Hiking to Lovers’ Leap and Driving the Needles Highway.

Miles Driven Today:  43          Total Miles Driven: 860

Today was our last day in South Dakota and we decided to return to Custer State Park and do a hike in the morning and then drive the Needles Highway again because we’d enjoyed it so much yesterday.

We have really enjoyed South Dakota.  It’s been a revelation, especially the Black Hills.  We really didn’t expect this area to be so very beautiful.  And Custer State Park is every bit the equal of many of the National Parks.  We would highly recommend a visit to the Black Hills if you are planning a trip in this area.

It was pretty hot today – around 28C this morning but not humid.  I’d chosen the Lovers’ Leap hike because I liked the sound of the views and the walk beside a stream.  It did say it was “moderate” with some “strenuous” sections.  Anyway, here is a link to the guide Lovers’ Leap Trail

We parked up at the trail head and crossed a meadow to the tree line and headed solidly up hill through the forest.  It was really steep for the first mile.  Well…. we thought it was steep.  I could definitely hear myself breathing all the way.  Eventually we made it to the top of a ridge and it became a bit more level.  It was a beautiful walk through the forest and every now and then you got a glimpse back down into the valley where we had started.

Finally we broke out at the very top near a rocky tor which was the “Lovers’ Leap”.  We sat at the bottom of that for a while and had more water and then another couple came along and we chatted to them.  Finally, we could put it off no longer, and we scrambled up over the rocks to the top of the tor.  Wow!  What a view!  Although it was very small up there and with sheer falls on 3 sides.  Bob didn’t like it much and we just stayed long enough to get some photos perched up there and then we scrambled back down.

We’d taken our walking poles with us and they were super useful.  I don’t think they’d had an airing since we trekked in the Himalayas about 20 year ago!!!! But they got some use today.  We followed the trail downhill all the way  (Hooray!!!) and eventually it bottomed along a rushing stream and followed that.  We had to cross the stream on planks about 10 times which was fun.  Better than stepping stones which is what it used to be.  There’s no way we’d have avoided wet feet if that had been the case.  It was even more lovely in the woods around the stream. We saw a few red squirrels which are still dominant around here.  Eventually we emerged back to the road and we sat and had a cold drink in one of the lodges.  Glad we did it but boy was it hot!  I was glad to get my walking shoes off and my sandals back on.  The blurbs had said this was a 3 mile hike but both our devices read 4.72 miles at the end and it certainly felt like more than 3.  We climbed from 4200 feet to 4700 feet during the course of the hike, with an elevation gain for 626 feet.

We were starving by now so we drove to nearby Legion Lake, parked up and had our picnic lunch.  Bob had a roast beef sandwich and I just had the beef.  I also had two hardboiled eggs and we had a tub of potato salad and some crisps to dig into.  Ice cold coke zeros…. felt a lot better after that.

We then drove up the Needles Highway reversing the direction we took yesterday.  It was possibly even more scenic.  Stopped to get photos of the cathedral spires formation which were just stunning.  It is one of the best drives we have ever done.  When we reached the final tunnel which is something like 8.5 feet wide we were stunned to see a large tour bus ahead of us.  “He’s never going through the tunnel?” , I said to Bob.  “I think he is”, came the reply.  And through he went.  Honestly, the driver must have had nerves of steel.  We were behind him and at one point he stopped and I prayed we weren’t going to have to reverse out because even in the car there was little room on either side…. inches….  But he was just posing for pictures and he pulled out to applause from the cars waiting to come through the other way!!!!

We continued on down and returned to the Bavarian Inn by about 4.  We saw more buffalo, deer and an antelope on the way and also some amazing longhorn cattle.  True to their name, their horns were enormously long!

I put a wash on in their coin laundry while I had the chance.  It’s been very comfortable staying here and the people are nice.  They are so helpful. We’d certainly stay here again.  Tonight there was a family of deer grazing just below our window.

Tonight it’s dinner and cocktails in our room as we are up early to head off tomorrow.  First stop is Devil’s Tower National Park, made famous in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”.  Did I hear you sing “Dah dah dah da dahhhh”????