Road Trip Day 2 – The Mammoth Site and Needles Highway

Peg has a thing for rocks and fossils so we decided to do a bit of the educational thing and visit The Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, SD. The 36,000 square foot visitor center encloses a sinkhole dig which is producing all sorts of animal fossils. They continue to excavate the site and this makes for a very interesting 30 minute tour of the site. The attraction gets its name from all the mammoths that have been found and not the size of the building.


On our way back north we decided to hit the other side of Custer State Park and drive Needles Highway. This curvy road would be a lot of fun to drive it weren’t for all the city drivers that seem to be terrified of the terrain. The roads are very narrow and on several occasions I caught Peg holding her breath. She doesn’t handle heights very well. The 14 mile stretch of the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway travels through granite structures and pine covered mountains. If we had to do it again we would drive this part of the road early in the morning to avoid the traffic. Still, it was very enjoyable.


After a very long day and many miles of travel, we made it back to Rapid City. I don’t know if it was because we were so tired or not but our dinner at the Golden Phoenix was some of the best Chinese food I have eaten in a long time. It was the perfect ending to an almost perfect day.

Road Trip Day 2–Custer State and Wind Cave National Parks

Custer State Park is 71,000 acres of South Dakota Black Hills beauty. Created in 1919, the park is home to a diverse population of animals and birds. Driving the “Wildlife Loop Road” is a great way to see many of these animals. There are plenty of pull-offs were you can take photos and just watch nature.
One of the first encounters we had was with a pronghorn. These beautiful creatures are everywhere in both parks and are easily photographed. Move slow and they will pose for you. If you like wild turkeys you won’t need to travel far to find many flocks. We had our biggest “aaah” moment of the trip when a hen with her poults crossed our path. Too bad they were moving too fast to get any good photos of them.
One of the inhabitants of Custer State Park isn’t a native. A herd of “friendly burros” will stalk you for treats but you shouldn’t feed them since it is bad for their health. Be careful about leaving your windows open since these critters will poke their entire head into your car looking for something to eat. I didn’t mind much since the car was a rental! The wild burros are leftovers from a group that used to haul tourists to the top of Harney Peak.
We saw our first of hundreds of prairie dogs in the parks. These little barking wonders were definitely my favorite animal of the trip. I could sit and watch them for hours as they pop in and out of their burrows. One of the other small creatures in abundance in the parks are rabbits or “wabbits” if you are Elmer.
We didn’t find any bison along the Wildlife Loop which was disappointing. On our way to Wind Cave we stopped at a ranger station and asked if anyone had seen the herd lately. The answer was another disappointing “no” but the previous day they had been spotted up on Fisherman Flats. I now had a plan to find them. I searched our maps  and figured we could take North Lame Johnny Road up to the area. This gravel road is a nice drive off the main road that goes past the Horse Camp. Just a couple miles past the camp we had to slam on the brakes because the whole herd was coming towards us down the middle of the road. The entire herd is close to 1,300 animals. The bulls can weigh 2,000 pounds or more and since these puppies were almost as large as our car I would agree with that figure. Having these majestic animals surround you is an adrenaline rush. Since some of the males seemed agitated with our presence, we thought it was a good idea to back away and keep a good distance between us.
Wind Cave National Park has a smaller herd of about 800 bison. By the time we made it to this park is was starting to get hot. We saw them retreating to the shade of trees way off in the distance. A few solitary males stayed close to the road. Tons more pronghorns and several large prairie dog towns rounded out this part of our day.
By now we were starving so we stopped at Dale's Family Restaurant in Hot Springs, SD for some great homestyle cooking. Of course Peg had to eat a Buffalo Burger. Doesn’t quite seem right does it?

Road Trip Day 2–Iron Mountain Road

If there is one thing I like it has to be driving. We started off our driving tour of the Black Hills in South Dakota by driving Iron Mountain Road. This road is part of the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway.



Several tunnels were created that frame Mount Rushmore in the background. This cool design lets you know just how much planning went into designing this road. Everywhere you look there are breathtaking views and wonderful scenery. This section of roadway also includes several wooden “pigtail” bridges that spiral on top of each other like a corkscrew.


Fields of wildflowers during the summer make driving the lower part of the road very memorable. If you drive this road take your time to pull over once in a while to enjoy nature.

Road Trip Day 2 – Mount Rushmore, South Dakota

Even though Mount Rushmore has been photographed millions of times it is still one of those photos that you must have in your collection. I have been challenging myself to be a better photographer and not to be so lazy. The Bubba’s Garage crew was out of bed before sunrise so I could be at the Mount Rushmore National Memorial at sunrise. Everyone talks about the golden hour (the half hour before and after sunrise) for landscape photography but at Mount Rushmore this is truly a spectacular time. The presidents actually glow from the warm morning light. The added bonus is that there is almost nobody around at 5am! In fact other than the maintenance crew, we had the entire place to ourselves up until about 6:30am when a few other tourists arrived.


The time duration that the light is just right for making great shots is small but long enough to grab several different angles. The photos we posted are just the few of the hundred or so that we photographed. Using a long zoom (Nikkor 28-300mm f3.5-5.6) allowed me to get some great close-ups. We also goofed around a bit and tried some other techniques.


HDR photos don’t have to look all grungy. You can use the technique to enhance just about any photo and still keep things looking realistic. Compare the bottom photo with the previous similar normal shot and you can see that the shadows have much more detail. I used Photomatix Pro 4 to make the two shots above.


It’s rare that you see both Peg and myself in a photo but it really shouldn’t be. By using the timer on my camera I was able to join my lovely wife for one of those “We Were Here” vacation photos.

Road Trip Day 1 – South Dakota

We flew into Rapid City, SD and picked up a rental car. Since we only had a week to play there was no way we were going to be able to drive one of our vehicles. Our first stop was for some good cheesy fun.



Dinosaur Park was built back in the the early 1930’s. There are five concrete statues that you can climb on with the largest, the Brontosaurus, being 80ft long and 28ft high. The park is good for a good 15 minutes of fun but there isn’t really anything else to do. The park is free so at least the price was right.


Our next stop had us traveling to Reptile Gardens on Highway 16 about 6 miles south of Rapid City. We both had mixed feelings about this place. While the park is very well maintained it is very old school in displaying of critters. Many of the animals are in enclosures that we felt were way too small for them. The alligator and crocodile exhibits actually depressed us quite a bit. Still, we were able to enjoy ourselves enough to make the entrance fee worth it.


It was starting to get late but we decided to press on to scout out Mount Rushmore. The best light for photographing Mount Rushmore is early in the morning. We wanted to make sure we would not be wasting any time since there wouldn’t be a lot of setup time tomorrow. With parking pass in hand and a 5am park opening, we were ready for tomorrow. After a fabulous dinner at the Colonial House Restaurant and Bar (try the walleye), we settled into our room at the Big Sky Lodge. Big Sky Lodge could use a bit of modernization but it’s quiet and clean.

2011 IBC Car Show

This year’s IBC Car Show in Hedgesville, WV (near Martinsburg, WV) was a great success. Nearly 500 hot rods, customs, and classic cars and trucks filled the fields behind the Independent Bible Church. CenterPoint Bible Church teamed up with IBC for even a better show.


This is a fun show that Bubba’s Garage tries to attend each year. The volunteers that organize this event are what truly make this show one of the best in the area. Registration is free and even lunch is provided. Throughout the day volunteers actually bring drinks to you! Wow, you can’t be more welcoming then that. Great music and trivia questions are broadcast on the PA system to keep you entertained. The show is judged and more than 100 trophies are handed out. Check out more photos of the show over at our photo site


A tragic accident happened early in the morning just as registration was opening. I don’t believe anyone was severely injured but the damage to the car was extensive. If anyone has any more information on the status of the gentleman involved in the incident, please share.


Ordering the Fiat 500C

Well, it has been over a year since we purchased a vehicle so it was due to happen. Peg decided she wanted to check out the new Fiats. Safford Fiat of Tysons Corner is our closest dealer so we drove to their lot.


Braving all the construction that is taking place for the new Metrorail is not to be taken lightly. Tysons traffic has always been a bear but even more so now that the Metrorail is being built down the middle of Leesburg Pike. Try to ignore it and move on.

Safford’s car lot was full of shiny new Fiats. The 500s come in 14 different colors and Safford had at least one of every color. But they only had one 500C! And, of course that is what Peg would ultimately decide needed to come home with us. We went inside the “Studio” to meet with our Fiat Specialist, Sarah Schroeder. I was very impressed with her knowledge of her product and she took the time to explain all the features of the different models. Since I am 6’ 4” tall and weigh 325 I had to try on several of the little cars. The 500C (“C” is for cabrio or convertible) has the most headroom. The other 500 models left only about 1/2” between the roof and my brain. Shoulder room is okay in all models as well as legroom so I gave Peg the okay to purchase one. After running around to a bunch of different models on the lot to choose colors (the website is way off for the actual car colors) and options we ordered exactly what Peg wanted. In 6 to 8 weeks she should have her Bianco Perla Fiat 500C Lounge.

If you decide to purchase from Safford, I highly recommend asking for Sarah.

Road Trip - Ballston Arts & Crafts Market

The grease monkeys from Bubba’s Garage made a rare road trip into the city of Arlington Virginia to check out the Ballston Arts & Crafts Market.


A couple of dozen vendors set up their tents to sell their handmade items the second Saturday of each month, April-October, from 10am – 4pm. The craft market is located in Welburn Square (The Ballston Circle) between North Stuart & North 9th Streets. It is a juried show so only high quality items are ever on display.  I am definitely not a city person but the area around Ballston Commons is very pedestrian friendly and I soon relaxed enough to enjoy myself. This market is a must-attend event if you happen to be in the area.


After spending an hour or so with the vendors, we were hungry. Not wanting to eat the standard fare at the mall we decided to stroll up the street a little to try a local spot. The area around the square was very pretty with its fountains and flowers.


Our final destination had us dining at Big Buns Gourmet Grill. Everyone there was wearing t-shirts that said “I like Big Buns and I cannot lie.” We were already smiling by the time we reached the counter. The staff was great but the food was only okay; nothing special. Peg said her iced-tea was very good and my chocolate malt was one of the best that I have had in a while. So, overall it was a great trip into the city.

Biking the C&O Canal

Peg and I finally decided to rent some bicycles and ride a little on the C&O Canal. River and Trail Outfitters makes this a very easy and convenient way to get your cycling fix taken care of without having to worry about transporting gear around. We made reservations online and then arrived at their main site just across the river from Harpers Ferry, WV to sign the standard waiver forms. From there it’s just a short drive to Brunswick, MD were the bikes are actually kept. The bikes are your basic single speed cruisers that are perfect for the flat paths of the canal. Since we hadn’t been on bikes for more than 15 years, we decided to take the easy 5.5 mile ride back to Harpers Ferry for our first adventure.

Lock-31Potomac river

The C&O Canal offers great scenery for the entire route. You pass by several locks and an old lock house, Lock 31, as you make your way towards Harpers Ferry. The Potomac river also bubbles along side of the canal in several spots.



There are all sorts of critters to watch as you pedal along. On our trip we saw plenty of turtles, ducks, butterflies, and wood chucks.


If you have good eyes you may even catch a lizard our two watching you. I shouted to Peg to stop pedaling when I spotted this 12-inch lizard on a stump. Even though it was right next to the trail at almost eye level to Peg, she missed it until I pointed it out. Then she screamed and giggled.


There is a footbridge across the Potomac were you can lock the bikes at and then walk into town. This makes a great stop to use the restrooms if you aren’t one of those “be one with nature” types. We stopped and had lunch outside at the Cannonball Deli. They have a small menu but the food was great! I had the Falafel wrap which made me smile. Yum! Don’t forget to stop at Swiss Miss for the best frozen custard around.

River and Trail Outfitters has four hour and all day rentals. You can easily ride to Harpers Ferry, stop for lunch, and return to Brunswick in four hours time.