Monday, July 30, 2018

Hart Ranch

While in Rapid City we camped at the Hart Ranch. The Hart Ranch is an outstanding campground that is well maintained with amenities such as a restaurant, service station, store, golf course, etc. Every Wednesday night in July and August the Hart Ranch puts on a rodeo at the campground. Pam wanted to attend the rodeo so we purchased tickets. That is why we had to cut short our time in Custer State Park to make it back in time for the rodeo. When we were in Cody, WY five years ago we went to a rodeo there but enjoyed the one at Hart Ranch more. Could be because it was smaller and you were closer to the action. We left Rapid City on Thursday and are now in Green Bay, WI to visit with Pam's brother before heading back home.

Entrance to Hart Ranch

Our campsite at Hart Ranch

Hart Ranch Redo

Bare back rider coming out of the gate

Hold on tight

Heck there goes my hat

Saddle rider out of the gate

There goes the hat

Ride does not end well

Video riding a bucking horse

In the next photos and the video watch the guy with the red shirt. I would not want his job. When a rider falls off a horse or bull he distracts the animal to give the fallen rider an opportunity to escape to safety.

Out of the gate on a bull


Woah bull, don't stomp the poor guy

I dare you to chase me

Whoops, guess I better climb this fence

Rider falls off bull and the decoy guy distracts the animal

Custer State Park and the Needles Highway

If you go to Rapid City, SD be sure and visit Custer State Park. When we were there five years ago but did not have time to take in the park and that is one of the reasons we wanted to return. Even with this trip we missed driving Iron Mountain Road. An unforeseen event prevented us from getting an early start on our last day and we only had time to drive the Needles Highway. We hope to return again and make that drive plus see the bighorn sheep and mountain goats.

East entrance to the park

Stockade Lake spillway

Observatory at the top of Mt Cooledge

View from Mt Cooledge

The animals are most active in the early morning or late evening and we did not get to the wildlife loop road until about 11 am. That limited our viewing opportunities but we did see burros and pronghorns. The burros are not native to the Black Hills and were brought here to haul visitors to the top of Black Elk Peak. The rides were discontinued years ago and the burros were released into the park. The burro population in the park today is descended from that early herd and are quite tame.

Mother burro with her baby

Quite tame, the burro that is, not sure about the woman!

Pronghorns are often mistaken for antelope but are larger, faster, and have curved horns. The pronghorn is the fastest animal in North America and can run 60 MPH for great distances.


Having a little disagreement

The Needles Highway is actually a 14 mile section of South Dakota Highway 87 in Custer State Park. This 14 mile terminus of the highway was completed in 1922 and required blasting of tunnels thru granite rock. The tunnels are one way and require motorist to wait their turn. The Needles Eye Tunnel is 8'4" wide and 11'3" high and the Iron Creek Tunnel is 9'0" wide and 11'4" high. The byway gets its name from the needle like rock formations along the route.

Rock formations

Rock formations

The eye of the needle

View at 6400 feet near the Needles Eye

Needles Eye Tunnel - one way traffic

Our turn to go thru the tunnel

In the tunnel

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Mt Rushmore and Crazy Horse

Mt Rushmore is usually the first thing on your list when you take a trip to South Dakota. Our first full day in Rapid City was Monday, July 23, and we headed out early for Mt Rushmore and Crazy Horse. The number of early morning visitors confirmed we were still in prime time for family vacations. For those who have not been to the Black Hills of South Dakota you might think of the state as open parie or badlands. The road up to Mt Rushmore is quite a climb and you ask yourself why do they call this the Black Hills? Maybe that sounds better than Black Mountains. As we neared the parking lot there was a pull out with a good view of the presidents carved in the face of the mountain. We pulled over to take a few photos and it is a good thing we did. When we got up to the monument and started to take more photos we noticed climbers started to appear at the top of Roosevelt's head. The park service periodically inspects the monument for fractures that may need to be repaired. Evidently this was one of the maintenance days. We were here five years ago but felt sorry for those that came all this way only to have their photos bombed.

Taken from pull out before parking lot

Look at the top of Roosevelt's head

Climbers on Roosevelt's head

Our photo from five years ago

We knew that Thomas Jefferson was a brilliant man and invented many things. We were not aware that he was the first to create a recipe for ice cream in America.

After Mt Rushmore we drove over to the Crazy Horse Memorial project, said to be the largest mountain carving in the world. At this point only the face of Crazy Horse is completed and it will be many years before the chief is riding his horse. 

Entrance to Crazy Horse Memorial

The project as it looks today

Notice there were three men working when we were there

Friday, July 27, 2018

Gillette Wyoming, Durham Ranch, and Eagle Butte Mine

We have had a lot going on since Yellowstone and are just now getting back to posting on the blog. As I write this we are in Mitchell, SD on our way to Green Bay, WI to visit Pam's brother. We have concluded our three month sightseeing itinerary and will make our way home after the visit to Green Bay. Since Yellowstone we have been to a Family Motor Coach Association (FMCA) rally in Gillette Wyoming and toured the Black Hills in South Dakota. The FMCA rally in Gillette was the catalyst for our trip. I am a voting member of the Governing Board of FMCA and expected to attend the FMCA summer rally. If we were going to spend the money to get to Gillette we thought it made sense to combine that travel with a western adventure.

We have been to larger FMCA rallies but this one had modest attendance with over 1600 coaches. On Monday, July 16, we rendezvoused at the Gillette Walmart with a couple, Roy and Debbie, from Sacramento California and drove into the rally together. That allowed us to be parked in the same area. Roy, Debbie, Pam, and I had signed up for the Durham Ranch and the Eagle Butte Mine tours. Pam and I had been on both tours when we were in Gillette five years ago but wanted to repeat them. This was Roy and Debbie's first FMCA rally and we acted as their mentors. The following photo taken from the roof of our motorhome shows about 1/3 of all the RV's in attendance. The Gillette Cam-Plex is a large complex ideal for these types of events.

FMCA at Gillette

The Durham Ranch is a 55,000 acre bison ranch owned and operated by the Flocchini family to provide bison meat to their Sierra Meat Company. It was interesting to hear the ranch foreman explain how the 1900 head herd of bison are managed and cared for. He explained how the herd is moved to different pastures frequently to give the grass an opportunity to replenish and went over how the bison are examined, tagged, vaccinated, and entered into a computer database. He also covered the criteria used to determine whether a bison remained in the breeding program or was selected to be shipped to the slaughter house. The following two links contain additional information for those interested.

Front gate at Durham Ranch

Eastern coal has a high sulfur content and when burned in coal fired power plants precipitates acid in the atmosphere. The coal from Wyoming has a much lower sulfur content and for that reason most of the coal used in the United States is mined in the Gillette area. The coal in this area is between 250 to 350 feet below the surface and the soil above the coal is referred to as overburden. The overburden is removed and stored and each mining company is required to reclaim the land once the mining operation is complete. The mines operate 24/7 - 365 days a year shipping most of the coal via railcars. Trains travel thru the silos and are loaded at a pace of approximately 0.6 MPH. It takes between 2 and 2.5 hours to load a train. The trains are weighed as they enter the mine and again as they leave. This determines the tonnage to bill each customer. Each train car holds approximately 120 tons of coal and there are 115 to 140 cars per train. The average loaded train contains between 15,000 to 20,000 tons of coal. After each loaded car passes out of the silo a chemical is sprayed onto the coal at the top of the car to prevent the coal from flying off as the train travels to its destination. This chemical is consumed when the coal is burned. Someone on the tour jokingly referred to this as "hairspray for coal"

The Eagle Butte mine has 4 silos 70 feet in diameter by 210 feet tall. Each silo holds 10,500 tons of coal. Haul trucks dump coal into a hopper where it is crushed to a 2 inch final product and moved to the silos by a conveyor. I made a youtube video thru the window of the tour bus of a haul truck dumping coal into the hopper. Go to the link below to view the video. The haul trucks are massive and have a carry capacity of 240 tons and an empty weight of 185 tons. Eagle Butte mine has 14 overburden trucks and 8 coal trucks. The Model 793 Caterpillar truck has a 1200 gallon fuel tank and a 16 cylinder engine that produces 2350 horsepower. The engine contains a staggering 155 gallons of oil. How would you like to do an oil change on that puppy. The cost of a truck is $3.8 million and a new tire cost $28,000 each.

Pan and I inside a retired shovel bucket

Roy and Debbie next to a haul truck tire

Haul truck headed to hopper with a load of coal - notice the ladder in font of the radiator used by the operator to climb up to the cab.

Close up of cab - look close and you can see the orange vest on the driver

Notice the two workers standing between the haul truck and the pickup truck 

Water truck used to keep the dust to a minimum

Shovel filling haul truck

Train passing thru silo

Chemical being applied to surface of coal - hairspray for coal

Conveyor that carries coal from hopper to silos

YouTube video of haul truck dumping coal into hopper.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Animals we saw in Yellowstone

It would be rare to make a visit to Yellowstone and not see any animals. The most common animals one sees driving inside the park are bison. Any animal will cause a traffic problem as visitors pull over to take photos but a sighting of a rarely seen species, such as a bear, will definitely cause a traffic problem. Somehow the rangers get word of this and soon show up on the scene blowing their horn and waving tourists away. As you drive along you instantly know an animal has been spotted up ahead by all the cars pulled over. Just like in the geothermal areas, there are always those that disregard the warnings and get too close to the animals. Almost yearly people are either killed or harmed by animals they approach too close. Look at the first two photos here and you will see what I mean. The first one is a favorite of mine but I had to zoom in to get the people out of the shot.

Bison at a small butte

Look how close the two are walking from the bison

I know everyone has seen a chipmunk but I could not resist taking a photo of this little feller.

We saw many bison and some of them were in large herds. We read that the older bulls remain solitary unless it is the rut season and that is why you often see them by themselves. On the other hand the females and claves will stay in groups.

Bison herd

The herd was about three times as large as what you see in the photo but my software could not handle the extreme number of pixels in the full size photo.

This big boy caused a traffic jam and considered the road his.

Elk and her calve

Young male Elk

I apologize for the poor quality of the next two photos. They are of two white pelicans that were about 300 yards away. Even with my 500mm lens on a tripod I could not get a good shot.

White Pelicans

White Pelicans