How To Rock the Badlands (with Kids): A One-Day Itinerary

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Whether you're a local to the area who has company with small children coming for a visit, or you're taking a family vacay out here from somewhere else, you're probably guilty. We've all done it. We're busy making our big vacation/entertaining plans: Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Sylvan Lake, a hike in the Needles, Reptile Gardens, the taffy shop in Keystone...all the Black Hills family vacation rock stars.  We fit them all into the schedule with some extra room for fishing and hammocking and trail-riding and a campfire or two, and then we sit back, satisfied, thinking we've covered all our bases. But we are mistaken. 

Sitting over here modestly in the corner, while the trees, lakes, and granite take center stage, is Badlands National Park. She waits quietly, just out of site of the thousands of people that pass by everyday on I-90. But she keeps good secrets, and she's worth the trip. 

Okay, maybe that's a little melodramatic, but all we're saying is that if you miss a trip to the Badlands when you're in the area, you're missing out on some beautiful landscape and culture, totally distinct from the natural beauty of the Black Hills. 

We know the Badlands probably aren't the main reason why you've chosen to spend 22 hours in a mini-van with your four kids under five, listening to Trolls on repeat since the Iowa state line, so we're not going to tell you to do all the things. We're just going to hit the highlights; specifically the things that your four-kids-under-five will consider highlights, and that you can reasonably pack into one day without losing your mind, or someone having a complete meltdown all the way back to your pop-up camper in Custer State Park.

  • 8:00am-ish: Head 'em up and move 'em out...east on I-90 from Rapid City. 
  • 8:45am: Breakfast at the world-famous Wall Drug. Yes, the one you saw a trillion billboards for on the way here. The donuts are homemade, the coffee is $.05, and there's a giant jack-a-lope (among other things) you can have your picture take on. Let the kiddos run off some steam before you tell them to get back into the car; you're not actually "there" yet. 
  • 10:00am: Load up and hop back on the interstate (east again) for the 25-mile trip to the park entrance. (21 miles east on I-90 to Exit 121, Cactus Flats. Then take HWY 240 another 3 miles south to the North East park entrance.) 
  • 10:30am: You've arrived! If you're lucky enough to be a fourth-grader, or have one with you, you don't have to pay the park entrance fee...check it out here! If you need to borrow a fourth grader, I know some that will loan you theirs. Just kidding. (From here, all you need to remember as far as directions go, is to stay on HWY 240. It will eventually loop you all the way back to I-90.) Spend the rest of your morning hiking the Door & Window trails. Both are short (less than a mile) & easy, and the Door Trail takes you right out into the middle of the funky landscape. Little ones will enjoy following the "dot-to-dot" -style numbered signs that mark the trail. 
  • Noon: Lunch at Cedar Pass Lodge. Fill up on Indian Tacos and Kuchen, the SD state dessert. 
  • 12:45pm: Walk over to the Ben Reifel Visitor Center. Here you can watch the film "Land of Stone & Light" in the air-conditioned theater (the film is great, the AC is even better). Check out the interactive exhibits to learn about the history of the land, and the plants, animals, rock-formations and fossils you might see while you're out exploring. Kiddos can also participate in the rad Junior Ranger Program, completing a workbook and earning a badge. 
  • 2:00: Jump back on 240 and spend the afternoon enjoying the extraterrestrial landscape as you make your way west. There are plenty of places to pull over, climb, explore, and take plenty of gorgeous pictures for the ol' Instagram feed. Every time you think you've seen the coolest part of this park, you round another corner and BAM - another killer view. Don't miss the Fossil Exhibit Trail (another easy, boad-walk accessible trail) where kids can see fossil replicas of animals that once roamed these prairies. 
  • 3:00 or 4:00ish: Back at Wall, SD! Pit stop at Wall Drug for potty break and free ice water, and then head back to Rapid City in time for dinner.  

 

Posted on November 1, 2017 .

Ramblings of Winter

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I will admit that I am not a huge fan of the cold weather.  If the snow was a little more consistent in the southern Black Hills, it would be a better source of recreation versus annoyance.  I love an 80 degree day, green grass and the trickle of a small stream.  However, the last few years I have made an effort to bundle up and head out in the cold and enjoy a fresh perspective on this amazing place where I live.  A fresh blanket of snow turns Sylvan Lake into an amazing canvas of black and whites.  A fresh set of tracks on the snow makes me feel like I am the first to explore an area.  The sun glistening off the frost makes my otherwise brown yard dance with excitement.  

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As I am often reminded, I am fortunate enough to live in a place where people go to vacation. And not just in the summer.  This week as the cold rolled into the Black Hills, first time visitors from Nebraska, Wisconsin and Minnesota expressed to me their wonder of the beauty surrounding us.   

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So, if you are like me, try not to get down by the cold weather and shorter days.  Look at it as opportunity to see the familiar as a new landscape waiting to be explored.   

By Pat Wiederhold

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P.S.  All the gear you need to comfortably enjoy the outdoors during the winter months in the Black Hills, from socks to hats, long underwear to coats, can be found at Granite Sports in Hill City, and at Granite Sports Online. 

Posted on October 27, 2017 .

Granite Sports: A Love Story (or "How to pack for a jungle adventure.")

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If I told you that my husband and I fell in love at Granite Sports, I would be telling the truth. 

Sure, there were a few other places involved too...we both volunteered for the same non-profit, we attended the same church, and we had several mutual friends. But, a good deal of our romance grew while folding t-shirts at the register in your friendly local gear shop during the fall of 2013 (as romance does). We were engaged the following August (a week after I returned from my solo-jaunt-of-singleness-and-self-discovery...perfect timing, really) and set about planning a wedding, and a honeymoon. In 90 days. 

What started as plans for a little honeymoon jaunt to a cozy cabin in the Big Horns turned into plans for a slightly more involved trip to Costa Rica, after a friend gifted us some frequent flyer miles. Of course I was pumped to be going to Costa Rica, but, I was not about to spend a week there just sitting on a beach sipping Pina Coladas. I'd heard enough about that country to know that there was adventure to be had, and I'll be darned if I wasn't going to have it. 

After a whole lot of hours on the Google, and a few more hours convincing my husband-to-be, we booked a tree house at a place called Finca Bellavista. Now before you go on imagining a jungle spa resort with japanese mineral baths and boutique dining experiences, let me be clear. The website for the Finca states that you should bring galoshes, luggage without wheels, and definitely flashlights (as there is no electricity in the tree houses). Oh, it also mentions that guests are responsible for finding their own 4-wheel drive transportation for the two-hour drive from the airport into the jungle. This was sounding better and better. 

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And it was! Our tree house stay at the Finca was incredible, and included waterfall treks, eyelash vipers, and an encounter with a rogue peccary on a day hike. Pretty much all the things every girl dreams of for her honeymoon. I could write and write about the property and the people and the natural beauty of the place, but I'll save that for a different blog post

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For now, I just want to highlight some of the Granite Sports gear we packed and used on our trip.  There's a lot of travel gear and  gadgets on the market, and honestly, some of it is superfluous for most adventures. But there are a few things that are truly worth the investment: 

#1) OSPREY PACKS: Like I said, the website for Finca Bella Vista dissuades guests from packing in rolling luggage. This is because you might have to hike up to a mile through the jungle to get from base camp to your tree house. So even though we weren't on a "backpacking" trip, it was really convenient to be able to stuff everything into a big bag and throw it on your back when it was time to go. Since then, I've started using my pack more and my suitcase less on trips for the grab-and-go portability of it. 

#2) OSPREY'S AIRPORTER TRAVEL COVERS: A pack cover like the Airporter is important if you plan on checking your pack with the airlines. It keeps all your zippers and straps contained and safely protected from conveyor belts and runway luggage carts, is outfitted with sturdy haul straps for lugging in and out of taxis, and serves as an additional piece of bag should you over-shop at the local handcrafts market. 

#3) CHACOS: I pretty much consider these a necessity for life, not just Central American travel. Seriously. They are the Macgyver of footwear. You can hike in them, wade in them,  run in them (if you need to, you know, from a rogue peccary...not necessarily your morning jog...), sleep in them, and dance in them. Which I did. At my wedding.

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#4) PETZL HEAD LAMPS: Our head lamps were indispensable on this trip. Sure, a standard flashlight will do the trick in a pinch, but when you're trying to cook in the dark it's pretty nice to have both hands free for the important things...like slicing mangos, lighting burners, and grinding coffee. 

#5) PATAGONIA TORRENTSHELL RAIN JACKETS:  The surprising thing about the rainforest is...it rains. And rains. And rains. We pretty much lived in these jackets for a good portion of the trip. And since it's also hot and humid while it's raining, we were pretty grateful for the pit zips. (Really...don't buy a rain jacket without pit zips. They're brilliant.) 

The best way to learn how to pack for a big trip is to go on one and find out what you really wish you had brought, and which things you never even take out of your bag. Regardless, if you head for the jungle with the love of your life you'll probably have a pretty good time either way. 

by Marci King

P.S. All the above items are available in-store at Granite Sports in Hill City, or can be special ordered at Granite Sports Online.

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Posted on October 19, 2017 .