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Monday, December 30, 2013

Custer City - A Black Hills Original

In Murder in Custer State Park, Merritt spends a great deal of time in Custer City going to the grocery store, researching costumes at the 1881 Courthouse Museum and dining out with friends.

Located on the western edge of Custer State Park, the charming town of Custer City (known as 'Custer') is a gateway to the Black Hills.  Founded in 1875, Custer is the oldest settlement in the Black Hills. The population grew to 10,000 people in May of 1876, a thriving population based on mining.  However, the town lost all but fourteen of its residents when gold was discovered in the northern Black Hills near the town of Deadwood.  It has seen its share of ups and downs, but this Black Hills original stands resilient, with a population of 2,000 and a vibrant culture.  Custer City is a hub of tourism, the gateway town and supply center for Custer State Park and other area attractions. 

The 1881 Courthouse Museum was a tremendous help when Merritt was researching costumes for General George Armstrong Custer.  They have numerous exhibits on the Black Hills and colorful history of Custer City.

Custer has many museums, shops and restaurants.  I recommend a stop at the Museum of Woodcarving, Lunch at Cattleman's and a stroll downtown.

For groceries: Custer County Market, Dakota Mart

For more information about Custer, SD:

There's Gold in the Black Hills

Gold fever first came to the Black Hills, when in the summer of 1874, an expedition led by Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer discovered gold in the Black Hills.  Under the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie, mining was not allowed as this region belonged to the Plains Indians.  Gold fever became an infection, unfortunately that spread quickly and a group of gold seekers from Sioux City, Iowa moved into the Black Hills the following winter. 

The Gordon Party built a log fortress on the bank of  French Creek just inside the current boundaries of Custer State Park, near Stockade Lake.  The Gordon Party's endeavor was not very profitable, and in five months they were removed for violating the treaty by the US Cavalry.  The Gordon Party however signaled the first of what would be a rush of over 10,000 fortune seekers to the Black Hills.  These miners illegally inhabited Lakota's sacred land.  To the Lakota mining for gold in the Black Hills was obstructing the true treasure - the beauty of the land itself! Gold led to further conflict in the area, but also opened up new trade and defined the region's created the rough and tumble town of Deadwood, which I will blog about soon...

Today you can tour a recreation of the original Stockade Fort, then spend the afternoon relaxing at Stockade Lake, hiking the Stockade Lake Trail and picnicking on the banks of this idyllic patch of 'golden paradise' while reading 'Murder in Custer State Park.'

Crazy Horse - Monument of Spirit

"My lands are where my people lie buried." - Crazy Horse

So speaks to the spirit of the Lakota and the Native Tribes of the land.  To the Lakota the Black Hills are sacred.  Known as the Paha Sapa, they are a place of spiritual connectivity that should be revered and protected.  One of the true great Lakota heroes, that inspires generations of Americans today is Crazy Horse, a man of great spirit and determination.  He was a renowned war general who fought bravely for the victory at The Battle of Little Bighorn. 

Crazy Horse and the Lakota felt betrayed that their sacred land was unfairly stolen by the Federal Government through improper treaties.  This dark time serves as a reminder for future generations to respect and honor one another and the land. Perhaps it is that spirit that makes Crazy Horse a figure of inspiration for Native Americans and non-Native Americans, like myself.  He died after being stabbed in the back with a bayonet after being captured by U.S. forces (might have been on purpose or part of the heat of the moment...)  His body was buried by his parents in an undisclosed location.

With the advent of Mount Rushmore, members of the Lakota tribe commissioned sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski to create a monument in stone to Crazy Horse, so that the public would know that the Lakota have heroes of value too.  For the reminder of his life, Korczak dedicated himself entirely to the cause of seeing the dream of 'Crazy Horse' realized.  It is a dream that is still in motion...

Korczak Ziolkowski was born in Boston of Polish descent.  Orphaned at age one, he grew up in foster homes.  He was completely self-taught and never took a formal lesson in art, sculpture, architecture or engineering. That is striking considering his talent in art and sculpture!

Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear learned of the sculptor when Korczak's Paderwski: Study of an Immortal won first prize, by popular vote at the 1939 NY World's Fair. "My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know the red man has great heroes, also..." - Standing Bear wrote to Korczak asking him to the Black Hills to carve Crazy Horse.  It is unknown what Crazy Horse looked like (reports of a photograph of Crazy Horse are highly contested), so this is a monument to his Spirit and the spirit of the Lakota and Native American who are a foundational core of the fabric of American culture.

Korczak arrived in the Black Hills on May 3 1947 and started work on the mountain in 1948.  He was almost forty with only $174 to his name.  He worked until his death in 1982 carving, blasting with dynamite to create Crazy Horse.  Upon his death, his wife Ruth and family continued his legacy.  Each year working in concert with the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation, work concludes, a new layer emerging in the sculpture.  When completed it will be the largest sculpture in the world!  It is already larger than Mount Rushmore.

Crazy Horse is more than the monument, it is a memorial to all Native Americans.  The Indian Museum of North America  features a history of the Lakota and other tribes, Native American art and a film 'Dynamite & Dreams' about the monument.  You can visit Korczak's studio and view many of his sculptures.  Eventually Crazy Horse Memorial hopes to have a hospital, college and other resources for Native Americans.  It is supported 100% by admission and donations.  They host the Volksmarch in the summer and have spectacular laser shows through the year under the Dakota night sky.  Stay tuned to their FB page and website for info about dynamite detonations - which you can witness - as they continue work on Crazy Horse.

I have visited Crazy Horse twice and each time I'm thrilled - it is a work in progress as dynamite and dreams continue - visit Crazy Horse - you won't be disappointed.

Crazy Horse Memorial Website -

Splelunk in the Caverns of the Black Hills

Spelunk: Explore Caves as a hobby.

Even if you don't want to delves deep into the unknown abyss of the underground network of the mystery of South Dakota's vast cave systems, wired with ropes and helmets, you can venture into Jewel Cave National Monument and Wind Cave National Park on a guided, safe and illuminating cave tour.

In Murder in Custer State Park, Merritt and Josh explore Jewel Cave on a Ranger Tour and hike above ground on the Hell's Canyon Trail.

Jewel Cave:
Jewel Cave was set aside as a National Monument in 1908.  Spelunkers originally believed the cave to be relatively small, until exploration teams in the 1950s discovered the vast mazes of passageways.  To date over 168 miles of mapped and surveyed passages, make Jewel Cave the second longest cave in America (behind Mammoth in KY) and the third longest cave in the world! 
The cave was named by Frank and Albert Michaud, two area prospectors, who discovered the cave in 1900.  They thought the calcite formations resembled 'jewels.'  Jewel Cave is an adventure both above and below the earth.  The National Park Service offers several cave tours, including the basic 'Discovery Tour,' popular 'Lantern Tour,' and even 'Spelunking Adventures.'  Reservations are recommended for the tours.  Scientists and spelunkers are constantly searching for new passageways and mapping new discoveries into their search of the cave's unknown spots.  Cave life is surprisingly complex, with an ecosystem based on limited sunlight, bats to small bugs...Even in the depths of darkness there is life...

"Jewel Cave was formed by the gradual dissolution of limestone by stagnant, acid-rich water. The water enlarged a network of cracks that had formed during the uplift of the Black Hills approximately 60 million years ago. The layer of calcite crystals that covers much of the cave walls was created by the re-deposition of calcite from water saturated with the mineral.
After the water that formed the cave drained, speleothems (cave formations) began to form. Jewel Cave contains all the common types of calcite formations, such as stalactites, stalagmites, flowstone, and frostwork, although not in the same abundance as other well-known caves. The dry parts of the cave contain some formations created by the deposition of gypsum, such as gypsum needles, beards, flowers, and spiders. Finally, Jewel Cave contains a very rare formation called a hydromagnesite balloon. Those are created when gas of an unknown source inflates a pasty substance formed by the precipitation of the magnesium carbonate hydroxide mineral." - from park website.

I recommend doing The Lantern Tour and taking time to hike Hell's Canyon - bring plenty of water as the prairie heat can be scorching.

For more information about Jewel Cave:

Wind Cave National Park:
Just south of Custer State Park, is a sprawling undaunted prairie, where tall grasses wave in the rhythm of the wind and bison roam, and prairie dogs bark.  If this tapestry of wind and grassland wasn't enough to inspire, below, hidden in the vault of the earth is Wind Cave.  Wind Cave is one of the oldest caves in the world, forming 320 million years ago from erosion, sediment deposits, cracks and dissolution.  Wind Cave is a magical wonderland.  It is known for its exquisite intricate boxwork formations- thin, honeycomb shaped structures of calcite that protrude from the walls and ceilings.  Wind Cave has a few stalactites and stalagmites, what makes this cave unique is the diversity of features and complex geology of the cave.  It is amazing to note that in 100 years of modern cave's exploration (it was known as a sacred place to American Indians prior to rediscovery), has only reveals 5% of the caves network of passageways (determined by barometric wind studies).  Scientists and spelunkers continue to defy the dark and delve into the recesses of the cave charting bit by bit new discoveries of this ancient underworld of art.

While at Wind Cave take time to do a cave tour or two, each tour offers a slightly different look at various cave features.  Enjoy a prairie hike and work on spotting prairie dogs and bison.

For more information:
Wind Cave:

Frost work - Wind Cave

Mount Rushmore

In Murder in Custer State Park, The Custer Playhouse performs Dakota in the Rushmore amphitheater.  They use their free time at the Memorial to explore The President's Trail, Sculptors Studio and Museum...Plan your trip to Mount Rushmore - it is a must see attraction...

Mount Rushmore is a national treasure, it surpasses political divides and conflict, it is an emblem of our unity as a nation, and growing above our hardships and mistakes to the ideal of democracy.  It is an international symbol of America, that attracts millions of tourists from as far away as Russia and China to nearby Rapid City.  I asked my friend who is from Russia (she went to Belmont with me) why she made it a priority to visit Mount Rushmore on her vacation to the US - it is because Mt. Rushmore is a symbol of hope in human's overcoming the impossible odds to have a peaceful form of government - is it perfect, no, but it is a memorial to that hope and stirs the patriotism in Americans to fight to preserve the diverse fabric of our nation from the Native American cultures of the Lakota who consider these hills sacred, school children who are first learning of American history, to adults who have varying opinions to immigrants who see Mount Rushmore for the first time. It is an inspiring testament, the monument is artistry and a feat that took countless hours, hard work, blasting and sculpting...Mount Rushmore is a pipe dream that seemed impossible, yet now it stands as a testament to working together for a good goal.

In 1923 South Dakota state historian Doane Robinson suggested carving giant statues into the granite outcroppings of the Black Hills...Robinson wanted to memorialize historical figures of the state including Red Cloud, Lewis & Clark and Buffalo Bill, Custer....He initially proposed The Needle outcroppings, but it was decided 'God made the Needles' and they should not be tampered with. The idea behind the carvings was to increase tourism to The Black Hills. 

The memorial's backers called in master sculptor of Stone Mountain in Georgia, Gutzon Borglum.  In an era when many artists were disenchanted with American patriotism, Borglum made his name through celebration of things American.  Borglum was born in Idaho to Danish immigrants and studied art in Paris.  He studied in the shadow of his artist brother, Solon....Borglum was an up and coming sculptor of increasing fame when he was approached about the giant sculpting project that became Mount Rushmore.

Borglum scouted out a location far better than the fragile Needles: 5,725 foot Mount Rushmore (named after a New York lawyer in 1885).  Its broad wall of exposed granite, faced southeast to receive direct sunlight for most of the day.  Borglum's goal, to carve the mountain as a last memorial to American ideals: "in commemoration of the foundation, preservation, and continental expansion of the United States."

Borglum selected four U.S. presidents that defined the history of America:
George Washington: commander of the Revolutionary army and first U.S. President - he set the standard of how a leader should act, gracious and hard-working, noble and honest, working for democracy in action, a public servant for the people in a government by the people.

Thomas Jefferson: As author of the Declaration of Independence and our third President, Jefferson was instrumental in forming America and promoting democracy.  During his presidency he was the mastermind of the Louisiana Purchase, which nearly tripled the size of the nation and helped open up South Dakota area as US territory.  He sponsored the Lewis & Clark Corps of Discovery, which plays a critical part in South Dakota and American history...

To the far right on the monument:
Abraham Lincoln, whose leadership restored the Union out of the bloody Civil War and ended slavery on U.S. soil

Theodore Roosevelt was chosen for his role in conservation and progressive initiatives.  At the time of commissioning Mt. Rushmore, many did not want Roosevelt added, but now he is considered one of our finest presidents and patron of our parks system.

During his Summer White House stay in Custer State Park, President Calvin Coolidge dedicated the memorial in 1927, commencing fourteen years of work; only six years were spent on actual carving.  Money became an obstacle, particularly with the Great Depression.  Borglum didn't give up, lobbying officials, representatives, senators and presidents. "The work is purely a national memorial," he insisted at a congressional hearing in 1938.  Pride in country in uncertain times bonds the country together - diversity yet unity under the American flag of freedom.  The project also created good jobs, and good will.

The Washington head was finished first in 1930. It is interested to know that Washington had to be first and farthest left because of the carving of his nose and profile, Borglum was meticulous in siting and planning the exact placement of each head based on erosion factors, sunlight, etc...

President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated Jefferson in 1936, Lincoln in 1937 and Roosevelt in 1939.  Borglum died in 1941, but his son Lincoln, a brilliant sculptor in his own right finished work.  Work stopped in October 1941, on the eve of U.S. entry into World War II, a testament of American spirit that so many brave men and women have fought to preserve and protect.

Things to Do:
- See the Monument: One of the best angles of view, outside of the main viewing platform, is on the President's Trail.  The .5 mile Presidential Trail begins at the Grand View Terrace and provides access to the viewing sites near the talus slop of the facing.  The trail also winds to Borglum's Sculptor's Studio: displays models and tools used in the carving process-giving an insight on the planning and artistry of the monument.
-Go to the Lincoln Borglum Museum, watch the 13-minute history film and tour the exhibit halls.  I recommend doing this first.
-Grab some ice-cream in the dining hall...peruse the gift shop
-At night a lighting ceremony is held in the amphitheater
-Ranger talks occur throughout the day

For more information about Mount Rushmore, including interesting facts and history, visit the official webpage:

Fun Facts about Mount Rushmore:

View from President's Trail

Sculptor's Studio

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Iron Mountain Road Adventure

In Murder in Custer State Park, Merritt and the Playhouse cast and crew wind up the Iron Mountain Road for a performance at Mt. Rushmore...

The Iron Mountain Road is a journey that defies gravity, twisting and turning through stunning extremes of awe-inspiring mountain vistas, rock hewn bends and breaks, dizzying spins...The seventeen mile road at its core is an engineering marvel traversing through God's architecture, nature's unbridled beauty.  Prepare for to be inspired on the journey of The Iron Mountain Road.

The Iron Mountain Road, known as 16A, is a seventeen mile stretch of the northern area of Custer State Park that connects to Mount Rushmore. This road was sited by Peter Norbeck and Rushmore sculptor Gutzon Borglum.  It was designed to offer top views and perfectly visualized angles of the landscape, framing Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills.  This is a road meant to be driven at a slow pace, so you can enjoy each and every breathtaking moment of drama.  You cannot speed without imperiling your life.  In its seventeen miles, the Iron Mountain Road has 314 curves, 14 switchbacks, 3 pigtail bridges, 3 tunnels, wildlife, and 2 splits, all leading to four presidents carved into stone as a testament of Dakota's ancient hills and the foundation of our nation.

Camp or book a hotel in Custer, then carve out a day to take the Iron Mountain Road to Mount Rushmore, tour the Memorial and check out Keystone.  It will be a day you won't forget.

For more about The Iron Mountain Road:

Custer Prairie Sunflower Cookies

Cozy up with the mystery and intrigue of Murder in Custer State Park...enjoying this recipe for Prairie Sunflower Cookies:

  • ½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • ½ cup coconut oil
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (gluten free: mix flour with this base - 1/2 cup Rice Flour, 1/2 cup Brown Rice Flour, 1/2 cup sorghum flour, 1/2 cup Tapioca flour, 1/2 cup corn starch, pinch flaxseed); 1 teaspoon xanthan gum for gluten free
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 cup shredded coconut
  • 1 cup unsalted roasted sunflower seed kernels
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugars with an electric mixer until fluffy and pale in color, about 4-5 minutes.
  3. Add the coconut oil, eggs and vanilla and mix until combined.
  4. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
  5. Add the flour mixture to the wet mixture and beat just until combined.
  6. Stir in the oats, shredded coconut, and sunflower seeds.
  7. Drop the cookie batter by the spoonful onto a prepared cookie sheet.
  8. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until the edges of the cookies are beginning to turn golden.
Sunflower seeds can go stale fairly quickly so be sure to use ones that are fresh
This recipe is courtesy of the Daring Gourmet - I made a few additions from my own baking experience
Sunflower Seed and Sunbutter Cookies are great options if you have a peanut allergy - plus sunflower seeds are a high source of zinc, selenium and vitamin e!

Wild Custer Adventure: Wildlife Loop

Murder in Custer State Park is available now on Kindle and in paperback

Step into the wild on Custer's Wildlife Loop...

Custer's Wildlife Loop winds eighteen miles through thick forests and granite bluffs to wild golden prairie.  The Loop garners its name from the vast Custer Wildlife population that lines the road, offering an insight to the intricate prairie and mountain ecosystems that converge in the park.  The change is scenery is jarringly, shocking the senses with windswept beauty that captures the heart to embrace nature in a new reverence.

The southern section of the loop has a visitor center offering insight on the grassland ecosystem. 

I recommend taking time to do the three mile Prairie Trail, which showcases the grassland habitat and wildflower meadows (bring plenty of water and use bug spray)

Here is a list of animals commonly found along the Wildlife Loop:

- Bison; 2000 pounds, shaggy with razor sharp horns, keep a distance of at least 25 yards; bison run 30+ miles per hour.  They are wild and dangerous.  Look at them with reverence from a distance.

-Whitetail Deer: white hair on the underside of tail, When the animal runs, the tail is flipped up and looks like a waving flag.

- Mule Deer: named for their large ears.  They have black-tipped tails, which are short and narrow and are carried down when the deer runs.  They bound with a stiff-legged gait.  You will not see a more powerful jump than the Mule Deer in 'flight.'

- Pronghorn: often incorrectly called antelope, live mainly on the open grasslands.  The name comes from the bucks' large pronged horns.  The females' horns are small and un-pronged.  Can run 40 mph or faster and are excellent jumpers!

- Prairie Dogs: The black-tailed prairie dog is found on dry, upland prairie.  They are a keystone species, meaning that other species depend on the prairie dog for survival including the Black Footed Ferret...Prairie Dogs live in large social groups called towns.  Prairie Dogs help to preserve the vitality of the prairie by conserving water.  They are misidentified as pests by ranchers, poisoned in mass, for fear their holes will break the legs of cattle, when actually there are no known examples of this happening.  Also ranchers have used the common myth that prairie dogs eat the cattle's grass, in truth prairie dogs eat the less nutrient rich part of the grass and pull up the richer root, which is preferred by cattle and bison - I will post more about the adorable and critical species soon!

- Begging Burros: The burros in CSP are not native to the Black Hills.  They are descendants from a herd that once hauled visitors to the top of Harney Peak.  When the rides were discontinued the burros were released into the park and they are a popular attraction.  They are used to people and put their heads in cars (use caution, but this is one exception of wildlife you can interact with - respect the animal and be aware of safety concerns)

- Elk: Elk are rarely seen in daytime hours, so dawn and dusk are the best viewing times

- Wild Turkey

- Bighorn Sheep: South Dakota's original bighorn sheep was the Audubon subspecies.  When it became extinct about 1920, a herd of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep was introduced to CSP.  They have a sturdy, yet gracious build and are able to move up and down the terrain with ease.  The males have curved large horns, the ewes have smaller horns.  Bighorn Sheep are at risk for pneumonia - DO NOT FEED THE SHEEP!   They are susceptible to getting sick and it is important to keep them healthy - when I was in the park in 2009, the population had dwindled to 19 because of pneumonia in sheep.

Murder in Custer State Park - Merritt and Josh spend their first 'date' together on The Wildlife Loop

Tatanka - Bison symbol of Custer State Park

Explore the Black Hills with costumer and amateur sleuth Merritt Andrews in Murder in State Park.

Custer State Park is renowned for being a refuge for wildlife, echoing the prairie song of these western plains, that were once filled with bison, pronghorn, bighorn sheep...Peter Norbeck first drew attention to conservation efforts to save South Dakota's Bison population and reintroduce other native forms of wildlife that were driven extinct in westward expansion (fur trade, trappers, game hunting.)

Bison are the mascot of Custer State Park.  'Buffalo' (scientifically known as 'Bison bison') roam the park, trekking from the Iron Mountain Road, to Game Lodge onwards to the prairies of the Wildlife Loop.  Custer's Buffalo herd is 1300 + strong.  This wasn't always the case, if it hadn't been for the efforts of conservationists, bison would be a mere ghost on the plains. 

150 years ago, Buffalo roamed this land by the millions, stampeding on the plains, as mighty warriors of Dakota.  30 years of market hunting and western settlement decimated the bison population.  Isn't it scary to think how quickly our lack of concern for our environment and surroundings can deteriorate.  This is a living history call to remind us to move forward as stewards of the earth, actively helping us to learn from the past.  By 1900 only 1,000 bison lived in all of America - millions to 1000?  That is staggering.  The Lakota see the bison as a sacred animal, The Great Spirits gift as a renewable resource that must be respected.  They used all part of the animal for food, clothing, teepees, and admired the bison, they hunted it as a management and resource, but not plundering the populations.  The Lakota mourned the loss of the bison and can give us an example when being conservationist - using our resources without plundering them. 

Pete Dupree and Scotty Philip were instrumental in saving the bison population.  They kept five bison calves to raise and started a bison heard to preserve the species.  In December 1914, Custer State Game Preserve (now Custer State Park) purchased thirty-six bison from Scotty Phillip.  The herd grew with more park purchases to 2,500.  In the 1960s a limited Bison hunt was held, although this seems counterintuitive, the park's 71,000 acres can only support around 1500 bison  (healthy population)...

The Buffalo Roundup: The park manages the bison population with the annual Buffalo Roundup - bison are rounded up to the Buffalo Corrals on the Wildlife Loop - an amazing sight, and vaccinated and given exams.  Bison over ten years old are auctioned off to bison ranches - this ensures that they receive a peaceful life in the park for the majority of their years...many are sold as studs to buffer other bison herds.  Custer State Park has one of the best eco-management of wildlife in the world.  They understand the perfect balance of protection. 

The Buffalo Roundup is held the third weekend in September and includes an arts festival and bison chili cook off.

Camping in Custer State Park

In August 2009, I spent three weeks camping at Center Lake in Custer State Park.  I fell in love with the park, its history, culture, recreation and natural splendor.  It was long days spent hiking in the Custer backcountry, picnicking at numerous day-use areas, dipping my toes in the area's many lakes, 'spelunking' in Jewel and Wind Caves that the idea for 'Murder in Custer State Park' was born.  I work the book in 2010 and have edited it the past few years and writing additional books (including Playhouse Mystery Series - soon be released).

My passion for camping came from Summer in Custer - as a seasoned National and State Park traveler and hiker, CSP is still my favorite place to camp.  Custer State Park offers top amenities and facilities (free showers - a big perk when roughing it), activities on site and boundless recreation.

So pick up your copy of 'Murder in Custer State Park,' curl up by the fire and delve into camping fun and mystery.

Here is a list of the camping options in Custer and some tips for making your camping trip a success.

Custer Campgrounds:

Blue Bell Campground: Great location - you can walk to the General Store, restaurant and horseback riding!

Center Lake Campground: I highly recommend Center Lake Campground.  It is half a mile from The Black Hills Playhouse, and adjacent to Center Lake.  This campground is well sited with electric and non electric, RV to Tent only sites. 

Game Lodge: A hub of activity - this campground is well sited, albeit packed with Bison.  Bison weigh 2,000 + pounds, have razor sharp horns and can gore you, running at speeds of 30 mph.  They are peaceful animals, but need their space, so I personally don't feel comfortable sleeping in their prime lounging ground - (this comes from summers working and living in Yellowstone National Park as well)

Stockade Lake: I love Stockade Lake.  It is so peaceful.  I spent days on end lost in the serenity of the lake, watching the ducks quack in chorus, hiking in the Stockade Lake area...the advantage of Stockade Lake is that it very close to the gateway town of Custer City, where you buy your groceries.  This is very convenient if you are staying in the area more than a night or two.  You can boat on Stockade Lake, making this a good option if you are attracted to water sports.

Sylvan Lake Campground: Sylvan Lake is a recreation paradise, with swimming, kayaking and ample hiking opportunities.

French Creek Horse Camp - horseback ride?  This might be the spot for you.

The campgrounds have a variety of sites and also include some camper cabins for all the latest info: 1 800 710 CAMP

Camping Essentials:
- Lantern - we use battery powered, but Kerosene is preferred by most.  If you do use battery powered I recommend LED Coleman works the best in my experience.
- Chairs: fold out chairs by Kelty to Coleman help make your camping trip comfortable.  I loved journaling in my waterproof fold out chair.
- Kindling, Firewood: Both are sold in General Stores.  I recommend taking a class at REI or going on YouTube to learn about building a fire.  It is critical that you use top safety precautions with fire to protect the forests of Custer from wildfire.
- Tarps - bring lots of tarps - you'll need one for under the tent, and more for covering/protection - Custer has no bears, so it is one of the few places you can store your food outside.
-Cooler (Ice is sold at General Stores)
- Tent: REI and Coleman are my suggestions for tents.  I actually used the Coleman 4-person instant tent when I camped in YNP this past September - it held up better than my other tent - withstanding four days of heavy rain and snow without one leak.  It cost $100.  I also used the Ozark Brand (Wal-Mart) for a back-up tent and it worked great as well... though I recommend Coleman.
-Sleeping Bag: In the Black Hills, nights are chilly but not frigid; 30+ is okay, though 0+ sleeping bags are preferred.
-Utensils, plates...we used eco-friendly paper and compostable utensils for our camping the last few times, but camping utensils are affordable at most Outdoor stores and re-usable
- Trash bags - Seventh Generation work great and are good for the environment
- Cooking gear: I won't go into too much detail about this, Coleman stoves are ideal and run $50-$200, using propane or kerosene.  When we camped at Custer we made a lot of Gluten Free Wraps (Like Merritt, I'm gluten intolerant) and ate twice a week at area restaurants.  In YNP we typically camp with salads and sandwiches, because it is easy to pack and clean up.  However if you are up for going all the way with cooking a culinary feast at your campsite - the fire rings at Custer work great - or you can plug into the electricity...

Do not allow your tarp to extend this far, we cut it down to size - otherwise the rain will flood your tent.  Look for a hilly spot, that is flat enough for your tent, so if it does rain, the water will go down the hill, instead of flooding your tent.
You cannot camp without making S'mores:

Chocolate squares (Hershey's is fine, but I prefer Green & Blacks or organic varieties without soy, as I'm allergic to soy)
Graham Crackers (If you are Gluten Intolerant like me, Kinnicknick has a Gluten Free S'More Cracker, you can also use gluten free crackers - rice crackers even, cookies, anything crunch that blends well with chocolate.  I have used Gingerbread Cookies before)
Marshmallows - roasted on the open fire

Wild Custer Adventure: Legion Lake

Costumer and amateur sleuth Merritt Andrews and her Custer Playhouse friends spent a lot of their free time at Legion Lake.  This family-friendly destination is the perfect mountain hideaway...Murder in Custer State Park

Legion Lake Area:
Relax in the Old West charm of Legion Lake.  Located along Galena Creek, Legion Lake Lodge dates to 1913, when Custer State Park was a game preserve in Custer State Forest.  The area was leased to the local American Legion post - hence the name 'Legion.'  Legion Lake is a laid back oasis, where you can swim on a lazy afternoon and go hiking on the rocky 'Legion Loop.' 

Accommodations include the Legion Lodge cabins, set back in a Ponderosa forest, overlooking the shimmering lake.  The Legion Lake campground is a perfect spot to pitch a tent and ignite a campfire.

Legion Lake Lodge's Dining Room has affordable home favorites, including hearty breakfasts, delectable lunches of sandwiches and burgers to scrumptious steak dinners with house wine.  Land O'Lakes ice cream and homemade pies placate any sweet tooth.

The Legion Lake General Store (attached to dining room) has lots of souvenirs and camping gear. 

- Hiking: Legion Lake Loop and Centennial Trail
- Theatre: The Black Hills Playhouse is only a few miles from Legion Lake on Highway 87 North.
- Badger Clark's Badger's Hole Cabin...
- Swimming and Water Recreation

The Shadow of Harney Peak: Sylvan Lake

In Murder in Custer State Park, costumer and amateur sleuth Merritt Andrews solves a series of murders in the majesty and mystery of South Dakota's Black Hills.  Grab a copy of Murder in Custer State Park, and stay tuned to The Inkspot for Custer travel tips.

Sylvan Lake Escape
Looming high, conversing with the clouds, Harney Peak rises as a great mountain of granite.  It is the tallest peak east of the Rockies and west of the European Alps.  In the shadow of Harney Peak you'll discover the jewel of Custer State Park, the tranquil resplendence of Sylvan Lake. 

The lake was created in 1881 when Theodore Reder built a dam across Sunday Gulch. In 1885 the original Sylvan Lake Lodge was built as a Victorian style edifice, overlooking the sparkling shores of Sylvan Lake.  After the hotel burned to the ground in 1935, the current lodge was erected to mimic the natural landscape.  Architect suggested the location of the current hotel to highlight the scenic beauty, his style influence was woven by the architecture team, making this elegant hotel, inviting, peaceful and naturally inspiring. 

The Sylvan Lake Hotel takes you back to the days of Grand Lodges.  It has rustic splendor, offering excellent views of the mountains and lake.  It's dining room is known for locally inspired fine-cuisine.

Sylvan Lake is a headquarters for recreation.  In hot summer days, visitors fill the lake, cooling off in the clear waters.  Kayaking is a popular activity on the lake as well.  There are a plethora of hikes in the Sylvan Lake area, whether you desire to scale Harney Peak or amble along the otherworldly, supernatural-like granite cliffs lining the lake.  Scenes of 'National Treasure 2' was filmed at Sylvan Lake.

Sylvan Lake is at the northern end of The Needle's Highway, making the drive to Sylvan Lake from other areas of the park all the more magical.

To book your Custer Vacation:

Don't forget to purchase your copy of 'Murder in Custer State Park.'


State Game Lodge: Summer White House

Delve into the mystery and majesty of the Black Hills in Murder in Custer State Park.

Step back in time to the Roaring 1920s, the year is 1927 and Custer State Park is on the precipice of being thrust onto the national stage, laying a foundation for South Dakota's Tourism Industry today. 

For years, Peter Norbeck has fastidiously worked to raise awareness about the natural splendor and wonder of the Black Hills.  On his agenda, to gain federal funding for the construction of Mount Rushmore. 

Norbeck believes that if President Coolidge can witness the majesty of Custer State Park and the Black Hills in person, his doubts about Federal Funding for the region will be alleviated.  Norbeck invites his good friend, President 'Cool' Cal Coolidge to spend a three week summer vacation in Custer State Park at the gracious State Game Lodge. 

Designed by architect Cecil C. Gideon, and constructed from 1919-1922, The State Game Lodge is an immaculately built lodge of stone and Black Hills wood. The lodge is set in a pristine valley, surrounded by thick ponderosa pine and 'Grace Coolidge' Creek.  It is a popular hotspot for the park's bison population. 

Senator Norbeck pulled all stops to ensure that The Coolidge family was enchanted by Custer and The Black Hills.  He even stocked 'Grace Coolidge' Creek with fish every night to ensure, the angling President would reel in dozens of fish.  The Coolidges' quickly fell under Custer's spell.  The President extended his three month vacation from three weeks to three months.  He ordered his staff to come to Custer State Park, while the Press Corps stationed themselves in the current Grace Coolidge General Store. 

It was during President Coolidge's stay that the penny-pinching leader was wooed to order sponsor the creation of America's monument: Mount Rushmore.  Coolidge's visit garnered national attention, which propelled increased tourism to South Dakota. 

In 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower vacationed for several days at the State Game Lodge, making it a true lodge for Presidents. 

The State Game Lodge is the ideal place to stay in Custer.  It offers a variety of stately rooms with rustic Dakota touches.  It's partner hotel, the modern Creekside Lodge, is open year-round and offers 30 luxurious lodge rooms, lobby and meeting rooms. Merritt and Josh (Murder in Custer State Park) use the Creekside Lodge's Wi-Fi when solving the Custer murders.

If you prefer to rough it, The Game Lodge area is home to a well-sited campground with electric and non-electric sites.  My only tip is if you camp at Game Lodge, be wary of the bison.  They often meander through camp and are deadly if you get too close.  For this reason I recommend the nearby Grace Coolidge Campground or Center Lake, Blue Bell, Legion or Stockade Lake campgrounds.

The State Game Lodge restaurant is fine dining and homegrown Dakota food that appeals to a variety of palettes.  All bison served in the restaurant comes from Custer's Bison population.  They also have artist in residence in the hotel gift shop.

The Grace Coolidge General Store is your first stop for all gifts, merchandise and camping supplies for your Custer State Park Adventure.

Things to do in Game Lodge Area:
- Peter Norbeck Visitor Center: Josh Ford worked at this VC - it is your go-to source for all things Custer, from the ecology, Junior Naturalist program, Gold Panning demonstrations, park history...A must stop in Custer.
- Picnic areas - there are numerous picnic areas in the Game Lodge area where you can take in the scenery, breathing in the fresh mountain air.
- Buffalo Safari Jeep Rides and Chuck Wagon Cookout: takes you from State Game Lodge to the park's backcountry, an exciting open air adventure to see park wildlife, with educational and historic commentary.
-Mountain Bike Rentals
-Nightly Programs in the Barn
-Hiking: Get into the backcountry - hike The Lover's Leap Trail, Creekside Path...
Book your vacation to Custer State Park for 2014.  The State Game Lodge is booked up months to years in advance, so plan accordingly. 
-The Wildlife Loop - start the wildlife loop (18 miles) from State Game Lodge, through prairie wild land up to Blue Bell then back again. You'll be treated to Begging Burros, Pronghorn, Mule Deer and Prairie Dogs

For more information about planning your Custer vacation:

And don't forget to pick up your copy of 'Murder in Custer State Park.'

Peter Norbeck - The Father of Custer State Park

In Murder in Custer State Park, The Custer Playhouse produces Dakota, a play about the colorful history of South Dakota.  One of the most prominent characters is Peter Norbeck, the real life 'Father of Custer State Park.' 

No person was more instrumental in the founding of Custer State Park than progressive politician and conservationist Peter Norbeck. 

Born on August 27 1870 to Scandinavian Immigrants near present-day Vermillion South Dakota, Peter Norbeck rose to be one of South Dakota's great advocates and leaders.  He served in the state legislature and as Lieutenant Governor before becoming the first native-born South Dakotan to serve as the state's Governor.  He later served three terms as a United States Senator.

Norbeck had a love of his land in his home state, particularly the majesty of the Black Hills.  As a progressive conservationist, Norbeck was at the forefront of the movement to protect lands for future generations and sustainable land management.  Throughout his career, Norbeck vigorously fought for the establishment of state and national parks, forests and wildlife preserves, advocating that conservation and the local tourism and farming economies were interconnected. 

In 1912, serving as Governor of South Dakota, Norbeck crafted a deal, to allow school holding lands to be consolidated into a nearly 48,000 acre tract, named Custer State Forest.  On July 1, 1919, the state legislature voted to change Custer's status as a state forest to Custer State Park - South Dakota's first State Park.

Senator Norbeck was active in the development of Custer State Park.  He traveled on foot and horseback, canvassing the vivid backcountry of the forests, prairies and steep ridges within the park's boundaries.  Norbeck desired to share the beauty of the topography with the average traveler.  He knew that motorists wouldn't be willing to hike and climb the difficult terrain, so he meticulously designed 'the impossible road,' The Needle's Highway.  This feat of engineering, completed in 1922, winds and cuts through the pristine Black Hills.  People say of Norbeck's endeavor with the Needle's: " he found great pictures in nature and gave them to the world by building roads to them."  What a marvelous statement about Norbeck, a man that spent his life helping others to understand the beauty and value in nature and conservation - he indeed built bridges.

Norbeck wasn't done with the Needle's Highway.  He convinced President Coolidge to summer in Custer State Park, courting the President to sponsor a funding construction of Mount Rushmore. (We'll explore this topic further in a future blog post about 'Custer's Summer White House.') 

In 1927, Senator Norbeck worked closely with Mount Rushmore sculptor Gutzon Borglum to build Custer State Park's Iron Mountain Road.  This intrepid scenic road, takes travelers over Iron Mountain, connecting the state park with Mount Rushmore National Memorial.  A series of pig-tail bridges and tunnels that frame Mount Rushmore against the splendor of the Black Hills.

Peter Norbeck's roads are windy, curving to frame the landscape.  Norbeck believed that visitors shouldn't speed through the majesty of the park.  He designed the roads to have maximum speed limits of 20 mph.  "this is not a commercial road, it's scenic.  You're not supposed to drive here at 60 mph.  To do the scenery half justice people should drive at twenty or under; to do it full justice they should get out and walk!" - Peter Norbeck.

Learn more about Peter Norbeck at the park's Peter Norbeck Visitor Center at Game Lodge.  He is a true South Dakota hero and 'Father of Custer State Park' and 'Mount Rushmore's great political patron.'

Murder in Custer State Park - Playhouse Mystery Series is now available on Amazon - Kindle and Paperback.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Mystery & Majesty: Needle's Highway

Pick up a copy of 'Murder in Custer State Park,' where The Needle's Highway serves as a backdrop for the drama and mystery of the Custer Playhouse.

A gravity-defying work of engineering, The Needles Highway winds around hairpin, sharp-edged curves for fourteen miles through spectacular scenery of spruce and pine forests, lush meadows surrounded by birch and aspen, into the mystery of the granite needle like formations that skirt the highway.  The pinnacles of granite, are cathedrals in stone formed by time's erosion.  Each twist and turn in the highway inspires reverence and awe.  You fall into the magic of Custer's monuments of stone.

The Needles Highway was carefully planned by former South Dakota Governor and Conservationist Peter Norbeck.  He marked the entire course on foot and by horseback.  Norbeck's goal was to expose travelers by automobile to the resplendent majesty of the landscape.  Norbeck wanted the road to mimic the natural setting, not be a freeway for speeders, but a spiritual experience.  A slow journey meant to be traversed at only twenty miles per hour with scenic photo vistas.  His hope was that travelers would in turn opt to park their car and discover the backcountry via trails. 

Construction of the highway was completed in 1922.  It runs 14 miles of Highway 87 from the Center Lake area (near the 'Custer Playhouse') to Harney Peak and the Sylvan Lake area.

Picnic for breakfast at the Hole in the Wall picnic area, one of the key clue sites in Murder in Custer State Park.  Spend the day slowly inching along the Needles Highway, going underneath granite tunnels and stopping for pictures of The Needles Eye and the Cathedral Spires.  Wrap up your day with a walk along the shore of Sylvan Lake, and the maze of granite outcroppings, before capping off the night with dinner at the Sylvan Lake Lodge.


Wild Custer Adventure: Blue Bell

In Murder in Custer State Park, costumer and amateur sleuth Merritt Andrews lives and works in resplendent Custer State Park in the Black Hills.  One of Merritt's favorite spots in the park is the 'Blue Bell' Resort Area.

Blue Bell Lodge
Step back in time to the Wild West charm of the open country at Blue Bell Lodge.  This area of Custer State Park, lies at the convergence of windswept prairies and high bluffs overlooking the Black Hills. This is the place that even city slickers can enjoy kicking back in a pair of faded blue jeans, donning a cowboy hat and pair of boots.  Blue Bell brings the Wild Custer out in all travelers. 

Blue Bell was built in the early 1900s by a Bell Phone Company executive as a dude ranch, it was sold to Custer State Park, continuing its legacy of western fun.  Lodging ranges from campsites set in the shadow of Ponderosa pines, to rustic affordable cabins and accommodating high-beamed log cabins. 

In Murder in Custer State Park, Merritt and Josh enjoy a meal at the Tatanka Lodge Restaurant at Blue Bell.  The restaurant has an inviting ambiance of the Old West, with a stone fireplace, antique bar, and hearty 'Cowboy' menu featuring plains favorites including Steak & Eggs, Bison burgers and salads....

Blue Bell has a general store for camping needs.  The Blue Bell amphitheater is home to nightly 'Ranger Talks,' and was the site of a 'Preview Show' of 'Dakota.'  These 'Ranger Talks' and Night Programs offer an interactive way to learn about Park Forestry, Plants, Astronomy, Wildlife and more.

Family fun abounds with hiking, horseback riding from the stables and the world-famous Chuckwagon Dinner: "Entertainment, adventure, and a dinner all in one! This old-fashioned hayride on a vehicle-drawn wagon first takes you on a 45-minute scenic drive on the Park's beautiful backroads in search of wildlife! Sing-along live entertainment accompanies you along the way, and the wagon drops you off at a beautiful canyon for your Chuck Wagon Cookout! Departs nightly, times vary by month. Back by dusk. Souvenir cowboy hat and bandana! Reservations encouraged by calling 605.255.4531" from

Camping Reservations - spaces fill up quick:

Make a New Year's resolution to plan your own adventure to Custer State Park and don't forget to purchase your copy of Murder in State Park, now available on Kindle and in Paperback.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Playhouse Mystery: Gingerbead Theatre

One of the most festive ways to celebrate the holidays is with a Gingerbread House.  The creative possibilities are endless, from a traditional Hansel & Gretel Alpine Style to a cozy gingerbread cabin, small ornaments decked in royal icing and gum drops to lofty monuments. 

A fun way to spice up your gingerbread house is to recreate your favorite story in the magic and innovation of gingerbread architecture. 

For a Playhouse Mystery-Murder in Custer State Park theme, design a playhouse of gingerbread, using edible props (and non edible props - like miniature pews, people...) can have Bison shaped Gingerbread cookies on the snow covered grassy patio leading to the 'Custer Playhouse.' 

Want a Gluten Free Gingerbread Cookie recipe, check out my other blog:

Here are some links to get you started on your Gingerbread House journey...candies, marshmallows, crackers, pretzels are good for shingles and accents...

Basic Gingerbread House Recipe

Some more Gingerbread patterns:

Buy a kit:
Michaels, JoAnn are good places to start...

King Arthur Flour PDF on Gingerbread Houses:

Look at pictures on Pinterest to ignite your creativity and trade ideas for how to decorate and construct your gingerbread house.

Go on YouTube for how to build tutorials for Gingerbread Houses

Martha Stewart Ideas

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Playhouse Mystery Series: Go Dickens for Christmas

Christmas and the Theatre go hand in hand.  From Nativity scenes and Christmas Pageants telling the story of Christ's birth to fantastical ballet productions of 'The Nutcracker,' Dickens' quintessential holiday play: The Christmas festive musicals like Holiday Inn...

"Christmas is a magical time of year, the opportunity to design costumes for holiday productions, parties and Church pageants is a joy." - Merritt Andrews, costumer and amateur sleuth. "With Christmas only a few days away I'm in the throes of creating the final touches for my church's Live Nativity Scene.  I'm also in the middle of a production of 'A Christmas Carol.'  Charles Dickens is one of my favorite authors.  'A Christmas Carol,' has been produced countless times, reconfigured with twists from a Hawaiian theme to Diva Christmas...Modern retellings in 'Scrooged' and futuristic 'Scrooge.' I never grow tired of Dickens original version.  Scrooge, Bah Humbug, Redemption and reflection on past, present and future is the spirit of Christmas and hope that even the blackest of hearts can find redemption in this season.  Here are some tips for putting together your own costumes for 'A Christmas Carol' themed party or stage play."

Here are a few costume ideas and links to plan a Dickens' Christmas Carol Affair as well as some party ideas...

- Thrift Stores are a treasure trove when pulling together costumes.  Suits, hats, can get creative even spray painting or altering what you find.  Plus the money for Bargain Boxes and Goodwill typically goes to a good cause.
- You might have a local costume shop in your town - where you can rent a costume or purchase one.
- If you like to sew - most of the major companies have period costume patterns.  You can choose the fabric and fit to size. 

Ebenezer Scrooge:
2 costumes: his suit and his nightgown
A penny-pincher even in extreme wealth, you want rundown costumes for Scrooge.  A suit needs to be decent, black, but not ornate. 

- Scrooge's suit:
I recommend going to a thrift shop and searching for an antiquated 'frock coat' that goes behind the knees - black and nothing too fancy.  Find a pair of black wool pants, pair with a 'Victorian' stiff collared shirt (linen) - or a more modern shirt (button down) will work for a party.  Add a vest, nothing too fancy - Scrooge is a penny-pincher after all.  A pair of black loafers works for a basic costume...You'll need a Top Hat and accessorize with a cane and wire costume spectacles.

- Nightgown:
A linen nightgown, (below the knees or all the way down to your feet), with a thin robe (optional), a night cap (white linen) and pair of slippers.

Ghost of Christmas Past:
Get creative on this one.  The ghost is typically represented as a phantom of dazzling white, supernatural qualities.  Use Ben Nye theatre make-up to cake your face white - into a pale ghostly presence, possibly with glitter mixed in.  The costume options are endless...I recommend a white dress, nothing too fancy, but with a ghostly vibe to it...

Ghost of Christmas Present:
This is the ghost of being merry and joyful and seeing the blessings we have in our lives and beckons us to embrace the hope in Christmas.

This Ghost is typically clothed in a robe (green or red) with faux fur lining and a wreath upon his head.  Use your creative imagination to dream up what you envision the Ghost of Christmas Present to be...

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come...
"I fear you more than any spectre I have seen..."
This is a scary figure, who calls us to act on seeking redemption and Christmas spirit before it is too late.  You want this figure to be scary and foreboding.  The face is often cloaked.  A grim reaper outfit typically works great for this 'Ghost.' 

Here are some go-to links I use when creating Dickensian costumes:
Dickens' Fair - Costume Guide - Men's Costume ideas
Women -
Truly Victorian:
Gentleman's Emporium - They have some beautiful traditional costumes - images might spark your own ideas
Brunswick County does a Dickens Fair - Here are their Costume tips:

Looking for the perfect way to go 'Dickens for Christmas?'  You can plan your own reading of 'A Christmas Carol' - even a small production in your home, using music and small stage effects...or simply having guests trade off on dialogue, in the comfort of a crackling fire

Attend a production of 'A Christmas Carol,' most towns have at least one production a year...get in the spirit and dress up when you attend the production!

A Dickens Fair is always a fun way to get into the Holiday Spirit, if your town doesn't have one, why not start a planning committee with friends/family/volunteers.  You can create a magical world of Victorian England in the Church Parish Hall or a museum...Entrants can dress up, listen to traditional Victorian Christmas music and dine like Dickens did in Victorian England...

'You are cordially invited...' Share Dickens' A Christmas Carol with a soiree, have your own 'Fezziwegg's Christmas or New Year's Eve Party,' equipped with scrumptious Victorian delights like Plum Pudding, mince pies, sugar plums, sweet bread, cookies, Wassail and mulled wine... d├ęcor and a 'Scrooge' costume theme...

Link to the original text of 'A Christmas Carol.'

Friday, December 20, 2013

Badger Clark - A Cowboy Poet

In 'Murder in Custer State Park,' Merritt is tasked with designing costumes for the colorful cast of 'Dakota,' an original play based on South Dakota's rich history.

One of Custer State Park's most beloved real-life characters is South Dakota Poet Laureate Badger Clark.  Merritt enjoyed visiting the 'Badger's Hole' and researching a costume for Clark that would bring to life this Cowboy Poet.

Born on January 1, 1883 in Iowa, Charles Badger Clark's family moved to the Dakota Territory in his formative years.  His father served as a Methodist minister in Huron, Mitchell, Deadwood and Hot Springs South Dakota. 

A restless youth and dreamer, Charles Badger Clark, dropped out of Dakota Wesleyan University.  For six years he breathed in adventure, travelling to Cuba, Arizona and beyond.  He discovered a love for ranching, cow-punching, and the 'last of the old, open range,' in the Southwest.  He began to dabble in prose, coining 'Cowboy poetry.'

Badger was a self-proclaimed individualist, who never wanted to settle into a career.  He craved the freedom of the open skies.  He turned his love of the west into glorious poetry.

When his father's failing health drew Badger back to South Dakota, he gave up ranching, focusing on his writing and doing speaking tours for fun.  His deep love for the Black Hills, stirred Clark to request permission to build a cabin on state-owned land in Custer State Park in 1925.  It took five years to build the bucolic cabin.

The Badger's Hole was the hermitage of Clark's writing.  He spent thirty years living in the rustic, charming cabin, being an conservationist and cowboy poet.

In 1937, Clark was named Poet Laureate of South Dakota by Governor Jensen.  His work was published in Pacific Monthly, Colliers, Century Magazine, Sunset Magazine...

His most well known poem, 'A Cowboy's Prayer' is most often attributed as 'anonymous.'  That didn't bother Badger Clark, a humble man of incredible character.

To learn more about Badger Clark, a true Custer State Park character:
Badger Clark Society

Here is a Christmas Poem by Charles Badger Clark:
"The Christmas Trail."
The wind is blowin' cold down the mountain tips of snow
And 'cross the ranges layin' brown and dead;
It's cryin' through the valley trees that wear the mistletoe
And mournin' with the gray clouds overhead.
Yes it's sweet with the beat of my little hawse's feet
And I whistle like the air was warm and blue
For I'm ridin' up the Christmas trail to you,
Old folks,
I'm a-ridin' up the Christmas trail to you.
Oh, mebbe it was good when the whinny of the Spring
Had weedled me to hoppin' of the bars.
And livin' in the shadow of a sailin' buzzard's wing
And sleepin' underneath a roof of stars.
But the bright campfire light only dances for a night,
While the home-fire burns forever clear and true,
So 'round the year I circle back to you,
Old folks,
'Round the rovin' year I circle back to you.
Oh, mebbe it was good when the reckless Summer sun
Had shot a charge of fire through my veins,
And I milled around the whiskey and the fightin' and fun
'Mong the mav'ricks drifted from the plains.
Ay, the pot bubbled hot, while you reckoned I'd forgot,
And the devil smacked the young blood in his stew,
Yet I'm lovin' every mile that's nearer you,
Good folks,
Lovin' every blessed mile that's nearer you.
Oh, mebbe it was good at the roundup in the Fall,
When the clouds of bawlin' dust before us ran,
And the pride of rope and saddle was a-drivin' of us all
To stretch of nerve and muscle, man and man.
But the pride sort of died when the man got weary eyed;
'Twas a sleepy boy that rode the nightguard through,
And he dreamed himself along a trail to you,
Old folks,
Dreamed himself along a happy trail to you.
The coyote's Winter howl cuts the dusk behind the hill,
But the ranch's shinin' window I kin see,
And though I don't deserve it and, I reckon, never will,
There'll be room beside the fire kep' for me.
Skimp my plate 'cause I'm late. Let me hit the old kid gait,
For tonight I'm stumblin' tired of the new
And I'm ridin' up the Christmas trail to you,
Old folks,
I'm a-ridin' up the Christmas trail to you.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Cozy up to a Playhouse Mystery with Dakota Bars (Gluten Free)

Enjoy this tasty recipe for Dakota Bars, this seven layer decadent treat is a Black Hills favorite at Christmas.  I've included the traditional recipe and gluten free alternative...

If you're looking for a stocking stuffer - 'Murder in Custer State Park' is now available on Amazon in Paperback and on Kindle.

Dakota Bars:

-1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup butterscotch chips
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 1/3 cups coconut (shredded)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).
  2. Place butter in 13 x 9 inch pan and melt in oven. Swirl to coat bottom and sides with butter.
  3. Spread graham cracker crumbs evenly over bottom of pan. Layer chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, and nuts over crumbs. Pour condensed milk over nuts. Sprinkle coconut over condensed milk.
  4. Bake until edges are golden brown, about 25 minutes. Let cool before cutting into bars.

Gluten Free:
1/2 cup unsalted butter or coconut oil
1 1/2 cups gluten free graham cracker crumbs - Kinnickinick S'moreables are a good option.  If you are allergic to soy use a soy-free gingerbread cookie
1 cup Enjoy Life chocolate chips
1 cup butterscotch chips
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 (14 ounce) organic can of sweetened condensed milk
1 1/3 cups shredded coconut. 
(I recommend adding flax meal - 1 tablespoon and 1/2 teaspoon of xanthan gum as a binder)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).
  2. Place butter in 13 x 9 inch pan and melt in oven. Swirl to coat bottom and sides with butter.
  3. Spread graham cracker crumbs evenly over bottom of pan. Layer chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, and nuts over crumbs. Pour condensed milk over nuts. Sprinkle coconut over condensed milk.
  4. Bake until edges are golden brown, about 25 minutes. Let cool before cutting into bars.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christmas in the Black Hills

Merritt is busy designing costumes for a Christmas production at 'The North Pole,' still her heart yearns for the Black Hills this season...

The holiday spirit is alive in the majesty and mystery of the Black Hills, where travelers are enchanted by snow capped granite spires, Christmas strolls, lighting ceremonies, cavern tours and more.

Crazy Horse Memorial becomes a hub of all things Christmas with a stellar laser show with dancing festive lights accompanying the music of holiday favorite Mannheim Steamroller.  The entire museum complex is decorated with beautifully adorned Christmas trees, and Santa is on duty to take Christmas wishes. 

The 1880 Train, a restored steam train, is running Holiday Tours from the Black Hills to 'The North Pole.' 

Rapid City has numerous Christmas caroling concerts and decorations to get you in a festive mood.

Mount Rushmore is open all year, except on Christmas Day - making it a great spot to visit over the holidays.

Custer State Park is open with limited facilities.  They will be hosting a 'First Day Hike' on January 1 on the Creekside Trail.

Deadwood hosts concerts, Cowboy Balls and plenty of 'Wild West' Christmas Cheer for all ages:

Stay posted to 'The Inkspot' for more travel tips and be sure to download a copy of Murder in Custer State Park.  We'll be doing more features on Custer State Park, Theatre and Costumes, and miscellaneous writing topics...

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Theatre Terminology 101 - Theatre Tuesdays

The Playhouse Mystery Series follows the adventures of costumer and amateur sleuth Merritt Andrews through the dramatic world of theatre.  In the series she works at stock companies, renowned opera houses, renaissance faires and theatre festivals...

Merritt thought you would appreciate a go-to dictionary for the ins and outs of the theatre to guide you through Theatre 101.

Download a copy of 'Murder in Custer State Park,' and step into the drama of The Custer Playhouse.

Assistant Stage Manager - person who is hired to help the Stage Manager

Box Office Manager - the person who is in charge of ticket reservations and ticketing 
Cast - the people who perform in a show
Choreographer - the person who creates dances and arranges movements for a musical
Chorus -1) in a musical the company of dancers and singers 2) the dancing, singing or songs performed by that company
Company - the cast and crew of a show and any other staff who work on the show
Costumer - the person in charge of the costumes for a show
Crew - all the people who work together on a show except the cast
Director - the person who provides the vision of how a show should be presented, who works with the actors on their roles, develops the blocking, and is in charge of the rehearsals
Dramatist - a person who writes plays
Dressers - people who help the actors get into and out of their costumes
Ensemble - a group of actors, singers or dancers who perform together on stage
Equity - trade union formed to protect those who work in the theater by helping to regulate pay and working conditions
Front of House - a term used to describe all of the people in a theater who deal with the audience including the people who sell tickets and the ushers, and any other people who deal with the public (also see listing under PLACES) 
House Manager - the person in charge of the theater auditorium and anything to do with the audience
Lighting Designer - the person who designs the lighting for a show and works with the director to get desired effects
Musical Director - the person who works with the director, actors and orchestra to get the desired musical effects for a show
Prop Mistress/Master - the person in charge of all the props and who usually works with them during a show
Set Designer - the person who designs the sets for a smaller theaters this person also builds the sets 
Sound Designer - the person who designs the sound direction for the show
Stage Manager - the person who runs the show from opening curtain to closing curtain and is in charge of everything on the stage and in the back of the stage
Technical Director -  the person who supervises the construction of a set and any rigging that needs to be done, such as hanging scenery 
Troupe - a group of actors that form a company
Wrangler - a person hired to take care of the younger members of a cast
Aisle - a walkway which goes through two areas of seats.
Backstage - the part of a theater which is not seen by the audience, including the dressing rooms, wings and the green room
Black Box - a type of theater usually surrounded by black curtains where the audience and actors are in the same room
Box Office - the place that sells tickets to a performance
Broadway - the largest and most famous theatrical district in New York City
Callboard - the place backstage where the Stage Manager puts up important information for the cast and crew
Catwalk - a narrow walkway suspended from the ceiling of a theater from which sometimes lights and scenery are hung
Control Booth - the place in a theater from which all the sound and lights are controlled
Downstage - the part of the stage which is closest to the audience
Dressing Rooms - rooms in a theater provided for the actors in which they change costumes and apply make-up
Front of House - the part of the theater known as the auditorium where the audience is seated, the lobby and the box office...(also see listing under PEOPLE)
Green Room - a place for the performers to relax while waiting to go on stage
House - used to describe the audience or as a short way of saying "Front of House"
Offstage - the area of the stage which the audience cannot see
Off Broadway - theaters in New York City which are not located on or near Broadway
Orchestra Pit - an area at the front of house, usually sunken, where the musicians and conductor work during a show
Proscenium - the arch that frames the front of a stage
Rear of House - the areas in the back of the stage and those places used for storage
Repertory Theater - a theater group that prepares several plays that they can perform over time... not just one
Riser - a platform placed on the stage to create different levels
Set - the setting of the stage for each act and all the physical things that are used to change the stage for the performance
Stage Left - (these left/right directions are seen from the ACTORS point of view on the stage) this is when the actor standing in the center of the stage moves to his left 
Stage Right - (these left/right directions are seen from the ACTORS point of view on the stage) this is when the actor standing in the center of the stage moves to his right 
Summer Stock - a type of Repertory Theater which produces its shows during the summer season
Trap - an opening in the floor of a stage where a performer or prop can disappear (trap doors in the floor)
Upstage - 1) the area of the stage that is the farthest away from the audience 2) when one actor moves to the back of the stage and causes another actor to turn away from the audience...This is called "Upstaging" 3) when an actor draws attention to himself and away from the main action of a play
Wings - the areas of the stage that are to the sides of the acting area and are out of view. These areas are usually masked by curtains.
Act - 1) the main sections of a musical or play 2) the thing which actors can do
Ad Lib - to make up as you go without preparation
Aside - a quick remark made by a character in a play which is said to the audience
Audition - a time when an actor goes before a group of people who are casting a play to show those people what he can do
Belt - in Musical Theater, a style of singing which uses a loud, full tone
Black Out - the quick shutting off of all the stage lights
Blocking - the instructions that actors use to know exactly where they are supposed to be on stage at all times
Book - the script of a play...libretto of a musical
Break A Leg - something people tell actors to wish them "Good Luck" before a performance or audition
Call - the time that an actor must report to the theater for either a performance or rehearsal.
Callback - when an actor who has auditioned for a show is asked to come back for a second tryout
Casting - when the director chooses actors to be characters in a play or musical
Cold Reading - when an actor is asked to read from a script he hasn't rehearsed
Cue - signals that are given to both the actors, the crew, the musicians and any others working on a show
Curtain - the screen usually of cloth which separates the stage from the audience
Curtain call - the bows at the end of a performance
Dialogue - the words which are spoken in a play
Dress Rehearsal - a rehearsal, usually just before a show opens, to practice the show just how it will be on opening night, including costumes and make-up. A rehearsal for both cast and crew
Drop - a piece of fabric which is hung on stage and usually used in the scenery of a show
Exit - a stage direction telling an actor to leave the stage
Hand Props - those objects used to tell the story which are handled by actors in a production
House Lights - the lights that are used to light up the auditorium where the audience sits
Libretto - the term that describes the book or script of a musical or opera
Marking Out - when the stage is marked with tape to show where furniture and props should be placed during the performance

Matinee - an afternoon performance of a show
Monologue - a speech given by one actor
Notes - the meeting a director usually has after a rehearsal or performance to tell the cast and crew how he felt about their performance and to make any changes he may think are necessary
Off Book - when the director tells the cast (usually by a certain date) that they must memorize their lines and can no longer use their scripts in rehearsal
Overture - the beginning music in musical theater which usually gives the audience an idea of the music to come and gets them into the feeling of the show
Personal Props - props that are carried by an actor in his costume during a performance
Playbill - 1)a program(booklet)that contains information about a production 2)the posters used to advertise a production
Preset - when either a prop, costume or something else used in a production is placed in or around the stage before the start of a performance
Prompt - as actors move from using the script to no script (see off book),the prompter follows the play in a book and gives a portion of a line to an actor, if needed, to help them remember the line
Props - all the items used in a play to tell the story not including the scenery or costumes, the short forms of "Properties".
Rehearsal - the period of practice before the beginning of a show in which the actors and director work on the development of the show 
Reprise - in musical theater, when either a whole song or part of a song is repeated
Run - the number of times a show is performed
Run-through - a rehearsal in which the actors perform the show from the very beginning to the very end... "Run the show" is another way of saying the same thing
Running-Time - the amount of time it takes to perform the play from beginning to end not including any theater is live performance, this can vary slightly for each performance
Scrim - a drop made of a special weaved material that is used for setting the scene of a play
Sides - an audition script 
Sound Effects - the noises which are produced to accompany a scene in a show...these noises are mostly produced by a machine but can be produced by actors off stage
Spike - same as "Marking Out"
Stage Directions - when a script contains information for the actors giving them specific entrances and exits
Standby - a person who understudies a single role (or more) but is not part of the chorus or ensemble of a musical or play
Strike - to take the set apart when a show ends
Subtext - the feelings behind the words a character speaks
Technical Rehearsal - usually the first time a play is rehearsed in the place where it is going to be seen by the audience and in which the scenery, sound and lighting are used... this rehearsal can be done with or without costumes... "Tech" is the slang for this process
Timing - when an actor has the ability to say or do something at the best moment for the most effect
Swing - a performer in a musical who substitutes when chorus members are unable to perform
Understudy - an actor who studies the lines and blocking of a role, and is able to take over for the original cast member in a role 
Wardrobe - the stock of costumes and accessories which are owned by a theater group