enjoyable as the climb up, although the descent went much faster. Along the way, I couldn't help but think that the path would make a great place to go trail running, as it offers a good challenge, although it is generally smooth, wide, and easy to follow.

After our hike, it was time to visit a truly iconic piece of American history, and one of the top tourist attractions in all of South Dakota. Mt. Rushmore is about as recognizable as any monument on the planet, and although I've seen it on several occasions in the past, it remains very impressive. Seeing the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln carved into the side of a mountain is always a sight to behold, and learning about the massive construction project that made the sculpture possible is very educational. The work that went into creating Rushmore is on par with the carving of the Sphinx in Egypt, and like that famous statue, the faces of those four prominent Presidents will likely stand the test of time, and remain in place for millennia to come.

Once we had finished paying homage to the four great Presidents, and grabbing a sample of Jefferson's famous vanilla ice cream, we hit the road once again. We had plans to visit the Badlands the following day, but in order to get there we needed to drive for several hours to reach the town of Wall. That of course meant that we'd also be visiting the famous Wall Drug, another true institution in South Dakota. The family owned business started as a small drug store back in the 1930's, and over the years has grown into a sprawling establishment that covers more than 76,000 square feet. It includes numerous shops that sell all kinds of tourist items, as well as food, art, jewelry, and clothing.

As the story goes, Wall Drug was a struggling business back in the day. The owners – Ted and Dorothy Hustead – were trying to figure out a way to lure customers off the highway to come to the small down of Wall and spend some money in their store. Dorothy came up with the idea of putting a sign out on the road that promised free ice water to anyone who dropped by. Those signs proved highly successful, as suddenly cars were diverting into Wall to stop by the drugstore. Today, Wall Drug is well known for its signs, which stretch for hundreds of miles in all direction. The ice water is still free, but there is a lot more to see there now too. Some of the attractions include an animatronic t-rex, a quartet of singing cowboys, and a six-foot tall jackalope. Truly no visit to South Dakota is complete without dropping by Wall Drug as well.

We rounded out our busy day with a walk around Wall, and dropping by a local high school football game. There is nothing quite like small town America, and it was fun to experience that once again. With a population of just over 800 people, Wall isn't a bustling metropolis. But it is filled with friendly, down-to-earth people who are most definitely welcoming to visitors.

Next up, the Badlands awaited. But that would be the start of a new day.

Adventures in South Dakota: Cycling Deadwood and Off-Roading in the Black Hills

Last week I had the opportunity to visit western South Dakota to enjoy some of the many outdoor adventures that state has to offer. It was five days filled with hiking, biking, and exploring the wild landscapes that make up that part of the country, which includes the legendary Black Hills, Badlands National Park, and the very impressive Custer State Park. This wasn't the first time I've been there – we held Primal Quest Badlands in South Dakota back in 2009 – but it was my first real opportunity to explore this vast outdoor playground. I did not come away disappointed.

My trip through South Dakota began with a flight into Rapid City, the hub for the region and the gateway to the Black Hills. I'd spent a considerable amount of time there back in 2009, so I was looking forward to seeing how much things had changed. We didn't stay long there however, as our first destination was Deadwood, a historic town that is probably best known for being the place where the legendary old west gunfighter Wild Bill Hickok was shot and killed.

Deadwood was a boom town due to gold mining in the area, and those roots can still be seen there today. There are various museums dedicated to the city's history, and a walk down main street features old west saloons and hotels, intermixed with modern gambling parlors, souvenir shops, and various eateries. It was equal parts charming and kitschy, but mostly all in good fun.

We arrived in Deadwood late in the afternoon, but decided there was still time to stretch our legs some before dinner. So, we headed out to a local park to hike a short trail up to the top of Mt. Roosevelt to checkout the famous Friendship Tower. The walk is not a difficult one in any way, but it does take you to the top of a nearby hill that not only reveals fantastic scenery across the region, but also a stone tower built by former Deadwood Sheriff Seth Bullock. The tower was erected back in 1919 to commemorate the passing of Bullock's good friend, former President Teddy Roosevelt. It still stands there today as a testament to their friendship, although while I was there carpenters were busy restoring the steps that lead into the tower.


The second day of my visit to South Dakota gave us the opportunity to really start to see what the state had to offer in terms of active adventures. After a quick breakfast, we rounded up some mountain bikes and set out on the nearby Mickelson Trail. This route is open year round, and stretches for 109 miles between Deadwood and Edgemont. It is perfect for easy walking and cycling during the summer months, and is open for snowshoeing, cross country skiing, and snowmobiling during the winter.

My ride on the Mickelson was all-too brief, but very enjoyable, despite the fact that a gentle rain was falling for much of it. Once you slip out of Deadwood, the trail is surrounded by hills and forests, making it feel very secluded. Traffic was at a minimum, and we only came across a few other cyclists out for a morning ride. I could see how riding the entire length of the trail could make for a fine adventure, and when my introductory ride was over, I was left with the feeling that I wished I could have gone much further. That gives me a good excuse to head back in the future however, as the potential for this trail is fantastic.

After spending the morning pedaling on the Mickelson, it was time to depart Deadwood for our next excursion. We were heading further into the Black Hills to go off-roading on some UTV's. But along the way we first made a stop at the excellent Miner Brewing Company and Prairie Berry Winery for a few samples and some lunch. Both were excellent venues to grab a drink and relax after the morning's ride, but my travel companions and I were also eager to see what other adventures were in store for us.

Our next stop was Custer UTV Rentals to pick up some UTVs for the off-roading portion of the day. In South Dakota, there are more than 3000 miles of trails to explore, and UTV/ATVs are actually street legal, so it is not uncommon to see these vehicles zipping around where you least expect them. We took off on a guided tour of the surrounding area, with some riding both on and off-road. It was an incredibly fun way to explore the trails, as we spotted wildlife and took in the rolling landscape that South Dakota is so famous for.

The UTVs are extremely easy to drive, user friendly, and powerful. On an open stretch of road I was able to get my vehicle to exceed 50 mph, and it made short order of steep hills, sloppy mud, rock, and just about every other obstacle that the terrain through our way. Even though we spent a couple of hours out in the field, this was another adventure that was over far too quickly for my liking.

At this point, we already had a full day of activities, and were preparing to retire to our hotel in Custer for the evening. But before we called it quits, we had one last experience to take in to round out the day. The Black Hills are very beautiful, but also very rugged. This makes it difficult to take in everything that they have to offer from the ground. But viewing them from the air grants a new perspective that not everyone gets to enjoy, so, we hopped on a helicopter provided by Black Hills Ariel Adventures to see what we were missing.

The brief helicopter flight was eye opening to say the least. Not only did it take us over the numerous rocky outcroppings that are so prominent in the Hills, we also made flybys of both Mt. Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial. As you can probably imagine, both look fantastic from the air.

We also flew over a herd of wild bison in Custer State Park, while also spotting an elk mixed in among the crowd. One of the highlights however was seeing a mountain goat atop a high rocky peak that could only be reached by the very surefooted.

The helicopter ride rounded out my first full day in South Dakota, which was very active and fun. We grabbed a quick bite to eat at Bitter Esters Brewhouse in Custer before calling it a day. As the trip was only just getting started, and there were plenty more adventures yet to come.

Back From South Dakota!

As you can probably tell by the resumption of updates here at The Adventure Blog today that I have returned from my trip to South Dakota. It was a brief visit, but a very good one, as the state is filled with the kind of natural resources that outdoor loves enjoy so much. Case in point, we were told that there are more than 400 miles (643 km) of single track mountain biking trails within a half-hour drive of Rapid City alone. That's an impressive number when you think about how hard it can be to find a good trail sometimes. 

Of course, while there I paid a visit to the amazing Badlands National Park, and dropped by Mt. Rushmore to pay homage to the four presidents on display there. We also traveled to Custer State Park as well, a place that is so strikingly beautiful that it could easily be a national park itself. We even spent one morning hiking to the summit of Harney Peak, South Dakota's high point at 7242 feet (2207 meters). 

This was not my first visit to South Dakota, so I had a bit of an idea of what to expect for arrived. But the state always finds ways to surprise you, and this time it was with its diversity of wildlife. Over the course of the five days I was there we came across bison, elk, deer, mountain goats, marmots, rabbits, prairie dogs, countless wild turkeys, and a variety of other creatures. The rugged forests and mountains of the western part of the state make a perfect home for these animals, and it was a lot of fun to see them while hiking or driving through the region.

One thing that did not surprise me was the warm welcome that visitors receive while in South Dakota. The people that live in the state are incredibly friendly and accommodating, often greeting travelers with a smile and a greeting. Everyone I met along the way was happy to talk about the wonderful opportunities their state affords to visitors, and offer suggestions of more things to see and do while there.

You'll hear a lot more about this trip in the days ahead. For now, I'm happy to be home, even if it is for a short while. In two days I'll depart on my honeymoon in Bora Bora, so updates will be interrupted once again. That will be an adventure of a completely different kind of course, but one that I am looking forward to greatly. 

On the Road: Heading to South Dakota

The Adventure Blog will see a bit of down time over the next few days as I am headed to South Dakota on assignment. While there, I'll be exploring a state that I already know that I enjoy based on previous visits, but this time out I'll be hiking, mountain biking, and visiting some fantastic national and state parks. It should be a wonderful time in a place that has a lot to offer outdoor adventurers. 

If given the time, I will post updates while on the road, but considering the fact that the schedule looks fairly full, I'm not sure if that will be an option. But make no mistake, I will definitely be posting updates on the trip at some point, as I know that South Dakota is a place that many of you would enjoy visiting yourself. The Badlands and Black Hills are both worth the trip in and of themselves.

This will be a relatively short trip. I'm back home by the weekend. But, I'll once again only be there for a few days. On Wednesday of next week I – along with my lovely new bride – are off to the South Pacific for our honeymoon, and some much needed RnR. That said, I will be posting again to start next week before getting on a plane once again. In the meantime, enjoy some time outdoors, have a few adventures of your own, and spend some time in pursuit of your passions. I'll be back before you know it!

Video: Timelapse over the American West

Shot in Wyoming, Utah, and South Dakota, this fantastic video features some beautiful timelapse images from the American West. The landscapes are striking, dramatic, and awe inspiring to say the least. This is one of those videos you just want to sit back and enjoy, absorbing the entire experience while it lasts. At just four minutes in length, it is over far too quickly.

Trails End from Randy Halverson on Vimeo.

Video: The Playful Foxes of the Badlands

Here's a wonderful video that comes our way courtesy of National Geographic. It centers around photographer Mike Forsberg's efforts to shoot photos of the elusive foxes that live in the Badlands of South Dakota. These creatures are shy, and difficult to get close to, and capturing them on film tests Mike's patience for sure. But when he finally get a chance to watch them in their natural habitat, the results are definitely worth the wait.