Mt. Rushmore, Black Hills & Badlands
Sep 30, 2008
|We left Deadwood Saturday morning for the hour and a half drive south through the Black Hills and to Custer State Park. I didn’t really know what to expect - why do they call them the Black Hills? Are they made of charcoal…volcanic ash?? None of the above. In fact they’re really not black - they’re dark green from the deeply forested Ponderosa Pines with some oak, ash and birch. For the Boise locals, think of it like McCall only more dense, with a little extra granite that protrudes from time to time.
Custer State Park
We were headed for Custer State Park without reservations thinking this time of year would be easy to get in. WRONG… turns out this weekend was the Buffalo Roundup Days with crafts festivals, chili feeds (buffalo of course) and a kazillion people. The park is 27,000 acres and I’m sure we must have drove 10,000 of those before we got what must have been the last spot - no hookups so we dry camped for 3 nights.
We got settled and took the Buddy scooter to the art festival. While there we (I) hit the booth that had the homemade pies and shared a table with a nice native American who told us to be sure to go to the Buffalo Roundup Monday morning. ‘The gates open at 6:30a.m. but you better be there by 4:30am. WHAT?? The excitement on Barb’s face told me I better not complain and oh well - it’s a once in a lifetime experience. They were to herd over a thousand buffalo and where would we ever see that again?
Sunday we decided to take in Mt. Rushmore to leave Monday free for that early morning call to the buffalo roundup. It was 28 miles through the Black Hills so we decided not to take the Buddy scooter, although after a few miles I wished we would have. The area is thick with tunnels and at one point the road split so we had just one little lane but the scenery was breathtaking.
We arrived at Mt. Rushmore around noon and even though it was Sunday there were only a few people there so we just took our time and hit the museum on site and took the usual pictures. We were disappointed that our National Parks Pass did not cover entrance here.
From the museum you get an appreciation for what we Americans can really accomplish when we put our minds to it. The sculpting of the monument was no easy task but they felt they had a mission to make it happen.
On to Crazy Horse memorial. We hadn’t even heard of this one until about three months ago while coming across a TV special. Once again, the National Parks pass was not honored.
Not to be outdone, the Indians felt they too wanted a memorial. Crazy Horse was born on Rapid Creek in 1842. While at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, under a flag of truce, he was stabbed in the back by an American soldier and died September 6, 1877 at the age of 35.
We took pictures of the unfinished memorial and then had lunch at the visitors center. As we were leaving, there were a couple of Dakota Indians in full dress about ready to perform a sacred dance on the outdoor stage so we grabbed a front row seat. It was once again breathtaking with the memorial behind them.
Once again, this event was one of those treasures we came upon by accident. Not wanting to miss it, we set our alarms for 3:30am Monday morning and with our clothes and blankets all laid out we hopped in the truck and tried not to wake anyone.
It was about a 15 mile drive to the north viewing area we had chosen where people would be lined up at the gates. As it turns out, I don’t think we had to get up quite so early - we were probably the 10th car in line and it was total darkness as the cars just waited for the gate to open.
Sure enough, at 6:15, they opened the gates and in we went. We just followed the crowd over to a hill and spread our blanket out. Thank goodness it wasn’t too cold and no wind. As the sun rose, so did the temps.
The actual roundup didn’t start until 9:30 so we had lots of time to chat with our neighbors about roundups years past and the usual ’where are you from’ type questions. There was also a tent set up serving pancakes, sausage, and HOT coffee so of course we indulged since we had been up for hours. Finally the crowd behind us turned their heads the other way and you could see these black dots up on the ridge. The buffalo were on their way!
They went down a ravine, then back up and came over the hill to our right, then right past us. I expected a handful, but they said there were supposed to be 1500! What a thrill.
The herd moved on towards the south viewing area and finally towards the gate on the left of the pictures. It was amazing that all these buffalo could run through that tiny gate - well, not all of them. A few had a mind of their own and ran the opposite direction, so off the cowboys went to herd them back in, and no sooner than they left, some of the buffalo already in the gate decided to charge back out. What a show! The crowds were cheering - it was more like a soccer game.
Finally they were all rounded up and it was about 11a.m. so Barb and I headed back home for a much needed nap.
Sylvan Lake Lodge
The park has several lodges with cabins and from the brochure, the Sylvan Lake Lodge spurred our interest. Only thing, it required us going through a tunnel 10’ tall and 8’4” wide. Now my truck with dual wheels is just about 8’. That meant that might have 2” on each side. No way.. We decided to take the Buddy scooter and what a scenic drive.
It was a beautiful 12 mile ride through the winding black hills. You can see from these tunnel pictures that it was a wise decision not to take the truck. Can you imagine a trailer?
We arrived at the Sylvan Lake Lodge and enjoyed an afternoon coffee on the deck. There’s a slight resemblance to the Sun Valley Lodge, but this one’s in a thick forested area. It was so relaxing. We headed back home and made a quick dinner.
Back to Rushmore
But wait.. day wasn’t over yet. We were leaving the next morning, so we had to head back to Mt. Rushmore for our only chance at the evening show where they light up the mountain. Again… no disappointments. We took the truck and went on a back loop with our “blankie” again. Here the crowd was sparse so it was very relaxing.
We watched a patriotic video, then sang the national anthem once the memorial was lit. Afterwards, they paid tribute to our veterans one by one on the stage and then it was over. We continued on through the loop for a brief drive through Keystone. It was dark, but we got the feel.
It was a LONG day, but well spent.
Tuesday, we moved down the road 60 miles to Wall which is on our route and closer to the Badlands. Once again we got the Buddy scooter out for our tour. It’s odd that the landscape here can be so different from where we just were. From what I gathered, these were formed mainly from large deposits of volcanic ash millions of years ago. Erosion has washed a lot of it away, giving them their unique appearance. The Badlands is one of the largest mammal fossil collections in the world and discoveries are still being made as the erosion continues to uncover prehistoric finds.
Once again, there were very few people so we enjoyed just riding through the park snapping photo’s here and there.
We crammed an awful lot into four days, but so far we are still ahead of the cold. It was near 80 at our KOA in the Badlands. Today we head for Bismarck which will take us into the state of North Dakota.