Thursday, November 2, 2023

2023 Road Trip - The Cooler Weather Tour - North & South Dakota

 Continued from Michigan UP through Minnesota North Shore Lake Superior 

(you can start at the beginning here as it includes links to all the segments)

It was so windy, we drove across North Dakota on two wheels. Talk about wide open spaces. It was like driving across Kansas, just with more trees. And the fields of gold….yellow canola crop fields everywhere on both sides of the highway. 

We hadn’t seen the Canadian wildfire smoky haze since driving into Indiana and southern Michigan earlier in our trip. It was now upon us again. We arrived in Medora, ND and stayed in the Medora Campground. Long hot showers, decent bathrooms, and a laundromat.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park was on our agenda. Over the course of 2 days, we toured both the North and South Units’ scenic drives. Gorgeous views even though the Canadian wildfire smoke haze impacted the high level visibility. The low level visibility was ok. Thankfully it didn’t smell like smoke. We saw buffalo, wild horses, and lots of prairie dogs. 

The landscape offered some wild rock formations, capstones, peaks and pinnacles that I haven’t seen anywhere else. As in most National Parks, dogs aren’t allowed on the trails here. That, along with the haze, kept us from hiking. 

In the afternoons, I mountain biked portions of the Maah Daah Hey Trail. I was able to access it easily from the campground. Great riding and beauty all around. If other people were up for it and we could get a supported ride organized, biking the entire 150+ mile trail would be an epic ride over the course of several days. 

Here’s a weird fact about Medora - it doesn’t have a grocery store. How does a town next to a National Park that also has a water park and a golf course not have a grocery store? We later met some local South Dakota folks in South Dakota and they asked me about Medora. They grew up in South Dakota and had never been to North Dakota, saying “Oh, no one ever goes up there.” That’s harsh! I guess the winters are too. But hey, Theodore Roosevelt was drawn here. As a rancher just north of Medora, he was greatly inspired by this area, even serving as deputy sheriff in 1886 before returning to NYC for his 2nd marriage and back into politics.

Looks like a Tattooine scene from Star Wars

Ah, yes...the black/grey tank dumping experience

the wild horses of Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Onward to South Dakota, sadly into more Canadian wildfire smoky haze just as it was clearing in North Dakota behind us. But the next day, we thankfully got the all clear conditions again. 

The southwest corner of South Dakota really shined for us. There’s so much to do. A full vacation can easily be had here. Our first full night after arriving in South Dakota was spent parked overnight at a Harvest Host site, a local brewery in Hill City, SD...Sick & Twisted Brewery.

We toured the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Drive, saw the Crazy Horse memorial from afar, visited Mount Rushmore (worth it!), drove the Iron Mountain and Needles Scenic Byways (but didn’t drive the van through the 2 narrowest tunnels with the van), hiked the gorgeous Little Devil and Cathedral Spires trails, and did sightseeing all around the Black Hills National Forest, Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park and Badlands National Park

Is there a state park in this country better than Custer State Park? If so, someone please tell me. Because this state park is a major wow factor and would even be a good substitute for Yosemite Nationall Park if you want similar surroundings with less crowds (and hike the trails with your dog). Great campgrounds too. We stayed at the Center Lake Campground one night on a last minute reservation and it was nice and quiet. Moose got to swim in the lake and I went for a nice paddle on the inflatable SUP.

Wind Cave National Park and Badlands National Parks were really cool. Badlands is otherworldly. Another very unique setting of colorful rock peaks and pinnacles. Tons of wildlife in all these places…we saw pronghorn deer, wild horses and wild burros, prairie dogs, mountain goats and close encounters with a big herd of buffalo at Wind Cave National Park. The mighty elk still eludes us.

Spearfish Canyon Scenic Drive

Crazy Horse Monument

Mount Rushmore

paddling on Center Lake in Custer State Park

Wind Cave National Park buffalo

Cathedral Spires trail in Custer State Park

Relaxing at the Three Flags RV campground in Rapid City, SD just before having the van's water fill tank/hose repaired at the local Camping World. 

Next is upper Wyoming & lower Montana (including Yellowstone & Grand Tetons NP)

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