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South Dakota

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The Great American Road Trip: Custer and Black Hills Memories and Snapshots

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MEMORIES & SNAPSHOTS

  • Singing “Hey Bear, Go away Bear. I don’t want to see you on the trail Bear” to the tune of Billy Currington’s “Hey Girl.”
  • Stacy Gonzalez, the bunny who hung out at camp and almost jumped in the fire.
  • Reality of travel: With a chest full of congestion and a fatigued body, I had to make a pit stop at a Deadwood clinic and got a Z pack. On the bright side, we find my old hag, chain-smoking, wheezy cough pretty hilarious. It sends us into fits of laughter :)
  • I had high hopes for Deadwood. I had seen it on the Bachelor (guilty!) and loved its wild west charm. The city in the hills has a gritty and intriguing past of cowboys and outlaws. I am sorry to say that I was a little disappointed. While Deadwood met my expectations visually, there wasn’t much else there besides casinos and bars. Nothing wrong with that, but I’m not the type to stay in a bar all day and I don’t exactly have money to gamble (I quit my job for this road trip remember?). We walked around and grabbed a quick bite before heading back to our camp ground and Hill City.
  • Giggle fits and getting wedged in the spelunking test tunnel at the Jewel Caves National Monument. The caves are beautiful and the third longest in the world. Go!

 

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The Great American Road Trip: Custer, Black Hills and South Dakota
April 7, 2016
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The Great American Road Trip: Custer State Park – Sunday Gulch Trail

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We hopped in the car and headed off to hike the Sunday Gulch Trail today in Custer State Park. Although a short 3.8 miles, this trail covers a lot of altitude and took 2 hours. The trail starts at the visitor center at Sylvan Lake and quickly turns into steep switchbacks, winding up and down hills, across streams and up a rocky waterfall. The trail is peppered with shiny flecks of mica and looks brilliant in the afternoon sun. All in all, this trail was a great leg and butt workout and such an endorphin high.

You will need to pay an entrance fee to get here and note that the access road is closed in winters.

Keep adventuring,

xo Alina

 

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The Great American Road Trip: Custer, Black Hills and South Dakota

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Heading west towards the Black Hills National Forest, the scenery quickly changes to thick forests and mountains. Today was a “rebuild” day as I have mentioned before that a super-cell storm in the Badlands ripped our tent and flooded our gear. We stayed the night in a hotel and showered for the first time in five days! I should note that getting a hotel was extremely difficult because it was the 75th annual Sturgis and a million bikers descended on this little corner of South Dakota for the week. We shared our hotel with a Latin biker club haha.

We spent the morning at the laundry mat, Cabelas and Walmart before driving on to our home for the next couple nights, Oreville Campground. It was the most beautiful day of sunshine and a cool breeze. It felt very autumnal and a welcome change from the oven-like conditions of the Badlands. Our new camp site is nestled into a shaded cove of pine and birch trees. We napped in the sun, read our books and like all good basic girls, sipped on pumpkin spice cappuccinos. (Made from the mix I bought at Heini’s Cheese Factory).

Our campground is an eight minute drive to Hill City, a pocket-sized town with bars, Native American crafts, souvenirs, and burger joints. We spent a good bit of time in this one Native American store, perusing animal pelts, dream catchers, leather pony tail holders, medicinal herbs, sage, and stunning portraits of tribes. This little main street has so much charm and we enjoyed killing an afternoon here. Not to mention all the great Sturgis people watching! We never planned to coincide our time here with Sturgis, but it has been so hilarious and fascinating to witness. Everywhere we go has been dominated by bikers and they’re a rowdy group. You’ll see a lot of drunken partying, both fun and not so fun, but you’ll also quickly learn that bikers are a loyal and hospitable type. They’ll be the first to help you with a campsite chore or invite you over to theirs for a campfire and venison sausage they hunted and processed themselves. We met so many Sturgis characters along our way and listened to their tales of the open road and love for the Wild West American spirit. In the words of a family friend, “That’s a slice of America right there.”

Keep adventuring,

xo Alina

 

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The Great American Road Trip: Custer and Black Hills Memories and Snapshots
April 13, 2016
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The Great American Road Trip: On Pushing Past Your Comfort Zone

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The Badlands kicked us out with a bang, ripping our tent and flooding our gear in a supercell storm. We packed up our muddy and wet gear and headed an hour and 15 minutes to Rapid City, SD, racing to keep ahead of the ominous storms. It was stressful to say the least.

I’m a bit of a paradox in that I love adventure and living outside my comfort zone and throwing myself at situations, but I am also a big-time worrier… and I mean big time! On one hand, I can take on anything. No showering for 5 days? Ok with me. Going to the bathroom in nature and packing out my toilet paper? No biggie. Sleeping in a tent for a couple of months? Can’t wait. 10 hour strenuous hike? Bring it! But you better believe I’m going to be thinking about those bears, fearing those rattlesnakes, stressing about getting injured. I’m going to toss and turn and have nightmares about being killed by a bear. I’m going to picture myself falling off of that 60 foot ladder. I have a vivid imagination and a very, very active mind. It’s what gets me into such life-changing and wonderful adventures like these, but also what can turn my stomach and grind my nerves. 95% of the time I am blissfully happy and soaking in the view and the exhileration of pushing my body to the limit and the heart soaring feeling that is sharing this with friends both new and old. Then there is that other 5% where I can become crippled with fear and question what on earth I have gotten myself into.

And yet, I’m here! I showed up, and I’ll continue to keep showing up and pushing through the fear because it’s always worth it! I have loved every second of all of my life travels and experiences. I have loved every second of all new endeavors and friends and schools and homes. I may worry at times (and cry!) but never once have I backed down, because it’s just not an option for me. I refuse to do anything but live my life and see the world… and I think there’s a lot of us in that same boat, and maybe a lot on the dock who haven’t pushed past their fears and discomfort and just gone for it. I urge you to.

 


 

And now let me tell you about a time when I had a very large freak out over a menacing…cow?

Night four of camping and I’m awoken at 2 am by an animal noise. My heart starts beating fast and I hold my breath waiting for the next sound. Did I really hear a noise or was that in my dream? It comes again and my mind and heart start racing. It’s a weird sound but it sounds a whole lot like a baby bear. (Side note: before this trip I became obsessed with this baby grizzly bear named Eva on instagram. She was so cute my heart could break. And through following her I learned a lot about grizzly bears, including the sounds baby grizzlies make…). Danger Will Robinson! I wake up Kiera and Lauren and as the noise gets closer I make a dash for the car. Let me tell you fear loves company and pretty soon Kiera and Lauren are in the car with me and we’re going for a drive. I have got to get out of here! The initial freak out subsides and we drive back to the campground  and spend the rest of the night in the car. It was a rough and sleepless night of me questioning how on earth I was going to make it through the next few months and if I could do this. I knew I wasn’t going to quit but I also knew I couldn’t go on like this. But minute by minute and deep breath after deep breath, I made it through the night. And in the morning we learned the noise was from a calf. That’s right folks, a calf!! Boy did I feel ridiculous, but in the end it’s one of the funniest memories. And do you know what else? There were countless other nights where we woke up to bear and animal noises in the night and heard a mountain lion purring outside our tent and I kept it together. Worried yes, but together.

Keep adventuring,

xo Alina

 

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The Great American Road Trip: The Badlands – Castle Trail

Castle Trail

 

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Castle Trail

 

The Castle Trail is the longest trail in the Badlands National Park, following a 10 mile round trip flat path that weaves through prairie grasslands, spires, buttes, and sod tables. This was my favorite trail in the Badlands. I loved finding myself in the middle of the grassy plains, with the wind whipping our clothes and rustling through the tall grass. Note of caution: listen for and respect rattlesnakes! This is their domain. We nervously joked about who was going to have to be carried out and sang the weirdest mix of songs. Mainly 90s and early 2000s throwbacks and Christmas songs. Pretty much whichever songs we knew all the words to.

A little while later, the grass would disappear and we found ourselves meandering through sod canyons, jumping across deep cracks in the soil and scrambling up and down spires and buttes. This land feels alien-like and also very much like a dinosaur could come around a corner at any point and you wouldn’t be the least surprised.

To get to the trailhead: The trail can be accessed from its east or west end points, both of which connect to Badlands Loop Road. One start point is across the street from the Notch Trail parking lot. Take Badlands Loop Road (Route 240) two miles east of the Ben Reifel Visitor Center to a large pullout on the east side of the road for Door, Window, and Notch Trails. The Castle Trail begins from across the street of the south end of the lot.

Consider tacking on the Fossil Exhibit Loop Trail to your hike. Interpretive signs discuss the area’s prehistoric inhabitants, and a few actual fossils are on display.

xo Alina

 

Castle Trail

 

Castle Trail

 

Castle Trail

 

Castle Trail

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March 24, 2016
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The Great American Road Trip: The Badlands – Notch Trail

Notch Trail

 

Notch Trail

 

Notch Trail

 

This hike is short and sweet, up a canyon to an overlook with expansive views over the White River Valley and The Great Plains. The hike is 1.5 miles round trip with 125 feet of elevation gain and the dirt path is marked by reflective poles. Albeit short, this trail offers plenty of adventure with a steep wooden ladder and a portion of the trail tracing a cliff’s edge.

This was a great mini hike and we took our time exploring off the trail nooks and crannies. I must say that I hated the ladder part. I get very nervous about heights when it’s up to me to hold myself to the ledge. Yikes! The ladder is also made of steel wires and wooden logs which get very very hot in the midday sun. But you suck it up, go one rung at a time and the view at the top is always worth it!

*Avoid hiking this trail during or after heavy rainfall. The Badlands has extremely dry and dusty soil which turns into slippery mud during storms.

To get to the trailhead: Take Badlands Loop Road (Route 240) two miles east of the Ben Reifel Visitor Center to a large pullout on the east side of the road for Door, Window, and Notch Trails. The Notch Trail begins from the south end of the lot.

Trailhead address: Badlands Loop Road (SD 240), Badlands National Park, Interior, SD57750

Trailhead coordinates: 43.760119, -101.928251 (43° 45′ 36.42″N 101° 55′ 41.70″W)

xo Alina

 

Notch Trail

 

Notch Trail

 

Notch Trail

 

Notch Trail

 

Notch Trail

 

Notch Trail

 

Notch Trail

 

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The Great American Road Trip: Guide to The Badlands National Park

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

 

The Badlands stole my heart. It did then and it does now. The only way to describe it is otherworldy. It is a mesmerizing mix of vast grasslands, peppered with playful prairie dogs (But don’t touch! They carry the plague. Oddly enough you can feed them here) and harsh terracotta colored buttes, spires, sod tables and canyons. And don’t get me started on the night sky. It quite literally stopped me in my tracks on the way to the bathroom at 2 am and took my breath away. Never have I seen a sky so blanketed with stars and the milky way so big and bright. It feels like you could reach out and touch it.

It is important to note that this is a harsh habitat, with the relentless sun baking you from the time you wake up in your tent at 6 am to the time the sun goes down at night. There are no trees for shade. It will exhaust you and fry you. I recommend getting an early start (though not hard since the sun wakes you up very early) and heading off for your morning hike. Seek shelter from the midday sun in the visitor center or grab lunch in the teensy town of Wall. Wall Drug Store is an attraction in it’s own with a rather sweet entrepreneurial history. We even drove into Rapid City, SD one day for a couple hours to avoid sunburn and heat exhaustion. When the midday sun breaks, you can head out for an afternoon hike!

Words of caution: Beware of Rattle Snakes. Keep a safe distance with all wildlife, but take extra precaution with these guys. They hide out in the tall grasses, under rocks, and in shaded crevices. Watch your footing and handholds.  In addition to wildlife, the Badlands are known for unpredictable weather and afternoon thunderstorms and hail. The terrain is made of extremely parched dirt, clay and ash that will turn to thick muddy sludge in the rain, making footing and trails hazerdous. The open plains also leave you vulnerable to lightening.

We got caught in a supercell storm one evening with 70 mph winds, torrential rain and seemingly endless lightening. It snapped our tent poles and ripped a giant hole in the tent, flooding our gear. Rookie mistake!

Home base: We stayed at Sage Creek Primitive Campground within the park. There’s no need for reservations and there are no designated camp spots. It’s essentially a giant circular plot with pit toilets. First come, first serve, but there is plenty of space and rarely fills up. And it’s free! I loved this little slice of heaven. We laid out on our blanket every evening, listening to the crickets and prairie dogs and watching the land transform before us in the penultimate light. The warm breeze, the smell of sweet grass, the rosy sky, the howling wolves. The whole land breathes a sigh of relief.

Getting there: Located along Interstate 90, you could easily miss this natural beauty tucked into the grasslands of The Great Plains.

Park Headquarters: 25216 Ben Reifel Road, Interior, SD 57750.
Northeast Entrance (I-90, Exit 131): 21020 SD Hwy 240, Interior, SD 57750.
Pinnacles Entrance (I-90, Exit 110): 24240 Hwy 240, Wall, SD 57790.
Interior Entrance: 20640 SD Hwy 377, Interior, SD 57750.

You can find the official Badlands Visitor Guide here.

Keep a look out for two Badlands hike reviews next week. Keep adventuring!

xo Alina

 

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

 

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The Great American Road Trip – 1880 Town

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This is what road trips are all about. Driving down the road with some snacks and tunes when something on the side catches your eye. And of course you have to, gotta, need to stop!

That’s how we stumbled across the 1880s town off I-90 in South Dakota. Best $19 I ever spent! ($12 for entry and $7 for the costumes).

The 1880 Town contains original 1880s buildings relocated from all over South Dakota. There’s a museum, movie props from Dances with Wolves, and a homestead.

We were running around like idiots, sweating bullets under the mid-day sun and sashaying from building to building. All sillyness aside, it was wonderful to take the time to explore the nooks and crannies and history of each building and to picture what life might have been. I always geek out with period rooms (like the 1770s period rooms at the Met, or Versaille) feeling this odd closeness to the people who once slept in the beds, and the toasts given with the champagne flutes.. As if I could reach out and touch the object and immediately be transported back to it’s heyday. Come on time travel machine!

Anywho, this was truly a gem and we laughed until our sides hurt.

xo Alina

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