August 29, 2012

Mr. Rushmore National Memorial

Sunday we crossed another state line on this trip, we hit state number 14, also known as South Dakota. That night we checked into an RV park just outside of Rapid City. Rapid City would put us close enough to the nearby attractions, and it was decent sized city so we figured we could explore some city along with seeing some nature. After parking the trailer we unhitched and drove into town to see what Rapid City had to offer.

State line sign on Interstate 90 in South Dakota
Welcome to South Dakota!
We got to town close to dusk and walked around the downtown. One neat thing about this town is there are bronze statues of every US president (up to Obama) on the street corners. On the main square there is a pretty water fountain that lights up with different colors after dark. There is also an alley, touted as Artist Alley, where local artists have painted the whole passage between the buildings. Most of the alley is done in spray paint though, and it’s not too far of a stretch from some of the alleys we saw in New York City.

Walking around downtown Rapid City, South Dakota
Walking around Rapid City
Bronze presidents in downtown Rapid City, South Dakota
Good ol' Bill, on the streets of Rapid City
Colorful lit fountain in downtown Rapid City, South Dakota
The fountain on the main square
Artist alley in downtown Rapid City, South Dakota
Walking down Artist Alley
There was a western saloon right next to our RV park that offered all you can eat pancakes for 99 cents and all you can drink coffee for the same. Sky and I decided to give it a go before hitting up all the destinations we had planned for the day. After properly stuffing ourselves (Sky made it through 3 while I could only eat 2 and half, these were HUGE pancakes!), we rolled out of the restaurant and set out to Mount Rushmore.

99 cent pancake breakfast in Rapid City, South Dakota
We upgraded to add sausage wasn't 99 cents.
The town of Rapid City and the local chamber of commerce puts together a map with suggested routes that tourists can take while visiting their area. The map recommends that you visit Mount Rushmore, make a stop at the Crazy Horse Memorial, then drive around some scenic roads of their local Black Hills National Forest. Not bad, I like it when someone else picks the itinerary for me. The crappy part was that most stopping points of the suggested route cost money, and we didn't know this until we were 20 miles into the 80 mile loop.

The number one question I’ve heard about Mount Rushmore since we have visited it is: what is as grand in person as it seems in the picture? The answer is yes, the monument is most definitely very impressive in person. Each of the faces is as tall as a six story building. We watched a free movie in the visitor’s center about how the faces were constructed, and it’s amazing! The whole project took 14 years. Men were suspended from the top of the mountain, hanging in midair with jack hammers, while they chiseled away. Over 800 million pounds of stone was removed from Mount Rushmore during the carving process, and you can still all this extra stone piled up below the faces at the foot of the mountain.

First view of Mount Rushmore in South Dakota
Walking up to the memorial
View of Mount Rushmore from the Grand View area in South Dakota
The grand viewing area
View of Mount Rushmore from the Grand View area in South Dakota
Monument up close
A scale model used to build Mount Rushmore
The scale model the builders used
Although Mount Rushmore National Memorial should fall into the category of national parks and monuments that we can see for free with our America the Beautiful pass, we had to pay to enter the park. Instead of charging an entrance fee, which is what the other parks do, this monument decided to charge a parking fee. Parking fees are not covered by the ATB pass, therefore we had to pay to get in. Grr! I would still say the $11 was worth seeing the monument close up. ALTHOUGH, one could get just as good of a view of the monument from several viewing areas outside the park, and see pretty much all there is to see for free.

A free view of Mount Rushmore from the highway in South Dakota
The free view of the monument from the highway
After viewing the monument we drove to see the Crazy Horse Memorial, where they wanted $20 to see the “work in progress”, so we just got a picture from the road. Then we started our scenic driving through the Black Hills. The Black Hills are called such because they are primarily covered with ponderosa pines, which tend to be dark in color, and make the mountains look like they are black from a distance. Recently there has been a large epidemic of mountain pine beetles and half of the trees have died, leaving the forest half black and half orange. It was really a very sad sight.

A free view of the Crazy Horse Memorial from the highway in South Dakota
Crazy Horse Memorial
Black Hills view from the highway in South Dakota
The Black (and Red) Hills
What was neat about the scenic drive was that it took us along the Needles Highway, which is a 20 mile stretch of very narrow road that goes between awesome rock formations and through very small rock tunnels. The rock formations resemble needles, hence the name of the highway.

Driving on the Needles Highway in Custer State Park in South Dakota
Driving on Needles Highway
Narrow tunnels while driving on the Needles Highway in Custer State Park in South Dakota
Narrow tunnels!!
Narrow tunnels while driving on the Needles Highway in Custer State Park in South Dakota
Fiona barely fit in the tunnel
Views from the Needles Highway in Custer State Park in South Dakota
The view from Needles Highway
Views from the Needles Highway in Custer State Park in South Dakota
More views from the Needles Highway
After the Needles highway we drove through several fields of buffalo. Yay buffalo! Who ever said these creatures were nearly extinct hasn't driven through Wyoming and South Dakota…The last portion of the scenic drive was down the Iron Mountain Highway, which wound through more forest and a couple more tight tunnels. When you go through the tunnels on this portion of the drive, you get a great view of the Mount Rushmore Memorial at the end of the tunnel!

Loose buffalo near our car in Custer State Park in South Dakota
Buffalo walked right next to us
Loose buffalo near our car in Custer State Park in South Dakota
That must be pretty scary...
Views of Mount Rushmore from a tunnel in Custer State Park in South Dakota
It might be hard to see, but the monument is at the end of the tunnel 
You would think all this national forest driving would be free, but no. We had to pay $15 to enter the park, just so that we could drive on the roads through it. And on top of it all, Sky broke the last pair of glasses he had, so the rest of the day he had to go around looking like a dork. :o)

Sky with broken glasses at Mount Rushmore Memorial in South Dakota
Admiring the views through broken glasses
We drowned our sorrows with some ice cream when we got back to town. Oh, one last thing! The Fort Hays Chuckwagon, the place where we went for breakfast, has several movie set pieces from the movie “Dances with Wolves” that anyone can see for free if you just stop by their place. We wondered around there for a bit right as the sun was setting, and then we took ourselves to bed.

A visit to the Dances with Wolves movie set in South Dakota
From the "Dances With Wolves" movie set
To see more pictures of Rapid City, Custer Park and Mt. Rushmore Monument, click here.

Happy Tourist Trapping,


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