Sunday, July 1, 2018

Work-Camping in Black Hills National Forest

I’m back!  Did you miss me!  It’s been a while since I posted because I've been a bit peeved.  You see, it has been a disappointing and unprecedented work-camping season for us.  And my parents did something they have never done before—they breached their contractual agreement, quitting a gig after only 5 weeks.

You may recall that after their debacle with the Grand Teton Association (see blog post of May 3, 2018, "What About Employers' Obligations to Work-campers?), my parents accepted positions as “campground hosts” for Forest Recreation Management, the concessionaire for Black Hills National Forest in South Dakota.  Although the ad and job description forwarded to Mom listed cleaning/site maintenance as a duty, tasks also included fee collection and firewood sales.  As it turned out, my parents were the last hosts hired for the Pactola Lake location and therefore were assigned as the dedicated cleaning crew, responsible for maintaining 25 toilets and 80 campsites, as well as two boat docks, a beach area, and a 40-person group campground located on a remote mountaintop 10 miles away.  Quite a bit of territory to cover both mileage wise as well as for prioritizing daily tasks.

Though not thrilled with working with the Tidy Bowl Man, my parents went along with the arrangement.  After all, every job has its perks and quirks.  They worked independently and generally were done by 4 p.m. daily, leaving evenings free to socialize with friends and for participating in all the musical and theater events held in the area during the summer. We were in a beautiful setting, and these gorgeous hills afforded us ample opportunities to fish, off-road, and ride our motorcycles.

Unfortunately, the quirks of the job were too important to ignore.  The lead host (my parents’ immediate supervisor) was incapable of communicating and/or just refused to share important reservation information which was imperative for my parents to establish their daily priorities.  (Most campgrounds, like the three my Mom worked in, are run like hotels, where there is communication between the reservations department and the cleaning department.  Not at this place!)  More importantly, the lead host exhibited misogamy toward Mom and at least one of the other two women on the hosting team.  What was this guy thinking?  Dismissing Mom from a conversation and treating her like a second class citizen since she was a woman just wasn't going to fly!  Add to this ugly recipe a general disorganization and disregard for employee safety by management.  (My parents were issued a vehicle to use that had an expired/invalid insurance card, had a parking light out, had a brake light out, had a tire that continuously lost air, and the vehicle repeatedly would not restart after they shut off the ignition between locations.  After 5 weeks, none of these issues were resolved other than receiving a current/valid insurance card). 

My parents don’t mind working hard, but they downright refuse to work stupid and risk their safety.  Hence, their decision to leave.  It was a tough thing to do, since my parents always honor their commitments.  (They remind me of Dr. Seuss’s Horton the Elephant, “I meant what I said, I said what I meant; an elephant’s faithful 100%”).  But they could no longer tolerate the disregard and disrespect exhibited. Seemingly, neither could my parents’ successors.  We learned that since my parents resigned, the company went through three additional cleaning crews, all of which lasted less than 2 weeks.  (Now that it is so late in the season, one of the original campground hosts is doing double duty, handling the cleaning as well as fee collection/firewood sales.)

Always landing on their feet, Mom and Dad were offered and subsequently accepted positions at Crazy Horse Memorial in Custer, SD, where they enjoyed a prior work gig in Summer 2015.  I'll tell you more about it in another blog post.

Despite the bad work experience, we enjoyed the Black Hills of South Dakota during our tenure at Pactola Lake.  Most of the employers in the Black Hills offer V.I.P. passes to employees, giving them free or discounted rates for area attractions, and we took full advantage of this perk during our downtime.  We saved several hundred dollars on admissions in 2015, and plan to maximize our savings again this year, visiting several attractions that we missed or were not offered in 2015.

So we met Stan, Sue, and the gang of dinosaur skeletons that reside at the Museum at Black Hills Institute, located conveniently on Main Street in the heart of Hill City, right next to the laundromat.  So multi-task we did, doing laundry and touring all within the same time frame.  Though a small venue, the Museum has some fine paleontological specimens, everything pre-historic from fossils to minerals.  The staff were friendly and informative, making this a great area attraction for all ages.

While in Hill City, we met friends Cheryl and Jukka to have them sign our recently-purchased copy of their book, Hiking Centennial Trail and to wish them well with their writing/publishing endeavors!  We put the book to good use, taking our side-by-side Rat Patrol to various trailhead locations to hike different sections of the trail throughout the early summer.

I also got acquainted with a new canine.  Meet Macie, the Motorcyling Pomeranian!  What a cutie!

I especially enjoyed our visit to Old McDonald’s Farm.  Family owned and operated for 30+ years, this is a great place for children of all ages to interact with animal life.  There are pony rides, pig races, and train rides--very old school.  The animals are very smart, knowing just when it is feeding time.  I even got to bottle feed several baby animals.  The animals all had their own little personalities, exhibiting several of the seven deadly sins like gluttony, greed, and envy.  I was amused by the behavior of one particular pony.  He was outraged and quite jealous when I stopped feeding him and went to feed the pygmy goats in the next pen.  The pony went to the corner of his pen that connected with the pygmy goat stall and hit his hoof on the fence several times to get my attention, as if to say “hey, come back!”

That's me in the caboose!

Here is one peeved pony!  Notice the stink eye he is giving me!

Another top notch attraction is Reptile Gardens, in business since 1937.
They have wonderful and imaginative reptile, rodent, and bird exhibits, including an underground entry observation dome for visitors to "become one" with the prairie dogs!  Additionally, the grounds are a horticultural paradise--beautiful, colorful gardens abound.  Dad loved the snake show, me not so much since I learned I am a favorite dinner entrée for these slinkers!   I did enjoy the croc and alligator show, and found it amazing how ever these creatures can be trained/conditioned with food.  Speaking of food, we topped off our day with a delicious meal at Powder House Lodge in Keystone, one of the only restaurants in the area that has an array of game meat on its menu.  Mom and I savored the game kabobs, featuring bison, elk, and venison.  Though just an appetizer, it is plentiful enough to be an entrée.  Don’t eat game meat?  No problem.  Steaks, prime rib, and vegetarian options are offered as well.  Dad enjoyed a delectable portabella mushroom sandwich with avocado mash.  A full belly is always the perfect ending to a fun-filled day.

I couldn't resist  this innovated way to observe the prairie dogs!  Luckily, the dome was spacious enough for my big head!

Notice the baby turtle in the photo!  

One of my favorite tours was the old Homestake Gold Mine in Lead, SD, once the biggest gold mine in the Western Hemisphere.  Even during the Great Depression, Homestake Mine prospered, no easy feat when you consider that one ton of rock produced only 1/7th ounce of gold.   A drop in gold prices in the late 1990s was the Mine’s demise.  The Mine closed in 2001, after extracting 41 million ounces of gold and 9 million ounces of silver from its 370 miles of shafts/tunnels.  And yet, only 1/3 of all its potential was ever achieved!  Spearheaded by Ray Davis with a cash infusion from T. Denny Sanford, the property became the home of the Sanford Underground Research Facility in 2006.  Studying neutrinos, dark matter, and conducting various physics experiments, this is a place that Sheldon Cooper and his nerdy friends from Big Bang Theory would call paradise.

The Open Cut of Homestake Mine

We completed a short walking tour of Lead.  During its heyday, Lead’s population was over 10,000.  Now it has just 2,800 residents, all of which are considered members of the Mile High Club because the city’s elevation is one mile above sea level.  At that elevation, it is no wonder that Lead receives 200-300 inches of snow per year, earning it the record for the second highest volume of snowfall within the contiguous US. We visited the Homestake Opera House, built in 1914 as a cultural and recreational hall by the Homestake Mining Company.  It contained a library, theater, indoor swimming pool, bowling alley, and smoking rooms.  The Opera House suffered a major fire in 1984 and has been going through painstaking restorations to bring it to its original glory.  I thoroughly enjoyed taking this tour and hope we can attend one of the variety of events the Opera House hosts throughout the year.

The stage area

The lobby

We visited the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Museum.  I never realized just how many of the amenities and trails within our National and State Parks were attributed to the building and construction efforts of the CCC.

We participated in our second Volksmarch hike to the top of Crazy Horse Mountain.  This time my parents didn’t indulge me with the purchase of a completion medallion, but I still enjoyed participating in the hike.  The views of the Black Hills from the top of the Mountain are spectacular, and it is always a thrill to get face-to-face with what will be the world’s largest sculpture.

We spent a fun day in Hot Springs.  Driving there, I amused myself by looking at the rain clouds that were forming.  So many unique shapes (I discovered barracudas and the profile of a mountain man complete with beard and whiskers!) and a range of colors, from off white, to elephant gray, to charcoal gray.   Although we have been there before, it is always intriguing to tour the paleontological Mammoth Site, the sinkhole that contains the remains of 61 mammoths.  Interestingly, all the mammoths in the sinkhole were males.  They should have listened to their wives, who all managed to avoid their own demise.

The remains of the male mammoths

What a mammoth would look like BEFORE falling into the sinkhole and decomposing!

There’s a cute place in Hot Springs called “A Museum of Childhood”, filled with vintage toys and memorabilia.  In a few more years, I may qualify to be in this museum!  After all, I am a 35-year old stuffed rat!  We had fun reminiscing with the owner of days gone by, and wish her much success with her retirement endeavor!  We finished up our day with dinner at the Bull N Bugle in Custer with friends Phil, Rudee, Nicholas, Larry, Sue, Karen, and Pete, followed by attending a theater performance at the Black Hills Playhouse.  Such fun times! 

Mom was once the proud owner of Miss Echo and Kissy dolls as displayed in the museum!

Grandma was so safety conscious, she would remove the wires from Mom's Gumby and Pokey!  Crazy but lovable woman she was! 

Friends from Crazy Horse enjoying dinner and theater together at  Black Hills Playhouse

Wildlife has been abundant here in the Black Hills, and love is in the air.
I watched two rabbits heeding The Beatles advice, “why don’t we do it in the road”.  Deer lounge on front lawns throughout the day like house cats napping on doorsteps.  A female turkey was rounding up her flock of new babies, and a gaggle of baby geese were learning to swim!  We actually saw a swarm of butterflies all huddled together!

One very satisfied bunny!

These goslings just returned from a swim lesson with their Moms!

Mom decided to take up fishing with me and Dad.  After all, we purchased an annual SD family fishing license for Dad and me.  Dad exhibited casting techniques to Mom, informing her it takes a while to get the hang of it.  Mom’s second attempt at casting a rod nets her a small perch.  Must be beginners’ luck since she is equipped only with a $12.94 Wal-Mart pole. 

Well, I’ve rambled on enough.  Time to sign off now.  I've got so much more to tell you about, so I'll be sure to talk to you again soon!

We would like to thank the following organizations for all the great service and support they offer to the RVing community:

 Escapees RV Club


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