The Establishment of Belle Fourche
Like many places in the Midwest, French Heritage seems to stand out. The name Belle Fourche was given to this area by early French fur traders. The name Belle Fourche means "Beautiful Fork", which makes sense as the Hay Creek, Redwater, and Belle Fourche River converge. Fur traders used this area as a meeting point long before the homesteaders of the late 1800's arrived. At the time, beavers were plentiful and an extraordinarily valuable source of revenue for the early colonies.
Although an important meeting place, the town of Belle Fourche came much later with the arrival of the railroad. In 1876 the Gold Rush of the Black Hills attracted miners, and those who mined the miners. Seth Bullock and Sol Star set out from Helena, Montana to open up a hardware store in Deadwood, South Dakota on the site of the Bullock Hotel.
Seth Bullock bought property nearby in Belle Fourche. At the same time the Gold Rush was booming, farmers were attracted to the fertile valleys just north of the Black Hills. While settlers were speculating on gold claims, farmers were speculating at the inevitable arrival of the railroad. Land was purchases all over the valley in the hopes of getting rich off the railroad.
The biggest contender for a railroad depot was the town of Minnesela, the county seat of Butte County. Once word of the railroad's arrival was imminent the inhabitants of Minnesela proposed to sell the land needed by the railroad at astronomical prices. In a wise business move, Bullock offered to build the depot and provide right of way access free of charge. Star telegraphed the railroad to inform them that he would not approve any deal unless the rail was brought into Deadwood as well.
The Freemont, Elkhorn and Missouri valley railroad accepted the offer and the town of Belle Fourche was on its way. Residents of neighboring Minnesela were furious, but eventually they accepted their fate. Belle Fourche became the new county seat, while Minnesela became a ghost town.
In 1890, the first carload of cattle departed Belle Fourche heading to the packing plants of the East Coast. Within 5 years Belle Fourche was shipping 2500 cattle cars a month. For a time, Belle Fourche was the largest livestock shipping point in the world. The area had gone from a fur traders meeting point to one of the most important livestock and agricultural centers of the United States.
The sheep industry quietly grew alongside and eventually was shipping millions of pounds of wool out of Belle Fourche. Sheep dynasties were born out of this unsuspecting town, with the largest consumer being the U.S Army. Other industries of significance are bentonite mining and now, ramen noodles.
As a result of the robust cattle industry, Belle Fourche is considered the first town in the Black HIlls to establish an event appealing to tourists. The Buffalo Roundup began in 1918 not only to attract tourists, but to raise money for World War I. The first year attendance was 15,000 in a town of 1400. Clearly a success the Buffalo Roundup became a yearly event, an is still in operation today.
Farming in Belle Fourche
While some industries came and went, farming had its roots firmly planted in Belle Fourche. None other than Seth Bullock introduced alfalfa farming to South Dakota in 1881. Alfalfa still flourishes in South Dakota and remains one of the top ten agriculture industries along with corn, soybeans, wheat and sunflowers. In Belle Fourche, much of this was made possible with the construction of the Orman Dam.
Completed in 1911, the Orman Dam A.K.A Belle Fourche Dam was the largest rolled earthen dam in the world. It's purpose was to provide irrigation to the farmers and later served as a recreational place for visitors and residents. Irrigation of the Northern Black Hills allowed for a more productive farming industry, attracting novices like lawyers and doctors to the area.
A notable claim to fame for Belle Fourche is being the geographical center of the United States. One might not think of South Dakota being anywhere near the center of the U.S., but in 1959 it became so. The addition of Alaska and Hawaii shifted the geographical center to Belle Fourche. A monument has been erected and visitors can stand in the center for a great photo opportunity.
Belle Fourche provides visitors quite a few reasons to visit and is located off of I-90 at exit 10 in South Dakota. The Tri-State Museum is a great place to start. Exploring the Northern Black Hills is an incredible experience. It's beaty and culture are like no other. Tour operators such as My XO Adventures can provide an in-depth private guided tour of the area. Safe Travels!
Daniel Milks is the owner of My XO Adventures
Beneath the earth's surface, raw iron ore is extracted, taken from its place of origin, and thrown into a blast furnace. Melted down and purified, then forged into hundreds of pieces, each with its purpose.
Thousands of parts are bolted, welded, polished, greased, and oiled. Rather than in the fire, it now contains it. The addition of water produces the necessary pressure that presses on a cylinder and turns the wheels. The most transformative machine of the industrial revolution was the steam engine, resulting in the beloved and iconic steam locomotive.
Once abundant and heard throughout the country, steam locomotives fell out of favor for the more efficient diesel and electric engines. As a result, it's not common to find these beauties, but they exist. One such place is between Keystone and Hill City in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
Robert and Joanna Warder bought the Black Hills Central Railroad in 1990 and restored locomotives No. 7 and No. 104. Since then, locals and visitors have enjoyed the ride between the mining towns of Keystone and Hill City. Operating and maintaining the line is a big job, but the Black Hills Central Railroad employees seem up to the task.
I had a chance to visit on a sunny winter day and met up with the Business Operations Manager, Nate Anderson. The action happens at the Hill City Depot during the winter, located at 222 Railroad Avenue.
Here you'll find the gift shop, located in a part of the original depot. Inside, you can buy tickets and purchase memorabilia. After Nate shows me around, we walked down the line to the yard.
We hop up on the passenger trains along the way, each containing the original hardware and restored to prime condition. The enclosed passenger car has large windows and glass panels engraved with the 1880 train logo and comfortable seats able to be reversed according to the direction.
The rest are open-air and preferable to me on a warm summer afternoon. The closer we get to the building, the more I notice the familiar smell of creosote used to preserve the wood railroad ties. Now the door opens. I can feel the warm air mixed with the smell of grease and metal.
Memories of my hometown of Erie, PA, run through my mind. General Electric manufactured locomotives there, and my family worked in a few industrial companies. So I know this smell, and it's oddly comforting.
Inside the building, restoration and maintenance take place. A complete rebuild is underway on one of the engines, with the other patiently waiting—a few workers inside sport the overalls and hog head hats (railroad engineer hats).
I always wondered what the inside of a steam locomotive looked like, and Nate was happy to explain. It was fascinating. There's so much that goes into the care of these mighty beasts. We're lucky to have several pieces of locomotive history right here at home.
Just outside facing the road is the oldest, No. 7. It's a fully working 1919 Baldwin locomotive and has starred in movies such as "Orphan Train," "Into the West," and "Gunsmoke."
The 1880 Train actually started in 1957, on the original line operated by the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad. It serviced gold mines between Keystone and Hill City, South Dakota, hauling cargo and passengers from 1879. It's the oldest continuously operating tourist train in the United States.
The Black Hills Central Railroad now carries thousands of passengers on a round-trip ride from Keystone to Hills City. The 1880 Train website displays the schedule, pricing, and frequently asked questions online. In addition, several events occur throughout the year, such as Old West Shootouts, Wine Express, Oktoberfest, and the Holiday Express.
The 1880 Train is one of many reasons to visit the Black Hills and Badlands of South Dakota. My XO Adventures can now cap off your Southern or Northern Black Hills tour with an evening train ride from Hills City to Keystone.
Daniel Milks - Explorer, Traveler and Occasional Writer
How to see The Black Hills and BadlandsSo you've decided to come to the Black Hills of South Dakota and check Mount Rushmore off your list! Now, what do you do? First things first. Where are you going to stay? There are a lot of options, but where you stay is going to affect how you do things on a daily basis.
The main places of lodging when visiting the Black Hills and Badlands are Rapid City, Keystone, Hill City, and Custer State Park. Staying in and around Rapid City is the easiest logistically, but may not be the best if you're looking for a quiet getaway surrounded by nature.
I have a few recommendations for lodging in the Black Hills that you might find useful! Next up Is what to do? I know, you've got the checklist:
1.) Mount Rushmore
2.) The Buffalo
3.) Crazy Horse
How will you be able to do it all? Well, first you need to stay for at least 3 days in the Black Hills. That's the least amount of time. Second, in order to see as much as possible, you'll need to hire one of the many Rapid City Tour Companies, and hopefully, they know what they're doing.Black Hills and Badlands Tours
Tour the Northern and Southern Black Hills with a visit to the Badlands National Park. Go ahead, take a look at a map of the Black Hills and tell me what you think. Looks like Spaghetti right? The worst thing you could do is try to navigate all these roads yourself. I recommend you keep your concentration on the sight and sounds of the Black Hills and Badlands as you make your way through.
If possible, take a private tour of the Black Hills and Badlands. If you choose any of the bus tours, you'll have a good time but be limited in what you can see. The big busses can't fit down the roads you want to see, like Wildlife Loop Road, or the many places along Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway.
Taking the side roads and exploring where others can't is the way to go. Speaking of Spearfish Canyon (my favorite), you can see and feel amazing surprises like Bridal Veil Falls, Roughlock Falls, and Spearfish Creek Falls.
All along the canyon wall, there are caves and formations millions of years old. Cheyenne Crossing has the best Indian Fry Bread I've ever experienced. If you've had better, email me! A great place to stay in the Northern Hills is Spearfish Canyon Lodge. It's so special out this direction, but I digress.
Still, want to know how to do the Black Hills in 3 days? Ok, well here it is. We already went over getting a private tour company. Once you've read the reviews on Google and you're happy go ahead and make the call or book online.
You're visiting National Parks so let's make the most of it. Once you've got your Black Hills Tour Company, you need to divide your time between 3 things:
1.) The Southern Black Hills
2.) The Northern Black Hills
3.) Badlands National Park.
You still don't know what you're doing, but hopefully, your Black Hills and Badlands Tour Company does.
Ok, so the Southern Black Hills. This is where you'll see Mt. Rushmore. Yes, it's amazing. As your guide questions and make sure to get a picture of the plaque that lists all the workers. None of them died on the project, and my favorite worker is "Big Dick". See if you can spot him.
Spend about an hour here. Go sit down in the amphitheater and look up at the monument rather than fighting for space with all the people up top. The visitors center is worth a look too. Ok, let's get out of here.
The next places to go are Iron Mountain Road, Custer State Park, the Needles Highway, and Crazy Horse Memorial. This is a full-day excursion. You can expect to be picked up around 8 AM and dropped off at around 4 PM. If the tour company is any good, they'll feed you lunch, have bottled water and snacks in the vehicle.
The Mount Rushmore and Southern Black Hills tour is the most popular. This is an amazing day, and if you didn't see a buffalo, you didn't have a good guide. If you saw a mountain goat, consider yourself lucky!
Next is the Northern Black Hills tour, or Spearfish Canyon Tour. This is the most peaceful and my favorite. Yes, yes, there's Deadwood and bang bang Calamity Jane, Wild Bill, and all the others. Maybe go see Deadwood first and watch a Wild West Shootout in the middle of the road.Northern Black Hills Adventure
If you brought the critters from home, they'll love it. Ice cream, trinkets, and shirts. Have your guide tell you about the hauntings, killings, thievery, gold, and tall tales before you skedaddle out of there.
Near Deadwood is the little town of Spearfish. There's the D.C. Booth Fish Hatchery here that your guide will visit. Next drive down the canyon, stop at all the waterfalls and then finish it off with Pathways Spiritual Sanctuary.
Read the "Turkey Shack" before you arrive and it'll all make sense. This is another full day of incredible views.
Last on the list but not least is Badlands National Park, a full-day tour. Tours of Badlands National Park vary, but it's not complete unless the guide visits both the Southern and Northern Unit of the Park. Before you even arrive there look out the windows to see the rolling hills of the plains and think Dances With Wolves.
Alien-like landscapes of erosion are vast in the Badlands. Multiple views are breathtaking. The Badlands has a wonderful road to travel through while you enjoy the landscape.
What's in all that dirt? A lot! Fossils, geodes, agates, and the history of the world. You're traveling through what used to be an ocean many times over. You're also making your way through the missing 7 thousand feet of the Black Hills. It washed all the way down into the Badlands.
Red, green, grey, yellow, and purple are just a few of the colors you'll enjoy as well as wildlife such as the Bison, Big-Horn Sheep, and Prairie Dogs. You can even experience this day on one of the bike tours offered in the park. Why go to the South Unit of the Badlands after all this?
Well, it's located right next to Pine Ridge Reservation, and some of the most important histories of the area took place here. The Southern Unit or Stronghold Unit of the Park is co-managed by the NPS and the Oglala Lakota. Stronghold Table is believed to be the last place the Ghost Dances were performed.
Both Sheeps Mountain Table and the Stronghold table are Holy places to the Lakota to this day. While visiting the park or anywhere in the Black Hills remember that this is Lakota Territory. There you have it. Three days of glorious sights, sounds, and memories.
Owner of My XO Adventures, explorer, daredevil and occasional writer.
There are plenty of reasons you should avoid South Dakota. As a resident of the state, I’d like you to take this list seriously, and prepare should you still make plans to visit.
As you can see visiting South Dakota isn’t for everyone. If you still feel like it might be worth your while, you can proceed.
Owner of My XO Adventures, Traveler and occasional writer.
The Pigtail Bridges are located at the most northern point of Iron Mountain Road (16A) , which terminates just before Mount Rushmore. Completed in 1930, Iron Mountain Road was built with the sole purpose of maximizing the enjoyment of visitors with the ever-popular automobile. C.C. Gideon, or “C.C.” as he was known is the engineer and Peter Norbeck is the visionary. When construction began on Mount Rushmore in 1927, there was a need to connect Custer State Park in the South, with Rushmore to the north. When funds were made available, the idea was to bypass the hills and construct a road that took a more direct approach. This would have been less costly, easier to maintain, and faster to travel.
Peter Norbeck objected and with his foresight, he pushed through what became one of the most sought-after roads to travel in the United States. The automobile had a great influence on construction and design. You might think well of course it did, but let’s take a look at why. In 1900 there were 8,000 automobiles on the road, by 1910 that increased to 350,000. As mass production and costs decreased that number jumped to 7.5 million in 1920. The middle class was increasing, and so was their desire for recreation. The automobile would take them there. We were becoming a Nation of automobiles.
Norbeck had a knack for long-term visionary planning. His rejection of the initial plans proved correct, and Iron Mountain Road started to become a reality. The idea was to maximize the experience visitors would have, especially traveling from South to North. Measures were taken to ensure the path would highlight the beautiful vistas while doing as little harm to the environment as possible. The road itself was to be an automobile owner’s playground.
Iron Mountain Road boasts 17 miles, 314 curves, 14 switchbacks, 3 pigtails, 2 tunnels, 4 presidents, and 2 splits. Wow! It should be mentioned that the tunnels leading to Mount Rushmore were perfectly aligned so as you enter, Mount Rushmore is framed majestically at the far end. It teases visitors the entire way, building excitement for the participants. The Pigtail Bridges compliment the road by solving a problem and providing an exciting corkscrew route down the mountain. The route reached a point that was very steep, and a solution was needed that switchbacks couldn’t easily solve. This led to the idea of the Pigtail Bridges which at the time were rare, but not unheard of. The bridges act like elevators, going up or down depending on the direction. Locally harvested pine would be used in its construction, and great pains have been taken since to preserve its place on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Pigtail Bridges provide a whimsical ride down the mountain before reaching Mount Rushmore. Iron Mountain Road in its entirety draws visitors far and wide. Most notably, the Motorcycle Rally Riders zoom through this area in the first weeks of August each year. Car enthusiasts travel to the area to experience a road not made primarily with function, but form.
My XO Adventures takes visitors along this route each day, stopping to take in the views and talk about the history behind the construction and the people that made it possible. It’s yet another example of Peter Norbeck's vision of bringing visitors to the Black Hills in a delightful way. #HIFromSD #myxoadventures #blackhillsandbeyond #visitrapidcity #pigtailbridges
$10 Million Proposal to Build New Campsites Within Custer State Park
South Dakota is known for its wide-open spaces, independent citizens, and a hands-off approach to government involvement in typically private-sector lines of business. That's why it was quite a surprise to many South Dakotans to hear of a new $10-million, 176 campsite proposal for Custer State Park. Governor Noem rolled out the proposal to increase campsites in the park by 50%, stating that there had not been any expansion in 41 years.
Government involvement in traditionally private business has long been remembered in South Dakota, going back 100 years to the Republican Progressive Peter Norbeck, South Dakota's 9th Governor. Norbeck is admired by many, and rightly so. He changed the face of the landscape and had numerous accomplishments under his belt that would be the envy of any politician today. A few of his accomplishments, however, are etched into the minds of South Dakotans as much as Mount Rushmore, Needles Highway, or Badlands National Park.
Those are the South Dakota cement plant, the formation of a state-owned hail insurance program, stockyards, grain elevators, and even a coal mine. Only the first is generally accepted as a financial success. The detractors would say that the cement plant stymied private businesses from entering the field. They'd be right, and as with most state enterprises, it provides an unfair advantage in an otherwise balanced ecosystem.
Custer State Park is the second-largest in the country. It's comprised of 71,000 acres thriving with herds of Bison, Elk, Pronghorn (Antelope), Bighorn Sheep, and deer. It was an accomplishment to create, restore and preserve. Peter Norbeck had quite a hand in the creation of the park, and hats off to him for it. Since its creation in 1906, Custer State Park has acted as a sanctuary for many animals and can be credited as a major player in bringing back the bison from extinction. Countless visitors have come from all over the nation to visit the area, creating long-lasting memories for families that include the park in their vacation planning.
Custer State Park is extraordinarily special. So special is the park that it hasn't added campsites in 41 years! There's no doubt the demand exists, but at what cost? Projections show revenue generated from the proposed campsite would reach $500,000 a year, paying the State of South Dakota back in only 10 years. While this might be true, there comes a ripple effect that goes beyond dollars.
A 50% increase in campsites opening in year one would have an impact on privately-owned campgrounds, which is a serious concern to those involved. Beyond that, the two-lane Wildlife Loop Road would become increasingly congested. At the peak of the season, Wildlife Loop Road is already overburdened. Standstills occur at the sight of an antelope, or when the Bison freely cross the road. Rangers do their best to untangle these "Buffalo Jams." More people means more traffic, more accidents, more trash, more noise, more pollution, and less nature.
Migration patterns within the park would change along with the look and feel. While creating more tax dollars widens the eyes of politicians, it isn't a plus in the minds of many locals. South Dakota is a state whose residents want to protect, and for good reason. Governor Noem has done her part to bolster the friendly business environment and appears headed for reelection on November 8, 2022. This doesn't mean that a popular politician is immune to putting forth ideas with good intentions but bad outcomes. Noem, like Norbeck, is faced with a decision that could drastically alter the future of Custer State Park. Its trajectory could end up looking a lot like a Busch Gardens Safari experience if care isn't taken. If you think that's far-fetched take a look at just about every National Park in the country.
At a time when the National Park Service struggles with solutions to the overcrowding, proposals for Custer State Park seem to want to run headlong into the problem. Many parks are already implementing programs to improve overcrowding by limiting the number of visitors on a given day. Many working in the park will tell you, we're approaching those limits right now. Little has been said at the impending "event horizon" that no doubt South Dakotans will be facing in the not-so-near future.
If 10 million dollars can be made available to Custer State Park, the government may want to consider getting ahead of the issue and using the money to improve the existing experience. Perhaps low-interest loans could be made to the current campsite owners to improve their facilities. More funds are needed for conservation. Currently, 50% of the radio-collared bighorn sheep are dead due to mycoplasma ovipneumoniae, a pneumonia-causing bacteria that nearly wiped out the herd in years past.
Park Rangers are stretched thin trying to reign in the number of UTV's deviating from established trails. One doesn't have to look far to find the scars across beautiful meadows and fields. Forestry management braces each year for the fire season as well as a lookout for the infamous pine beetle, which devastates swaths of trees due to a more compact canopy and an increase in heatwaves. The streams and creeks of the Black Hills have been reduced to a trickle, resulting in a huge impact on the ecosystem. The riparian habitats are shrinking, a bellwether of what may come.
There are many reasons to spend money in Custer State Park, but expanded access and government interference in private business are not at the top of the list. Norbeck was a visionary, a conservationist, and a republican. His vision has been realized, now is the time to manage it properly.
Owner of My XO Adventures, Tour Guide, Traveler and Occasional Writer.
"Travel is Fatal to Prejudice, Bigotry, and Narrow Mindedness, and many of our people need It sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime." ~ Mark Twain
Founded In 1515, Havana boasts some of the best architecture in the world. It's known as the Paris of the Caribbean, with more color. Walking through old Havana we learned of its history, significant structures, beautiful squares, battles, the aristocracy, and even got to see some of the original infrastructure that made it such a desirable place to live.
The Old Town Center has been almost fully restored. Even during the pandemic, the restoration continued with an eye on the return of visitors and tourists from around the world. Each day that went by, we could see more visitors coming from all over Europe, Asia, and Russia.
Cuba can be visited by U.S. Citizens legally under a number of different General Licenses. Ours was "Support of the Cuban People". This means a full Itinerary learning about the history, arts, culture, and more. It also means spending money only in privately owned businesses. My XO Adventures supports and encourages U.S. Citizens to visit Cuba. Unfortunately, political reasons can get in the way of better understanding the people that call this island home. Once the television sets and news outlets are left behind, a whole new world opens up.
While Old Town has been restored for visitors and to protect the cultural heritage of Cuba, many surrounding areas are quite stunning. Vedado and Miramar are two of my favorites. Centro is an interesting place to visit, but an area that lacks restoration. Here you'll see everyday Cubans going about their business. While walking through Centro you'll witness equally amazing architecture but in a state of disrepair.
With the right perspective, you'll find beauty in the crumbling and worn buildings. The happiness of children playing marbles brings a smile to your face and a nostalgic feeling to your heart. It reminds us of what is important in life. This reminder can be humbling. It also has the ability to help us realize how fortunate we are, and if you're lucky to reevaluate what it is you think makes you happy.
The act of traveling carries with it life-changing moments and endless possibilities for your future. Friends are made In faraway places. Hearts are opened, and a greater understanding for the adventurer can occur. The simple reality is that we are not alone. By forming our own thoughts and opinions through real interactions we toss away the political agendas, governmental interference and wake to the understanding that we are all one human race.
We not only deserve the gift of travel but we are also obligated to it. Visit our Frequently Asked Questions page on travel to Cuba.
#myxoadventures #havanaheartbeat #havanacuba
International Travel during the Pandemic can prove a little tricky, but not impossible. A recent visit to Cuba under the OFAC license of "Support of the Cuban People" proved to be quite extraordinary given the circumstances of the Omicron spread. Cuba stands out as one of the most vaccinated countries in the world, due to being the only Latin American country to develop its own home-grown vaccines. Many Americans are unaware that Cuba shines in the worldwide community, coming in at 86.4% of its population vaccinated. That’s 2nd only to the UAE, which stands at 93.3%.
That’s pretty impressive and raising eyebrows with travelers as one of the safest destinations in the world. My XO Adventures owner, Daniel Milks recently traveled to Cuba from January 2-18, 2022 to prepare for a group arriving and get the lay of the land. It wasn’t going to be easy, but was it worth the trouble?
“Cuba Travel has always been a little tricky to navigate, but travelers to the country are almost always seasoned.” Entry into the country begins with securing accommodations, followed by an airline ticket into Havana. Tampa and Miami are popular points of origin, but surprisingly Iceland Air has been approved to enter the market and expand options for those who are interested.
“Travel to anywhere in the world takes a risk acceptance, and we were approaching the higher end of that limit.” Omicron was beginning to rage across Florida, with its 7-day average peak on January 10th, 2022 just before the group arrived. Already in Cuba on January 2, 2022, Daniel had a little time to prepare, reconnect with people, businesses and witness the current state of the country.
“After landing in Havana and taking a moment to look around, it didn’t appear that much had changed”, reported Daniel on January 3rd. Quite a few of the more well-known shopping districts were dotted with closed signs, but the economy officially opened in November, and this was only a month later in a country that suffers from the U.S. imposed embargo. Reportedly, Cubans were going about their business, spending time in markets, using public transportation, and enjoying outdoor games.
“Being able to see Cuba after two years of the Pandemic was pretty incredible. I’m always amazed at the resiliency of the people, and the magic of this gem in the Caribbean.” After meeting up with friends, a deeper look began. The restaurants that were open had limited selections each day, requiring the traveler to exercise patience and understanding. Certain places had long lines, but to the Cubans, this is something that’s become a part of life.
Walking through the streets Daniel reports major renovations and new construction. Hotels are being built all over Havana as if they have their eye on the future, and tourism is the way out of the economic challenges Cuba faces. Most notably, the former Convertible Peso (CUC) has been eliminated and replaced with the local peso (CUP). Inflation isn’t something that just exists in the U.S., it's being felt in Cuba by all the people.
During this visit, the official government exchange was $1 USD for 26 Pesos. The street rate was around $1 USD for 55-68 CUP depending on what day and person tried to hit you up. The monetary changes can be very confusing and should be left for another article. To say the least, wrapping your head around it, along with the fluctuations keeps you on your feet.
“As U.S. Citizen, and under the OFAC license Support of the Cuban People the only lodging available is from privately owned homes. To tell you the truth, this is the only way I’d visit Cuba, even if the restrictions were eliminated.” Private homes are called Casa Particulars, which are privately owned, and the family or managers live on site. Miramar, a high-end neighborhood dotted with Embassies, beautiful trees, and flowering bougainvillea makes it a great place to stay.
Before even making it to the accommodations, a meeting with some local Cuban’s at Grandma's house was the beginning of the experience. Here, we had three locals, Grandma, her grandson, and a friend. They were able to explain to the group about everyday life in the country. All this while enjoying some Cuban Rum, plantains, croquettes, and other tasty treats from Grandma's kitchen. Participants were drawn into the discussion and ready to ask questions. The most interesting was when it was Grandma’s turn. She is a Cuban that lived through the Triumph of the Revolution and had quite a few words to say about her experience. This is a behind the curtain look that any traveler to Cuba needs to experience and makes a great start to the beginning of the journey.
All the protocols are in place, wet mats with bleach, hand sanitizer, masks, and even grandma had her plastic face shield. Cuba took it seriously at the beginning of the pandemic. Lockdowns were in place, and COVID raged just like anywhere else until the vaccines began to roll out. Here you can see a drastic reduction in cases, deaths, and hospitalizations on charts found all over google. For Cubans, it wasn’t a matter of choice to get the vaccine. It was an obligation each person had to meet.
“I felt safer here than in the U.S.”, says Daniel Milks. Omicron cases in Cuba are low by comparison. The World Health Organization has Soberana, Cuba’s most effective vaccine in stage three trials. It’s already being used in Vietnam, Mexico, Iran, Venezuela, and more. Cuba boasts a 91.2% efficacy rate with three jabs being a full set.
Guests reflect back on the “Forbidden Fruit” that Cuba is for Americans. The complexities of operating a nation under an embargo. The desire of both governments to mend fences and establish relationships. Minds wander with memories as the airport nears. Soon, family and friends will be shown pictures and hear experiences. Maybe those stories are powerful enough to lead to change, one person at a time.Daniel Milks
Owner of My XO Adventures, Traveler and ocasional writer.
There’s no place like home. While we deal with new challenges, regulations, restrictions, etc., travel within the U.S.A. is going to be hot again. It's almost guaranteed. The airlines are already adjusting for this reality, and My XO Adventures is positioned extremely well. If you’re thinking about travel plans for the spring, summer, and fall of 2022 consider the places you have yet to explore.
The National Parks will be a lot like Disneyland, but fortunately, travel in the U.S.A is diverse and plentiful. In the travel business, the United States is often considered the most beautiful country in the world. For a travel planner, we consider the following (and more) when planning a destination for guests.
Believe it or not, we are more than Red and Blue. While the U.S. may not be considered the safest place on the planet, travelers generally don’t worry about where to visit. Take for instance Louisiana, and the French cultural roots we have there. Allons A Lafayette is an excellent choice when visiting the state. They can show you the true places of Cajun and Zydeco music. You can also get great food all over the place, including gas stations. French culture is heard in the language, seen in the architecture, and wafts through the air. It is simply amazing.
Arizona, Utah, New Mexico are all in the Southwest with their roots firmly grounded in Hispanic and indigenous cultures. The landscape is breathtaking, and the food is amazing. If you haven’t had a Hatch Chile, you haven’t experienced good Southwest Cuisine. A good outfitter in the area is Epic One Adventures, which can take you through Arizona, Utah, and some of the most beautiful landscapes you'll ever see.
Of course, My XO Adventures operates in an area that is overlooked by many, and thoroughly enjoyed by those who come. The Black Hills of South Dakota. Very little traffic, open roads, stunning mountains, and the Badlands. Southwestern South Dakota is the place to be. You might be thinking, South Dakota? Yeah well, it’s been kept a secret for some time now, and for good reason. It’s great being able to explore this part of the country in peace and tranquility.
Most people think of Mount Rushmore and nothing else. While this is quite an engineering accomplishment, the Black Hills themselves are the real star of the show. Ancient granite monoliths rise from the earth and sparkle in the sun. Filled with minerals like quartz, mica, feldspar, agates, and yes, gold. These towering spires are the Heart of All That Is for the Lakota, Cheyenne, Crow, and more. The mighty American Bison roams Custer State Park, the second-largest in the nation.
Elk, deer, prairie dogs, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and more call these places home. Babbling brooks and streams flow out of the mountains and towards the mighty Missouri River. Ponderosa Pines mixed with bright wildflower-filled meadows abound. Spearfish Canyon awes as you drive through the 1000-foot towering limestone cliffs. Further out you can visit Badlands National Park, one of the weirdest places on earth. Frank Lloyd Wright said it was nature's architecture, and it happens to be one of the largest depositories of fossils in the world.
Not to forget, The Black Hills sport some of the most amazing roads in the country. Iron Mountain Road and the Needles Highway are the most prominent. All of this is within an hour of Rapid City. Traveling internationally can be exciting and quite a bit of fun, but traveling throughout the U.S. makes one realize how fortunate we are to live in such a beautiful country.
The next several months at least are going to be problematic with international destinations. Not until Omicron spreads through and well into the spring will we see infection rates come back to normal. This means international travel might as well be dead for the moment. If you’re hell-bent on it, consider looking at that specific nation's vaccination rate. Country by county listings of COVID vaccinations. Ahem, look at second place.
If you don’t want to be so concerned with your personal vacation time, then get out and play. As the famous folk song is titled, This Land is Your Land. It overflows with natural wonders, places of healing like the Black Hills, and surely you haven’t seen it all. Fair warning though, start making your plans. Hotels will fill up, Airbnb’s will become scarce, and Private Tours will begin to become hard to find. Domestic travel also supports our economy and is made right here in the good ole U.S.A.
We are natural explorers and live in a part of the world where we're surrounded by magnificence. Try not to let fear keep you from getting out and experiencing new places, it might be just what you need.
South Dakota Great Places Designee My XO Adventures
I was truly honored and pleasantly surprised to become an official South Dakota Great Place Designee for Rapid City. South Dakota is an incredible place, and I've spent quite some time reading all kinds of books, listening to people, visiting special places, and doing the best I can to make sure each visitor to the Black Hills gets not a tour, but a great experience.
South Dakota Department of Tourism recently released their "South Dakota GREAT PLACE" designees.
From South Dakota Tourism Association:
"Great service is extremely important to the South Dakota Department of Tourism. That’s why we want to put a spotlight on the businesses that exemplify great service around the state.
We value and appreciate the businesses that consistently put people first, continuously go above and beyond, and help strangers at every opportunity. The South Dakota Great Place program recognizes these businesses each year."
While a lot of hard work and genuine passion goes into each and every tour, I want to say that I didn't do this alone. I'd like to recognize a few that have helped me along the way, and were integral to a successful season.
Black Hills Visit Rapid City Black Hills Tour Company (Kevin and Melina), Black Hills Recreational Therapy (Angie), God, my family, and friends who believed that I could accomplish anything I set my mind and heart to. This list is not exactly in order, but I want to give thanks to those who trusted me, welcomed me, and were willing to help when it was needed.
Our goals for 2022 are to contribute to a local 501c3 making significant impacts in our community, providing the highest level of education for those who love guiding in the Black Hills and Badlands, as well as setting a new standard of benefits to those I'm fortunate to employ.
Our intention is to make a positive impact on visitors to South Dakota, the economy as a whole, as well as the employees of My XO Adventures. Rapid City is now my home, and I truly love the Black Hills and Badlands. Next season is going to be even better, with the addition of an incredible guide, Ashley, and a new vehicle to accommodate more guests.
#myxoadventures #blackhillstours #hifromsd #supergrateful
Traveler, Adventurer, owner of My XO Adventures and occasional writer.