Jun. 23rd, 2017

lydamorehouse: (crazy eyed Renji)
Today was day two in South Dakota. Today was the day we decided to do a lot of the typical tourist stuff. Shawn had read in the guidebooks that the very best time to go to Mount Rushmore was early in the morning, so we were on the road again around 7 am. On the other hand, the guidebooks were right. We had the place to ourselves.

Here is our postcard perfect shot of Mount Rushmore.

The classic shot


Turns out Shawn LOVED the museum at Mount Rushmore and we spent a lot of time looking at the exhibits. Today, over dinner, she said that Mount Rushmore was one of her favorite parts of today, in fact.

Mason looking up at Mount Rushmore

I like this shot because it highlights one of the things that first struck me about Mount Rushmore. Most of the pictures you see look like the one I took, so you never have the sense that these faces are just carved out of the top of a mountain. When Shawn and I traveled here in the 90s with Karl from Czech, that was the thing I most remembered: that Mount Rushmore was actually just a tiny fraction of the mountain. For some reason, I had somehow thought someone had carved an ENTIRE mountain.

This time I was able to be more impressed.

From Mount Rushmore we took Iron Mountain Road "backwards" towards Custer State Park. If you go the other way, several of the tunnels have been cut to perfectly frame Mount Rushmore. Having done it the right way with Karl, we didn't feel we needed to do it that way this time. Iron Mountain Road is famous for its pig-tail bridges and switchbacks. There are also one-lane tunnels cut out from rock. We stopped at one of the overlooks.

Mason on the rock

The road was really fairly beautiful, lots of tall pines and jutting rocks. We've been having amazing weather, too, the wind was actually chilly this morning. You can see that the "sky was not cloudy all day" as the song says.

After getting off 16A, we turned toward Custer State Park. There is an entry fee to the park of $20 per vehicle. We stopped at the Visitor's Center and heard the park ranger telling tourists that there was good bison viewing off Fisherman's Road. To get there we took off on Wildlife Loop. Shawn and Mason were pretty convinced we'd never see any animals because most of the view consisted of miles and miles of this:

desolate Custer State Park

We started making jokes about a government conspiracy to hide the wildlife, especially the elk (which we kept mispronouncing elf). However, we did turn off on Fisherman's Road, which was dirt and gravel. But, that was where a lot of the wildlife was (no elf,) but we did see a huge herd of bison (including babies) and more pronghorn.

And my favorite: PRAIRE DOGS.

praire dog

I love how this one is just sitting with its feet in the air.

prairie dog lying down on the prairie

Then we got a classic bison blocks the road moment:

bison in the road

And, then, the "tourist" burros. Apparently, the burros are not native to South Dakota, but they were left in the park by workers. They are super friendly, looking for hand outs, and will stick their heads in your car.

burros

Unlike some people, we didn't get out of the car or feed the burros.

From here we drove up Needles Highway (aka Highway 87). I... could have used a few more guardrails on this drive. The roads were super-duper narrow and there were sections where there was just a tiny bit of asphalt between me and the cliffs.

needles highway

guard rails are a thing, South Dakota!

This scary-ass road culminates in this:
Needles Eye

The "eye" is so narrow that as our car went through, Mason could stick his hand out the wind and touch the wall of the tunnel. I have no idea how some of these big-ass trucks that kept passing us on the road got through that thing without scraping off their rearview mirrors (at the very LEAST.)  
I was really sort of surprised that the rangers that took our money did not measure the width of the car.  

Even though I white-knuckle drove this, I think it was probably my favorite part of the day.

We then stopped at a Subway in Hillcity for lunch.  Subway has become a weird go-to lunch place on the road. Shawn used to hate Subway, and now she's like, "OH LOOK, A SUBWAY!" I think because the food is always consistently decent and there are vegetables.

After this we turned towards home base.  We dropped Shawn off at the hotel, and then Mason and I took in a round of mini-golf at the pirate themed mini-golf course just down the street from our hotel. From there, we tried to go back to our creek, but it had been discovered by some frat boys (and one girl) who brought pizza to the rock, so we went across the road and found a new creek to wander around.

creek in black hills

And explore, we did:

Mason in river

I call this one "uh, Ima, what do leeches look like??!?"

From here, we turn towards the home fires. Probably taking I-90 through Wall Drug.

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