National Parks Tour: Denver to Custer State Park

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Just like yesterday, the hotel breakfast buffet started at 6:00 and bags were to be ready for pickup at 7:00. Think we really have the morning routine down pat now. I had plenty of time before we left to take advantage of Denver’s high-speed internet and paid some bills online.

As we made our way to Wyoming, Al entertained us with stories about growing up north of Denver in the Loveland area. However, this drive out of Denver was not as exciting as the time we left Denver in 1972. I wrote on Sunday, July 30, 1972:

On our way out of Denver we saw two brush fires. One was really going with firemen and everything!”

The time went by quickly and by 10:00 a.m. we were stopping at the Wyoming Welcome Center near Cheyenne. First thing I noticed was how windy it was – relentless. The flags were flapping loudly. Apparently, the wind was also the same thing I noticed on the evening of Sunday, July 30, 1972 – “We drove around the city of Cheyenne. It seems the wind blows constantly.”

The Wyoming Welcome Center was like a mini museum. We spent about an hour looking at all the interesting artifacts and displays.

As we continued to South Dakota, we passed over the Continental railroad, saw the Capital Dome, and Warren AFB which oversaw the missile silos during the Cold War. We passed the Cheyenne Rodeo grounds that was still advertising the July 2021 Frontier Nights.

We even passed the Wyoming Governor’s Mansion. I was surprised at how small it was – just a ranch-style. Al said it had a basement as did many of the Wyoming houses because this area is known as a tornado alley. We have also seen small herds of bison and antelope along with many large herds of cattle.

At 11:00, we got off the interstate and are following parts of what Al said was the Cheyenne to Deadwood Stage route. We are seeing more snow fences and clumps of trees planted around houses – Al said the trees are meant to break the wind and snow. He also pointed out large dusty shallow indentations in the prairie – “wallowing holes” for bison and cattle. They roll around in the dust to get the bugs and flies off of them.

We stopped for lunch in Torrington, Wyoming. Today being a Sunday, few shops were open. You had a choice of Subway, Arby’s, or walk a block or so to a grocery store. We chose Arby’s as it has been a long time since we have eaten at one.

Once we were finished eating, we decided to walk around the downtown area. We discovered that there was an open restaurant but one of our fellow passengers said the cigarette smoke in there was thick enough to cut. I’m so used to restaurants being smoke-free that I was really surprised to hear about this restaurant. The parking lot was full so it is very popular.

I was disappointed that the bakery/ice cream parlor was not open.

Once back on the bus, we watched the miles and miles of Wyoming ranchland go by and entered the Black Hills of South Dakota at 3:00.

We passed through the town of Custer and arrived at the Custer State Game Lodge at 4:30. We even saw a herd of bighorn sheep hanging out at a campground not far from the Lodge. I was on the wrong side of the bus (again) to get a good picture of them.

We had another included group dinner tonight at the Lodge. Earlier Al had told us our choices and then called ahead to let the Lodge know how to prepare. Most people chose the Walleye fish option. I don’t like too many kinds of fish, so I didn’t want to take a chance on it. I ordered the pork chop which was excellent. Chuck ordered the bison sirloin steak which he thought was kind of tough and chewy.

I am glad to have 2 nights at one place but our room at the Lodge is small. We are tripping over the suitcases. I do like the view from the front porch area. There is even a seating area/fire pit on the porch near our room. We spent some time after dinner chatting with our fellow travelers and enjoying the cool, starry night.

However, it almost wasn’t a pleasant evening. One of our new friends nearly had a bad accident coming back from dinner. She stumbled coming down the outside concrete steps from the Lodge restaurant to the rooms. Luckily, she caught herself on the railing and didn’t tumble down the steps. But I know it must have hurt her arm grabbing the railing as it was the only thing that stopped the momentum. Scary.

There is a wedding reception going on at the Lodge pavilion. All lit up and we can hear the music and laughing from the porch but not from our room. According to the Lodge literature, the Lodge is a popular place for a destination wedding.

It was a long travel day today – breakfast in Colorado, lunch in Wyoming, and dinner in South Dakota. Tomorrow we won’t travel many miles, but it will be a busy day – visiting Crazy Horse Memorial and Mount Rushmore during the day and then a Buffalo safari/chuckwagon cookout that evening.

Travel Trivia

Custer State Park – State Game Lodge, South Dakota

In 1897, President Grover Cleveland created the Black Hills Forest Reserve as public land “reserved from entry or settlement” to protect the land from fires, wasteful lumbering practices, and timber fraud. In 1919, the state legislature voted to transform the preserve into Custer State Park—making it South Dakota’s first and largest state park.

Custer State Park is known for its free ranging bison herd. With some 1,500 animals, it is one of the largest bison herds in the world.

The State Game Lodge is a native stone and wood lodge built in 1920 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It served as the “Summer White House” for President Calvin Coolidge in 1927 and was visited by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953.

South Dakota – The Mount Rushmore State

In the early 19th century, the Sioux were the dominant people of the land to be known as South Dakota. In the late 19th century, European-American settlement intensified after a gold rush in the Black Hills and the construction of railroads from the east.

South Dakota became the 40th state of the union on November 2, 1889.

One of the most famous dinosaur skeletons in history, Sue the T. Rex, was discovered near the Badlands area in 1990. This T. Rex is 42 feet long and 12 feet high.

The satellite pictures one sees from space are all processed at the US Geological Survey’s Earth Resources Observation and Science Data Center, near Sioux Falls, SD.

Born in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, in 1938, William Mervin, was the first American to win an Olympic gold medal in the 10,000 meter race. He won the gold medal at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

The 1939 Nobel Prize for Physics was won by Ernest Lawrence from Canton, South Dakota.

It is illegal to lie down and fall asleep in a South Dakota cheese factory.

Pierre, South Dakota is the only example of a state and capital in the U.S. that do not share any letters.

A prospector in the Black Hills named a mining claim after his neighbor’s daughter, calling it “The Little Allie”. The prospector’s wife got angry because he had never named a claim after her and she demanded that the mine be renamed in her honor. The prospector agreed and renamed the mine “The Holy Terror” which is what it is still called today.

*Trivia provided by Wikipedia, Custer State Lodge literature, and Globus

Author: mmmtravelmemories

A retired college administrator who loves to travel. I write to remember the experiences and, I hope, to inspire others to make their own travel memories.

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