National Parks, Monuments, and Places to Explore in the Black Hills

One of the great aspects of this area of the country is the land.  Luckily, much of it is protected in some form by the National Park system, and you’d regret not seeing at least some of it.  If you’re in the area, be sure to explore some of the great parks and monuments South Dakota has to offer.  If you have the time, you can even head over to Wyoming for Devil’s Tower or Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons farther west.

We didn’t stop at all of the places I’ll mention, but we managed to see most of them during our week-long trip!


South Dakota: Custer

We were in South Dakota for 8 days (including travel).  It’s refreshing to stay a bit longer in one place, after fast trips this year to Austin, Baltimore, and Costa Rica.  I’d say a week for one area is fine, any less than that and it’s tough to not feel cramped.  Of course, if you have longer than a week to explore an interesting place, you should absolutely go for it!

We spent a decent chunk of our time in Custer.  Whether we stopped for a quick breakfast on the way to the lake, or drove through Custer State Park looking for the bison herds, it’s a town you’ll want to put on your South Dakota list too.


South Dakota: The Badlands

Returning from South Dakota, I got the typical response at work.  After a number of years with family out in the midwest, I’m used to the typical response:

“South Dakota??  Why’d you go there?”

The obvious answer for me, is that I’m visiting family.  But, if I had to pick two words to convince you to go…

Natural beauty.

The depth of the Black Hills landscape is really something to admire, and you have to be there in person to truly appreciate it.  Unique even for South Dakota’s varied landscape, Badlands National Park offers incredible scenery and a great look at some of the geological factors at play on earth.  This was one of the first places we explored on this trip!


South Dakota: Hot Springs

So, what’s out there anyway?

First, get ready to do a lot of driving.  South Dakota, in a lot of ways, is your typical midwestern state.  Big.  Driving an hour or two to the next thing becomes commonplace.  Denver is 6 hours south of Hot Springs, South Dakota.  Guess where we flew into?

After Denver International Airport, the next closest is Minneapolis-St. Paul (at 7 hours driving), and then it’s even further.  You get used to the long drives pretty quickly, and the scenery in the Black Hills isn’t your typical corn field, corn field, cows, more corn fields.

We spent the whole time in the Black Hills region of South Dakota.  The area is gorgeous, and it’s easy to fall in love with the rolling hills, covered in a blanket of dark spruce.  Though they aren’t technically black, this is where the area got its name.  Against the neverending grasslands to the east, and big sky country to the west, South Dakota is right behind Route 66 as far as classic roadtrips.


Bikes, Buses, and Boats in Austin TX

A quick thanks for reading the blog – glad everyone stopped by for the Austin update on Wednesday, and I’m happy to report another post tonight!

While we focused mainly on food and beverage for the last one, I’ll get into more of what we did here.  I’ll bold some things throughout this post, and you can find more info for anything bolded in the last post.


Tunes & Tacos in Austin TX

As some of you might remember, we were able to squeeze in a quick weekend getaway for June!  This past Sunday night, we landed safely back in Boston after just 52 hours in the beautiful capital city of Austin, Texas.

But before we get into the trip itself, I think I owe you folks an apology.  I haven’t posted anything in 3 weeks!  I’ll give you the typical excuses:  work, family, general laziness.  Take your pick.  Regardless, I’m humbled that people have still been stopping by to check in, and I hope you enjoy reading about our short excursion to the Lone Star State.


Costa Rica: Santa Elena

Our final stop in Costa Rica was two days in the Santa Elena and Monteverde area of the country.  Known for its rolling hills leading up to cloud forests, the beautiful Central American country continued to impress me with every bend in the road.

As I hinted in my post last week, the road to Santa Elena can be a bit rough.  Coming from La Fortuna, around the north shore of Lago Arenal, the road is paved for only about two thirds of the journey.  The other third?  A bumpy, rough ride that takes about the same amount of time as the first two thirds of the drive combine.  I couldn’t go above 20 kilometers/hour, because we were getting nervous that the wheels would shake right off the rental car!

Once we pulled into town, the rest of the day was smooth sailing.


Costa Rica: La Fortuna

After 2 hours of winding mountain roads through the thickest fog I’ve ever seen, we made it to La Fortuna.  The town’s claim to fame is the nearby Parque Nacional Volcan Arenal.  Looming over town to the east, the volcano separates the town from the man-made Lago Arenal – an important source of hydroelectric and wind power for the country.


Costa Rica: Sarchi & the Road to La Fortuna

Man plans and god laughs, right?

We had planned to visit the Poas Volcano on our first morning in Costa Rica.  Only half an hour north of our hotel in Alajuela, we were going to get up early, drive to the National Park, and hike to the summit.  On a clear day from the top of Poas, you’re able to see both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.  There’s not many places in the world you can see both of those oceans at once, and we were really looking forward to the hike!

As luck would have it, the park was shut down due to a recent eruption!  (Check out some of these articles for some information and neat pictures – 1, 23)  It was very cool to see the news stories, and talk with a few ticos (local Costa Ricans) about it, but we obviously couldn’t go hiking with the park closed.  The government had even ordered the closest portions of Alajuela province to evacuate!

With Poas out of the picture, we changed up our road trip, and drove northeast out of Alajuela!


Costa Rica: San Jose

So by now, you know I was in Costa Rica last week.

And from my post Sunday, you know the trip was great.  Maybe short, but still a great time.  After flying into San Jose, the capital of the beautiful Central American country, we picked up our car and drove to the inn we snagged in Alajuela.  We dropped off our bags, and drove straight into the heart of the city for a quick taste of San Jose.