Pursuing the Dream:  The Badlands Gold Rush

Pursuing the Dream: The Badlands Gold Rush

One of the best activities we did in South Dakota was visit a former gold mine now open for tourists to visit,   Big Thunder Gold Mine, in the former gold town of Keystone.  Big Thunder Gold Mine was located next door to the big gold mine in town, Lucky Boy.  The owners of Big Thunder claimed the next bit of land over from Lucky Boy in the hope of intercepting a part of the same rich gold vein. As history shown all over the world, the lure of striking it rich in a gold mine is a powerful motivator.

creek outside of Big Thunder Mine

Creek outside of Big Thunder Mine

The land belonged to the Native American Sioux tribe by treaty and was supposedly off-limits to non Native Americans.  Rumours of gold were so strong, however, that General George A. Custer was sent to investigate in 1874.  When Custer did find gold on his expedition, there was no stopping American and European immigrants from invading Sioux lands in search of the precious metal.

The American government tried to buy the land off the Sioux who refused to sell because the Black Hills were sacred to their traditional beliefs.  In response, the American government just looked the other way and let the gold miners stake their claims if they could protect them.  The initial prospectors did really well.  When the easy pickings were over, the next round of gold was either sifted from the streams or blasted out of the rock.

Big Thunder tunnel

Big Thunder tunnel

During the course of the Gold Rush, stagecoaches would regularly bring gold from Deadwood in South Dakota to the railroad depot at Cheyenne in Wyoming.  The stagecoaches were the frequent target of robbers and were protected by outriders and lawmen such as the famous Buffalo Bill Cody, Wyatt Earp and Calamity Jane.  The route spanning 200 miles could be done in 22 hours because they only stopped to change horses for fear of attack from bandits and the Sioux.

a Deadwood to Cheyenne Coach

A Deadwood-Cheyenne Coach

The Big Thunder miners’ story is pretty typical of the Black Hills Gold Rush that began in 1874 in South Dakota.  The miners were two German immigrants, Krupp and Engle, who did not know each other when they both arrived at Keystone at the age of 35. They soon became partners because they spoke the same language.  In gold mining, you always needed a partner to protect your back from unscrupulous fellow claimants.

mining tools

Mining tools were basic – a pickaxe, shovel, pan and dynamite.

In 1882, Krupp and Engle borrowed money from Bismark Mine to place their claim on the Big Thunder land.  Both miners worked days at the Bismark Mine and in the evenings would work on their own claim, Big Thunder. Being dirt poor, they did a lot of the mining by hand and by candlelight.  They only one had one pneumatic drill which they tried to avoid using. Instead they used a chisel to create holes and strategic placement of gunpowder to blast through the rock.

They found a small vein of gold after 15 years which inspired them for another 15 years.  Krupp eventually had enough and left town leaving Engle with the loan to repay to Bismark.  Having dug 680 feet into the mountain and 240 feet underground, all Engle and Krupp had to show after 30 years was 10 ounces of gold worth about $200.  Their claim was a dud.

tiny vein of gold

The tiny vein of gold

This story, however, has a very Wild West ending.  Engle decided to drink and to gamble his sorrows away. Everyone assumed that Engle was filthy rich thanks to his gold mine which was why he was living large.  The other gold mine owners (including the owner of the Bismark mine) entered into a high stakes poker game with Engle (not realising Big Thunder had no gold).

Having nothing to bet, Engle put his mine on the table and all the other mine owners did the same.  Engle won all their mines, was able to write off his debt to the Bismark mine and, indeed, became very rich.

mining tunnel dug by hand

Can you believe this was all dug by hand??

By sifting for gold and finding  a few flecks each, my children realised how difficult and tedious the job was. Even striking it rich in gold involved lots of work and even more luck.

learning to pan for gold

Learning to pan for gold

There was also really good displays showing different types of rocks and their qualities.

Good To Know

Located near Mount Rushmore in South Dakota and the Crazy Horse Memorial mountain, Big Thunder Gold Mine is very accessible and easy to walk through. Our tour guide was terrific and very knowledgeable.  They run small groups without waiting for more tourists.  For example, our family had its own tour guide. She taught the children also how to pan for gold and different things to look for in a gold mine.  I would definitely recommend this tour.

learning about mining

Learning about gold mining

For dinner we went to the Grizzly Creek Restaurant in town which has fairly standard American fare.  The children, however, loved the make-your-own-S’mores at the table.

making smokes at the table

Making S’mores at the table

Visiting Abu Dhabi with Children, part II

Visiting Abu Dhabi with Children, part II

Are you ready for part II of our recent visit to Abu Dhabi?  In writing about our trip to Abu Dhabi Part I, I covered entertainment, pools and beaches and shopping.  In this post, I shall look at eating out with your little ones and sightseeing in public buildings.


The food is excellent and kid-friendly.  Most places had something for the children – hot dogs, chicken nuggets or burgers.  I honestly did not have a bad meal.  I get the impression the authorities are quite stringent on food quality and hygiene standards.  Here are some of our eating highlights:

Origins at the Viceroy Hotel on Yas Island which was given runner up status for best Friday brunch by Time Out Abu Dhabi in 2013.  The Origins brunch is buffet style with a massive assortment of delicious food, including fresh breads, fresh seafood, grilled meats and fish, Italian food, Indian food, Thai food, sushi bar, middle-eastern specialties, salads, and desserts.

The atmosphere is buzzy with a live DJ playing European dance music.  It seemed very popular with families because children eat free.  Unless you plan on drinking a lot, paying extra for the all-drinks inclusive is not worth the money.  My children were thrilled with the chocolate fountains (one with milk chocolate and the other with white chocolate).

chocolate fountains

Outside on the terrace you can see where the F1 track snakes around the Viceroy hotel and the massive yachts in the Yas Marina.

F1 racetrack Abu Dhabi

We also went one night to Bocca at the Hilton Abu Dhabi which was voted Best Italian Restaurant by Time Out this year.  The food and wine at Bocca were indeed excellent.  My children liked the fresh breadsticks and child-sized pizza on offer.

In the Central Market souk, Shakespeare & Co is a good casual option.  The decor is charmingly eccentric Anglo-French with random lampshades and mismatched chairs and sofa seating.  Shakespeare & Co really looks like someone exploded a shack full of French boudoir furniture.

Shakespeare cafe

My children loved the tableside cooking by the chef at Benihana at the Beach Rotana Hotel in Abu Dhabi.  Don’t judge.

I also really liked Ushna at the Souk Qaryat Al Beri for Indian food.  It had been voted the best Indian restaurant by Time Out in 2012.  This year, Ushna was the runner-up to the winner which was Angar at the Yas Viceroy.  I thought the food was excellent and full of flavour (not just spicy).  The service likewise was excellent as is the view from the large windows directly onto the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.  The restaurant has an excellent selection of vodkas, including esoteric flavoured ones.

Ushna starters

papad and chutneys

Fabulous Hotels

In the case of the Emirates Palace, all that glitters IS gold.  While the Burj al Arab in Dubai bills itself as a 7 star hotel, the Emirates Palace doesn’t even bother with star ratings and just goes by “palace”.

Star ratings are for commoners, daaahlings.

Emirates Palace Fountains

The lobby is gold plated, and Swarovski crystal chandeliers are hung everywhere.  There are 114 domes in the building, and the main one, the Grand Atrium dome, is decorated with silver and gold glass mosaic tiles.  Of the 8000 palm trees inside the hotel, some are petrified to maintain their natural beauty.

The week I was visiting, the King of Morocco was staying at the Emirates Palace. He had booked an extra 200 rooms at the St. Regis for his overflow staff.  I’ve got to say, the St. Regis was nothing to sneeze at either.  The St Regis was likewise opulent and had a fabulous Gone With The Wind style staircase. It was all I could do  not to sweep down the staircase in my best melodramatic entrance.

St Regis grand staircse

If all that decorative gilt makes you break out in hives, Abu Dhabi does have great contemporary hotels as well.  For example, the design at the Yas Viceroy was all-white, sculptural and contemporary.

Viceroy Hotel orchids

Interesting Architecture

Abu Dhabi is a bit like New York in that it is fond of cool skyscrapers.  Many of the skyscrapers are office buildings that the public can’t enter.

abu dhabi skyline

They are, however, still fun to look at, especially in contrast with the more traditional architecture interspersed among the modern.  My children nicknamed a few of the skyscrapers, e.g., the Coin Building, the Booby Building, the Swirly Building etc.

skyscraper in Abu Dhabi

The “booby” building

Next door to the Viceroy Hotel on Yas Island is a large circular building, O1ne, which is a bar and club. O1ne commissioned 18 street artists to cover every inch of the outside of the building with grafitti.  It’s visually stunning but, you will note, even the street art in Abu Dhabi must be legally sanctioned!

abu dhabi graffiti

City Parks

The Corniche in Abu Dhabi is a beach front promenade.  It’s great for an early evening walk to watch the spectacular sunset.   Al Markaziyah Gardens is the Abu Dhabi’s most popular park.  The Emiratis really are into their families and there’s a plethora of parks and playgrounds, including Khalifa Park where the Murjan Splash Park is located.

Abu Dhabi park

What’s the verdict?

The children and I had a fabulous time in Abu Dhabi!  I found it safe, clean and family-friendly.  The harsh punishments for disobedience meted out by the rulers really do ensure compliance.  I thought of it in many ways as ‘Singapore in the Middle East.’  The flight time is 7 hours from London which makes it closer than lots of other places as a winter sun destination.  Luckily, my friend is in Abu Dhabi for 3 years and I’m sure we will have a return visit.

Things to Note:

  • Abu Dhabi does not allow Skype or Facetime.  You’ll need to find alternate means of keeping in touch with people at home.
  • Only the tourists walk outside during the day.  I thought my kids were being wimps for not walking the 10 minutes to the Emirates Palace. After I did it on my own, I was eating humble pie.  Even in the shade and without humidity, the heat itself is wearing.
  • Taxis are cheap and plentiful even if many of the taxi drivers are fairly clueless about actual driving or destinations.  It helps to have good directions to where you want to go (look on a destination’s website).  Do NOT get out of the taxi until you know you are at the right place or don’t pay him beforehand if you need to get out and check.  You could get stranded on a construction site a long hike from civilisation, as your taxi driver speeds away into a cloud of dust.
  • Everything is open really late.  Many places are deserted during the noonday sun (or even closed) because sensible local people stay inside.  If you have active children, afternoon naps may not be an option.  On the plus side, attractions may be less crowded and easier to visit.

What do you think?  Would you consider Abu Dhabi for an easy winter sun option?  I know my children can’t wait to go back.  Next year, they will be tall enough for the Ferrari roller coaster and I am already panicking over the thought.


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