|Day 6 - Custer State Park, SD & The Black Hills
||[Aug. 12th, 2004|10:00 pm]
Trip Odometer: 1930 mi|
This morning we woke up mostly due to the cold – while it had been warm in the tent the night before (leading us to believe the chill was almost entirely wind-related), the temperature did eventually drop quite a bit. When we woke up, many of the other campers were gone, and there were maybe 2-3 sites out of about 40 left when we finally pulled out.
After a quick breakfast we set out by car to see the rest of the Badlands Loop Road – a scenic drive through a large bit of the eastern half of the park, with a number of scenic views – most of which overlook mountains/outcroppings but a few overlook – the prarie, from the level of the prarie. Odd, but still interesting to look at (we did skip about half the overlooks so as to enable us to make progress).
Some of the most interesting overlooks were ones that overlooked mounds of bright yellow and purple rock, which underwent a somewhat unique formation process.
As the day went on we saw more and more of the bikers that we had been seeing the past few days. We didn’t find out where they were coming from until we finally reached – the WALL DRUG STORE (which, along with Keystone, SD, was completely overrun with bikers)! Apparently, I picked the same week as the Sturgis Bike Rally to make my trip to the Black Hills. And the tshirts claim that this is the largest bike rally in the world. I believe it. I don’t think I’ve been able to travel any distance more than a few feet since arriving at the badlands without seeing a biker, generally many (many) more. Currently, there’s about 6 at this campsite where there are maybe 10 people total.
Anyway, Wall Drug reminded duckmonster and myself of a slightly smaller (and less Mexican) South of The Border. It was very tourist-trappy, even if that wasn’t really how it started out (it is, after all, still a drug store even today). However, it also has a bunch of cheesy animatronics displays, some random wax-museum type scenes, two restaurants and a soda fountain, not to mention several thousand square feet of retail space. We had lunch here and then continued on to the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore.
Before the mountain, however, we stopped in Rapid City, SD (the closest thing to a “city” for the last 900 miles or so is actually more like a suburb of a city to my eyes, to get some groceries, and then at the Beautiful Rushmore Cave just outside Keystone, SD (which, if Wall Drug was slightly infested, this place was completely overrun by bikers). In fact, when we went into the super market with my leather jacket and duckmonster’s bandanna, we were mistaken for bikers by the cashier who wanted to know if we were there for the bike rally. I answered “no” but duckmonster had a much better answer of “What Bikes?”
The cave was interesting, but not as pretty as I remember Howe Caverns to be. Also, these weren’t actively being formed by water, the water that formed most of them drained out of the cave long ago. The cave was also pretty tight in some places, it’s the closest I’d ever come to actually being claustrophobic, but I think that was mostly because we were taking through a group of 30 people instead of a group of, say, 6, which is closer to their standard size.
We left from the cave to go to Mount Rushmore itself, which was busy, but not unpleasantly crowded. I was very much struck just at the sense of “being there” – given that Mt. Rushmore gets a lot of play in popular media (cartoons, sitcoms, as “an American icon,” etc). It was very surreal just being there and seeing (somewhat smaller than I expected, but still incredibly large) heads of ex-presidents sticking out of the top of the rock. I was surprised to learn that the carving was actually left unfinished after funding was cut in 1941 – originally there were supposed to be full sculptures to the waist of the presidents, with at least Lincoln and Washington being full-360 head carvings. Its entirely possible they’d still be working on it today!
While there we walked along the ½ mile “President’s Trail” which discusses each of the four figures in some detail, and ends at the Sculptor’s workshop. I did get to see the final 1:12 scale model of the full thing in the sculptor’s workshop – which was really cool, along with a park ranger presentation about the construction of the thing. Astoundingly, no one was killed during the entire 15 year (very dangerous) construction process.
Leaving Mt. Rushmore we drove around some of the windy roads (including the “Needles Highway” – which had quite a few VERY narrow tunnels) in the Black Hills and Custer State Park for a while to get to our camp site at Sylvan Lake. We passed 2 buffalo but since they were both less than 10 feet from the road we decided stopping to get a picture might not be wise (Buffalo and Bison can be surprisingly deadly if spooked). The curves on the road, however, were still fun. Part of me is sad that I’ll have to leave here tomorrow, the Black Hills have a lot to offer and the small drive barely scratched the surface.
The campsite was the first we had where we couldn’t drive the car straight up to it. We had been half living out of the car which was nice, but this was really only a minor setback. We had steak for dinner and grilled pineapple (again – its tasty) for dessert. Tomorrow is a big driving day again, but at least it includes Devil’s Tower National Monument.
Maybe we’ll see stars tonight. The sky looks clear, but there are trees.