Saturday, August 29, 2009

Prairie Dogs with the Plague!

I could hardly believe it!

I've never heard of any animal having the plague!

As we drove through the Badlands National Park we saw signs all over that warned people to not get out of their cars because the prairie dogs have the actual bubonic plague!

We asked the ranger about it and she said that the prairie dogs just south of the park got the plague. They sprayed that whole area with some kind of pesticide that would kill the fleas that the prairie dogs carry. It is by the fleas that the plague is passed. They were hoping to keep the plague out of the prairie dog towns on the park. I had never seen a prairie dog town before so let me describe it for you. There are holes all over the ground with dirt mounded up around them. There are prairie dogs poking out of the holes here and there. They like to holler to each other. They are a danger to ranchers because their horses and cows can step in the holes made by the prairie dogs and break their legs or get stuck.
I did some research online.  I don't believe everything I read, but this is what I found out. The plague kills between 20 and 30 people a year in the U.S. It is spread by prairie dogs, squirrels, bunnies, mice, and other small animals. It is more prevalent in dirty conditions.
Well, we found out all of this and stayed far away from the prairie dog towns. We went riding ATVs Saturday and then again on Sunday at the Buffalo Gap Grasslands just south of the Badlands National Park. Shae and Cody rode some by themselves while the kids and I went to the visitor center. Of course, the guys had to get close to the prairie dog ghost towns, where most of the prairie dogs have already died. They saw a few live ones, and were a little close to them. I was pretty upset when I heard they got so close to them. We found out that you usually start seeing symptoms within 3-6 days. We were watching them for those six days! Yikes! What an adventure. We had a great time, just watch out for those prairie dogs!

How weird.....the prairie dogs! What an adventure!

Hanna didn't want to get out of the van to take pictures of the prairie dogs.

Prairie Dog on alert
Riding isn't allowed on the national park lands, but just south there was a great riding area.

Here are a few links for more info:


Animal Planet

For more info on the Buffalo Gap Grasslands, click here.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Badlands of South Dakota and Buffalo Gap Grasslands

Badlands National Park, South Dakota
I wasn't sure what to expect. We have been in the Badlands of New Mexico, but thought South Dakota's Badlands would be different, and they sure are! We all thought they were a cross between the Grand Canyon and the Painted Desert, both in Arizona. It was beautiful, yet so seemingly dead. The colors were gray, brown, and a layer of red here and there. The peaks rose sharply in the sky and deep ravines dug into the earth.

This is a fossil mine; yet I was disappointed to find out the fossils you see on the Fossil Trail are fake. We were hoping to see the real ones.

We went on a Saturday and brought our ATVs. We found numerous sites online that told us we could go off roading in the Badlands. We were excited as we drove east out of Custer, where we stayed, through Custer State Park then north towards Rapid City and onto Badlands National Park. We would have gone what seemed a shorter way through the Sioux Indian Reservation, but two people told us not to. They said the crime is horrible. That if we broke down, we would come back to our vehicle stripped down to nothing. I used to live on an Indian Reservation in northern Wisconsin. Yes, there is crime, but there is everywhere. I hope these people were not just prejudice against these Indians. I know many nice Indians, or maybe it is more politically correct to say Native Americans, I'm not sure. Where I grew up, they were called Indians and proud of it. It is a subject that I could avoid in my posts. Prejudice is a serious word. Some would say that different prejudices are earned while others are passed down.  Either way, we try to teach our children to be open minded and judge fairly - lest we be judged.  (off my soap box now)

First, we entered the Buffalo Gap Grasslands. It was pretty with the Badland Buttes in the background. We saw lots of prairie dogs, deer, and a few people. There are a few motels, but all were booked up for the night.

We went to the Visitor's Center on the Park. One ranger said we could ride our ATVs on the Badlands National Park and the other Ranger said we couldn't. They didn't seem to get along either! So, to play it safe, we stayed off the National Park and road in the Buffalo Gap Grasslands just to the south. It was amazing. Riding on our 4 wheelers is a great way to enjoy the scenery. There aren't all the people and cars. Just us and the land. We road for a long time while the guys enjoyed the hills and buttes.

The rocks there are so smooth. We figure from the constant wind blowing the sand over them. 
There was a prairie dog ghost town. We found out the prairie dogs have the plague! Yes, the actual plague! Signs are everywhere that tell people not to get out of there cars at the prairie dog towns. We stayed well clear of those, or at least most of us did, but that is another story.

We bought a map at the Visitor's Center that showed the grasslands boundaries. There is a lot of room to ride. Shae and Cody enjoyed the berms and hills. We rode for hours and had a wonderful time. We decided we wanted to come back the next day but like I said before, we couldn't find a motel, so we headed home. The next morning we drove back and the guys rode some more. Shae was pretty sore so didn't want to ride all day. I guess he is getting old...he he he. The kids and I went to the Visitor's Center and did Junior Ranger.
Then onto the beautiful scenic drive. The buttes go up so high and down so low. We took a couple pictures of the butte cracks in a few rocks for the guys...ha ha. They thought we were funny. The kids and I didn't get to ride, just Shae and Cody.

When we got back to the riding area a wind storm hit and we had to get in the van. Sand was flying everywhere.
We had such a wonderful time. It was an amazing experience. I definitely recommend you go to this place and bring your ATVs, dirt bikes, and UTVs!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Mount Rushmore, Keystone, South Dakota

The Smith family at Mt. Rushmore
Mt. Rushmore - A place I had always dreamed to go. I guess it is one of those places that is so famous it just seems like everyone should see it once. So, I was telling my mom about how great it was to finally see it and she told me I had already been there. I told the kids, with a little know it all sound in my voice, “I have already been here.” Well, I don’t remember ever seeing Mt. Rushmore, I must have been pretty young.

It was absolutely magnificent. And yes, it is as huge as you imagine! Walking through the Hall of Flags and seeing the faces of such powerful men in America’s history is extremely humbling. The time it took to build such a monument. The skill, engineering, and courage to conquer such a vision. It was amazing. I’m so thankful we went.

I was very surprised at the price. It was only $10.00 per car! It doesn’t matter how many people either. The pass is good for a year! What a deal. We enjoyed the rented audio tour. I hardly got to listen to any of it since Naomi and Cody shared it back and forth. The Avenue of Flags is a walkway with all of the state flags as well as U.S. territories, such as the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, Samoa  Virgin Islands, and Mariana Islands. Just beyond the flags are the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.

We were told to look closely at Roosevelt’s eyes, there is a vulture nest in there! We hiked around the President’s trail. There was an Indian Village set up where the kids got to try their hand at scraping a buffalo hide.

Naomi scraping Buffalo fur

It was a short hike, but they never are quick for us. We are so slow! We enjoyed seeing the Presidents up close. Gabriel said the Presidents kept staring at him. Their eyes were following him around the whole trail! It was funny.
There was a really great Visitor’s Center downstairs. The museum inside of it was very interesting and complete. We learned so much of how it was made and the dangers involved. 

The kids completed the Junior Ranger program and we headed out. 
We decided to not eat there at Mt. Rushmore, we ate instead on Needles Hwy. But, that is another story, that I already wrote about….
Also, read our article about this trip on our online magazine - The Lemonade Digest
Sleep well,

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Buffalo Around Our Vehicle at Custer State Park, South Dakota

Custer State Park in South Dakota was an awesome experience that I highly recommend and cannot wait to go back to...

It was such an incredible experience. Seeing the buffalo from inside the safety of our van was wonderful. They were all around our van. We couldn't even move! The traffic was backed up for a long ways waiting for them to move off the road.

There were so many cute baby buffalo and some HUGE male buffalo. The buffalo are allowed to wander freely all over the park.

We went hiking on Creekside Trail. It is considered the easiest trail in the park. It is 2 miles long, which for us, with all of the kids, takes us a llllooooonnnnnnggggg time. I called and asked the park ranger about it and she told us that she had seen a mountain lion on that same trail just the morning before! There is a lot of wildlife around there, buffalo, mountain lions, mountain goats, elk, pronghorn antelope, and more. This trail is the handicap trail. We kept our eyes peeled. We saw many huge piles of buffalo scat, but no buffalo on the trail, thank goodness.
Pronghorn Antelope, only about 30# of meat
A few days later, we drove around the wildlife loop. We saw two enormous herds of buffalo. They like to wallow in mud and dust, I'm sure for mites and fleas, our chickens used to do it..

We found the second herd on a side road, way out. After looking at the buffalo, everywhere, Shae announced, "We are almost out of gas!" We were out in the middle of nowhere in the middle of Custer State Park, on this side, back dirt road! We sat there awhile longer, enjoying the buffalo roaming...and then turned around and hoped we would make it back to civilization and not have to sleep with the mountain lions. We did make it, and had a wonderful time.

For some great facts on Bison/Buffalo - go to our online magazine - The Lemonade Digest

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Pulling a trailer on Needles Highway...big mistake!


Do you want to know why I say this, or how I know it should not be done? Yes, we were the dumb ones on Needles Highway in the Black Hills of South Dakota last week, pulling a trailer.

We arrived in South Dakota on July 18th. It is a beautiful drive as we wound our way up the mountains. We passed through Hot Springs and then up to Wind Cave State Park. We searched for buffalo, just hoping to maybe catch a glimpse of them on a distant hill. We did, and it was very distant. Little did we know that in a couple days we would be surrounded by them. We parked at American Presidents campground. It is a great place to stay. We liked our site, I think it was 21. We had a beautiful view of the mountains from our table in the camper. I enjoyed a few mornings in a lawn chair with coffee, reading my bible, with the Black Hills as my backdrop. There was a ranch right there also, so we were able to enjoy the view of the horses all day. The campground has free mini golf, and a pool, which was too cold, and a hot tub. We hiked quite a bit around the campground. The rocks here were amazing! Shiny stones everywhere on the ground! We could pick up quartz everywhere! We found many beautiful stones right next to our camper.
We loved going to Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Custer State Park. I'll talk you later about those places, and the buffalo, and almost running out of gas, and gold panning, and 4 wheeling in the Bad Lands, and THE PLAGUE! YES, THE PLAGUE! But for now, let me finish my story about NEEDLES HIGHWAY.

There is an amazing road that leads to Mt. Rushmore from Custer. There are two sections of it. We decided to drive around by Crazy Horse. We didn't actually go in the museum/monument. We saw it from the road. There is a parking lot you can park in and look at it. We continued on to Mt. Rushmore. What a wonderful experience! It only cost $10 for our whole vehicle for a year! We hiked the President's trail that brought us closer to the monument. The history is amazing on how and why this was built. There was a great visitor's center underneath, by the ampitheater. After a wonderful afternoon there, we left and headed on the Needles Highway home. We found a little place to stop and have a picnic. The road was built by an architect specifically for beauty and to compliment Mt. Rushmore. There are piggy tail bridges built along this road. They are unique bridges built in the shape of a pig's tail. There was not enough room for switchbacks inbetween the tunnels, so the architect designed these bridges. They are pretty fun and interesting. The tunnels are carved out of the rock. They are very small and only one car can go through at a time. We didn't have any problem getting our van through. You are supposed to honk before you pull through one, incase someone is on the other side coming the opposite direction.
About a week later, we decided to go through the second part of Needles Highway and go to Sylvan Lake up higher in the mountains. We didn't look at the map, just went by memory. We drove on Custer State Park and went north on Needles Highway. There were no signs saying how small the tunnels were. Oh, by the way, we were hauling our 8' wide flat bed trailer with 4 atvs and 3 kayaks. It was easier to leave the atvs on and haul them with the kayaks, than to take them off. So, here we are, heading up a mountain, with very few places to turn around with a trailer behind us full of toys. We came to the first tunnel, and made it through ok. We noticed it seemed to be smaller than the ones from the other day. We stopped further up the hill so Shae could take a phone call. I told him I thought we should go ahead and turn around. The road was very narrow and made me a little nervous with our load and all. No, he said, we can do it. So, up we go, higher and higher. Now, the road is even smaller, the ledges on the side steeper, and I feel like our van and trailer is getting bigger and bigger! There was nowhere to turn around, and I think all of us were feeling a little nervous now! We came to the second and last tunnel and saw the sign. It read, "8' 4" wide" Yikes! Our trailer is 8' wide! That leaves us 2 inches on each side of the trailer! I said, "Shae, don't do it. We will get stuck right in the middle. We'll get wedged in and someone will have to yank us out!" Well, bad news, there is no where to turn around! We had to go through the tunnel! We all got extremely serious and held our breath as Shae started to drive through a very long and skinny tunnel. I was afraid to even look behind me at the trailer and see just how close it was. Shae inched his way through, knowing we could hit the side at any time. We kept going, and going, and going, and going, until finally, we made it! Yippee! Well, it wasn't quite over. Since we had the trailer on the back, we need to pull totally out of the tunnel before we start to turn to the right. Not gonna happen. There was a whole line of cars waiting to go through the tunnel. They were waiting right at our exit to the tunnel. Shae pulled forward oh so carefully and barely, I don't think I really want to know how barely, he turned to the right, just missing that ladies van. He leaned out our window and said to her, "Boy, that was close!"
Well, you might say we had a happy ending. I'm not quite sure I would agree. We finished the drive to the stunning lake to find a huge storm awaiting us. We couldn't even walk by the lake because the rain started right after we arrived. We hung out in the gift shop, until we realized the bad weather was there to stay. So, we jumped back in the van and saw the sign for Custer, 7 miles! We had just driven at least 16 miles through tiny tunnels, mountain passes, steep ledges, and many cars to find out we could have driven on an easy road only seven miles.
It was one of those times we just had to make the decision to laugh and not cry. It was a crazy adventure, one we will not forget. So, the moral of the story? Don't pull a trailer on Needles Highway!
This is not the van and trailer on the tight tunnel. This is us coming through the first tunnel. We were too in shock to actually get out and take pictures of us going through the really tiny tunnel!