At the big commerce show in town in March, my dear Wilma wrote up a slip with her name and address and put it in a box for the Rushmore Shadows Resort.  A month later, we got a letter saying she had won a 2 night stay there.  We looked at each other, decided that yes, let’s do this, and made the call to accept the deal….

So this past Tuesday, we left for the Black Hills area, armed with maps and brochures and advice from friends…. We left town at 8 am, traveling down highway 23 through St. Cloud, Paynesville, Willmar, Granite Falls, Marshall and Pipestone, stopping at the South Dakota Welcome Center where we feasted on salami sandwiches… and prepared for the supposed grueling drive on Interstate 90, all the way across South Dakota.

Let me say this for South Dakota.  I don’t know its’ official state motto, but might I suggest this one:  SOUTH DAKOTA: THE BILLBOARD STATE…. Highway 90 held an almost constant supply of billboards advertising all sorts of things:  WALL DRUG, of course, but also so many caves, museums, historic sites, places to buy crappy tourist stuff – that kind of thing.  The density of the boards increased as we approached each exit – and these boards would specialize in the attractions of the towns located near that exit.  Interestingly enough, too, there were very few billboards featuring anything national such as hotel chains, fast food restaurants, or gas stations – oh, they were there, but they were vastly outnumbered by all the local stuff.  There were even places where the boards were so directed that we saw nothing but the BACKS of the boards as we passed an exit – the worst being just east of Wall, South Dakota on our way home, where the backs of the boards came at us from both sides of the highway.  So I say again, “SOUTH DAKOTA: THE BILLBOARD STATE”.

We gassed up at the Missouri River (not a bad jaunt for our van…. almost 28 mpg at that point…).  We left there with plans to swing into the Badlands, arriving there about 3 pm (mountain time zone)…. we paid the 15 dollar entry fee and found ourselves among the unique geological wonder that is the Badlands.  We stopped at several roadside parking areas and the Visitors’ Center.  We drove the “LOOP”, a 15 mile long paved road through the very center of the formations – up and down the hills, around sharp corners …. being so early in the season, there was very little traffic, so we could take our time and see what we wanted to see.

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Various shots from the Badlands.  The bottom is a panoramic shot of the last view area on the west of the loop drive. 

We took a hotel room in WALL for the night – your basic Best Western place with all the right stuff for sight seers like us.  Supper was at a local restaurant there, where we had the walleye special… not exactly prepared as we do in MN, but passable…. and a good night’s sleep.  We were up and on the road by 8 am (the motel breakfast …meh, pretty lame…..)

And headed ourselves to Rapid City.  Following our trusty GPS, we left the interstate at Exit 61, and headed south.  We passed several tourist traps (Bear County USA, Reptile Gardens), the place where we were to stay for the next two nights, and then wound around the roads to the Crazy Horse Memorial.  We drove down a very nice four lane paved highway all the way from Rapid City, through Hill City and to the entrance to the Crazy Horse Memorial.  We paid the entry fee at the gate and drove into the facility.  As you would expect, it is well planned so that the first thing you see as you leave the entry area is indeed the huge carving of CRAZY HORSE.  We parked our fine van and entered the Welcome Center… a huge building housing so many things – a Native American Museum, a gift shop (and not a whole lot of crappy merchandise here – lots of nice stuff) and a few other things to appeal to the tourist.

But the ultimate was outside.  Wilma and I stood in the plaza among all the buildings and looked to the north to take in the view of the work at hand – CRAZY HORSE in progress, being carved in granite.  The work is quite far away, but it is so large that the distance doesn’t matter at all.  According to the chart on the wall, the head alone is as large as the faces on Mount Rushmore – and that’s astonishing to consider!!  You’ll also see a large hole beneath his head; right now it is four stories tall, and will eventually be 10 stories tall. Quite the undertaking, that’s for sure.

This was also a unique day at the Memorial.  Ruth, the wife of the sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski, had just died, so certain areas of the place were closed down for her funeral.  (In face, the hearse was just outside as we left…).  We learned in the 14 minute video that the family certainly took to the work on the masterpiece – Korczak alone at first, and then Ruth and all their kids —  a very interesting story of the Native American tribes working along with the Ziolkowski family to create something impressive, something to truly mark as a tribute to the history and culture of the Native Americans.

Interesting sidelight: the whole project is privately funded.  No government money has been used in this effort.  Think about that one for awhile.

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Pictures:  Left: From the parking lot  Center: A zoomed in shot  Right: A Model used by the sculptor; it is 1/34 scale

So what next?  It was still too early to check into our resort, so off we headed to the city of Custer, then west to the Jewel Cave.  Road construction, of course, slowed us down… and when we got to the cave, we found we didn’t have enough time to do what we wanted, so we headed back to Hill City for some lunch.

We stopped there at the Bumpin’ Buffalo Bar and Grille for a bite to eat… and bite we did!  Sue had a very good buffalo burger, and I chowed down a very good bison brat, complete with home-made potato salad.  Kudos to the place, as well as to our very friendly server Maggie.

Time to get to our resort… back we go towards Rapid City and pull into Rushmore Shadows RV resort — a place for camping, RV parking and the home of a few cabins to rent.  All the amenities are there – pool, clubhouse, a small convenience store — all part of the package we ‘won’…. (We did have to take in their 90 minute session about buying into the resort and the company – we passed on the opportunity for several reasons)… Anyway, they housed us in a small cabin, which was passable.  A slightly saggy mattress, not the cleanest bathroom in the world… but hey, this is camping, isn’t it?  The place was secure, that’s for sure … gated entrance for after hours, so we had a code to get back in.  It was pretty quiet there, despite the fact that it was just a block off of highway 16.  (P.S.  South Dakota doesn’t put in left turn lanes …made me a bit jumpy at times….)

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Our place:  The Cabin, the resort itself, and the interior

We unloaded the car and relaxed for a bit: Wilma even took some time over at the pool.  After a bit, it was time to put in our next phase of our trip … so we left for Mount Rushmore at about 5 pm, intending to stay for the lighting ceremony and touring the place as extensively as we could.

After a short drive via highway 16, through Keystone, we ended up in the 3 level parking ramp at the Mount Rushmore Memorial… yes, THREE levels… makes me wonder what the place would be like if it was busy there.  WE had no trouble at all with crowds – we parked walked a short bit to the entrance and found ourselves face to face with the four Men of our Nation — Washington, Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt and Lincoln, in all their granite glory.

Wilma has never been here.  I have been here three times: once in 1966 in the only vacation trip ever that our family took, then in 1970 at a Bible Camp, then again in 1975 on a college concert band tour…. but oh my, how the place has changed!  Those first three times I saw the same visitors’ center as seen in the Hitchcock movie NORTH BY NORTHWEST, but what I saw here was so much more!  It added a dignity to the whole place.  All done in gray rock, which I can only suppose is granite – and so many services provided – a cafeteria type restaurant (Wilma and I shared a bowl of Bison stew…very good) an extensive gift shop (Wilma got me a very nice buffalo skin wallet – complete with a buffalo nickel featured in a little plastic window) an information area, a very nice museum with views of the masterpiece, two theatres showing films of the making of the artwork, an amphitheatre, and some walkways through the grounds – one that was nice and flat, very available for wheelchairs — the other full of steps that went down to the sculptor’s studio…. we did both of the walks.

The crown of the visit was the lighting ceremony.  Wilma and I sat at the top of the amphitheatre to hear a short speech by a Forest Ranger (they need to get people who are better public speakers, please…) a movie about the making of Mount Rushmore (very much like the one in the theatres in the museum) and then, the Ranger came out and called up all the veterans in the audience to retire the flag.  The emotion as the flag was lowered was deep for me – they started playing the Star Spangled Banner, but I couldn’t sing for all the choking up I was experiencing.  It was a nice visit.

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a couple of views of the mountains, a lighted view, a view from the entryway, the veterans on stage for the lowering of the flag, a night time view showing the mountain and the amphitheatre, and then a panorama of the plaza…. that’s Wilma there with the white hat….

We went home to our little cabin for the night —

We were due for our sales pitch at noon (we thought we would get to choose when, but nope, that didn’t fly…. not a good omen for the sales session…) so we took off down the road to seek out Custer State Park and maybe see some real buffalo.  We drove out of Keystone again, but instead of turning right to get to Mount Rushmore, we did a left onto highway 16A … a twisty, narrow (but paved) road that wound its way through the side of Iron Mountain.  Through the woods we went … pines mostly, and very little underbrush …. switch back turns, curly-cue turns involving going under a bridge, then executing a 360 degree turn and going over that same bridge… 3 tunnels I (honk horn before entering) and a few viewpoints to stop at… and WHAT A VIEW!  We came around a curve and through a tunnel finding ourselves face to face with the Rushmore faces, 3 miles away – totally unexpected and totally awesome… and we stopped at the top of the mountain to see Mt. Rushmore and so much more out there and beyond us… it took us more than an hour to get just that far, so we had to abandon our plans to see Buffalo and head back for our sales pitch…. but still had enough time to zip into Rapid city and visit the Chapel in the Hills, a Norwegian Stavkirk.  This style church is a huge part of the Scandinavian architectural world – we just had to see it….

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Two views from Highway 16A, a panorama from the viewpoint at the top, then two shots of the Stavkirk.

And so back to the resort for the sales pitch… we didn’t swing.  It might be a good program for some, but not us…

That evening we went back into Rapid City for supper with my cousin Tom and his wife Helene… they live in Spearfish, so it was easy for them to zip in to meet us.  We ate at the FIREHOUSE BREWING COMPANY in the downtown, visiting and laughing and having a good time…. The food was good – fish and chips and chimichangas and salads and a good porter beer to fill us up — Tom then suggested we walk to the PRAIRIE EXCHANGE, a very neat store right next to where we ate.  This emporium features Native American handiwork, most of which is fine craftsmanship … clothing, blankets, jewelry, drums, flutes, beadwork ….it was all there in a three-story offering to all.  We bid Tom and Helene so long and thanks for the fellowship and headed back to our little cabin in the woods.

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The Firehouse, Prairie Exchange, Horsehair Pottery, Blankets

And so, we got up the next morning, loaded the car and headed home …. breakfast at WALL DRUG (of course…. had to see it…. a t-shirt, a few souvenirs, and well fed….) we headed home the same way we came, dodging some of the traffic in Minnesota around St. Cloud by zipping up hwy 71 from Willmar …

 

All in all, a very nice trip, folks.  We will want to see the progress on CRAZY HORSE as time passes… and do some of the caves there, and by golly I will find some Buffalo for Wilma sooner than later…

 

 

 

 

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