Friday, October 26, 2012

The 1880s Train in Keystone, South Dakota

Pics of the Train and Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore
Source: Photo by Author
1880 Steam Train
1880 Steam Train
Source: Photo by Author
1880 Steam Train
1880 Steam Train
Source: Photo by Author

Ride the Train

It was early June, and we were winding up a family vacation with a short trip to check out one of the United States' most famous landmarks--Mount Rushmore. After spending over a week in Colorado with very warm weather, the weather as we woke up in Gilette, Wyoming was a bit of a shock to the system. As we made the relatively short trip to Rapid City and then on down to Mount Rushmore, the weather was quite cool for June (46 F) and drizzly. As we drove toward the monument out of Rapid City, we noticed the fog settling in.

I had my concerns, so we stopped for a pizza before ascending the last couple of miles in our journey.
We strapped the kids into their car seats after our pizza, and began our ascent. Unfortunately, the fog was still there and it obscured the mountain. On the bright side, we did find out that there is a really nice pile of rocks at its base. We debated staying the night, as several decent-looking hotels advertised cheap rates. Instead, while we were eating pizza, we picked up a brochure for a ride on a local steam-driven train.

The 1880 Train runs along an old Black Hills line between the tourist towns of Keystone and Hill City. A round-trip takes about 2 hours and 15 minutes, and offers some great views of some of the nearby mountain peaks of of the Black Hills. The railroad follows Battle Creek which saw an influx of prospectors around the turn of the twentieth century. The conductor on the trip discusses some interesting facts about the locomotive and the surrounding area as the trip proceeds, which is a nice feature of the trip. Concessions are also available for purchase on the train. A round-trip ticket costs $24 for an adult or $12 for a child between 3 and 12 years of age. One-way tickets get a small discount, but you'd have to get your way back to your point of origin if you have no one to meet you at your destination.

This train ride is a great experience as it takes riders back to the primary mode of mass transportation for late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Americans. While the locomotive does not travel as fast as a car, it is quite relaxing. Surprisingly, our small children seemed to enjoy most of the ride and were fairly well-behaved.

As we rode the train, we started to see breaks in the clouds. Fortunately, we to advantage of this after our ride, and drove up the mountain to see Mount Rushmore. It's a great national monument, but it's definitely not all that there is to do in the Keystone area.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

When to Visit Yellowstone Park

Memorial Day Might Not Work

Sure, you've always heard about Yellowstone National Park and its many scenic wonders. It's quite possibly the most famous of the national parks. Much of the park is very mountainous with lots of lakes and canyons to see. There's a mud volcano, several sulfur springs, and, of course the most famous geyser of all, Old Faithful.
Note the Snow on the Side of the Road--Photo by Author
I've always wanted to visit Yellowstone to see its impressive beauty. This past summer, I got my chance. I had a work-related gig in Colorado, and it was only slightly out of the way to go through Montana into Yellowstone. We drove through the park on Memorial Day weekend. Being originally from West Virginia, I'm used to 80-90 degree days by Memorial Day. Even spending the last year in Grand Forks, North Dakota, we had fairly comfortable temps in the 50s to 70s for the previous month, so I expected something fairly comfortable. Was I in for a shock to the system.
This is Old Faithful--the White Stuff that looks like dots on the grass is falling snow--Photo by Author
Knowing that we would be going through a mountainous region, we packed jackets for our trip. It was a good thing that we did. As we entered the park from the north on US 89, the temperature was in the low 40s. By the time we got to Old Faithful, the temp was 34 and snow began to fall. As we sat waiting for the geyser to blow, near blizzard conditions set in as depicted by the attached pic. Needless to say, our first trip to Yellowstone was quite memorable...a Memorial Day trip with blizzard conditions.

After looking at Weather.com, it became quite obvious that May can still be a bit iffy with the weather in Yellowstone. May high temps average a not-so-balmy 52 degrees. In all, only June through September see average highs for the month above 60 degrees. July and August peak out at 72 and 71 degrees, respectively. When we arrived on our cold May day, the entire northeast quadrant of the park was inaccessible for...get this...snow. As we drove through the parts of the park that were open to traffic, we saw snow banks higher than our minivan. An interesting trip indeed. We did get to see some interesting things, not the least of which was a late May snowstorm. Therefore, my advice on the best time to visit Yellowstone would be a 10-day window of around July 25-August 5. All I can say is, I would have hated to have been camping in a tent on the day we drove through.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Earn 100,000 Miles on Delta with Trips to London

I received a targeted email from Delta Airlines today that discussed bonus Skymiles for those who travel to London Heathrow in the next few months.

Those who register for the promotion at the above link and who travel to Heathrow between October 1 and January 31, 2013, will get a nice chunk of bonus Skymiles. The first round-trip will result in 15,000, the second 35,000, and the third 50,000. That's a total of 100,000 for the three trips, in addition to the actual miles flown, which will normally be at least 4,000 from the East Coast of the United States. Business class tickets get bonus miles on top of the miles flown.

Those who have the Delta Skymiles credit card will get 2 miles on top of the miles flow for each dollar spent on the flights. Each flight in addition to the first three will earn an additional 50,000. Business travelers going to London in the next four months could seriously cash in and perhaps qualify for an around-the-world ticket in the process.