We got up with the knowledge that we didn’t have to hook up and take off to our next location. We had the whole day to do Custer State Park including some hikes, scenic drives, and a visit to those 4 Presidents on the mountain.
We started at 8:30 with the infamous Needles Highway drive known for the needle-like granite formations which seem to pierce the sky. Three extremely narrow, low, tunnels are cut into the roadway, the largest measuring 14’ wide and 12’ 9” high. Drivers towing trailers or driving motorhomes or buses are warned about the tunnels. I jumped out to get a picture of Tom as he drove through.
We did not drive long before finding the parking lot for the Cathedral Spires Trailhead. Only 1.25 miles one way, it is rated “strenuous.” As with most trails, it started out deceptively easy and developed the “strenuous” part as we went along.
After lunch we made the 20-minute drive to Mt. Rushmore and were pleasantly surprised that the tourist bottleneck was minimal! We appreciated the walk of the Avenue of the Americas leading up to the Presidential viewing platform – even hearing mostly foreign voices around us!
The Trail of the Presidents, leading off the observation deck, loops through the woods to the base of the monument debris field with separate decks to view each President.
The trail then continues down countless steps (thank goodness I didn’t count them) to the Sculpture’s Studio. On the way back up – Tom counted 123. With a walk-thru the informational displays and a sit-thru the video documentary, we did a quick pass-through the gift shop and then headed back towards the car in moderate rain.
The drive back to the campground was via the Iron Mountain Road:
17 miles, 314 curves,
14 switchbacks, 3 pigtails,
3 tunnels, and 2 splits!
We did NOT buy the commemorative T-Shirt, but did copy down all the stats!
At the campground we had a late supper cooked on the grill under the awning while a rather major thunderstorm pushed through. The brunt of the storm was while we were comfy and dry inside eating and preparing the next day’s route.
Up with the crack of lightening at 6:30 and off before the first drop of rain at 7:00 . . . heading for the Badlands. We got in front of the nasty rain front and stayed in front of it all day! We had been seeing Wall Drugs signs for the last 200 miles and we are still 300 miles away! Of course, they are known for their signs that announce “Wall Drugs . . . . 1,000 miles.” But, before Wall Drugs, we had to do the Badlands!
Wall Drugs was 8 short miles outside of the west Badland’s entrance, and the town (population 810) was similarly barren of tourist hordes. This led to a light trip through Wall Drugs, which is actually a conglomerate of many different stores patched together as an indoor shopping mall. It is known for the tradition of offering travelers a free, cold drink of water.
At Rapid City we again left Interstate 90 for the Grace Coolidge Campground in Custer State Park – also putting us right in the back door of Mt. Rushmore . We took a twilight tour on the Wild Life Loop, a drive we make every time we are in the area. Two miles from the campground we crossed paths with our first buffalo on the road, and got meet-and-greet worthy photos of him.
A bicyclist on the road had seen the frisky behavior of one of these big guys and he took advantage to use our big van to shield himself past the buffalo. We did see the buffalo kick up his heels and butt down his massive head at a car, so he was a guy with an attitude.
The wildlife tour had wonderful views, and lots of deer, buffalo, antelope, wild turkeys, rabbits, ground hogs, and those wonderful petting-zoo-worthy “wild” donkeys called the Roadside Bandits. I petted them as a child while on vacation with my parents, also with my own children on vacation with me, and most recently with my sister on a sister road-trip! I love these guys!
Tomorrow: more of Custer State Park in South Dakota . . . and those four men on the mountain!
We don’t go camping any more . . . we go ‘streamin’ ! The “SIlvermine and His” is our 2016 23' Airstream, and ‘streamin’ is the name we use to describe our adventures. Stream along as we document everything from weekend trips to longer summer excursions and full-blown vacations. You know what they say: if you’re not in an Airstream – you’re just camping!
Tom & Ella Brown