09/16/2001: Sunday, 9/16/2001
The day dawned with heavy, low clouds. As we tried the disappointing free "continental breakfast", we planned a day of museums. By the time we were ready to leave, the hilltops were again visible, so we thought we'd try to see Mt. Rushmore (which we'd heard was mostly shrouded the day before). We drove the scenic route, across Custer State Park on US 16 from Custer, and then up the winding Iron Mountain Rd (still US 16).
In Custer State Park, animals roam. We saw most of the possible species. A herd of burros blocked the road for a while. Also, a large dragonfly flew into the car while we were shooing jackasses, and insisted that the rear window was the only exit. Karen finally got her out by chasing her into a cup.
If you ever go there, note: The Iron Mountain road had been designed as an approach to Mt. Rushmore. It goes out of the way to provide several tunnel-framed views of the four famous faces.
This day, the sky sometimes showed patches of blue, and I found myself donning sunglasses for the periodic, unfamiliar brightness. We'd been tipped off to a free parking lot near the big, $8 main lot. It had a "Full" sign standing at the entrance, which we squeezed past, and found ample room in the tiny lot. The long climb and walkway from this lot provided plenty of nice views. The walkway is new-ish. The walking boards are recycled plastic and the structure is treated lumber. Just off of the walkway, spaced every few paces or so, were signs warning of dire consequences for leaving the walkway. It added to my temptation to climb up the rubble pile to the chins of the portraits. I didn't. I did take too many pictures. Only some of them are shown here.
We had cafeteria buffalo stew for lunch with a Wisconsin couple we'd met on the path. I noted that the majority of people coming to the ancient scenic wonders of the Black Hills, come for a 20th century artifice. This couple had planned to fly to Paris for their Honeymoon. All flights were cancelled, so they drove west.
In the amphitheater at 2:00 there was a rally/prayer meeting to show solidarity after the terrorist event last week. Honor guards, firemen holding colors, and a thousand or so people saying the pledge of allegiance, and singing our awkward National Anthem. We left when they got into the seemingly endless prayers and speeches. There was also a nice little memorial with flowers at the base of the New York flag along the colonade of states. and a smaller one by Pennsylvania on the colonnade of states between the visitor's center and the Amphitheater
We encountered mountain goats in and near the Rushmore parking lots. We had to stop to take pictures, or they'd revoke our tourist licenses. Right? The second picture (above) is one of several I took when climbing around on the rocks rather than sticking to the paths.
Then we spent the afternoon driving down the scenic Needles Hwy. (US 87, named for the eroded spires ). Pretty erosion. Slow, winding roads. I did do a bit of climbing at the Needles Eye tunnel and overlook. Karen got worried when I'd been gone about 15 minutes. I climbed down on the far side of a tunnel, and ran back through the tunnel. This tunnel was about 9 feet wide, 13 tall, and maybe 50 feet long. I ran fast. The sharp curves leading to the narrow tunnel didn't let me see if a car was coming, and I didn't want to be in the way when one did. Now, I'd just been climbing up and down steep rocks for 15 minutes. Then a sprint. This is at over 5000'. The air was thin in my lungs, and I'd been relatively sedentary for the last week. I was quite pooped. My flannel shirt was damp from the exertion. Karen took a turn driving back down to Custer.
We went directly to the Crazy Horse memorial after the long and winding drive out of the park. By then, the sun was low, and the clock was approaching 6:00. They were open, but the restaurant was closed. The museum, interpretive center, gift shop, etc. are impressive. Large, rambling buildings with historical displays, the artist's studio and original home, and other exhibits.
The sculpture project itself is unbelievable. It's been in progress for 50 years, and has far to go. It's a way of life for the family who are running it. Crazy Horse is an icon for his people, somewhere between Abe Lincoln and Jesus in terms of Lakota significance. If not for a cowardly assassination, he might have led the Dakotas to be an independent Indian nation. This huge monument is certainly a more apt image for the Black Hills, this sacred Indian territory, than the 4 faces we'd seen earlier in the day.
At Rushmore (which was named after a lawyer, in Sioux territory) we met two couples whose flight plans were changed by religious extremists this past week. One honeymoon couple lost their tickets to Europe, so drove out west. The other couple had been marooned in Washington state, and rented a car to get home to Alexandria Virginia, with their large dog.