Road Tripping to Black Hills, South Dakota: Bismarck Lake Campground

Back over a decade ago when we first moved to Colorado, we took an epic road trip up to the Wyoming national parks (Grand Teton and Yellowstone) and then finished out our trip by driving over to South Dakota and visiting Mt. Rushmore and the Badlands (which, contrary to their name, are pretty awesome). On our way home we passed through the Black Hills National Forest. At the time we were road weary and ready to get home, but we made a mental note to return as it was so green and beautiful. It took us a while but my husband and I finally made it back this summer. And we weren’t disappointed by our stay at Bismarck Lake Campground.

Getting there

From Denver it’s a good 5-6 hour drive, especially on a busy holiday weekend. However, that’s nothing for many folks. We talked to a couple who drove from Michigan and it was a 20-hour journey for them. If you prefer to fly, the nearest major city is Rapid City, just about an hour away. Since the Badlands and Mt. Rushmore, as well as some other major attractions such Crazy Horse Monument and Wind Cave National Park, are nearby, it’s very easy to spend a week here visiting all the sites.

Info for campers

There are cabins and hotels in and around the town of Custer, but we decided to tent camp. We don’t have an RV and every year I regret it a bit more as I get older as it just is not comfortable. Another reason is that in Colorado and throughout the Mountain West (and I stretch to include South Dakota within that region) summer thunderstorms are a frequent occurrence. All three days we were there we had them. Now, fortunately none were as torrential as we experienced in Colorado, but I think we just got lucky. Only one happened during the night and that passed by us just to the north. However, it woke up me (I was thinking it was another fireworks celebration as it was on the 4th of July) and I was unable to get back to sleep for over an hour as I was concerned it would come our direction as it appeared to be doing on the radar.

Now when it comes to picking a campground I always feel a bit torn. Usually I prefer a state park when staying 3 nights or longer, as they have shower facilities, but I didn’t really like the look of the campgrounds within Custer State Park.  The most central ones had a generic feel to them and were better suited it seems to RVs. So we decided to just stay right outside the boundary of the state park at a Black Hills National Forest Camp, Bismarck Lake Campground, a small 21-site campground next to a scenic lake. Like forest camps everywhere, it only had vault toilets but it did have water.  But it was high enough up that we felt it wouldn’t be too mosquito infested.

The campground itself was great. The location of our site (#3) was also very nice with lots of trees and plenty of space between us and our neighbors. However, it was indicated as a tent site and I just don’t agree with that.  We ended up pitched our large-ish tent at the end of the long gravel driveway. At least it was flat but the ground was very hard, difficult to drive the spikes into.

However, #3 was on the quieter end of the campground with better spacing than the small loop and we felt the mosquitoes were minimal. Close to the toilet but not too close and a short walk to the lake. The lake is smaller than the very popular Sylvan Lake and nearby Stockade Lake but very pretty, with a boat launch (for canoes, kayaks, small fishing boats, paddle boards as this is a no-wake lake).

Because of its proximity to Custer, we actually drove into town for breakfast 2 mornings and donuts on our final day. (I especially recommend Baker’s Bakery and Cafe – great breakfast and killer Apple fritters) We ate our dinner once, as well. For me, it was a nice balance as I’m not a hardcore camper

Overall, I’d give this a 4 out of 5 for its beautiful location and quiet surroundings.

Links to our favorite places:

The Begging Burro for killer Mexican food in Custer.

Baker’s Bakery & Cafe for homestyle breakfasts and donuts.

Plan now for your rental car for summer vacation!

When it comes to vacations, securing flights and accommodations comes first. Typically, if I find a cheap fare to my destination (direct is preferred!) then I will work quickly to find a suitable accommodation that fits my needs. The last thing that I think about is a rental car.  I may even put it off in hopes that the rates will be cheaper if I book closer to my vacation.

I’ve taken several trips this last year during the pandemic – Knoxville, Tennessee; St. Augustine, Florida; and Sedona, Arizona (via Phoenix). On none of these trips did I have problems securing a rental car.

However, I recently heard that the rental car market was going crazy with sky high rates and no availability in some destinations. Way back in January I had booked accommodations and a flight to Kalispell, Montana for a visit to Glacier National Park.  I realized that I had not booked my rental car. I started looking around and kept on coming up with no availability. I was in a bit of a panic. Finally, I was able to book one through Enterprise. But I had to book the whole week instead of just the 4 days I was there. I’m not happy about it and am still worried that there won’t even be a car when I show up. However, we’re not canceling yet. I noticed that my daily rate was actually pretty cheap – $100. But when I looked at changing my flight to fly into Missoula and drive 2 hours north, everything turned out to be the same. The airfare was now higher and the daily rate out of Missoula (where there was availability) was $250 a day.

My husband and I did a little research and found out that this rental car crisis is due to the rental car fleets selling off a lot of cars during the pandemic in order to stay afloat. And now there is a chip shortage in the US so they can’t replace the cars that they sold off.

So, my advice to travelers is to now check rental car rates and availability before booking flights. Don’t wait like I did!

Back from camping but exhausted

I really think I am too old for camping. I enjoy it but I never sleep well.  The first night there was a lot of noise from dispersed campers (another post on that later), the second night we slept well, but last night a camper came in late at night (her dad and brother were already there but she came in separate car with canoe). We went to bed at 9:30 but they yacked by the campfire until 12 at least. If I hadn’t been in bed already I might have gone over and asked them to keep in down. Most campgrounds request quiet by 10 pm.

Anyhow, we had a good time catching up with my brother who is hiking the Colorado Trail. I am so happy to be sleeping in a regular bed tonight. The scenery was spectacular, but the weather was really unpredictable in the afternoon. That is typical for Colorado, however.

The picture is the view from our campsite, Lakeview Campground near Twin Lakes, Colorado.

I am getting my EasyJet refund!

Back in June I got notification from Norwegian Airlines that my round trip flight to London from Denver in the fall had been canceled. While they were encouraging people to apply for credits for future travel, I opted for a refund (it was buried in the e-mail at the bottom). They refunded me within a week.

Once I got notification about my flight cancellation with Norwegian, I immediately started working on getting a refund on an EasyJet flight I had booked for Barcelona to London. This proved to be a difficult task but after a lot of searching I found they had a Covid-19 Help Hub. Like Norwegian, they were pushing vouchers and discouraging refunds. But with some digging I found a refund request form. I filled it out and waited. After two weeks I had no response, so I filled out another one. Still no response. I knew calling EasyJet would be a difficult task. I had done that once in the past and it meant getting up super early as it wasn’t a 24-7 operation. So I decided to contact my credit card company. They told me they would give a conditional credit, but it was not guaranteed since it was a non-refundable flight. I pointed out that there was no way I could use this ticket (yes, this route is still being flown) and given the circumstances I felt it was a legitimate request due to pandemic.

Two days ago I finally got an e-mail from EasyJet saying they were processing my refund. I don’t know if this was because of my refund request or because of the action taken by my credit card company.

I have heard that other airlines such as British Airways are using shady tactics just like EasyJet to make it difficult to obtain a refund for American citizens, instead offering vouchers. Don’t give up! Since I first applied for my refund with EasyJet I noticed that they have changed the form and no longer have it up in the help hub. However, you might try this contact form.  Explain to them that as a US citizen you can no longer fly to Europe and request a refund. I believe they took the refund request form down because they probably got hit with a ton of requests and want to discourage people from asking for them. Don’t let that deter you.

On the trail again

Last Thursday, July 16, my oldest brother started hiking the 485 mile Colorado Trail. It’s part of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), but not many people hike the entire CDT in one shot. It’s considered the most difficult of the 3 thru hikes in the US, which also include the Pacific Crest (PCT) and the Appalachian Trail (AT).

My brother did the PCT when he was 19 and 40 years later he did the AT. He had planned to hike the PCT again this year but then Covid-19 hit. (Hikers need to resupply and clean up at small towns along the route, and with the virus, many were closed down to hikers) So he decided on the CT instead. Colorado towns are open now so he’s keeping his fingers crossed than our numbers stay down and we don’t have any more closures. It should take him about 6 weeks. Younger hikers can easily hike it 4 weeks, but my brother is now north of 60.

He flew into Denver on Wednesday and we took him to the Waterton Canyon trailhead southwest of Denver on Thursday morning. He’s starting slow – 10ish miles a day – until he gets used to the altitude. We’ll see him in 2 weeks when we go camping at Twin Lakes. I had planned that camping trip back in January before I knew he was hiking. When he told me he was doing the CT, I remembered that the trail passed right by our campground. So we’ll bring him a resupply box and treat him to a beer and burger in Twin Lakes Village.

I’m following his progress on Garmin GPS upload. In Colorado cell service is pretty poor in the mountains so this is an essential tool for hikers. So far he appears to be on schedule.

Here are some pics from the sendoff:

My mourning dove family

A few weeks ago I noticed a mourning dove had moved into the empty robin’s nest on the second floor window ledge outside my son’s bedroom (he’s currently not living at home.) This nest was not used by the robins this year, but it was in great shape, only being a year old. It looks like the doves added a few pieces of straw to make it their own.

Anyhow, I never noticed any eggs as a dove is always sitting on the nest. That is quite different from finches and robins. I’ve had the chance to observe both of those birds and they usually spend some time away from the nest, unless it’s really cold.  Once the eggs hatch, the parents are busy getting food for the young birds.

So yesterday, I was surprised to catch a glimpse of the babies nestled safely under one of the parents. Another dove landed on the outside window ledge, started their characteristic dove cooing sound. The dove on the nest flew off and the other one hopped on. I counted about 3 babies before the parent fluffed up and covered them.

I can’t wait to see the babies once they’re a bit older. Their nesting habits are very interesting.