Custer - Day One
Sep 18, 2011
|We said good bye to North Dakota and turned south. We stopped at the Rapid City Regional Airport (smaller than Toledo's, for my Ohio friends) to pick up our rental car, which my wonderful younger son arranged for us with his employee discount. Thank you, Aaron. There were several locations we wanted to visit where the motor home simply would not fit. Rapid City is only 26 miles from Custer but it turned into a rather exciting (read, white- knuckled) drive. I didn't have an exact address for the campground I had chosen, one of several located within Custer State Park. Ginny, my trusty Garmin, couldn't locate that specific campground either so I just told her Custer state park. I didn't look at the map either because I had been relying on my trusty navigator, who was now driving our rental. I knew the park's address was on Hwy 16A so when I saw a sign for that I followed it. Oh my! That part of the highway is known locally as Iron Mountain Road and is posted at both ends with width and height clearances. I saw that I would fit and proceeded. There were several single lane tunnels and Connie said she held her breath as I drove through each one because it looked like there was only a tiny amount of clearance around the rig. And did I mention that it was very curvy and hilly? I did get my very first glimpse of Mt. Rushmore in the distance as I emerged from one of the tunnels but could only give a quick glance since all my attention was required to drive. Soon after, there was a scenic pullout were we stopped to get this shot of the famous monument.
We finally made it to the park's entrance and then drove another 7 miles of up and down and around curves but much less scary and pulled right into our campground, Legion lake, where we were greeted by this fellow and two of his friends.
We were parked immediately across the driveway from the shower house you can see behind him, less than 20 feet away. I had read that buffalo roamed freely through the park but reading about it is one thing and hearing them snort is another thing altogether! They wandered through several other times during our stay also. We were greeted by our friendly camp host, Ralph and quickly set up so we could head out to see the sights.
Our first place to visit was within the park, a scenic drive called Wildlife loop. Our first creature was this gentleman, called a pronghorn deer.
We saw lots more buffalo and our new favorite, the prairie dogs, but only one wild burro, which are supposed to roam in small herds. Deciding to give ourselves a treat, we had dinner at one of the many lodges within the park, this one called Blue Bell, the interior shown here.
A friendly man sang and played his guitar while we relaxed and enjoyed our very first buffalo burgers. They were delicious!
The next we were up and raring to continue seeing the sights. First stop, Mt. Rushmore. This long plaza is called the avenue of the flags (or something like that) and features a flag from each state and an inscription with its order and date of joining the union.
Here is the one from our home state
Then we just had to stop to admire this full frontal view
. This tourist kept insisting on stepping in front of our cameras.
We browsed through the exhibits and watched a short movie about the blasting and carving of the monument and of course, bought a few souvenirs and stamped our National Park passports.
Next, we were headed for Badlands National Park and chose the "scenic route" which winds for miles and miles through hills and rocks that make it very clear why this place was given its name.
Part of our route also was through tribal lands of the Ogala Lakota tribe and one enterprising young man, named Fernando, set up a small shade to peddle handmade jewelry and chat with tourist like us. Connie took a picture of him and his stand but it is too large for this format. Of course, she also bought a necklace from him. We finally made it to the visitor center where we got to enter another stamp in our passport and enjoy a lunch of taco salad served on Indian fry bread, another first for me. It was delicious also. Here is another view of this vast wild and seemingly inhospitable land.
As we neared the end of this scenic drive we pulled over one last time for more photos and that pushy tourist jumped in front of our camera again and this time brought her dog with her!
Now we visited the famous Wall Drug Store
another kind of monument to all that is touristy and tacky. It is quite a place to see though and now we have both been there. I thought this "juke box" was pretty cool.
After a long day of sightseeing we head back to the RV for a quick snack and short rest and re-group before returning to Mt. Rushmore for the lighting ceremony. The first view is the avenue of the flags, leading the way to the amphitheater for the ceremony.
A ranger gave a nice talk about the monument and then showed a short film about the four presidents carved there and why they were chosen. George Washington, the father of our country was chosen for his role in its founding. Thomas Jefferson, another founding father was picked for the major expansion he sponsored by means of the Louisiana Purchase which doubled the existing area of the new nation.He also recruited Lewis and Clark to chart and catalog the expanse of the new territory. Next, is Abraham Lincoln, who is solely responsible for unifying the country during its most trying time. Last is Theodore Roosevelt who fell in love with the wide open space of the west as a young man. Later, as president,he was able to preserve millions of acres of these lands as national parks for generations of Americans to have and enjoy. I've been on this soapbox before, but national parks belong to all of use and even if you personally never set foot in one, your life is richer because you own them.
As the movie ended we were asked to stand and sing "America the Beautiful" and then they turned on the lights.
Last, all current and former veterans were invited onto the stage for a flag ceremony and recognition for their service. I felt chills as they saluted the colors being lowered and we all sang the national anthem.
It was an awe-inspiring ending to an awesome day. God Bless America!