Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Mount Rushmore and Bighorn Canyon

Before we leave South Dakota, I have to mention Wall Drug. I first noticed the signs on the roadside way back east in Sioux City. I was seeing signs touting the ice cream, the leather shop, the bronze western motive wall art, the picture opportunity in the 1880s setting in the 'backyard'.  I was eager to see this eclectic place I'd been reading about for about an hour of driving, and then I saw a sign saying, "Only 201 miles to Wall Drug!"  Wow.  Talk about anticipation.

Along the westerly trip on I-90, I learned more and more about the place. I learned that it's been featured on Good Morning America and USA Today. I learned of the tradition of 5 cent coffee that they're still upholding. I learned that they became famous when they offered free ice water back in the late 1800s. The store seems to offer horoscope readings, scales for weighing yourself, and if you want, you can take a Wall Drug sign home and put one on your own front lawn. After about two hours of this, and still well over an hour from Wall, SD, a sign declared, "You're entering Wall Drug country."  Ha.  I thought the whole state was so designated.

I wanted to stop there, even though I figured the chances were good that it would be swarming with throngs of tourists lapping up kitsch and tchotchkes. And I also figured it was a safe bet that River wouldn't be welcome, nor would he enjoy it. I may have driven by just to see the place from the outside, but it's just due north of Badlands National Park, and by the time I emerged on the other end of the long dirt road in Scenic, SD, I was well past Wall and didn't even consider going back for it.

So we have to suffice with the link to the webpage and this picture I found on the internet of one of the many many signs.
 Today's agenda includes a stop at Mount Rushmore and a visit to Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area near the Bighorn National Forest.


The Black Hills National Forest is surprisingly beautiful. The combination of trees and rock formations are stunning. The rock surface is dark, but when it catches the sunlight at just the right angle, it reflects a powerful glow. When I first saw this effect I thought, "wait, that can't be snow...." then "are those rocks wrapped in plastic?"  And then as I drove past them, I could see that it was just the crystalline nature of the rocks catching the sunshine.

The town outside of the Mount Rushmore monument cracked me up. It was a haven of tourist activity.
Putz & Glo
'black light miniature golf'

I guess, since the Mount Rushmore sculpture is such a draw, and can literally be enjoyed in five minutes, visiting tourists are hungry for other things to do in the area.

Besides themed camping like The Flintstones and theme motels mostly named something about bears or rocks, the area offers diverse things from Art Galleries to Ziplines, including Bear country drive-thru wildlife park, Chainsaw carving demos, Founding fathers museum where you can shoot a real musket, Glass blowing, Old MacDonald's petting farm, Reptile gardens, Founding fathers wax museum, Geode cracking, Rush Mountain amusement park, Black light miniature golf, rock shops, trading posts, a museum devoted to the sculptor of Mt Rushmore. Sitting Bull crystal cavern, Crazy Horse mountain (I'm not even sure what that is), Cosmos Mystery Area, ... I'm sure you get the idea. It's a scene, man. I could go on.

As I mentioned, I was already fairly blown away just driving through the Black Hills National Forest, and I was even more surprised at how good a view of the four presidents I got from the highway.  All of these shots and videos were taken from US 16-A.


I drove right past it and felt satisfied that I'd seen enough after just a few minutes. I set my sights on the Bighorn Canyon area next.

On the way out of the Black Hills forest, I found a local burger place, and since it was about 12:30, I thought I'd stop and check it out. River hung out on the grass of a nearby school that was closed. I ate the burger on Babe's tailgate. I'll go into more detail about the burger here.
I passed a place called Jewel Cave National Monument, but the trees were mostly downed and I was confused as to what was going on.


Getting to the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area took the whole rest of the daylight hours, and it was basically a bust when I got there. It seems like a park best enjoyed with a boat or some sort of aircraft. It is also possible to enter from the Wyoming side and maybe that offers more to do and see for us car-bound folk, but there was no way to walk or drive to that section of the park from where I ended up.
Here are some shots taken from the road on the way to the park.

 Hard to read welcome sign saying Montana. It almost looks intentionally camouflaged. The darkness of the lower half of the sign is aligned with the mountain range in the background. The word Montana is written in thin font in white, against the part that looks like the sky on the upper half of the sign. On the lower half are some cowboys on horses.
 The sky was doing some interesting things.
And as I approached the park area I saw some lightning strikes, but never saw any rain.
We saw a dam and lots of parking for trucks pulling trailers; presumably with boats on them. There was some thunder in the sky as we got out of the car here just before I shot this video.

This guy on a motorized hang-glider was following me around as I drove the roads looking for something interesting. Maybe he also was finding a lack of interesting things and a guy driving around in a bright blue Mini Cooper was his diversion. It was nearly sunset and nobody else was around.

I'd think his method would be the best way to see this part of the park. The best views, for sure.

We made a beeline to Billings from there and ensconced ourselves in the familiar old surroundings.
We'll be here for three days.

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