Sunday, July 10, 2011

Two Tourist Attractions–One Great Time

As volunteers, we’re given Chamber of Commerce “VIP” passes, which give us free entry to most of the attractions in the Black Hills.  It’s a good deal for us for obvious reasons, but it also allows us to help visitors decide where to visit since we can offer “first-hand” knowledge.  So, off we went, to our first stop, the 1880 Black Hills Steam Train, which travels between Hill City and Keystone.  Having ridden the Cumbres and Toltec train in Chama, New Mexico, we were looking forward to another old-West, realistic train ride 1880s Trainthrough interesting scenery.  Sadly, we were disappointed.  Had we looked closely at the website under the history tab, we would have seen that the train tracks and station were built in 1957 and while deemed the “1880” train, the founder, to quote the web site, “was never a rigorous advocate of historic accuracy”.  Fortunately, we weren’t charged the $24 per person View From Trainround trip fee (45 minutes to Keystone, a brief stop, then back to Hill City), because the train ride was a disappointment.  It meanders through the countryside, crossing the same road 19 times one-way, so it’s not exactly a wilderness experience.  There was a commentary along the way, but there wasn’t enough to see to make the narrative very interesting.  The part we disliked the most was the smoke and smell; instead of wood or coal, which couldn’t be used because of fire regulations, the engine used recycled motor oil for fuel.  Environmentally a nice idea, but the reality was a constant cloud of blue smoke that watered our eyes and didn’t do much for the scenery.  At the end of our ride, we both felt that the train would benefit from actors staging a holdup, or something to make the trip more interesting.  We were also very glad that we were able to ride free….
Bear Relaxing in WaterOur next stop was “Bear Country USA”, which bills itself as “the home of the largest privately owned collection of black bear in the world”.  Sure, we thought – after all, how many would it take to be the “largest privately owned”?  Ten?  Twenty?  Big whoop, we thought.  Then we drove through “Bear Country”……yikes!  Wall-to-wall bear in all directions; sleeping, eating, walking around, sleeping, and of course, sleeping.  Well over 100 bear of all sizes and colors, big ones, small ones, friendly looking ones, and not-so-friendly looking ones.  As we drove through the enclosure with our windows up and doors locked (some of those bears looked sneaky!), we marveled at how many color variations there were; every shade of brown, different shades of black, even a blond or two.  Unfortunately, the tinted windows and sun through the windshield resulted in poor pictures, but I did catch this one bear as he sat in one of the shaded pools – it sure looks like he’s smiling!
The drive through enclosures contain separate sections for Elk, Reindeer, Bighorn Sheep, Mountain Lion, and others.  After the drive, we parked to visit the more traditional “zoo” area.  There were large enclosures with Badgers, Lynx, Fox, and other small animals, and they were well done….but then we came to the enclosure housing all of the bear cubs born this year.  What a hoot it was!  Dozens of little bears, playing, sleeping, running, jumping on each other….it was quite a show!  They were all busy doing baby bear things when suddenly they froze…and all stood up on their hind legs, heads pointed in the same direction as if the move was choreographed.  It was the food truck!  Suddenly it was a baby bear stampede as the 30 or so hungry cubs charged the lady with the barrel of food.  She quickly tossed her delivery of what looked like a nut bagel around and each bear selected one, only to quickly decide that the one that the bear next to him looked better.  There were growls, bellows, squeals, and bears running everywhere – what great entertainment!  There can’t me anything much more endearing than a little bear cub!   Brenda, of Baby Bears3course named them all and wanted to take them home.  Fortunately, the enclosure walls were too high for her to climb over, or our cat would have a lot of company.  Our passes gave us a free admission, but even at the $16/adult fee, we’d go back and certainly recommend it to area visitors.Baby Bears
Baby Bears2
Baby Bears & Bagels
We’re truly enjoying our stay here in the Black Hills and have more adventures to share, so come back soon!


  1. Thanks for the honest review of the Train ride, we appreciate it when people let us know when something just isn't worth the price.
    Loved the baby bears but sure don't want to get between one and its mother.

  2. Great post. It's always nice to have someone write about an attraction they have personally experienced. I bet the Bear Country was a lot of fun. Loved the photos.

  3. Anonymous8:28 AM

    Great narrative! I felt like I was there with you!!! We have had bear sightings in our Ohio neck of the woods, but I think I'd rather see them in your pictures than in person!

    Keith--you should write a book. You have a gift.

    Cousin Jayne

  4. We loved Bear Country and plan to go back next year when we are in the Black Hills. Great photos!