The Happy Hooker and Getting Loonie

The Happy Hooker and Getting Loonie

Our five days in South Dakota were over before we knew it, and before long, the RV wheels were rolling down the road heading toward our summer destination in northern Wisconsin. It was the third week in June and with severe storms coming and going throughout the Midwest, we opted to move quickly and not linger along the way. We also decided to stick with Interstate roads where feasible. We were on a mission to get to our summer home as soon as possible and avoid getting caught on the road in one of those nasty storms.

Whenever we travel through a major city, we try to plan on doing so on a weekend morning in hopes of avoiding any rush hour traffic or other heavy traffic. Although the drive through St. Paul, Minnesota on a Saturday morning was uneventful, I think the next time we drive through the area, we’ll take the truck/bypass route (494 to 694 back to 35E).

Driving I-35E through St. Paul, MN

Once we made it to Hayward, Wisconsin, Al’s sister met us at the local Walmart so she could help direct us to her and her husband’s place, our home for the summer. We were really glad we followed her to the house because our GPS was just a smidgen off. Normally that’s not a problem with just our truck, but when pulling an RV things get a little more difficult especially when the roads are densely wooded and there’s no spot big enough for us to turn around.

(To enlarge a photo in a gallery, simply click on any image)

The Happy Hooker

After a relaxing first day at our new RV campsite, it was time for some summer fun. High on our agenda was visiting the Happy Hooker. A few miles down the heavily tree-lined road from our RV site on private property is a cute little store called the Happy Hooker Bait and Tackle shop which is like an old fashioned country store that has a little bit of everything.

In addition to a large selection of fishing tackle & bait, they have gasoline, ice, beer, liquor, clothing, gifts, groceries, and most importantly … bug repellent. Just about anything you might need in a pinch with the convenience of not having to drive the thirty-minutes into the town of Hayward.

It was here that Al and I purchased our Wisconsin fishing licenses for the summer. Yep, the Happy Hooker is all about fishing. What did you think I was talking about?

That first week back in the Midwest took a bit of adjusting. First off, the bugs. Boy, I’d forgotten how annoying mosquitos are and as much as I tried to stay away from the harsh bug repellent, that first tick bite had me grabbing a can of spray-on Deep Woods Off. Yeah, bring on the “Deet“.

How many lakes does Wisconsin have?

Water recreation during the summer in northern Wisconsin is huge and the state is home to more than 11,000 lakes. With approximately 1 million acres of lakes to choose from, it’s no wonder that folks from the Chicago and Milwaukee areas flock to their favorite lake for a summer vacation, or better yet, they actually own a second home on lakefront property for regular weekend getaways. Who doesn’t dream of owning lakefront property? (Ok, maybe those of you who prefer oceanfront property ūüėĄ)

Growing up in the Chicago suburbs, our family summer vacations were always spent at a campground on a picturesque lake, usually in Wisconsin. One of our family favorites was on the Chippewa Flowage just outside of Hayward, Wisconsin. We had a popup trailer at the time and my dad had a fishing buddy that would regularly join us so he could bring up our boat.

When my sister-in-law and her husband moved up to Hayward, Wisconsin, from northern Illinois, I couldn’t wait to visit them and revisit some of my childhood stomping grounds.

This was the campground beach where my brother and I spent most of our time playing when we weren’t learning to waterski. Still looks like a ton of fun today! Our little sister was too young to join us without mom nearby. Revisiting was rather emotional for me as thoughts of fond childhood memories flooded my mind. Oh, how I wanted to call my dad to let him know where I was, but that wasn’t possible. It has been just shy of a year since his passing.

Getting Loonie

All that water not only provides a great deal of recreation, but it also provides a water source to an abundance of wildlife. When Al and I decided to spend our summer in northern Wisconsin, high on my wishlist was capturing a nice image of a Loon, one of my favorite birds. Not only are they a beautiful bird, but their sound is so unique. There’s nothing like a quiet morning on the water in a canoe listening to their calls.

Although we no longer own a canoe, we do have a pontoon boat at our disposal this summer … perfect for lake cruising and fishing. During one of our boat rides, I noticed something white in the tall grasses near the shoreline. Initially, I assumed it was a plastic (Walmart) bag and directed Al to get near so we could retrieve it and dispose of it properly. Before getting too close to shore and possibly getting the boat prop tangled in weeds, I used my camera’s lens to zoom in and confirm that it was indeed a plastic bag.

Surprise, surprise, surprise! It was not garbage but rather a nesting Loon. To say I was giddy with excitement would be an understatement. Al turned the boat so we wouldn’t get near the nest and disturb the beautiful Loon. Loons only have one or two chicks and the last thing we wanted to do was stress the mama and cause her to leave the nest.

Al slowed the boat and for the next ten minutes, we cruised by her a few times. With my 600mm zoom and a little crop in processing, I was rather pleased with a few of my images. For the first couple of weeks in July, every outing on the boat included a slow cruise past Lily the Loon.

We knew hatching time was near when her partner was easy to spot. Normally loons dive when a boat gets near them, but one evening, it appeared Papa Loon was becoming very protective and refused to dive or get out of the way of boat traffic (which is thankfully rather light around here). This forced boaters to go around him to avoid potentially hitting him. Most boaters, like us, slowed down to capture a few photos of this rare treat. Guess I’m not the only loonie one around here.

It was thrilling to have Mr. Loon swim right alongside our boat.

Trivia; The $1 Canadian coin is nicknamed the “Loonie” – derived from the picture of a solitary loon on one side of the coin. Canadian’s have the coolest currency. Eh!

More wildlife sightings

Although my encounters with the Loons have made every mosquito, fly, and tick bite worth hanging out in the northwoods, I encountered another wildlife first. I’ll save that for a another post.

For the latest and most up to date info on our travels, be sure and follow me on Instagram @ livelaughrv

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Things to Do in Grand Lake, CO

The mere mention of Grand Lake brings a smile to my face. We first discovered this charming little Colorado mountain town in the late ’90s. At that time, we were living in Colorado Springs and looking for an affordable place to take the children on a winter ski vacation. Plus, we wanted ski slopes that weren’t too challenging for beginner skiers.

What started out as a nice Colorado winter spot quickly turned into one of our favorite summer mountain towns. The fact that Grand Lake is also located near the western entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park and sits along the shores of a picturesque mountain lake just adds to her overall appeal.

Main Street in Grand Lake, Colorado

Continuing -Top 5 Favorite Colorado Mountain Towns

In no particular order, these are my top 5 favorite picks for must-see Colorado Mountain Towns … towns that I have returned to time and again because they‚Äôre just that lovely.

Discovering Grand Lake

While picking up my children from summer camp (1997), a staff member overheard that I was looking for a recommendation for a winter destination and mentioned we should look into Snow Mountain Ranch.  Little did I know, Snow Mountain Ranch would quickly become our go-to place to spend Christmas and ring in the New Year.

favorite Colorado mountain towns and why you should visit, #VisitColorado, #ColoradoLoveOur adventures on the western side of Colorado’s Continental Divide were plenty. Over a ten year period, it was our family tradition to rent a cabin in the woods and savor the amazing views. As the week unfolded, the days were filled with outdoor activities; snow skiing, snowmobiling, sledding, tubing, snowshoeing. The evenings included games and storytelling near a toasty fire blazing in the cabin’s fireplace.

Snow Mountain Ranch is world renowned for its Nordic Center and groomed trails, but not for downhill skiing. For that, we would need to go to either Winter Park or Granby Ranch (previously known as Silver Creek and Sol Vista). Granby Ranch is the perfect place for beginners. Al and I would put the children in ski school while he and I lounged around the fireplace in the ski lodge exercising our arms by lifting mugs of hot chocolate. ūüėČ

The outside deck offered a perfect vantage point for me to photograph and videotape the kids in ski school.¬† As Al and I got more comfortable leaving the children in ski school, he and I would venture off (with the instructor’s knowledge of course) and explore the surrounding area.¬† Those explorations always included lunch and shopping in the quaint little town of Grand Lake, about a 30-minute drive from the slopes. Strolling the wooden walkways connecting the rustic buildings made us feel like we had stepped back in time, a time when life was a little simpler and slower.

When the kids needed a break from skiing, we would rent a couple of snowmobiles near the town of Grand Lake and make a day of exploring the backcountry at 9,000 plus feet in elevation on some of the best groomed and scenic trails around. Views of the Continental Divide and Rocky Mountain National Park were breathtaking. We always wanted to return during the summer to rent ATV’s, but somehow life got in the way. Sure, we returned to Grand Lake many a time during summer excursions but we never seemed to have enough time to hit the trail in an ATV. Oh well, I guess that gives us reason to return … again.

Grand Lake is NOT a winter destination

We loved our winter excursions to the high country, but summer is even better. Although visiting Grand Lake during winter conditions is beautiful and fun, the town is much more of a summer and fall destination. It is, after all, the western gateway into Rocky Mountain National Park. Actually, during the winter, about half the businesses in the town of Grand Lake appear to be closed, especially the galleries and tourist shops. Yeah, I don’t think they sell a lot of ice cream during the winter. Plus, once the snow starts falling, access into the national park is closed off at the western end. Crossing the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park during the winter is not an option.

Grand Lake, Colorado
My daughter during one of our fall excursions.

What makes Grand Lake so popular during the summer months is the easy access into Rocky Mountain National Park and the summer recreation available throughout Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forest. And let’s not forget about the beautiful lake itself; Grand Lake. (The town AND the lake share the same name. Hmm, that can get confusing.)

Grand Lake (the lake) is a popular draw for anglers and water enthusiasts.¬† Personally, I can‚Äôt imagine engaging in any activity that would require me actually touching the water as the water temperature appears to always be COLD. I remember one time standing on a dock at the water‚Äôs edge and feeling a wave of coolness rise and sweep over me.¬† It felt like I had opened my refrigerator’s freezer door and was greeted by a rush of cold air.¬† Yep, that‚Äôs some cold water!

Grand Lake, Colorado, wildflowers along the shores of a mountain lake, #picturesqueColorado, #mountainLakes
The town of Grand Lake sits at the shores of Grand Lake, Colorado’s largest and deepest natural lake.

Wildlife!

As the summer season winds down, leaf peepers and wildlife enthusiasts flock to the area. Actually, September is one of the most popular months to visit Grand Lake, Estes Park, and Rocky Mountain National Park. Can you believe this is also when the national park starts closing campgrounds … seriously? ‚ėĻ

September is when the Elk are in rut, the boys are fighting and posturing for the ladies attention, and their bugling sound is easily recognizable. Spotting a herd of Elk in Rocky Mountain National Park during the rut season is not a problem. Fall is, in my opinion, one of the best months to visit the area.

Rocky Mountains

As much as I love Elk, I’m a tad more drawn to Moose, and Grand Lake is the place to spot these fascinating animals. During one of our summer visits, I was on a quest to find and photograph a moose. I hear that it’s not uncommon to see a moose walking down Main Street early in the morning.

It wasn’t that easy for Al and me to find Bullwinkle. We had to spend a little time moose hunting searching for me to get that photo-op. Hint: ask a local. The gal in the ice cream shop shared a few moose hang-outs with us.

After driving around for about an hour to the popular ‘moose hang-outs’, we were near the verge of giving up when Al spots the most gorgeous bull moose feeding in a small pond. Score! We pulled off to the side of the road and stayed a safe distance away knowing moose can be mean and deadly. Thank goodness for zoom lenses. He was such a treat to watch!

Between the amazing wildlife, the beautiful scenery, and the fond memories of our family adventures, it’s no wonder why Grand Lake, Colorado remains a favorite.

Lodging

Winter Park lodging, Alpine slide Colorado, #alpineslide, #winterparkfun
One summer, my daughter and I stayed in a condo in Winter Park. We loved riding the Alpine Slide!

There are several private and national forest campgrounds in the area and of course plenty of little hotels. However, we’ve never personally overnighted in Grand Lake. We have stayed at the base of Granby Ranch mountain in a ski-in-ski-condo.

But our preference was renting a cabin at Snow Mountain Ranch which is about a 30-45 minute drive away from Grand Lake. The ranch also offers room style lodging and in the summer they have a campground.

While RVing, we quite often camped in the national park (close to the town of Estes Park) and then visited Grand Lake for the day. Camping and lodging options near Estes Park are plentiful considering its close proximity to Denver.

The drive from Estes Park to Grand Lake is not to be missed, but do note, the road does not open until the end of May and usually closes in October depending on snowfall.

Rocky Mountain National Park road, how to get to, Colorado scenic road, #sightseeing in Colorado

How to get there?

There are three different routes to access the town of Grand Lake. All three routes are easily navigated with a regular vehicle but not so much with an RV.

Most scenic: From Denver, head west to the town of Estes Park, Colorado. From Estes Park, you’ll enter Rocky Mountain National Park. A leisurely drive through the national park via Trail Ridge Road is a memorable scenic drive with stunning views accompanied by wildlife sightings.¬† I highly recommend this drive, but keep in mind, this road is not RV friendly. Depending on your personal comfort level with mountain driving will determine whether or not you should take your RV via this route. We’ve never driven this road with our RV in tow, nor do I think we ever will.

(This post is intended for entertainment purposes only and all road information should be researched and verified before driving. Road conditions change regularly.)

My recommendation: If you drive a motorhome and pull a toad, I recommend you not tow, but rather, drive each vehicle separately. If you’re pulling a trailer/5th wheel, go early (before 8:00 a.m.). The tight switchbacks on the western side of the Continental Divide on Trail Ridge Road will require swinging into the oncoming lane (depending on your length and direction of travel) to make a few hairpin turns. The majority of scenic pull-outs and parking lots will not accommodate most RV’s, especially during busy traffic periods.

Altitude and elevation need to also be taken into consideration. The 50-mile drive between Estes Park and Grand Lake will take you up and over the Continental Divide with elevations exceeding 12,000 feet. Plan at least 2 hours to drive the 50 miles (no services) and more if you plan on stopping at any of the numerous scenic pull-outs. Note; the combination of grade and altitude may be too challenging for older vehicles. Also, anyone with health issues should take the high elevation into consideration. I highly recommend talking to a ranger for more information before embarking on this drive.

trail ridge road Colorado, Roads above treeline, Rocky Mountain National Park, #can I drive an RV, #coloradoroads
A small section of Trail Ridge Road near 12,000 feet in elevation. This photo was taken a few years ago in late August and early in the day before tourist traffic picked up.

RV route: Although longer, these roads will be a little easier to navigate with an RV. From Denver, take Interstate 70 west to the town of Silverthorne and then head north on Highway 9. Once you get to the town of Kremmling, take Highway 40 east to the town of Granby, then north on 34 to Grand Lake.

Winter route: This is the route we often took during our winter excursions driving our F150. From Interstate 70, we would head north on Highway 40 through Berthoud Pass heading toward Winter Park.  Although fine for a regular vehicle, we would not personally pull the RV up this road. The grade is such that it would put a tremendous strain on the engine not to mention navigating all the switchbacks.

During winter conditions, beware of avalanches. One year we cut our vacation short knowing weather (i.e. snowstorm) was rolling in. The day after we drove Hwy 40 over Berthoud Pass there was an avalanche that crossed the road and damaged some vehicles. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured, and we were very glad we didn’t experience this personally.

Next week, I’ll take you to another one of my favorite Colorado mountain towns.

making family memories in Colorado, family destinations in Colorado, family-friendly ski towns, #loveColorado, #familymemories, #familyinColorado
Any time of year is a great time to visit Colorado’s high country for making family memories – me, my daughter, husband, and son.

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What do you do with all those photos?

Can you believe I shot over 4,800 photographs during our five week stay camped near the Arizona РUtah border? That’s almost 1,000 photos a week. Yikes! Thank goodness digital photography is free, but then again, if I were paying for film I assure you that shutter wouldn’t have clicked nearly that often.

I‚Äôll admit, I am bad at culling and deleting photographs which does present a problem for my poor laptop. So as the hard-drive on my computer fills up, I transfer the files to a couple of external drives which frees up the laptop … much to my computer’s delight.

During the past week, I’ve been hard at work performing this task of photo file transfer, and while at it, I started reviewing some photographs from years past. Oh what fond memories, and I realized I need a reason to sift through these photos more often.

slot canyon

Question of the day

So the big question of the day is what should I do with all these photographs? What do YOU do with all your photographs? Since I live in a RV, space is obviously an issue. Therefore, I rarely print out any of my photographs, but I do like to share them. Although I have shared a great number of photographss here on the blog, there are still bunches of photographs that haven’t been shared, and photos I’ve even forgotten about. Hmm! The wheels in my head started turning ….

Through the Lens

Looking at life and landscapes through the lens of my camera has made me more observant. I see and notice things more acutely. My camera and this blog have given me added purpose … reason to explore, reason to photograph, reason to visit new places, reason to connect with YOU.

With that in mind, I’ve decided to make Wednesday’s my day to post photos with a theme in mind … kind of like the photo challenges and prompts we’ve been exposed to via blogging on WordPress. I’ll come up with an inspiration and share photos from either my archives or go in search with camera in hand – a purpose. I’m hoping you’ll join in and share your own photos pertaining to the weeks inspirational subject.

taking a selfie with the self timer on a digital camera

Let’s share and connect … join me in sharing photographs every Wednesday. Feel free to link back to this site, and/or leave a comment, but be sure your Gravatar is linked correctly so we can easily pop over and visit your site!

If you don’t write a blog, that’s okay, I’d still love for you to join in the Wandering Wednesday¬†photo inspiration and hopefully leave a comment. Perhaps the inspiration will give you purpose to pick up your camera or smart phone for a little shutter clicking or maybe it’ll serve as the impetus to go through your own collection of photographs.

Shutter Time

For my first photo inspiration, let’s post a photograph (s) of an animal / wildlife. This could be a simple photograph of a cute little bunny rabbit in your backyard, or your favorite pet, or that of a wild animal seen in nature or at a zoo. More than anything else, I hope the photograph is an image that’s special to you … an image that provokes emotion, or a fond memory, or the making of the image challenges you in some way.

Ingrid’s Inspiration

We’ve been camped in a RV Park in Prescott, Arizona for the past six weeks and I’ve barely touched my camera. Far cry from my shutter clicking in April, huh! RV Parks are usually not my preferred method of accommodation. I’d much rather be in a national park, national forest or state park surrounded by nature, but sometimes life dictates otherwise …. and those full hook-ups are awfully nice…. oh yeah, love the hook-ups!

pronghorn aka antelope in Arizona

Even though a RV Park is not normally at the top of my list, I’m extremely happy with my summer ‘home’.¬† I’m beyond pleased with my RV site as well as my view here in Prescott Valley, Arizona. There’s a fenced open field just across the road from my RV site where cattle and antelope graze.

pronghorn in ArizonaTaken with Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200   106mm (35mm equivalent 590mm)

I was ecstatic to capture a couple of images of this sweet pregnant gal grazing. Antelope (proper name is pronghorn) are usually skittish and capturing a closeup image can be challenging, but with my zoom lens and a very slight crop, I think this photograph of her turned out well. Check out those eyelashes!

The day after these photos were taken, I didn’t see her again. I’m sure she delivered her little one by now and is staying hidden. But trust me, I’m forever on the lookout.

Wandering Wednesday’s Photo Inspiration

I’ve put together a list of upcoming photo inspirations (or should I call them themes, challenges, prompts¬†ūü§Ē) for the next few Wednesday’s. I hope you’ll join me by sharing your photos.

  • Water
  • Flowers
  • Patriotic
  • Food

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Exquisite and Graceful

This is our fourth winter RVing along the Texas Gulf Coast, and it has not disappointed. The weather has been enjoyable this year with no mention of a¬†polar vortex,¬†thank goodness. With that said, I’m taking full advantage of getting out of the RV everyday to commune with my feathered friends.Shore birds

I don’t consider myself a birder, but merely, someone who admires birds, especially shore birds. ¬†My fascination with these birds was piqued during that very first visit to the Gulf of Mexico. ¬†I’ve always enjoyed wildlife photography, but bird photography was a new game. ¬†It challenged me then, and continues to challenge me now.

Family of whooping cranes - mom, dad, juvenile
Family of whooping cranes – mom, dad, juvenile

I always look forward to our return trips to Texas to observe and photograph the exquisite and graceful whooping crane, an endangered species who’s numbers were in the teens back in the 1940’s and are now in the 500+ range. ¬†Habitat and poaching still threaten these magnificent birds, but efforts are¬†being made by various organizations to help these cranes.

Whooping Cranes - endangered
A family of endangered whooping Cranes

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention this beautiful pink beauty … the roseate spoonbill. Her deep pink is truly stunning. Actually, it’s the male of the species that sports the deepest of the hue. ¬†This is one dude who knows how to wear pink well!roseata spoonbil

However, I find the egret embodies a certain grace and elegance.  Her snowy white plumage, long black legs, and bright yellow feet have me comparing her to a princess. He or she?  In the case of the egret, both sexes are bright white and thus difficult to decipher.egret

Tri-colored HeronTri-colored Herons feel equally as regal and exude a unique level of gracefulness. Their grayish blue coloring with patches of deep purple is truly stunning.

Ah, then there are the pelicans … oh those pelicans. What can I say about these whimsical creatures?

When in-flight they exhibit a grace comparable to the whooping crane, but when they plunge into the water fishing for dinner, well let’s just say, the sight is anything but graceful and is downright comical.

I’m still trying to capture a video of a pelican diving for fish, but am always in the midst of laughing and fail to point the camera in the right direction. ¬†I’ll keep working on that!

pelican yoga!
pelican yoga!

Overall, I find pelicans to be rather entertaining and full of character and when they aren’t flying, they exhibit absolutely no grace what so ever.pelicans

I’ve got another month hanging along the Texas Gulf Coast with my feathered friends. ¬†I hope to capture more photographs of these amazing shore birds, and in the process, work on getting in my exercise steps ūüėé

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Wildlife is the Best

Custer State ParkWe thought a week in the Black Hills would be enough time to see all the sights that were of interest to us, and although we touched on the ones at the top of our list, we could have easily spent another week exploring.

Al and I were both curious about the towns located at the northern end of the Black Hills:¬† Deadwood, Sturgis, and Spearfish.¬† As we embarked on a scenic drive, our first stop was a quick drive through Sturgis; famed for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.¬† Not our thing, but we were curious.¬† I’m sure this place can get really crazy during the cycle rally.¬† During our excursion, it¬†appeared to be¬†just another small town with a twist; businesses geared toward motorcycles.

Bear Butte State Park
Bear Mountain is sacred to many American Indian tribes who come here to hold religious practices

While in the area, we checked out Bear Butte State Park and its sacred mountain.

It was then on to¬†Spearfish where we¬†took the Spearfish Canyon National Scenic Byway.¬† Twisting and turning through towering limestone cliffs, along mountain streams and waterfalls, the drive was reminiscent of Boulder Canyon in Colorado and very pretty.¬† We didn’t stop much for photos as our bellies were growling which kept us focused on moving along.

Deadwood, South Dakota
Main Street, Deadwood, South Dakota

Deadwood, South Dakota

We arrived in Deadwood, South Dakota, just in time for lunch.¬† Al and I were really curious about Deadwood and this was the focus of today’s drive.¬† We’ve watched the complete series of the HBO production Deadwood ….. a couple of times, which was the catalyst that piqued our interest in laying¬†eyes on this historic town.¬†¬† The series tried to stay true to history with a little Hollywood thrown in for¬†amusement.

We ate lunch at Diamond Lil’s located inside the Midnight Star Casino and owned by Kevin Costner.

Diamond Lil's
The place is adorned with costumes from Kevin Costner films. Even Whitney Houston’s costume from “Body Guard” was hanging in the place. The wall d√©cor provided a level of entertainment.

The food at Diamond Lil’s was average, but the walls decorated with movie costumes made it interesting.¬† Gaming in little casinos, average food, tourist attractions playing off of the Wild Bill Hickok days, and plenty of cigarette smoke sums up my take on Deadwood.¬† I can check Deadwood off my list with no need to revisit!

Pactola Reservoir
Pactola Lake, west of Rapid City, South Dakota

Beautiful lakes in the Black Hills

On our way back to Rapid City, we stopped by Pactola Reservoir and fell in love with this picturesque lake.¬† It reminded us of the many lakes we enjoyed paddling in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota; surrounded by granite rock and pine trees….. pristine and beautiful.

The next day found us returning to Custer State Park and meandering along some of the scenic byways around this part of the Black Hills…. again!

mountain goats
mountain goats along the side of the road
mountain goats
Which one do you want?

mountain goats

Is there anything better than coming across wildlife when you least expect it?  How cute are these mountain goats?  Wildlife is the best!

mountain goats
“I know, I’m cute, but you can’t take me home”!

I could’ve sat there watching these agile hikers for hours, but lunch was calling. (Lunch is our fave)¬† We’d heard Custer, South Dakota restaurantsfrom a couple of bloggers that the Black Hills Burger & Bun was the place to have lunch in the town of Custer, and boy, it did NOT disappoint.

The food was delicious and we wanted to go back on another day before we left town, but they closed for a few days for some much-needed time off.  They grind their own meat daily and everything was very fresh.  Al had the bison burger while I enjoyed Angus.  Seriously, for anyone looking for a great meal while visiting the Black Hills, this is the place to go.  FYI Рit is a busy place, for obvious reasons.

scenic byways
The scenic byways are a main attraction in the Black Hills

Sylvan LakeOur last day in the Black Hills had me longing to go back to Sylvan Lake just one more time.  We met fellow blogger, Lenore, and her beautiful Golden Retriever, Honey, for a stroll around the lake and a picnic lunch.  We had a lovely visit and the weather was perfect.

Our time in South Dakota’s Black Hills¬†went by way too fast.¬† I know we’ll need to return for further explorations.

Sylvan Lake
above the damn at Sylvan Lake
Sylvan Lake
Al and I at Sylvan Lake

Visit Mt. Rushmore

George Washington

A few of the things that Al and I didn’t get around to doing that my daughter and I did do……

No trip to the Black Hills would be complete without a visit to Mount Rushmore.¬† After all, it is the American thing to do, isn’t it? ūüėČ

Be sure and stroll this memorial leisurely and take in some of the displays sharing the model and the history of this spectacular sculpture.

Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore
Crazy Horse
Crazy Horse Memorial in the distance
Crazy Horse Memorial
Crazy Horse Memorial

Crazy Horse is another monument not to be missed.  Once complete, this sculpture will be the largest mountain carving in the world.

A hike to remember

Daughter - Harney Peak hike
Daughter – Harney Peak hike

Black Hills hiking

And then there’s the fabulous hiking in the area.¬† When Ashton and I visited, my hiking abilities at the time consisted of the necessary walking required in a super Wal-Mart or Mall.¬† I was twenty pounds heavier than I am now and called a workaholic by my children.¬† The thought of hiking a seven-mile round trip trail with something like a 1,000 foot plus elevation gain was beyond my thoughts….. AND abilities.

Ashton and I started our Harney Peak (now known as Black Elk Peak) hike via the less popular trailhead off Needles Highway and quickly took a wrong turn which lead to us enjoying the view of the Cathedral Spires before retracing our steps and taking the correct turn.  This, of course, added a little distance and a few chuckles to the day.

Black Hills hiking

The hike took us about 4 hours, which included some hanging around time at the top.¬† Upon our return to the trailhead, I was exhausted but felt incredibly alive.¬† I hadn’t felt that way in years and I credit this hike with sparking the hiking bug within me.¬† Even though I was so sore and moaned with each step taken the following day, I looked forward to embarking on my next hike.

Black Hills, South Dakota

So that about wraps up our time in the Black Hills.  Next up, we move down into Nebraska.

Longhorn

Skilled, Adventurous, or Crazy?

Black HillsMy reminiscing didn’t end¬†in the Badlands.¬† The memories continued as¬†Al and I moved on to¬†South Dakota’s Black Hills and Custer State Park.

Not only did my childhood family of five visit this area umpteen years ago in dad’s new Motorhome, but five years ago my daughter and I visited during a gals road trip.

 

 

Mount Rushmore

My daughter, Ashton, and I visit Mount RushmoreMount RushmoreAshton was in college at the time and enjoying a break before heading off to Sydney, Australia, for a semester abroad.   She and I hopped in my little red Toyota Tacoma and made the five-hour drive from Fort Collins, Colorado to Custer, South Dakota.

Ashton¬†and I had such a fabulous time during that visit that I couldn’t wait to return to the Black Hills someday.¬† And return I did in early September……… with hubby in tow this time.

The three-day Labor Day weekend was nearing and since we were traveling via Plan B, without reservations, we¬†had concerns about a place to stay.¬†¬†After an exhaustive search, we ended up¬†finding a place to park¬†at¬†the¬†Elks Lodge in Rapid City.¬† The lodge offers ten RV sites on a first-come, first-serve basis and had an open spot for us.¬†¬†It wasn’t the picturesque setting I usually crave, but the lodge was really nice and even located on a golf course.

Pronghorn
Pronghorn – Custer State Park, South Dakota

With the RV parked, Al and I¬†ventured off¬†exploring Custer State Park.¬† Shortly after entering the state park, we needed to stop for pedestrians bison in the crosswalk…. smart guys, huh!

Bison, Custer State Park

A managed herd of about 1,300 bison roam freely throughout Custer State Park.¬† The herd is one of the largest publically-owned herds in the world.¬† Bison are huge and can weigh as much as 2,000 pounds (907 kilograms).¬† During the third week of September, the park holds a Buffalo Roundup.¬† This is an event I’d love to attend someday.

Black Hills, South DakotaDuring this recent visit, we spent a great deal of time in the truck taking in the sights by driving the scenic byways.  The first was the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road that twists and turns through rolling prairie and ponderosa pines.

As the name implies, we saw plenty of wildlife on this scenic loop during this visit as well as previous visits.¬† From buffalo …Wildlife Loop

to Pronghorn, and prairie dogs, to free-loading burros.¬† You know how you’re never supposed¬†to approach wildlife or feed them?¬† Well such is not the case with these entertaining burros.

Burros

Custer State Park
During my visit with Ashton, we shared an apple with this cutie

Burros Custer State ParkIt’s ok to bring them goodies.¬† Keep it healthy though.¬† I forgot to bring the bag of carrots that I purchased especially for these guys.¬† Once this¬†burro realized I had no treats to offer, he was on to the next car.

Unlike other wildlife, the burros hang around one particular area in Custer State Park and a ranger at the visitor center is more than happy to brief you on that location and the do’s and don’ts.

After our successful wildlife viewing, we stopped at Stockade Lake for a picnic lunch.¬† It’s a beautiful lake that allows boating and has¬†a wooded campground.¬†¬†¬†As pristine as Stockade Lake was I couldn’t wait to show hubby¬†Sylvan Lake.

Sylvan Lake
Sylvan Lake, South Dakota

As a fourteen-year-old gal from Illinois, I thought Sylvan Lake was the most beautiful place that I had ever seen.  My brother and I hiked and explored all around this little mountain lake.  We were intrigued by the granite rock and boulders and the clean, clear, cool water.

Black Hills

We even rented one of those paddle boats.¬† While my brother and I exercised our legs, my dad sat on the¬†back with a fishing line in the water.¬† Yep,¬†dad brought his fishing gear. Nothing like trolling via sustainable energy;¬† as long as¬†brother’s legs and¬†my¬†legs held up that is.¬† Dad was great in giving directions on where he wanted us to paddle and gave no thought to our weakening leg muscles.

Needles HighwayOn my recent trip to Illinois, dad and I shared some laughs as we reminisced about this trip.

After giving hubby the tour of Sylvan Lake and sharing some of my childhood memories with him, I had one more memorable item on my list that I had to show him for Al to fully comprehend.

We ventured¬†over to¬†scenic¬†Needles Highway; named after the needle-like granite formation located just past Sylvan Lake.¬† There are two one-lane tunnels along this stretch of road.¬† Tunnel #5 is 8 feet 4 inches¬†wide and 12 feet high.¬† My dad drove his brand new motorhome through this tunnel back in the early 1970s.¬† I remember my mom begging dad not to go through the tunnel and covering her eyes in fear.¬† As children, we thought dad could do no wrong and found humor in mom’s dramatic behavior.

Needles Highway

As Al and I waited for oncoming traffic to clear the tunnel, we pulled in the side mirrors on the F-250.¬† When it was our turn, I slowly drove through the tunnel all the while I kept repeating, “I can’t believe my dad drove the motorhome through this tunnel”.¬†¬† I now understand why mom freaked out.¬† I asked myself, was dad a skilled driver?¬†¬†¬†Did his sense of adventure push him?¬† Or was he just plain crazy?

In dad’s defense, I must add, dad did do his homework before driving through this tunnel.¬† He spoke with a ranger.¬† He jotted down all the dimensions on both tunnels and verified the Motorhome’s size.¬† He also discovered a tour bus once a week would travel this route.¬† I guess with that tidbit of information, that sealed the deal for dad and through we went with inches to spare.

Needles Highway
If a tour bus could fit, so could dad’s motorhome.

As Al and I exited the tunnel, we were greeted with stunning views.  Needles Highway traverses through rugged granite mountains, a diverse forest, and mountain prairie.  This is a beautiful drive not to be missed, but a lot less stressful and much more fun in a small vehicle!

Needles Highway
another view of Tunnel #5 as a vehicle enters

Needles Highway

The next¬†day¬†hubby and I¬†explored Iron Mountain Road.¬† This scenic drive connects Custer State Park and Mount Rushmore National Memorial.¬† “Experience the road that engineers once said couldn’t be built.”¬† This road was built in the 1930’s and considered an engineering marvel at the time.

Iron Mountain

There are three tunnels to pass through and each one frames Mount Rushmore in the distance when entering from Custer State Park.

Mount Rushmore

Iron Mountain Road is another very fun and scenic drive not to be missed.  For anyone interested in engineering, construction, or design, this is a unique road.  I loved all the log bridges, the tunnels, and the views.

Black Hills
We had just driven through the above road and tunnel before looping underneath

Next up, more Black Hills adventures!             Custer State Park Map


Majestic Beauty

I’ve been a little under the weather as of late and thus a tad on the quiet side.¬† That said, few words are necessary when it comes to the Whooping Crane.¬† Allow me to share the majestic beauty of the endangered Whooping Crane.¬† Watching these guys always leaves me speechless.

whooping crane
Beautiful family of three. Mother, Father, child.

With less than 500 left in the world, I feel privileged to be able to see these magnificent creatures every day as they winter just a couple of blocks away from our RV Park.whooping crane

It’s also not uncommon for me to hear their loud, distinctive¬†calls while sitting in my RV.¬† I can’t see them from the RV, but I sure can hear them.

During one of my morning strolls, a foggy morning I might add, I managed to witness a heated exchange.

whooping cranes
the 3 teenage whooping cranes eyeing the young juvenile.

The exchange took place¬†because dad did not like the way the¬†three teenagers were looking at his daughter (I don’t know if the juvenile is a girl, but it sure did look like an over protective dad protecting a daughter).¬† As the¬†three teenagers (yes, they are teenagers at 2 years of age) started walking toward the family, dad was quick to let them know it was time for them to move on.¬† The loud whooping calls continued amongst the group until the dad had finally had enough and ran toward the three teenagers.

whooping cranes
Dad is not happy with the teenagers. “Stop looking at my daughter!”
whooping cranes
the teenagers are run off by dad

This type of encounter is common as families are territorial and don’t like to mingle with others when they have a child.¬† Their priority is protecting their young one.

whooping cranes
the teenagers hang out with the sandhill cranes

The three teenage whooping cranes are still too young to partner up thus these three whooping cranes can be found hanging together all the time and sometimes they hang out with the Sandhill Cranes. Once they do find partners, they mate for life.whooping cranes

Even though the 3 whoopers have¬†lost all the rust coloring of juvenile status, they don’t come into mating age until they are about 3 years of age.whooper

I’m still awed by these magnificent birds.¬† They stand 5 feet tall (1.5 meters) and have a wingspan of 7.5 feet (2.3 meters).¬† They can live to be 22 – 24 years¬†old in the wild.¬† All the whoopers I’ve photographed here are wild whooping cranes and not one is banded.whooping cranewhooping cranesMy most memorable moment thus far was the day they flew right over me.¬† I can’t believe I managed to hold my camera steady as I¬†whooping crane looked up in awe…. such a rare experience.¬† Did you know this group of whooping cranes spend their winter here along the Texas Gulf Coast and their summers at the Wood Buffalo National Park in far northern Alberta, Canada?¬† That’s a 2,400 mile journey.whoopersThere’s also another group of whooping cranes¬†in Wisconsin.¬† You can read more about this group and the International Crane Foundation here.whooping craneEven though I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again…. I don’t consider myself a birder, just someone who appreciates the beauty of wildlife.¬† And the whooping crane is one fine and rare¬†beauty that draws me back to this part of Texas time and again.endangered cranes
The Man Who Saved the Whooping Crane: The Robert Porter Allen Story
Sandhill and Whooping Cranes: Ancient Voices over America’s Wetlands

Texas journey continues…

It’s¬†the 3rd of November we hit the road about 9 in the morning.¬† We only had about 3 hours to drive to our next destination and we didn’t want to get¬†there too soon.¬†¬†¬†Al and I are both morning people and during our working days when we would go on vacation it wasn’t uncommon for us to hit the road between 5 and 6 a.m. especially if we had a long travel day in front of us.South Llano State Park Ah, the days of hurry up and get there are thankfully behind us.¬† But habits¬†don’t break easily. ¬†Now a days, we have to remind each other that we don’t¬†need to get rolling so early.¬†¬†We try to keep our¬†travel days anywhere¬†from an hour to four hours and keeping check-in times in mind we don’t necessarily want to arrive to our next destination too soon.Cardinal Deer hunting in TexasSo we meandered down the road taking in the countryside and it isn’t long¬†before the land started to roll¬†……¬†the Texas hill country near Junction, Texas.

We arrived at South Llano River State Park just in time for lunch.¬† Fortunately the park was only a quarter occupied and we were checked into a lovely site. This is a beautiful Texas State Park with an abundance of wildlife.¬† While¬†driving into the park we passed turkey and deer. Texas State ParksThe most significant Rio Grande turkey roosts in Central Texas can be found here.¬†There’s over 240 bird species that have been documented in the area.Texas State Park

Texas State Parks
our RV and campsite can be seen in the background

This 507 acre Texas State Park offers water, woods, and wildlife.¬† There’s 18 miles of hiking/biking trails, 58 campsites with electric and water, and 11 walk-in tent sites.¬† There are several blinds for birding, and¬†access to the river for summer swimming, tubing, and canoeing.Texas State ParkTexas State ParksI was really excited and looked forward to spending a couple of nights at this state park, but without cell phone service we opted to spend just one night.¬† Yep, no cell phone service, no internet, no TV.¬† Sometimes it’s fun being without connection, but we needed that cell connection for a family member.Texas State ParksSo the next day we pulled out of South Llano River State Park…. reluctantly, I might add and drove to San Antonio. In San Antonio we stayed at an Elks Lodge and had hoped to see a few sights we missed during our stay last February.

Road runner
Beep Beep!

Such was not the case as the torrential rains did not let up for 2 whole days and we had a reservation for the weekend at Goliad State Park.¬† So onto Goliad, Texas….

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