What an amazing day! We left Elk Point early this morning to start our trek across the state to our new campground in Custer State Park. Driving across South Dakota was uneventful for the most part as we saw field upon field with roll upon roll of hay with some scatter old farm houses that were cool to see.
However, as we approached the Badlands the landscape began to change dramatically and we were getting excited to see what was around the next turn and over the next hill. Living in Florida it is always a treat for us when we get to drive through and see some scenic mountains. Regardless of how beautiful it was, nothing could have prepared us for what we were about to see.
Our GPS brought us close enough to where we could use the park’s directions to go the rest of the way. Unfortunately, winding roads and rain make it easy to miss a turn. Once we got back on the right track we found our way going deeper into Custer State Park trying to find Sylvan Lake where we are camping for a few days.
The mountain got steep and I even had to drop it down into 1st gear and chug a long a few times to make it up parts of the mountain. As we weaved our way through the winding roads the rain started to pick up. Then all of a sudden out of the back seat one of the kids yells, “IS THAT SNOW?” I couldn’t believe my eyes. I have been told that it isn’t rare for it to snow in the higher elevations this time of year, but I couldn’t believe I was seeing it right in front of me. It’s August, I should not be seeing snow! It didn’t take long for us to realize that we weren’t. Within minutes, as we continued to climb higher and higher, pebble sized hail began pelting our car. We were thankful for the canoes at least protecting a good chunk of the roof. They were small but they were coming down with as much fierceness as any Florida thunder storm.
The rain and hail were coming down so hard and the visibility was so low that we missed another turn. As we drove into Custer we were enamored by the striking beauty and Oohs and Ahhs were heard throughout our vehicle like we were watching fireworks on Independence Day, but now we were distressed. The day was growing long and our patience grew thin as we could not find the campground. I was definitely praying as I could barely see going up those winding roads. Good thing the grade forced me to drive incredibly slow. We were thinking it was going to be an amazing experience based on that beautiful drive in but now we were thinking it might turn out very different. After missing the turn we ended up at the lodge and managed to turn around and wait while Melissa went inside to get directions. Yeah, it got to that point!
Just as she got back the rain began to slow down and the hail had stopped. We had to go back down the mountain a bit, but we were on our way finally knowing which way to go. Within a few minutes we were in front of our campsite getting ready to back in. As I was putting it into reverse I saw a guy approaching my window. Our site was tight for our size trailer and initially I thought he was coming to tell me there was no way we were going to fit. Instead he asked if the red can on the back of my trailer had any gas as they had run out.
He, his son, and I assume wife and daughter-in-law were riding through the park on their motorcycles as they are in town for the rally in Sturgis. They got stuck in the hail storm as well and as they were going up a hill ran out of gas and one of them fell over with a rider getting pinned for a short time. They got some help from someone with an ATV and made it to the bathroom across from our site. I thought I was having a tough time, but I saw through their eyes that life can be a lot harder. During our conversation as I was opening the gas can, he mentioned the Good Lord hadn’t been kind to them today, but looking back with the ATV being close by when they needed it and then us having the gas can right across from where they were shows me that God works in mysterious ways and was looking out for them more than they may know. They were very nice people and I was glad I could help get them back on the road. Definitely praying their travels go more smoothly from this point on.
As they took off and we finished getting set-up the weather began to clear. I had looked at hundreds of pictures of Sylvan Lake when I stumbled across this park as I looked for campgrounds near Mt. Rushmore. I liked it so much I even used a picture of it as the cover photo for our facebook page for a while. After we got everything together we decided to go take a look at it. !!!!!!!!!!!!!! that, and WOW! were about the only things I could say. I was speechless, even if it was only for a moment. Pictures rarely do beautiful places justice, but I was absolutely amazed by the stunning beauty of this place. We really didn’t plan on staying long or doing much there, just wanted to see the lake and the surrounding views. Relax a bit after a long day driving.
That changed pretty fast as the kids were scaling rock formations nearly as fast as they got out of the car. Soon were were climbing another one and eventually doing the hike around the lake. This is with half of our kids still wearing their flip-flops. That really didn’t phase them and they pushed on though Bella and I had a hard time adjusting to the altitude and were sucking air like crazy. We both even got a little bit dizzy but we kept going. We just had to stop a little more than normal and catch our breath.
Every time we stopped or turned a new corner, I was even more amazed by this place. It was an absolutely gorgeous hike and this small portion of the park is breathtaking—literally and figuratively I guess. We are going to be visiting some of the outside attractions like Rushmore and Crazy Horse, but I really want to spend some more time here at Sylvan Lake.
Take a look at our facebook page for a ton of pics I took. If any of you know a great way to organize large amounts of pictures on a wordpress blog, please shoot me an email and let me know. Facebook is really easy but I would like to have our pictures on our site as well.