Friday, June 15, 2012

Day 6: Mt Rushmore and Custer State Park

We woke up around 7:30 after not the best night of sleep. But we'd gone to bed early and mysteriously gained an hour at some point on the drive, so we were still feeling pretty good, despite still being sick. After some sudafed, vitamin c, and bagels, we packed up camp and headed out to hit some trails in the Badlands.

Brian was determined to be off the trails by 10am to avoid the heat so we headed over to the trailheads around 8:30. We were feeling daring so we chose a 1.5 mile round trip hike that was supposed to be "moderate to strenuous". This particular trail was estimated to take 2 hours to complete. I'm not entirely sure where they got that number from. Especially after doing the hike. The only "strenuous" part of the hike was a very cool ladder made out of logs that was 40 or 50 ft tall. And I daresay it was only strenuous because neither of us can take a deep breath at the moment since we're all kinds of congested.

Still, it was quite the adventure. Particularly because of all the signs warning about rattlesnakes. Those were Brian's favorite.

The view from the top was awesome and we got some good photos. The trail kind of ended without warning at which point we could "explore at our own risk", but we decided to head back. 40 minutes later, we were back at the car. We must be such pro hikers that a 2 hour hike takes us less than half the time. I'm sure the hiking boots I got Brian for graduation helped, too.

Since it was still so early, we decided to try out a few of the other "trails". I use "trails" loosely because they were boardwalks. One was 0.25 mile round trip. That's more of a scenic outlook than a trail, isn't it? The guidebook estimated 20 minutes to make the walk. We decided we were up to the challenge and 3 minutes later were at the end of the Window Trail. It was a cool gap in the rocks that let you look out over the badlands. 3 minutes well spent. We sat down to rest for a few minutes before making the trip back to the car.

Before too long we were on the road again. We had a short drive over to Mount Rushmore and our campsite at Custer State Park. I slept for a lot of the trip, but Brian somehow made it there without my help. We swung by our campsite first to make sure we approved of the location. It was situated on a babbling brook and there were showers, so we weren't complaining. 

We headed off to check out the Crazy Horse Memorial and Mt Rushmore next. There were some nice roads through the park so the ride was enjoyable. We pulled up to Crazy Horse first. Crazy Horse was a Native American tribe leader in South Dakota in the 19th century. From what I can tell he's most known for going to war with the U.S. government to protect his land and people. A member of his tribe commissioned a massive sculpture of him (way bigger than Mt Rushmore) and construction began in 1948. But not much has been done since. Apparently there have been some financial setbacks. Brian saw the memorial 12 years ago and it looks the same today; the face is finished and that's about it. It's kind of sad, really.
The Crazy Horse Memorial. Hasn't aged a bit.

We pulled up to the gate of the memorial and were quoted $20 for an entrance fee. That seemed a little steep for a very unfinished statue that we could see plain as day from the road so we decided to move on. Given that the construction is mostly funded by visitor entrance fees, they should probably rethink that.

On the way to Mt. Rushmore we came across a Black Hills National Forest information building so we decided to stop. Brian's been itching to go off-roading in the Jeep and he wanted a map of the service roads and trails in the area so we could go exploring. We got just what we needed and decided to find a few old logging roads that the ranger pointed out to us.

And boy did we find some.

Bonus points if you can find the logging "road" in this picture.

Turns out, the "old" logging roads we found weren't so old. There were plenty of cows around and one in particular had a fondness for standing in the road in front of us while Brian tried to coax it out of the way. When we were leaving the little guy came right back out into the road when it saw us approaching.

Our little cow friend on the way back to the road. This time his mom came to shoo him across.

When we got back into the more rugged parts of the road there was fresh cut wood stacked along the road and a tractor with chains on the wheels and the door still open. Guess the workers were out to lunch or something. We decided to explore anyway and Brian found a nice hill to try out his 4 Wheel Drive on. We turned around when the hill got a bit steeper than we were prepared for. 

There were several roads that branched off of one another so we continued on in search of a good view of the hills. We didn't find anything too great, but at one point we got off the road to check out a promising overlook. Brian was able to turn the Jeep around after we'd gotten to the top of the hill, but coming back down proved a little more difficult. There was a sizable tree on the ground that the loggers had chopped down. Sizable, but the Jeep could totally take it. Or so we thought. The first attempt to get over it wasn't so successful so Brian backed up a few times to try again. Turns out that might not have been the best idea.
(That's not the offending tree, by the way. It was much bigger. We just ran over that one.)

We finally got out of the Jeep to move the tree out of the way when we discovered that we'd broken off a plastic cover that was bolted under the car. Oops. Totally replaceable, but off-roading with something hanging off the bottom of your car isn't the best idea ever. So, avoiding the cow pies that were all over the place, Brian attempted to screw the plastic thing back on. When that didn't work, out came the duct tape and the job was done in no time. We stopped for a quick picture, of course, and then went on our merry way.
Emergency Surgery

Brian took it a little easier after that and before too long we decided to head for Mt. Rushmore. 

When we got to Mt. Rushmore, I stopped to take pictures of the memorial almost right away. I'm pretty much a professional tourist at this point. We walked down the hall of flags or whatever they call it and stopped again at an outlook to get more pictures. A citizenship ceremony was taking place in the amphitheater right below us, with a live choir singing patriotic songs and everything. Then some middle schoolers got up to read (what I can only assume were) their award-winning essays about what being an American citizen means to them. That was fun and all…for about 5 minutes. So I said hi to a cute baby behind us and then we left to check out the "strenuous" Presidential Trail.

The fellas

The trail consisted of a lot of stairs going down with a few stopping points to read about the presidents and get a better look at them through holes cut in the trees. It was also shady so Brian was a fan of the trail. We quickly figured out that the strenuous part was going to be coming back up the stairs on the other side, but we kept going anyway.

When we got to the bottom of the stairs, we stopped by the original sculpture studio which now houses a cool exhibit and we also saw one of the original compressor houses and compressors that were used to run the jackhammers used to do the carving. We were just in time for the 3:30 Park Ranger talk about how the carving was done so we found a seat and waited for that. The family on the bench next to us were in the process of moving from Fairbanks, Alaska to Maryland, so Brian decided they must be Air Force. The kid really knew his history, too, and he couldn't have been more than 6.

Another view of the same thing

We learned that the majority of the carving was done using dynamite and the workers could get within an inch of the final product using the dynamite. That blew my mind (pun intended). The rest was finished using jackhammers and the details were filled in with chisels, both used by men hanging from the side of the mountain on bosun chairs. No one was killed during construction, despite the hazards. We also learned that the workers couldn't start making money for the day until they had reached the top of the mountain so some of them could climb the 700+ steps up the mountain with all their tools is 6 minutes flat. Let's just say it took Brian and I longer than 6 minutes to climb the ~450 steps back up the other side of the trail. 

After that we headed back toward the campsite. We stopped to pick up something to cook for dinner as well as some firewood, but Keystone, SD, the only town nearby, was lacking. We did find a grocery store that would be heaven for anyone who loved Chef Boyardee, ramen, and grits. But it did have one redeeming quality: the place had Neccos. Neccos were a staple of all my family car trips growing up and I'd been looking for them everywhere we stopped. This tiny backcountry grocery store saved the day. We also left with some mac and cheese and firewood for good measure.

I have no pictures of the grocery store, so here's a cow.

Since we'd had some combination of cheese and pasta for two nights running we decided to partake in Keystone's other speciality: pizza. Because when you're sick of cheese and pasta, the clear alternative is cheese and bread. Of all the restaurants in Keystone, every single one of them advertised their menu as "Pizza, Beer, Icecream." Okay, there was one Subway, but there was so. much. pizza. So we stopped for pizza (and salad!). And we didn't regret the decision. 

We left the pizza joint and decided to take the front part of the roof off the Jeep for the drive back. We didn't regret that either.

In the parking lot of the pizza place, complete with duct taped bumper and cow poop.
No, that's not mud.

The drive back into the park was absolutely gorgeous. Unfortunately, we didn't notice the go pro was turned off so we didn't get pictures of the drive, but it was very cool. Winding mountain roads, one-lane tunnels, a great view of Mt Rushmore through the trees, and the biggest donkey I'd ever seen. Aside from a really terrible driver we were stuck behind for a good chunk of the trip, it was a great ride back.

When we got back to the campsite, we set up the camp like usual. We're pros at this point. After some hot showers we settled in with some painkillers and our books to read by the campfire. Brian declared, "We are such a cute couple." 
Brian reading a book about submarines. Wonder where he got that idea?
He's also sporting this year's hottest fashion, the bug-repellant anklet.

After it got too dark to read, we got out our computers and I wrote for the blog and uploaded photos while Brian moved the 20 GB of go pro photos from yesterday onto his hard drive. I'm sure you all can't wait for the time-lapse videos. 

We let the fire burn down for a bit and packed up camp before heading to bed. The next day was a long drive to Yellowstone so we had to be up early.


  1. I read Days 5 and 6 together. Awesome.
    Awesome pictures, awesome stories, awesome description, awesome duct tape, and awesine cow poop.
    I am loving this, Gail.
    Hope you both leave your colds on Mt. Rushmore.
    Thanks for the longest postcard I've ever received.

  2. I wonder if you are at Yellowstone by now. I've never been there, but I bet it's beautiful. I guess the word about duct tape is true---never leave home without it.
    Love the way you write, Gail---it's so much fun to read. Tell Brian he should put in a word, too.