The Badlands to Mount Rushmore

We slept later than we wanted, as it was a cool foggy morning. I’d been up around 6 and there was some haze to the west of the campground and I took a picture and closed up the RV.  We had left everything open and it was more damp than cool rushmoreAs we were leaving, I discovered that the group of men camping next to us were recently commissioned Officers in the US Army, having some fun before reporting to their individual duty stations.  One was in Armor, one in Communications and the other was with the Military Police.  Fortunately, the MP second Lieutenant was the stockiest of the three, it will suit him. They had some good stories both about their service thus far and their adventure in the Badlands with some rain mixed in. I wasn’t thinking, and didn’t get any of their names. They all were very fine men, and everyone should sleep sounder knowing that they are serving the country. scenic_scenicThe route to Mount Rushmore is the same route as we took day before returning from Scenic.  The day was overcast and cloudy almost all the way to Scenic, when the sky finally cleared, but it became overcast again by the time we arrived in Rapid City.  We pulled into a gas station for refreshments and fuel. I’ve been trying to stick to a 200 mile rule in preparation of driving in the Great Basin, where the map indicates that there isn’t much. The rule is, that after driving for 200 miles, you fuel up at the next gas station, no matter what the cost is, so you don’t run out of fuel in the middle of nowhere.

While we were filling up, an old fellow drove up on his riding lawnmower and pulled up to the pump.  He slowly climbed off, and had the biggest oxygen generator I have ever seen.  He’s was hooked up to a nasal cannula and proceeded to fill up the lawnmower and then ride off to parts unknown.  Was this guy the inspiration for the movie?

We drove through Rapid City and then into the hills where all the tourist stuff that seem to surround the border of the Monument are. We stopped into an RV dealer after seeing their sign, and tried to get information about and replace the license plate lamp that was burned out.  They explained that the lamp inside the assembly was not replaceable and referred us to another RV dealer.  We continued on, figuring that we’d save it for another time.

We passed by the Mount Rushmore Monument, and took a quick look from the road.  We stopped by the profile turn off, one of Louise’s favorite places on the road.  You have a great profile view of George Washington from the road, and we took some pictures.  Just a little way down the road is the campground at Horse Thief Lake in the Black Hills Forest. We checked in.  One of the hosts, Larry is a really nice guy, but I’m not sure he has a grasp on what is going on at the campsite.  There is water if you have a thing called a ‘water thief’ which is funny, considering the name of the campground, but there is no dump station.  We’ve given up checking out the bathrooms or shower houses as we really like using our own stuff.

Larry wasn’t able to actually take our money. We later found out after returning to the site at the end of the day, that the place is a mess of first come first served sites and registered sites. In typical government fashion, you cannot reserve the sites any closer that four days ahead of time.  Additionally, there is no internet service at all at the campground, or data cellular service, so the camp hosts don’t know what sites have been reserved, so they don’t allow any walk ins to use the registered sites.  Potentially this could result in campers being turned away because there was no room even though 75% of the campground is vacant.  If the government is going to use the system, they should provide all camp hosts with access to the system. No local access, no reservations.

We left campsite and drove straight to Mount Rushmore. Everything at the monument is unchanged since we were there last, six years ago, except this time there were fewer people.  We took a couple of pictures from the granite promenade and admired the monument. I had a question pertinent to the Monument, one that I forget now, ah, old age, so I asked the nearest Ranger, a Park Ranger Todd Van Alten, who after a long conversation, where we exchanged professional commentary, said he was soon to retire. A very nice man, it’s his time to retire, but the Park Service will be less in his absence.  We had a really nice talk, and while we were talking, he had his picture taken a number of times with children,  He told them how to become a Junior Rangers, told them what the first question on the Junior Ranger program was, and gave them the answer. He was great with kids, and is walking example of what community policing should be.

The sky was really black and looked like the heavens were going to open up at any minute, so we opted to take the Presidents Trail walk in reverse, due to the impending thunder storm forecast, among with severe hail, since there was a building with Borglum models of the Monument and Hall of Archives in that direction. We looked at the Borglum studio exhibit, and it has changed a little since we were there last, but not too much.  I liked the first time better, but I think it was me. We walked the trail up to the base of the monument.

hailIf you are ever there and are able, the walking trail is terrific and gives you views that attest to the scale of the monument.  They fortunately trimmed Jefferson’s nose hair.  The sky got blacker and blacker, and we got back to the gift shop just in time for a horrendous hail storm. I was worried about the RV Roof and skylight, but they managed fine without any apparent damage. The last time we were in the Black Hills we came across hail from a storm that we had just missed, and I took photos using a quarter as an example of scale. These hailstones were the size of nickels, thank goodness.  Glad that I’m not an insurance salesman in these parts.

I was looking for one of the black and white football shaped bumper stickers for the back of the RV in the gift shop. I am a 12 year old kid on the inside, I confess.  I asked the staff, and discovered that most all the staff started one week before, and were a little uncomfortable in telling anyone where anything was. There was no MTR black and white football logo thing for me today. Since the weather was sketchy we took off for Rapid City to look for the license plate light assembly that was burned out.  I’ll order several more when we return home as they are difficult to find.

There is excellent cellular service in Rapid City, so I checked the status of Glacier National Park.  We have no cell coverage at Horse Thief Lake Campground.  Unfortunately, the Many Glacier and Two Medicine campgrounds are not yet open, so we’ll have to put Glacier on the itinerary for next year on a return leg. We made alternate plans for going straight to Yellowstone via Devil’s Tower and Cody Wyoming, and then south through the Tetons and then the Great Basin NP. We hope to meet with my cousin, Bob who is on vacation in the area.

We went to Green Star RV, they were very nice, but did not have the part and recommended us to Dakota RV on the north side of the city.  We drove there after a fashion, and upon our arrival were greeted by Mary, the receptionist.  I announced that I hear that she had the part I needed and that we drove from New Jersey to get it.  Without missing a beat, she relied that you can’t trust computers.  I liked that woman from the very start.  We had a great time at the dealership.  The staff was wonderful, very friendly, fun loving, while being all business all at the same time, not an easy thing to do.  They tried to sell me something and I looked at drawer slides, and all sorts of interesting things in the showroom, but they didn’t have any that were the right length or I would have gone for it.  The visit to the RV dealership was the highlight of the afternoon, just after seeing Mt Rushmore again.  I was glad to have all the lights working again.

We stopped at Safeway, and picked up things for dinner and breakfast, and checked out some IPA’s (beer) at the store. The Safeway has some very nice beer IPA selections. The surprising thing about the Safeway was the high cost of food.  I looked at the chicken prices, since we were having it for dinner, and the organic chicken was $8 a pound.  The regular everyman boneless chicken was in the $5 range.  No Purdue, no east coast chicken or east coast prices.  Nectarines were $3 a pound. We made a dinner of grilled chicken, Alf redo sauce and spaghetti with broccoli, Anthony’s NJ bread and a salad and white wine. It was a very nice dinner, I think that it was the first whole diner cooked on the trip.

Rushmore-nightAfter dinner we went off to see the lighting ceremony at Mt Rushmore for the evening and found a parking spot right near the entrance.  The ranger gave a nice speech, quoting from Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt.  As she quoted Jefferson about Liberty, I thought it ironic, as he was vocal in maintaining that Government should not be oppressive in the demands and regulations placed on the populace, and that a complacent populace could find themselves ruled by government without their best interests in mind, or words to that effect. Her speech was followed by a nice film, and after the film, everyone sang the Star Spangled Banner, which generally I can get through, but on this occasion, it brought me to tears.

rushmore_LIGHTThey illuminated the monument with a simple white light, which was nice.  This place needs no sugar coating. Veterans, from the audience, current and past, were asked to take the stage, and they lowered the flag which had been flying at half staff.  In a surprise to me, they took the flag down correctly, by raising it to full height and then lowering and folding the flag.  After the ceremony, the ranger went down the line of veterans and they gave their name and branch of service.  I was surprised again, as the air force veterans outnumbered the other branches of service.  There were a few good Marines, including a proud retired Master Sergeant who did it right. He was the only one who gave his rank.

Since we had passable cellular, I took care of some email and billing responsibilities, not especially the greatest way to end a great night, but it allows us to tour. Tomorrow, off to the Crazy Horse Monument, visit Custer State Park, and then a hike to the Black Hills version of Devils Tower, and more fun.