Tag Archive | South Dakota

West 2016: Mount Rushmore NM

Day 5: August 9, 2016

Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a unique park within the National Park System. What makes men decide to carve the faces of four Presidents into a mountain?

Mount Rushmore was originally devised as a way to draw tourists into the Black Hills area. Doane Robinson, a South Dakota historian, wanted to depict famous people of the Black Hills area on the Needles Mountain.  He was able to drum up support for the idea, but Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor for the project, rejected the Needles because of the poor quality of the granite and because of strong opposition from Native American tribes. Mount Rushmore had better exposure to the sun too, that would better show the finished sculptures.  Borglum also thought the characters chosen for the monument needed to have a broader appeal, so he picked four Presidents; Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.

Mount Rushmore is unique because instead of bringing an existing national treasure into the park service portfolio, this one was created specifically for inclusion.  The National Memorial was designated on March 3, 1925.  The project began in 1927 and the faces were carved between 1934 and 1939. Each face was 60 feet tall. Over 400 workers were on the project, and miraculously for a project of this size and complexity, no one died.  Except, I guess for Borglum, who died in 1941 from an embolism, and his son Lincoln took over after his death. The monument was originally supposed to include the torso of each President as well, but with the United States’ entry into World War II, funding for the project ended early and the monument remains unfinished.  Since George Washington was the first President carved, he has some rudimentary clothes, although even those are unfinished.

A close up of Mount Rushmore

We walked through the Avenue of the Flags and of course had to find our WA state flag. I wasn’t sure how they had them organized, but found out later on the internet that they are arranged alphabetically, with the A’s beginning at the entrance and the W’s at the end closer to the mountain.  I thought their date of entrance into the United States would have been better, but whatever…  From the flag plaza, we walked out to the viewing area and saw the monument – it really is beautiful. Each face has a lot of detail. We posed for pictures and got photos of the monument from different angles.

Me with the Avenue of Flags

The Avenue of Flags, with Rushmore above

Then we went downstairs, where there is a very informative museum that has exhibits on the history of the monument, and the engineering and sculpting techniques that were used to create the monument. And, of course, the obligatory movie… There were videos of the construction of the monument too! There is also a very good bookstore that has quite a few relevant books; it is a better bookstore than the one by the entrance, by the way.

Me with the mountain

There is a 0.6 mile trail that gets you closer to the monument, but I was feeling a bit fizzled out at that point and so was mom, so we didn’t end up doing it.  We also didn’t end up staying for the evening light show, although one day I want to make it back for both the walk and the light show. We had a long day at that point and it looked like a thunderstorm was rolling in, so we headed out for the day just as some big fat raindrops were beginning to fall.  We did stop at a viewpoint just outside the memorial to get a few photos of George Washington from a different angle – in profile.

A profile view of George Washington

On our drive away from Rushmore, we were treated to a pretty rainbow; there is nothing like it to lift one’s spirits and enjoy something beautiful.  We ended up back at the Buglin’ Bull in Custer for dinner again – this time I had the Greek salad with iced tea. It was delicious! After dinner we headed back to our little motel, and got to sit outside and soak up a bit more warmth. Then we went inside before the rain returned and were treated to a wonderful thunder and lightning storm. I lay in bed with the curtains open and watched the storm before I fell asleep.

The rainbow we saw at the end of our day.

 

Costs and Fees: No charge to visit Mount Rushmore National Memorial itself, but there is a $10 per car parking fee.

Distance for the Day: Custer, SD – Wind Cave National Park – Custer State Park – Crazy Horse Memorial – Mount Rushmore National Memorial – Mystic Valley Inn – Custer, SD (1 hr, 46 min, 80 miles)

Hotel for the night: Mystic Valley Inn – Custer, SD

 

West 2016: Crazy Horse Memorial

Day 5: August 9, 2016

Crazy Horse Memorial is an interesting place. It was designed as a Memorial to Crazy Horse, a Chief and respected elder of the Oglala Lakota tribe, by Korczak Ziolkowski, a Polish American sculptor who worked on the nearby Mount Rushmore,  It was commissioned by Henry Standing Bear, another Lakota elder, who wanted to honor a tribal warrior.  We drove over to see it after we drove the Needles Highway.  Fun Fact: Ziolkowski shares my birthday – I hope I don’t need to clarify we share month and day only, not year…

Crazy Horse was a war leader of the Oglala Lakota tribe – the Oglala Lakota are one of seven sub-tribes of the Lakota Nation, which are also a part of the larger Sioux Nation. Crazy Horse fought against the United States government and the encroachment of the white man on Sioux territory and the tribe’s way of life. His most famous battle was at the Battle of Little Bighorn. He was killed by a military guard after surrendering to U.S. troops in 1877.

I liked this statue of two fighting stallions; it was tucked away near a service entrance

The planned dimensions of the Crazy Horse Memorial are huge – 641 feet wide and 563 feet high; his head alone will be 87 feet tall. It is way bigger (or going to be) than Mount Rushmore, where the Presidents are each 60 feet high. Crazy Horse was begun in 1948, and there is no real idea on when it will be completed.

Me with the Crazy Horse Memorial

The memorial has become a family project, with most of Ziolkowski’s immediate family working on it, as well as some other family members. The vision includes the monument, as well as an education center and scholarships for tribal members.  They received a $2.5M donation a few years back that seems to have breathed new life into the project, so perhaps that will get things moving a bit faster on the sculpture.

When we visited, we started out watching the movie. It explained the history of the monument, and the fact that proceeds go to scholarships to help tribal members get their education. Once the movie was finished, we made our way outside to see the monument. I felt like they intentionally tried to create a maze – you can’t get outside without winding your way through a ton of vendors and gift shop stuff.  That was frustrating.

Outside, we checked out the model of the finished monument, and posed for photos. Admittedly, if they ever finish it, it will look really cool. The actual monument is huge. It is crazy to imagine how large it really is up close, because it looks really large from far away.

The model of what the finished memorial will look like

It was an interesting monument to a great tribal leader, but it really didn’t take much time to see. I had hoped that there would be a museum or exhibit with more information about Crazy Horse and the history of the campaigns the Oglala Lakota and other tribes fought with the U.S. government. To be honest, I was less than wowed. It felt like there was a less than subtle request for donations throughout the experience, and after spending $11 per person for admission, well… Other than the movie (which had its own fundraising vibe) and the mountain itself – there wasn’t much to see or do.

The memorial, as it looked in August 2016

 

A closer view of the face

All in all, I was glad I went, but unless there is considerably more progress on the monument itself – particularly the horse part – I don’t feel I need a return visit.

 

Costs and Fees: $11 per person up to 2 in a car, includes parking.  $28 per car if more than 2.  There are some other prices for bicycles, kids, active military, Native Americans, etc., so check the website.

West 2016: Custer State Park

Day 5: August 9, 2016

Both before and after we went to Wind Cave, we made our way through Custer State Park. Custer State Park was basically right on the way, since you have to drive through the park in order to get to Wind Cave. So, just for the sake of full-disclosure, this post covers multiple times that we were in the park; early morning, mid-day and evening too.  It doesn’t matter for the sake of the post, but just know that you are more likely to see some of these animals if you go early, or at the end of the day.

Me – Sign Posing

Custer State Park is a huge park, with lots to offer. It has camping, lakes, scenic drives, and when we headed to Wind Cave, we took a little time before to check out part of the Wildlife Loop since it was early morning, and we hoped to see wildlife! We weren’t disappointed!

Right after entering the Wildlife Loop, we saw pronghorn! A small herd of them! They were just hanging out, and there were young ones along with the herd. I loved seeing them. We took some photos – even one with a peeing pronghorn! I can’t help it – animals doing more than just standing there is fascinating to me – yep, that’s me…  I am weird.  Historic toilets – peeing animals…

Pronghorn

 

Even better – peeing pronghorn!

After watching the pronghorn, we found a prairie dog town. They were quite active then, scampering around and eating grass. They were darker in color than some of the other prairie dogs – I liked seeing the color variation.

Custer State Park’s prairie dogs had darker fur. I am becoming quite the prairie dog connoisseur.

We saw wild turkeys too! There were about a half dozen turkeys roaming around in a few different places in the park.

Wild Turkeys!

As we continued on the way to Wind Cave, we saw a couple of deer, more pronghorn, and then we saw a coyote too! Even though I see coyotes at home from time to time, even in my own neighborhood, it was a treat to see one out in the wild.

An early morning coyote sighting

After Wind Cave, which I posted about here, we headed back out into Custer State Park, and decided to do one of the scenic drives – the Needles Highway. The highway is a crazy, windy road, with a ton of switchbacks and several one lane tunnels. They had people who directed traffic through the tunnels, allowing travel in one direction and then the other. The whole highway made my mom nervous, but I enjoyed it! I would have like to stop at some of the viewpoints, but there were so many Sturgis bikers on the road that it would have been difficult to pull over easily.

One of the tiny tunnels on the Needles Highway

Later in the day, we headed back into the park and traveled on the part of the Wildlife Loop that we hadn’t seen before. We found bison, lots and lots of bison. Custer State Park has about 1,500 bison at the peak each year; they manage the herd through round ups and sales. We watched them for a while; I never got tired of them.

 

A bit further on, we found the other famous animals of the park – feral donkeys! There was a group of them hanging out right in the parking lot, begging for carrots from the tourists, despite all the signs that say you shouldn’t feed them. Apparently they are known as the Begging Burros, and there are about 50 donkeys in the park.  There was another group of donkeys that kept their distance, and it was fun to watch them playing out in the field and being more wild.  I think the donkeys were my favorite of the animals we saw in the park – well, if you don’t count the peeing pronghorn…  Nope – I’m still going with the donkeys as the favorites…

 

 

 

We didn’t do any of the other recreational activities that Custer State Park has to offer, but it would certainly be a great place to camp, and spend some time. It was a worthwhile park!

A bison just hanging on the road in the evening.

Wind Cave NP History

There are very few cave systems managed by the National Park Service, and Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota enjoys bragging rights as not only the first cave to be designated as a National Park within the United States, but it is also the first in the entire world!

Me posing with the Entrance Sign

Wind Cave has been known for centuries by the Native Americans, especially the Lakota, who consider it a sacred place. The Lakota believe that the cave’s entrance is the site where their people first emerged from the underworld after the creation of the world.

Despite its being known, it is not believed that any humans entered the cave until after 1881 when Tom and Jesse Bingham first noticed the wind rushing out of the entrance of the cave – it was forceful enough to blow the hat off of Tom’s head when he peered into the hole.  The wind blowing out of Wind Cave is a result of the large cave system combined with the small entrance opening; as the air pressure seeks to equalize both inside and outside of the cave, air blows either into or out of the cave, depending on the air pressure outside.

The natural entrance to Wind Cave

After Tom and Jesse “discovered” the cave, the South Dakota Mining Company did some exploring to determine whether there was valuable ore at the site (there wasn’t), and hired Jesse McDonald to oversee their claim.  It was Jesse’s family that was instrumental in the development of the cave as a tourist attraction.  His son Alvin began entering the cave with a candle and a long spool of string, and mapping out the many paths and caverns in the cave.  The family started offering tours for $1 (that’s a lot of money at the turn of the last century!), which involved quite a bit of crawling through small passages.  But even back in the day, people got greedy, and a dispute over cave profits led to court, and the government ruled that no one had an ownership claim in the cave and withdrew the land from homesteading.

Further cave exploration in the 1960s led to much of the knowledge we have about Wind Cave today.  Currently 123.09 miles (according to the NPS’s Wind Cave website) of the cave system have been explored, with a few miles more being explored each year.  It is the sixth longest cave system in the world.  There are several large rooms within the cave, as well as tiny passageways that are much too small for a person to fit through.  The cave has six known lakes, about 500 feet beneath the surface.  There is a belief among scholars that the Wind Cave network actually connects with the network of passages in Jewel Cave nearby, and that the two cave systems are actually one, even larger cave.  However, to date, there has not been confirmation of this theory, although it makes sense because both caves are known to be very large, and the two are only about 5 surface miles apart.

Wind Cave is known for its boxwork and frostwork. Boxwork is made of thin blades of calcite that project from cave walls and ceilings, forming a honeycomb pattern. They intersect one another at various angles, forming “boxes” on all cave surfaces.  Approximately 95% of the boxwork in the world’s known caves is in Wind Cave.  Frostwork is intricate, needle-like growths on the cave – it is unknown how it forms, but evaporation is thought to play a role since it occurs in areas of Wind Cave where there is more air movement.

Theodore Roosevelt signed legislation creating Wind Cave National Park on January 9, 1903. Currently Wind Cave National Park has 33,851 acres, with bison, pronghorn, coyotes, deer, elk, prairie dogs, and the endangered black-footed ferret (which were reintroduced to the park in 2007).

The above-ground view at Wind Cave

My mom and I visited Wind Cave National Park in August 2016, and toured the cave while we were there.  I will post about it next!

West 2016: Rapid City Oddity

Day 4: August 8, 2016

When you think of a gas station and convenience store, I bet you are like me and think about a place to fill the tank, and perhaps pick up some snacks for that long drive you have ahead of you.  You know…  Diet Dr. Pepper, coffee, licorice, pretzels… something to hold you over until you get your next meal (yes, I am a bit food focused, in case you were wondering).  But I bet it isn’t often that you think of that gas station convenience store as a place to view a whole host of stuffed animals from around the world.  And I don’t mean the cute, cuddly plush stuffies – I mean a collection of taxidermy animals!

This odd Taxidermy Gas Station, as I came to call it, is located in Rapid City, South Dakota inside a Mobile gas station.  It has an actual name – The Call of the Wild Museum, but Taxidermy Gas Station has a much better ring to it, in my humble opinion…

I knew about it before our trip, having stumbled upon it while I was researching things to do on TripAdvisor. I put it on the list as an interesting potential, but wasn’t convinced that we would make it there because there were so many other things we wanted to see in the area.  In the end, we just kind of ended up at the intersection and decided to make the stop as we were heading home from our busy day at Badlands, among other places…

I have mixed feelings on big game hunting…  I am sure others have different opinions, but I don’t think that anyone should be permitted to hunt endangered animals.  I think if you are going to hunt common animals, you should be hunting it to eat it.  But regardless of your views on hunting, this place is here, an exhibit showing the ‘kills’ of a hunting family that needed a large display room.  The Taxidermy Gas Station was born…

The exhibit is free – a big room attached to the convenience store, and it contains dozens, maybe even over a hundred taxidermied specimens.  Common animals and exotics from all over the world.  Lions, an elephant, a polar bear, an alligator, a wolverine, a Canada goose, a few different species of prairie dogs…  You name it, and you can likely find it there.  Well, now that I think about it, they didn’t have a manatee – that’s a good thing.

The taxidermy on these animals is very well done, and it is morbidly interesting to walk through the room checking out all the different animals.  However, it is also sad.  I will leave you to decide for yourself…

 

Thoughts?

After the Taxidermy Gas Station, we wrapped up our drive back to Custer, South Dakota, traveling through Custer State Park after dark.  I will tell you more about this wonderful park in another post!  Winding through the park after dark was a surreal experience, especially since at one point I had to slam on the brakes to narrowly avoid hitting a large male bison, who was standing in the road, in the fog, staring directly at us…  Creepy…  My heart jumped into my throat!  But after we stopped the car, he lazily walked by the side of us, without a care in the world…


Distance for the Day:
Custer, SD – Minuteman National Historic Site – Prairie Homestead – Badlands National Park, SD – Wall Drug – Call of the Wild Museum – Custer, SD (4 hrs, 45 min, 254 miles)

Hotel for the night: Mystic Valley Inn – Custer, SD
Gas – $2.19 / gallon

Free Ice Water at Wall Drug!

Day 4: August 8, 2016

Is there such a thing as a trip to the Badlands without a stop at Wall Drug? This iconic store, originally a pharmacy, has become an American legend, due to the road signs that line I-90 for miles in both directions. Additionally, they give away free bumper stickers and people erect signs in far off places announcing how many miles it is to Wall Drug.  These marketing strategies have absolutely aided in their success.

Wall Drug was opened by Ted Hustead and his wife in 1931; they were looking for a small town with a Catholic church where they could establish their pharmacy business. Wall is currently in the “middle of nowhere,” and I can only imagine that it was even more remote over 85 years ago. His wife Dorothy deserves the credit for its ultimate success. Mount Rushmore had just opened, and she had the idea to offer free ice water to tourists traveling west to see it during the hot, dry summer. The idea brought lots of people in and the store took off!

The Famous Wall Drug Store

Wall Drug is basically a shopping mall where you can buy all sorts of kitschy souvenirs, including a mounted “jackalope,” which is a jackrabbit with antlers.  I have no idea how this thing ever took off, but I guess I need to remember that we have a long history of venerating mythical creatures, and why not – it is fun!  Apparently in Douglas, WY, where the first taxidermy jackalope was created in 1932, they have an “official” jackalope hunting season, which occurs for only one day.  In case you are interested in bagging your own jackalope, the season occurs each year on June 31 (a nonexistent date as June has 30 days), from midnight to 2 a.m. The hunter must have an IQ greater than 50 but not over 72.  Permits are available from the Douglas, WY Chamber of Commerce.  I think that would be pretty awesome to get one!  But I digress…

Mom and I combined our visit to Wall Drug with dinner.  I had a buffalo burger, which was good, but somehow I neglected to snap a picture…  We decided to forego the ice cream for dessert, although it did look really delicious.  Instead we took a bit of time to go find the rideable Jackalope out back!  Because a trip to Wall Drug is not complete without sitting astride a 10 foot tall fiberglass Jackalope!  The stirrups were too short for this equestrienne, but I tried to make the best of it with my long remembered equitation skills.  Mom even played along and climbed up there too.

The Wall Drug Cafe – I got to stare at the ice cream counter all through dinner!

 

Me riding the Jackalope

 

Mom riding the Jackalope!

We also found a stuffed bison to pose with – she had seen better days – I imagine she’s been petted by millions over the years. And we checked out an exhibit on gold mining, where you can pan for gold for a fee, but it was closed when we were there.  The mall has a Western art museum as well that would have been cool to check out if we had more time – it is free to visit.

Me with the stuffed bison – up close and personal

In the end, we departed with full bellies but passed on purchasing the mounted jackalopes or other Wall Drug souvenirs, and got on the road towards home (Custer, SD, that is…).  We still had a fair bit of driving and one more, very odd, stop to make…

West 2016: Deadwood – Wild Bill and Bikers!

Day 3: August 7, 2016

Our destination for the third day of our trip was Deadwood, South Dakota, famous for its origins as a Gold Rush town.  Gold and silver were found here in 1874 and triggered the beginning of the Black Hills Gold Rush.  George Armstrong Custer was responsible for making the announcement that brought tens of thousands of eager miners to the area, completely unconcerned about violating the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie, which had given ownership of the Black Hills to the Lakota people.  But white men wanted money, so who cares about the government’s silly little commitment to the Native Americans who called this land home…  Despite the land dispute reaching the United States Supreme Court, the Lakota were not successful at preventing the encroachment of the miners on their land.

Our tour bus for the morning - riding in style...

Our tour bus for the morning – riding in style…

Deadwood is also well known as the town where Wild Bill Hickok lived and met his untimely end by a bullet in the head, while he was sitting in a chair playing poker in the #10 saloon.  He was 39 years old.  Wild Bill Hickok was known for being an outlaw as well as a lawman over his relatively short life.  Less well known is that he also worked as a teamster and a scout during the Civil War and it is rumored that he was a Union spy in Confederate territory.  But my personal favorite tidbit about him was that he was mauled by a bear and lived!

A sign marking the saloon where Wild Bill Hickok was shot

A sign marking the saloon where Wild Bill Hickok was shot

The first order of business for our day in Deadwood was a bus tour of town, by Boothill Tours.  My mom and I were joined by about 10 people who were around for the Sturgis Rally; we were the only ones who weren’t.  Our guide told us stories of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, and attempted to separate the myth from the likely truth.  Hickok was married to an older woman, and beyond being in Deadwood at the same time as the much younger Calamity Jane, they were unlikely to have been in a relationship together.  Our tour took us around town, showing us the historic buildings of town, pointing out the Adams House Museum from the outside, Mount Moriah cemetery, and a home whose roof was made from large can lids.  We all got out of the bus at Mount Moriah Cemetery to hear additional stories about Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, to see their graves, and to view the town below from the cemetery’s vantage point above the hill.

Wild Bill Hickok's grave in Mount Moriah Cemetery, overlooking town

Wild Bill Hickok’s grave in Mount Moriah Cemetery, overlooking town

Our tour guide was fantastic, telling us the history of the town and its residents, explaining the disasters that have befallen Deadwood over the years.  It has suffered floods and multiple fires, and has had to reinvent itself over the years, after the gold rush ended, and it became just one more dying town…  After our bus tour, it was mid-morning, and Deadwood was really starting to fill up with Sturgis bikers who were out touristing.  The town was packed with bikers and bikes!

The main street of Deadwood - before all the bikers started arriving...

The main street of Deadwood – before all the bikers started arriving…

We toured the Adams Historical Museum and checked out the exhibits; it was an interesting hodge podge of stuff!  The museum had an antique narrow gauge steam engine, a collection of small carved wood statues of nudists, comprising an entire wooden nudist colony, Wild Bill Hickok paraphernalia, an exhibit detailing the prostitution industry, and an exhibit with all sorts of opium den artifacts.  They also displayed Potato Creek Johnny’s famous gold nugget (another cast member of local color in Deadwood), dinosaur fossils, and a very nice N.C. Wyeth drawing of Wild Bill Hickok.  They even had a two headed calf!  I enjoyed the museum, which is housed in a historic building downtown.

 

The Adams Museum

The Adams Museum

A whole carved wooden nudist colony! But where are all the men?

A whole carved wooden nudist colony! But where are all the men?

 

A two headed calf; this one lived six weeks.

A two headed calf; this one lived six weeks.

After the Adams Museum, we went to lunch at the Tin Lizzie, a buffet restaurant inside a casino.  It was fine but certainly nothing special.

We wandered along Main Street, heading into Saloon #10, where Wild Bill Hickok was murdered by Jack McCall, the day after beating McCall out of a large sum of money in poker. McCall rode away after the shooting, but fell off his horse and was caught a few blocks away.  We poked around in a few shops and checked out motorcycles of all sizes, shapes and colors.  As well as bikers of all sizes, shapes and colors…  I don’t think I have ever seen so many bikers; there had to be thousands there in town – cruising the streets, sitting at restaurants and bars, walking along the sidewalks like we were – and we weren’t even in Sturgis!

Deadwood after it began to fill up with bikers!

Deadwood after it began to fill up with bikers!

We had already seen so much, and our day in Deadwood was only half over!