South Dakota Day 7 – Pringle to Minnekahta

Hill City Cabin

Hill City Cabin

This morning, we awoke to beautiful blue skies! We ate breakfast, packed the truck, and drove down to the Pringle Trailhead. Leaving our cabin in Hill City was sad; it had really felt like home for the past five days.

After Mary & Jim dropped us off, they went to the Mammoth Site near Hot Springs. Ed and I planned to ride 15.9 miles today from Pringle to the Minnekahta Trailhead. The elevation map showed a slight dip at the beginning followed by what appeared to be 10 miles of downhill. We were looking forward to the downhill stretch and hoped that the trail had dried out since yesterday’s rain.

Pasture along Trail

Pasture along Trail

Unfortunately, our hopes were soon squelched when we noticed that this portion of the trail did not appear to be as well maintained as the northern half. There were miles of soft, sandy conditions with grass growing down the middle of the trail. One of the bike store owners in Hill City told us that there are several pending lawsuits filed by local ranchers in the southern part of the state who are adamantly opposed to the trail running through their property. The unsettled status of the lawsuits may explain why this portion of the trail seems neglected.

Aspen Grove

Aspen Grove

Despite the soft trail conditions, the terrain was well worth the ride. Lush green pastures and rolling hills, dotted with Ponderosa Pines, bordered the trail on both sides. For the first time, we noticed a few wild flowers and budding trees. When we arrived in South Dakota on Sunday, the Aspens were still bare; now, five days later, brilliant green leaves are emerging on the trees.

Ed Riding between the Pines

Between the Pines

During our ride today, we passed a few mine quarry sites and numerous cattle farms. The trail was noticeably littered with scat, but we were not sure whether it was from deer or rabbits. The poop book we bought for our grandson says that the scat from these two animals is similar; however, deer poop is shaped like small jellybeans instead of round balls. Ed said it might look like jellybeans, but he assured me that it tastes quite different :-).

Wind direction can have a significant impact on the ease of pedaling, even when the trail is downhill. When we reached the trail’s descent into Minnekahta, we encountered a strong head wind. Instead of cruising downhill, we had to pedal harder than anticipated to overcome the effect of the wind. After a two mile flat stretch through open pastures, we were relieved to see Mary & Jim parked at the trailhead.

Pronghorn

Pronghorn

We loaded the bikes and drove toward Custer State Park where we planned to spend the rest of the sunny spring day. Approaching the park from the south, we took the Wildlife Loop Road to look for animals. Our search was rewarded as we saw several groups of pronghorns, a few burros, and countless bison.

Game Lodge

Game Lodge

After the Wildlife Loop, we stopped at the historic Game Lodge for lunch. During most of our trip, we’ve made sack lunches and cooked our dinners. Today, we splurged and ate the buffet, which consisted of salad, fruit, pot roast, ribs, pork loin, vegetables, and tempting desserts.

Because our check-in time at Sylvan Lake was not until 3:00, we decided to repeat our drive on the Iron Mountain Road in anticipation of getting a better photograph of Mt. Rushmore framed within the walls of Tunnel 3. Since traffic was sparse, Jim & Ed walked into the tunnel while Mary stood guard for approaching cars. After taking a photo that met their satisfaction, we circled back around to Sylvan Lake.

Cabin @ Sylvan Lake

Cabin @ Sylvan Lake

We checked into our cabin at 3 PM sharp, unloaded our luggage, and took a walk on the Lakeshore Trail. I understand why this area is considered the crown jewel of Custer State Park. The granite spires lined the western edge of the water, forming a magnificent backdrop for the crystal clear lake.

Martha & Ed at Sylvan Lake

Martha & Ed at Sylvan Lake

Several visitors fished as we strolled around the lake’s perimeter. When we reached the granite spires, there were large stepping stones leading to a steel bridge overlooking the lake’s spillway. After navigating the narrow opening through the rocks, we completed the loop around the back side of the lake and stopped at the general store where we bought some drinks and snacks. We headed uphill to our cabin to drop off our groceries and then we drove over to the lodge for dinner. The food was excellent, but I was disappointed that there was no view of the lake :-(.

After dinner, Mary & Jim went to bed early while Ed and I checked our email at the lodge and took a late evening walk down to the lake. There was a group of college students kayaking, and I regretted not being able to paddle with them. We returned to our cabin, watched a little TV, and went to bed by 9 PM.

Selfie on Trail

Rolling through Green Pastures

 

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