Archive for the ‘Mount Rushmore National Memorial’ Category

Rushmore to Devil’s Tower

September 15, 2010 - 9:31 pm 1 Comment

Returned to Mount Rushmore first thing in the morning so that we could catch the morning sun shining on the presidents’ faces.

Entrance to Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore

George & Tom



Grand View Terrace

Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore

Jeff & Stef at Mount Rushmore

We walked along the trail in front of the memorial for some different perspectives, had a quick bite in the café, and then hit the road for Crazy Horse Memorial, the Native American answer to Mount Rushmore and a privately funded operation. The sculpture itself is massive but far from complete, so it’s not all that impressive.

Crazy Horse Memorial

Next to the parking lot is an enormous visitor center filled with “authentic” Native American souvenirs and cosmetic jewelry. All this schlock really cheapens the experience for me, and I appreciate the tastefulness of the National Parks in this regard.

At $10/person, the Crazy Horse experience isn’t worth it. The view from the highway is good enough.

Aside from the big billboards and cheesy attractions, the landscape of the surrounding area is beautiful. Craggy, anthropomorphic rocks carpet poke through a blanket of dark green forest. Stef and I think they should expand on the Mount Rushmore idea by carving American heroes, maybe one from each state, into the mountains everywhere. It would be a lot of work, for sure, but the place would make a killing.

Rocks in a Field

Our next stop was Wind Cave, one of the largest caves in the country. Inside the cave, they didn’t allow tripods and didn’t have railings for me to use to take longer exposures, but it didn’t really matter. It was mostly a dark, narrow walkway through vertical cracks, no big expanses or creative lighting like they have at Carlsbad and Luray. Stef seemed to enjoy it, but I found it underwhelming.

Colors of Wind Cave

Boxwork in Wind Cave

Large Wildlife on Roadway

Lunch was in Custer. We picked an authentic-looking Western restaurant and shared a buffalo burger. Tastes halfway between beef and lamb. I enjoyed it.

There seem to be a lot of Russian and Ukrainian exchange students in the area. Our young waitress was Russian. As I usually do with foreigners, I tried to joke around with her to show her that Americans (everyone assumes I am American) aren’t all stupid and humorless. When she ran through the list of dressings for our house salad, I smiled and told her I wanted Russian dressing. As I said it, it occurred to me that she might not know what Russian dressing is (it’s not really Russian), and that it might sound awkward. After an uncomfortable pause, the waitress excused herself. An embarrassed Stef glared at me and told me it sounded like a pick-up line.

We hit the road again. Stef volunteered to do most of the driving so that I could work on this blog and my photos in the car, which was a fantastic idea. I’m making slow progress on the blog, but with sunlight streaming in through the windows, it’s nearly impossible to see my photos. Do they have lightproof goggles that you can hook up to a laptop that can give you a view of your display? Nerdy, but I’d get a pair.

We stopped in Deadwood, Wyoming, since it has a cool name and is supposed to be a historic western town. Turns out it’s not much more than cheap-looking casinos and souvenir shops.

Stef & Jeff in Deadwood

We made a pit stop at Mt. Moriah Cemetery, where “Wild Bill” Hickock and “Calamity” Jane are buried. By all accounts, Jane was an ugly hooker obsessed with Hickock, whose dying wish was to be buried next to him. She got her wish, but I wonder how Hickock feels about it.

"Wild Bill" Hickock's Grave

Deadwood from Above

The last leg of today’s journey was to Devil’s Tower. In the official literature, Devil’s Tower doesn’t have an apostrophe, but I’m going break convention for grammatical accuracy. Devil’s Tower is an oddly shaped magmatic intrusion made famous by the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” It’s one of those weird places that I’ve always wanted to visit.

Field of Gold

Approaching Devils Tower

Steer at Devils Tower

Devils Tower

We arrived just as the sun was setting. At the park entrance, Stef and I bought an annual National Park pass for $80, which should save us a bundle on this trip alone. The drive into the park took us past a field filled with friendly, chirping prairie dogs. We pulled onto the turnout to sat hello, but we had to push on to beat the quickly setting sun.

Black-tailed Prairie Dog

Devils Tower

The visitor’s center takes you pretty close to the base of the tower. Too close, I think. When you’re that close, Devil’s Tower doesn’t stick out from the surrounding landscape, and it’s much harder to appreciate its grandeur. We took a short walk around the base. The sun painted the rocks orange, and the sunset filled the sky with color.

Devils Tower

Columns of Devils Tower

Stef & Jeff at Devils Tower

Wyoming Sunset

Wyoming Sunset

After Labor Day, everything in the area starts to close down, including the restaurants. We were lucky enough to find a little diner just up the road, called the Tower View Restaurant, still serving food. The husband and wife who ran it and the adjoining gift shop were very friendly. Stef described them as a “Bob and Ethel.”

We arrived at our campground near the base of Devil’s Tower just as the last wisp of light disappeared into the night.

Stars Over Devils Tower

We’re spread out in the back of our truck, tucked into sleeping bags. I’m exhausted. It’s only 9:30pm, but it feels like it’s 2am. Another big day tomorrow.

Straight to Mount Rushmore

September 15, 2010 - 6:20 am No Comments

After landing in Rapid City and getting a warm feeling inside when we saw our three bags waiting for us, we hopped over to the Hertz counter and picked up our shiny, big, white Toyota Highlander. Stepping out into the rental car parking lot, the air was fresh, with the scent of a distant wildfire. And the view was tremendous. Stef and I were excited to hit the road.

Ready to Go!

The short drive to Mount Rushmore took us through the Black Hills, so named because the dark green Ponderosa pines covering the hills makes them look almost black, especially when a cloud passes over. The landscapes were magnificent. Immediately, I knew that I’d need to resist the urge to stop the car every five minutes to take another landscape shot.

My trusty GPS took us straight to the Mount Rushmore parking lot, where Stef took extra care parking our big Highlander. After a short walk past the visitor center and café, there we were, standing right in front of George, Tom, Teddy, and Abe. After a bumpy start to the trip, it was so nice to finally be seeing something cool.

Mount Rushmore

George & Tom

The Fifth Head

It’s bigger than I thought. And the perspective is weird. The trees below make it look like the whole thing belongs on a model train set. The sculptures are intricately carved, and striations in the rock slice through the presidents’ faces. Stef and I agree that the best thing about the sculpture is Abe Lincoln’s pouty lip.

We walked around a bit, and I took pictures like crazy. Unfortunately, the late afternoon sun is behind the memorial, so I vowed to return the next morning for some proper pictures.

Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore

When it got dark, we were happy to learn that there was a nightly performance and light show at Mount Rushmore, so we stuck around. I staked a good place for my tripod, and the crowd started to gather around us.

Having a tripod and a big camera makes me the go-to guy for “Can you take my picture?” We joked around with most of those people, but one particularly child-molester-looking guy that wandered over creeped Stef out. He had it all: the haircut that stayed unstylish no matter how many times he ran his hand through it, the engineer glasses, the mustache, the tucked in dress shirt, the Members Only jacket, the short pant legs, the awkward pauses, and the mistimed laughs. He made me take five pictures of him.

The “performance” was a park ranger coming out and giving us a melodramatic speech about the four presidents and their upbringing, followed by a short film about Mount Rushmore and its construction. The “light show” was a slowly illuminated spotlight on the presidents.

Mount Rushmore at Night

When it was time to find our campground, my GPS wasn’t so trusty. It led up into the hills on windy, pitch-black roads, and then told us to take a turn on a road that didn’t exist. Don’t trust the Garmin when you’re looking for the Mount Rushmore KOA. After stopping at three grungy motels for prices and availability, we finally bit the bullet and got a room. Probably best, since the beds were probably more comfortable than sleeping in a tent, and we badly needed a good night’s sleep.

It was a bumpy day, and moods flared, but everything worked out. We woke up this morning vowing to be in a better mood and looking forward to the first full day of our adventure.