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Rush More? No, Rushmore.

We were in South Dakota back in the middle of July, July 20th actually. Today is September 21st which makes that a literal two months ago, but it feels like a year ago to me. I can still remember the enormous KOA in Rapid City with its incredible $2 all you can eat pancake breakfast. I remember how hot it was during the days, and how the clouds would strike a dramatic pose every afternoon in front of the setting sun just before the thunder and lightening storms took the stage to thrill us each evening.

rapid-city-KOA

pancake-breakfast-KOA-rapidcity

July was our sixth month in, the supposed half-way mark, and I’m trying to remember honestly how we felt about everything back then. I look back through the photos and am excited all over by what we saw because it was really incredible, but I also remember the hints of being worn out and the faint hue of “damn this tiny RV” starting to show. It didn’t help that it was hot. I hate hot unless I’m at a pool or a beach and even then I’ve been known to whine.

The stress of our rushed schedule, the 4 days of driving, and the tire blow out had impacted our sense of well-being for sure. Driving may seem like an easy thing on the surface, but driving a 29 foot RV requires a certain amount of physicality and attentiveness. It’s not relaxing. Even being a passenger can wear you out if you’re like me; a control-freak, prone to startling at any new noise and throwing your arms out dramatically for support on tight turns because you’re sure the RV is about to tip over. I also tend to obsess over the white line on my side and any intrusion over it sparks alarm. Pot holes, dead porcupines, and bits of tire tread in the road all warrant me checking in with the driver to ensure they’ve been seen. It has nothing to do with Ali’s driving, I would do the same stuff to all of you too, perhaps just a bit more discretely. I really should read a book or blog more often when I’m not the one driving. It’s best if I don’t watch.

AND remember the nasty spider bites on my tummy!?? I got those in South Dakota! So life had surely dipped into the slightly difficult and less than glamorous at this point in our trek. But nature is a mixed bag, where you stick your hand in and you come out with a handful of both diamonds and smelly, algae-covered pebbles. Hot, bugs, hail, rain. Sunsets made of every shade of orange you can imagine. Thunder rumbling in your chest and your feet, so loud that you feel like you’re standing inside a timpani drum. Lakes so deep blue, underneath granite spires that poke up into the sky. Oh, and then more bugs and now I’m sweating again.

sunset-rapid-city-KOA

No, really. South Dakota has a handful of wonderful things that people should see. Maybe there’s a better month to do so than July, but perhaps then you would miss all the fun thunderstorms. We put it on our list exactly because of the word “should”. We were driving across the country from Montana to Chicago, two places we WANTED to see and in-between we did some “shoulds”. Gratefully, we were not disappointed.

South Dakota’s Shoulds

This post includes:

  • Wind Cave National Park
  • Custer State Park
  • Naked Winery
  • Mount Rushmore
  • Next post includes:

  • Badlands
  • Wall Drug Store
  • Souix Falls
  • Actually, Wind Cave National Park definitively loses to Kartchner Caverns in Arizona, so if you’re picking a single cave to see in the country – do not pick South Dakota’s. It was a good tour, led by a very informative guide that made it interesting and there is a unique geological feature only found there, “box work” they call it (shown below). However, in terms of color, depth, variety and just plain drama, Kartchner has it all.

    wind-cave-box-work

    We drove through Custer State Park, a gorgeous protected land, several times during our stay in addition to spending an afternoon hiking and swimming at Sylvan Lake and the Cathedral Spires.

    Cathedral Spires from a distance

    Cathedral Spires from a distance

    Sylvan Lake Loop Trail

    Sylvan Lake Loop Trail

    Sylvan Lake Loop Trail

    Sylvan Lake Loop Trail

    Sylvan Lake

    Sylvan Lake

    Sylvan Lake Loop Trail

    Sylvan Lake Loop Trail

    One of five narrow tunnels in the park

    One of five narrow tunnels in the park

    Pronghorn Sheep

    Pronghorn Sheep – well the butt of one anyhow.

    Meadows for miles are home to the 1,300 bison that roam freely along the Needles Highway. One day a huge boom of thunder invited us to stop along side the road and watch for lightening while the sun raced back and forth across the grass.

    Not far out of the way from all of this great outdoor stuff is Hill City, home to the Naked Winery. They not only make some pretty nice wines that sport fun, risqué names, but they also brew several delicious beers including a Sick N Twisted Panty Droppin’ Porter. YUM! We visited twice. It was on the way home, what can we say!

    naked-winery-wines naked-winery-booty-call
    naked-winery-oh naked-winery-lable
    naked-winery-south-dakota naked-winery-hill-city

    It had already been a busy, fun week, and we had saved the ultimate experience for last, Mount Rushmore. We’d heard that the nightly lighting ceremony was something we shouldn’t miss, so we took the first part of the day “off” to clean house and do some repairs. That morning a huge gust of wind that seemed to come out of nowhere, ripped the plastic vent lid off it’s hinges in the bathroom. We heard it slide across the roof and eventually saw it land in the grass across the road from us. I spent a half hour up on the roof crafting a duct tape and fishing line solution to get it back in place and half-working. I also greased our bike chains and cleaned most of the grime off the frames while Ali created a knee-high mound of used, brown Clorox Wipes, casualties from her battle with our filthy floor. We even had time to lounge at the pool for a couple hours before we ate dinner and then headed out to the park.

    state-flags-mount-rushmore

    mount-rushmore-smiles

    One can, and we did, spend hours at the Mount Rushmore complex, shopping, eating Thomas Jefferson’s Ice Cream (his recipe), drinking Moose Drool, learning about Gutzon Borglum (the artist), walking up and down lots of stairs, and of course staring up at the giant, lifelike faces. After we entered the park area we made our way down the Avenue of the Flags and stopped at the top of the huge outdoor auditorium to gawk. There’s a trail that takes you out into the hillside, into the woods and up 1,000 stairs so that you’re right underneath the carvings for an up close look – nostril angle. We ran into a family of mountain goats on our way back. Frisky baby mountain goats go at the very top of the list of cute things that you can’t help but fall in love with instantly.

    mountain-goat-mount-rushmore

    mount-rushmore-allison

    Just as we returned from our hiking, the sky started to light up, and the thunder cracked above us. We ran back to the car to get our umbrellas and a big plastic garbage bag that we thought we’d use as a seat cover if needed. We made our way back to the auditorium and found the perfect seats and as the lightening got more and more dramatic, a park ranger’s voice came on over a loudspeaker. He warned us that a serious storm, including hail, was going to pass over the park and hopefully make its way through in time for them to continue with the Lighting Ceremony in an hour. He strongly encouraged everyone to find cover. We, the masses, all took his advice and moved into the gift store to wait out the storm. Sure enough, the hail and torrential rain lasted about 20 minutes and then it was over.

    theater-at-mount-rushmore

    mount-rushmore-trail

    1) Who created the sculpture?
    Gutzon Borglum and 400 workers.

    2) How much did the sculpture cost?
    $989,992.32.

    3) How long did it take to build?
    14 years – October 4, 1927 – October 31,1941

    4) Are the faces eroding?
    No, The estimated erosion rate is 1 inch every 10,000 years.

    5) Who is the mountain named after?
    Charles E. Rushmore, a New York City Attorney, in 1885 who was out here on business.

    6) Were there any deaths during the carving?
    No.

    stage-at-mount-rushmore

    sunset-mount-rushmore

    All of us gathered again in the stone seats beneath the Presidents and watched an incredible movie about the history of the United States, the men that were chosen to be carved, the men who did the carving, and the unveiling of their masterpiece. They let the screen go black, and without our noticing, the only light left in the sky was the moon, until… massive spot lights snapped on. Four stone Presidents glowed in the night and our National Anthem began to play.

    night-shot-mount-rushmore