After a short hour and a half in the air, we made another quick fuel stop in Valentine, NE (@KVTN). The name of the game from here on out was to keep our flying legs more reasonable, but more importantly keep our weight down. I weigh EVERYTHING and fly our plane at max gross weight sometimes when we travel around the Southeast and to the Bahamas, but I knew that was not going to be OK for this trip. I removed the middle row of seats, which gave me another 40 pounds to play with, and we packed as light as we ever have before. Once we started flying around, over, and through the mountains, we managed to never be more than 94% of our max gross weight. I was happy with that cushion of safety and the plane and my family all did well throughout! So, with no signs of Walkers 😜 , we fueled, quickly loaded back up, and were in the air headed for Spearfish, SD with a slight detour to fly over Mt. Rushmore!
Southeast of Rapid City, SD the Badlands came into view. As neat as they were to flyover, visiting them during our stay was breathtaking. Since radar service is spotty when you are a little low in some parts of this region, I did not try to request flight following from ATC. I was happy to see that I was always in view of at least one ADS-B tower and continuously received updates on traffic and weather. Just south of Rapid City I did contact Ellsworth Approach and requested flight following during our aerial tour of Mt Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial. They were very helpful and even provided a local advisory frequency to use around the monument since there is a fair amount of helicopter tour operators lower and other folks like us around. Once out of the area, we switched back to the approach controllers till our arrival into the Black Hills Airport (KSPF) at Spearfish, SD.
This was a neat approach flying over the north parts of the Black Hills. We were met and guided to our tie-down spot and Eagle Aviation kindly had our rental car waiting right there for us. So we accomplished what we wanted and arrived right at lunchtime! With the plane all secured and the car rental loaded up, we stopped by the Days Inn before eating lunch to see if we could check in. Luckily they had our room ready so we unloaded really quick and headed for Guadalajara Mexican Restaurant as recommended by the FBO. It was good and with full tummies we hit the road for our first big attraction - Devils Tower!
The drive only took about an hour (with some help from the local speed limit!) and we enjoyed finally having some scenery during a drive! We made a few stops for pictures before finally arriving at the monument itself. I didn't know till we got there that Devils Tower is America's first National Monument. They have a nice paved hiking path around the base and my family and I survived our first big trek of the trip! Hiking among the trees and combined with their smell, brought back pleasant memories of my youth in Northern California and the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
|Click on the picture! Can you spot the chicken and its eggs?|
After our hike we decided to take the scenic route back to Spearfish. We had fun again enjoying the scenery, passing through some small towns, and the big hit was spotting all the wildlife! Back in Spearfish we tried a new-to-us burger joint; Culver's. I have to say, it definitely was a tasty burger!
The next morning we got up and headed south to spend the day in the Black Hills starting with a visit to Mount Rushmore. I decided to drive down via the interstate since we would be working our way back later in the day driving through the mountains. The drive was fairly easy, but the section of road from Rapid City up to Mt Rushmore is just lined with one tourist trap after another. That's not really our thing, but I will say a visit to Mt Rushmore is definitely worth it.
More shenanigans........and a nice hike around the base of the monument.
Mary was always wanting to climb on the rocks. Some she could, some she couldn't......
Next we drove down to Custer to find something for lunch. We happened upon this little place and yes, their buns were fantastic!
We left out of Custer to take the Needles Highway Loop and start working our way back towards Spearfish. This scenic drive is amazing and you have to pass through a couple one-way tunnels carved in the rocks.
We finally reached Deadwood which is in the north part of the Black Hills and not far from Spearfish. We planned to explore the area a little and eventually have a nice steak dinner there. A few times a day they have reenactors give street performances of actual shoot-outs from Deadwood's local history. While waiting for the show to start, Abby got busted with her face in her phone. The gentleman said," You know little lady, if you pick yours eyes up from that thing and look around, you might just see the beauty that's around here!" Needless to say everyone around, including Kristi & I, got a big laugh out of it. Abby didn't think it was all too funny, but she did take it in stride and was smiling right along!
When we first got in to town, we stopped at the Visitor's Center which is in the old train station. They are having a promotion called #WildBillMe. You go around town taking selfies with any likeness of Wild Bill Hickok you can find. Kristi & Mary took this challenge on and got the max! For their efforts, they got stickers, a magnet, and a $5 voucher to use at any one of the numerous places in town, and the four of us definitely saw more of the town than we planned. And had fun doing it!
Looks like there's gonna be trouble....
We wandered around enjoying the sights and architecture. We did eventually stop and have dinner at the Gem Steakhouse. I forewent my Father's Day Steak Dinner this year because I figured it would be a much better feast in the Dakotas of all places and I had read a few great reviews. Unfortunately my experience wasn't better. In fact, a steak dinner at Outback here in Jacksonville is sadly superior. I will say the service was good, but the dinner was not and definitely not worth the price. Oh well. To make up for it, we did stop for ice cream before we called it a night!
The next day we were back on the interstate again, but this time heading for the Badlands. It took us about an hour and 45 minutes to get to the east entrance. The plan was to start there and do the scenic drive through the park back to the west entrance. Before we entered the park, we spent a little time just outside the west entrance at the National Park's Minuteman Missile museum.
Back in the car for less than 10 minutes and we were in Badlands National Park. We made a few stops in the park to hike a couple times, check out the scenic overlooks, and tour the visitors center. The geology and scenic beauty of this area was just unbelievable. It was very cool to be able to drive right through the middle of this park.
There are countless signs along Interstate 90 for Wall Drug. They say it's a must see! Well, we were hungry so where else would we go? There is definitely A LOT more to this place, but the restaurant was very good and the service was quick.
After our late lunch we started back towards Spearfish, but made one last stop for the day at Ellsworth AFB in Rapid City to see the South Dakota Air & Space Museum. Obviously this stop was all about me, but my gracious family indulged me and I think the girls found a few things of interest too. Since this is the home of the Air Force's B1-B's, it was an added bonus to see one in the pattern doing touch-and-goes while we were strolling around!
After another long, but amazing day, it was time to get back to the hotel and get some rest. The next day was going to come really early. We needed to be in the air at sunrise so we could have every chance of making a safe and memorable flight to Yellowstone!