Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Buffalo Arts Festival

Saturday dawned clear and cool, but quickly warmed up to shirt-sleeve weather. We joined RVing buddies Dale Bruss, Mike & Pat McFall and Rollie & Gina Thurston to take in the Buffalo Roundup Arts Festival in Custer State Park. 

There were a number of vendors of various arts and crafts, food concessions and an entertainment tent.

We especially enjoyed talking to Marshall Burnette, a Native American flint knapper, who was fashioning knives as well as spear and arrow points from materials found in South Dakota and surrounding areas. It was amazing to see how quickly he could turn a chunk of obsidion or knife river flint into a spear or arrow point.


We also talked with Ken Marso from Spearfish, SD. He makes "Ken's Canes," (walking sticks and canes) from diamond willow branches. They are beautiful, as you can see. John and I kept his card so that we can get in touch when and if we ever need one.

Many of the artists do outstanding work. One, however, stands out for me. This gentlemen, Wilson C. Hunt, of Chesapeake, VA,  was actually working inside one of the park stores. He said he comes and works in the park every summer, and carves the most amazing fish.  They are carved from black gum wood, which is very light.  Some of of his completed carvings are shown here. He said it takes an average of three weeks to complete each one, including the carving, painting, and finishing.

Friday, September 24, 2010


Our lives have changed again. God has sent us another dog. Last week when we went to pick up Feathers' ashes from the veterinarian in Hot Springs who had treated her, we mentioned that Nickie and Lucky Dog missed Feathers and that we were considering adopting another dog. The vet gave our name to a family with a dog that needed a home and four days later they called to see if we could take their dog. Yesterday we bumped along a muddy country road to meet a bundle of wiggles and licks who stole our hearts. She will never replace our Feathers, but we hope she will become a companion to Nickie and Lucky Dog, and that they will serve as "big sisters" to her.

Called "Zavada" by her original owner, she is a tricolor Australian Shepherd or Aussie mix about 9-10 months old. After being adopted by a college student who gave her up when she moved, this young dog was taken in by a family that lives on a large ranch outside of Buffalo Gap, SD.  It sounded like a perfect situation for her, but unfortunately the puppy showed a remarkable interest in, and ability to catch, birds. After killing three wild pheasants (the State Bird of South Dakota) and almost doing in one of the family chickens, the family realized that she needed to be somewhere where her attraction to fowl was not a problem. (Since the family raises laying hens, staying with them was not an option!)

So......this beautiful young dog has joined the Bagley Pack. We have given her a new name....Dakota, or Kota for short, because this is where we found her (or she found us) and because we love South Dakota. We look forward to having her with us for many years, and hope that Lucky Dog and Nickie will soon accept her as a member of their pack.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

1880s Train

Next on our Bucket List was a ride on the 1880s Black Hills Central Railroad, which runs between Keystone and Hill City, South Dakota. At one point, the tracks vary from a 4% to 6% grade, making it one of the steepest railroad routes in the U.S. We took the trip with our RV friends, Mark and Dale Bruss, shown here in front of the engine which pulled our six-car train.
We were told that this engine, a 2-6-6-2T articulated Mallet, was built in 1928. It is the only one of its kind in the world which is still in operation. It runs on conventional tracks, which are 4' 8" wide instead of the 3' width of the Narrow Gauge trains, and burns recycled oil.

The train crosses County Road 323 nineteen times. At each crossing, the whistle sounds two long blasts, followed by a short and a long blast. We were told this is Morse Code for the letter "Q." It seems that Queen Elizabeth started the tradition by having the ship on which she was traveling sound the "Q" so other ships in the area would know the Queen was on board, and would yield the right of way. Railroads soon picked up the signal, and now train whistles everywhere sound a Morse Code "Q" when approaching a crossing.

Scenery along the route includes not only track-side farms, ranches and residences, but views of the Black Hills and Harney Peak. We were pleased that the cool weather has turned the aspen bright gold, contrasting sharply with the dark green of the Ponderosa Pine and Black Hills Spruce.

While Dale and I gazed out the windows and snapped photos, John, and Mark just behind him, enjoyed a short nap between train whistles at the railroad crossings.

Our Bucket List

As our time here in Custer grows short, we're paying increasing attention to our "Bucket List" of things to see and do. On Tuesday, we visited Jewel Cave, said to be the second longest cave in the world, just behind Kentucky's Mammoth Cave. It is located thirteen miles west of Custer, and is several hundred feet below the visitor center and Hell Canyon. Discovered in 1900, Jewel Cave was designated a National Monument in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt. At that time, only about one mile of the cave had been explored. Fifty years later, exploration of the cave began in earnest, and today more than 100 miles of the cave have been explored and mapped.

Jewel Cave is known for its calcite crystals. Many of the walls are covered by calcite crystal formations known as "nailhead spars." Crusts of calcite crystals cover many of the cave walls in crusts two to six inches thick. The following are images taken inside the cave. Many of the formations are relatively small....two to six feet in size....but lovely. Others cover the entire wall of the cave. They include not only nailhead spars, but "cave bacon," "flow stone," "cave draperies," stalagtites and stalagmites.

The Scenic Tour, which we took, is a 1/2 mile, 1 1/4 hour loop. It is described as "moderately strenuous," and we certainly agree! The route followed by the tour isn't level walking. We ascended and descended ore than 700 stairs, and by the time we had finished, we felt sure we had walked off our lunch of fried chicken!

John was delighted that the day we chose to visit was also the day the Forest Service was doing a prescribed burn on 148 acres adjacent to the visitor center.   With the experience he has with prescribed burns, he could understand how the Forest Service was managing this burn.

The State of South Dakota, as well as the Forest Service, are working hard to do two things: they are clearing the forest undergrowth and dead trees to prevent devastating forest fires, like the Jasper Fire, which devastated this area ten years ago.  As you can see, not much regrowth has occurred since that fire.

Efforts are also to control the spread of the Pine Bark Beetle which is killing huge numbers of trees not only in South Dakota, but in the Rocky Mountains. The prescribed burn was part of this effort, as are aggressive logging of dead trees and removal of debris to areas where it can be disposed of safely. These piles of dead limbs will be burned when conditions are right, or run through a chipper.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Onward Through the Fog

On Friday we took a couple of scenic drives and explored areas to the north and west of Custer. We followed a section of the Central Hills Scenic Drive from Hill City to Silver City, then continued north and slightly west to the Northern Hills Scenic Loop. The Northern Hills Loop starts at Deadwood, continues to Sturgis, back west to Spearfish, and then loops back to Lead and Deadwood.

The entire drive is beautiful, and we enjoyed a glimpse of Historic Deadwood, where Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane lived and are buried. Deadwood is now populated not only with museums, but with casinos and antique shops, one of which is shown here. This one specialized in large metal animals. We looked and looked for a goat for Goat Hill Farm, but that's probably the only critter we couldn't find. We were tempted by a six-foot rooster, but were able to resist.

In Spearfish, a quaint small town located in a broad valley on the northern edge of the Black Hills, we visited the D.C. Booth Historic Fish Hatchery. It is one of the oldest hatcheries in the west, and over the years has provided literally billions of trout for stocking lakes and streams. Nickie especially enjoyed the underwater views of the magnificent rainbows, some of which were literally half her size. They looked to her just like the fish on Animal Planet, but better, and therefore elicited lots of jumping and barking.

From Spearfish, we headed down Spearfish Canyon, which follows Spearfish Creek. We tried to find out why the town, creek and canyon are named "Spearfish." However, we could not find anything more specific than "it was a place where the Indians used to spear fish," or "the early settlers thought it looked like a place where you could spear fish." We did learn, though, that Spearfish Creek was once called Spearfish River because of the large volume of water that flowed through it.

We saw Bridal Veil Falls, which doesn't have much water flowing this late in the year.

We then took a short side trip up Little Spearfish Creek to Roughlock Falls. It's a beautiful area, as you can see, and one we hope to revisit with fishing rods in hand.

In Spearfish Canyon, the magnificent Ponderosa Pines which cover the hillsides near Custer begin to give way to spruce, and there is much more undergrowth. Since the aspen and other trees are beginning to take on their fall colors, we had spashes of brilliant yellow among the green. Clouds nestled along the ridgelines, though, and gave a soft, etheral beauty to the landscape.
By the time we turned for home, the clouds that had been hovering over the peaks had descended to the ground. We drove most of the way home in a dense fog (traveling only 30-40 mph), and spent much more time on the road than we had planned. We were glad to break out into the sunshine a few miles from camp.

Friday, September 17, 2010


Yesterday, still intent on filling the frying pan with trout, we followed directions from one of the locals, and went fishing outside Hill City on Ditch Creek and Castle Creek. These two streams flow in and out, respectively, of Deerfield Lake. The streams were lovely, and the dogs had a great time hunting along the way and "helping" as we cast, with frustration, time and again into the water.

Deerfield lake is picture-perfect, and apparently holds some very acceptable rainbow trout. We didn't have a boat, and were unable to locate the "sweet spot" for bank fishing, so we worked the streams, as many before have apparently done.

At any rate, none of the enticing worms, salmon eggs, power baits, or in desperation grasshoppers, tempted the trout. We came home empty-handed, but rewarded by fantastic vistas of the Black Hills and surrounding prairies.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Monuments and Memorials

This area is filled with history.....memorials....monuments, and many relics from our Nation's past. Even though we'll be here for an entire month, we can't hope to see and do everything. We have, however, visited several places we would like to share. Hopefuly more will follow before we leave this place.

The Black Hills, Pa Sapa in the Lakota Sioux language, means Place of the Black Cedars. From a distance, the hills do look black because of the dark green foliage of the Ponderosa Pine forests that cover their slopes. This was a region sacred to the native peoples. One of the memorials we visited was the work-in-progress, which is the sculpture of Crazy Horse, a warrior of the Oglala Sioux tribe who has come to embody the indomitable spirit of the Plains Indians.

Begun in 1948 by Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski at the request of elders of the Plains Indian tribes, when completed the Crazy Horse Memorial will be the world's largest sculpture. It is being carved, and has been for the last fifty-plus years, out of Thunderhead Mountain just outside Custer, SD. The sculptor died several years ago, but the work is being carried on by his widow and by seven of his ten children. We were told that twice the family has been offered funding from the US Government which could amount to grants of $10,000,000 each. The sculptor and his family rejected the offers, believing that the work would be compromised or possibly not finished. Instead, they continue their work funded by donations, and by entrance fees to the monument and the excellent museum that occupies the grounds.

The image above is the statue as it exists today. The arm of Crazy Horse will stretch almost the length of a football field. Each year, there is more progress, though it is likely to be a number of years until the sculpture is finished. Below is a 1/34 scale model of the memorial as it will look upon completion.  If you are in the area, it is a not-to-be-missed attraction.

There are a number of excellent biographies covering the life of Crazy Horse from his birth, somewhere around 1840, until his death in September of 1877. If you are interested, I recommend the excellent biography, Crazy Horse, A Life, written by Larry McMurtry and published in 1999 .  I found it a fascinating read, and a good synopsis of the life and times of this Native American hero.

The granite cliffs of the Black Hills provide the setting for another sculpture, even more famous and revered. The Mount Rushmore National Memorial is just out Keystone, SD. President Calvin Coolidge dedicated the memorial in 1927, beginning fourteen years of work, only six of which were spent on actual carving. Renowned sculptor Gutzon Borglum was chosen to design and supervise the carving. He chose George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt as presidents to represent the first 150 years of US history. His goal was to embody "the formal rendinging of the philosophy of our government into granite on a mountain peak."

Honored on Mount Rushmore are the four leaders who brought the nation from colonial times into the 1900s. Washington is most prominent, commander of the Revolutionary army and first president of the United States. Next is Thomas Jefferson, included as the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and driving force behind the Louisiana Purchase, which virtually doubled the size of the nation. Abraham Lincoln held the Union together following the Civil War and ended slavery in the US. Theodore Roosevelt, the nation's 26th president, promoted construction of the Panama canal and championed conservation and economic reform.

It is interesting that the design of Mount Rushmore chaged several times because the granite didn't always prove stable enough to place the faces where originally conceived. Here are several views of the memorial. Some are taken within the park, and others from various vantage points outside the memorial. There is an evening lighting ceremony at the memorial which we hope to attend before we leave the area.


Saturday, September 11, 2010


Tatanka is the Lakota Indian word for Buffalo, or Bison bison. There are a lot of them in Custer State Park, some 1300 to be exact. We saw a number of bison yesterday as we drove the Wildlife Loop in CSP. The herds mostly ignore the cars driving through their range and stopping for a better look. We were warned, however, not to approach them. The bulls can be especially unpredictable during the rut, which is just ending. This bull and his lady friend were cuddling apart from the rest of the herd, while the big fellow in the other photo was strolling among his harem. They will be rounded up at the end of this month and sold to reduce the herd to some 930 animals. Since the park does not feed the bison over the winter, it is necessary for the herd to be culled each year so it will not exceed the carrying capacity of the park.

Bison are everywhere in Custer City as well as in the park. The town has on display a number of Tatanka like these decorated by local artists, many of Native American descent. They will be auctioned off the end of this month, so we could possibly bring one home to display at the farm. Transport home might be a bit of a problem, though!

We saw a lot more than bison on our drive, however. A herd of "wild" donkeys make their home at CSP. We were told they are the descendants of donkeys once used to carry tourists to the top of Mt. Harney, the tallest peak in South Dakota. When the donkey rides were discontinued, the donkeys were turned loose to fend for themselves. They are doing quite well, and are very friendly. One lovely lady donkey tried to give John a kiss through the car window, and this fuzzy young fellow was quick to come up to have his ears scratched.

The pronghorn antelope in the park aren't quite so friendly, but you can approach them in the car as they graze by the side of the road. This handsome fellow and his herd were quite unconcerned until Lucky Dog and Nickie got excited and started barking madly and begging us to let them out for a chase. I guess they looked like the deer the dogs see almost every day when we take our walk on the forest trails near camp (and which they do chase)!

We also saw quite a "herd" of turkeys grazing almost alongside the pronghorns. Here you can just see them in the tall grass between the road the antelope.