OH HI! So, getting back into the swing of things after vacation--how 'bout them apples? This week was a little rough, but I'm so excited to get back to my routine, including blogging and cooking and livin' the life. The vacation though. So good. We spent a few days in the Black Hills and a few days in Denver, after our first day in the Badlands. I'm going to split those stops into two different posts because you're already going to be sick of me by the end of this one, but let me just start with this: if you live in the Twin Cities, you've gotta get yourself to the Black Hills. It's beautiful there, and it's only seven hours away. Seriously. Grab your calendar, and block some time. Preferably in the summer. And this is what you should do. Ready? Here we go.
I. Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse
Super novel ideas I have so far, right? You never would have thought to include these on your trip? Ok, it just has to be said. Everyone should see Mount Rushmore at least once. And Crazy Horse, too--although, I have to be honest, Dan and I were both excited to see how much progress they'd made at Crazy Horse because we were both there about twenty years ago, when just the face was finished...and it's still basically just the face that's finished. So you've probably got plenty of time to catch the "in progress" version of that one.
We did Mount Rushmore right away when we got to The Black Hills, and we did Crazy Horse the next day. They don't take long, and you've just gotta go. And it's fun. Ok, next.
II. Sylvan Lake
This is where the worthwhile tips start--I got this one from a coworker whose family lives in the area, and I hadn't read about it on any travel sites. Sylvan Lake was one of our favorite parts of this whole trip--the lake itself is beautiful and Kelly loved swimming in it, but the 4-mile hike on the Sunday Gulch loop was the star of the show. It starts at the lake, which is surrounded by walking trails you could enjoy in flip flops.
Super instagram-able. If you decide to do the Sunday Gulch hike, you need some good shoes and preferably some athletic wear. We did it in tennis shoes and normal clothes, and I was wishing I had switched into something more sweat-friendly about halfway through.
The hike starts going down hill over some huge boulders, with hand rails built into the rock to help avoid falls. This was really fun, and something I hadn't seen before--no trail, just hand rails over a big rocky descent. From there, it went through the woods for a while, and then up, up, up to some pretty spectacular views (and burning quads).
We did this hike in an hour and a half at a pretty good clip, but we ran into several groups who said they'd been at it around three hours. Plan some time for it, but don't miss it.
III. The Wildlife Loop (Custer State Park)
This little drive through Custer State Park is one of your best chances to see buffalo (and prairie dogs, and wild donkeys) just roamin' around. We read to go in the morning or evening, and we did the loop first thing one day. We saw tons of buffalo (there's a herd that hangs out in this area, and they're often close enough to the road to see them) and some donkeys that were standing in the middle of the road and weren't interested in moving. Kelly loved the baby buffalo and the prairie dogs.
IV. Jewel Cave National Monument
If you've never done a cave tour, you need to include this on your itinerary. It's a cool experience, and this one is big and interesting and the tour is pretty accessible for family members of any age. You need to stop by early to get your tickets (the tours go all day but they sell out before noon). We grabbed tickets for our tour and then went to Crazy Horse while we waited for our tour to start. It's cold in the cave, so you need to bring a sweater (Kelly's helpfully illustrating that for you in this picture) and photos really don't do the cave justice, but Kelly thought it was "SO cool" and the ceilings were mostly tall enough for Dan to fit through, so we gave this two thumbs up.
V. Reptile Gardens
There are a lot of hokey tourist traps in the Black Hills, and it can be hard to guess what will be worth your while, but luckily we heard from several people that Reptile Gardens was worth the trip, and it definitely did not disappoint. If you've got kids with you who are even remotely interested in animals, you've gotta stop here. They do three shows--a gator show, a snake show, and a bird show--each at several times throughout the day, and they have exhibits you can walk around in between the shows. The shows are entertaining and informative--I mean, this guy jumped on an alligator's back.
They also had enormous snakes and a giant tortoise that you could touch. The tortoise was pretty motionless until Dan came--I think it recognized another giant in its presence and lifted its head pretty excitedly (for a tortoise).
Kell also got to touch a snake, and a baby alligator. My only tip is to plan about half a day here--I thought this was going to be more of an hour-long activity, but the shows are cool and you won't want to miss them, so you need at least an hour and a half for those and another hour or two to walk around and see everything.
There you have it--the fab five of the Black Hills. Next up is a Denver recap, and then a return to our regularly-scheduled programming, including Ragnar training! The race is in less than two weeks. I'm a little bit in denial, but still super excited. Plus, I ran hills on vacation...so that cancels out the fact that I barely ran this week, right? Yeah, I think so too.