Saturday, April 19, 2014

Black Hills - Custer State Park, Mount Rushmore

Even though we had an exhausting day on Friday, Saturday morning we woke up and did some more sightseeing in the Black Hills before Steve had to leave to go back to San Antonio.

On Saturday, April 19th, we started our day off by driving to the nearby Sylvan Lake.  There's nothing particularly special about this lake, but our family's well-loved movie "National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets" has a scene that was filmed there, so we went to the exact spot where the Nicholas Cage, Jon Voight, Ed Harris, et al, stood.  We even stuck our hands in the rock that Nicholas Cage stuck his hand into.

We continued our drive by following the Needles Highway, a windy, twisty, curvy mountain pass through the Black Hills.  The road includes three single-lane tunnels and several magnificent viewpoints.  It is called the Needles Highways because of the needle-like basaltic rock formations found in this area of the Black Hills.

When we finished the Needles Highway, we found ourselves in Custer State Park, home of the 1500-head herd of free-roaming bison.  We stopped at a picnic area next to a mountain stream to eat our lunch, then continued along the Wildlife Loop Road to see if we would have more luck this time in trying to see some bison compared to when we visited the National Bison Range in Montana.

Sure enough, not only did we see bison, but we saw a LOT of bison!  They were everywhere!

It is interesting to note that Custer State Park is the location of the annual Buffalo Round Up and Auction held each September during which over 10,000 people attend.

One particular section of the Wildlife Loop Road is well-known as being the home of the "Begging Burros".  We were cautioned by a Wall Drug employee to keep our windows up if we encountered these wild donkeys, and I'm glad we heeded her advice!  The burros weren't at all shy about approaching vehicles, sticking their heads directly into the cars, and refusing to leave until fed!

When we finally had seen enough of bison and burros, we left Custer State Park along the Iron Mountain Road - another windy, curvy, twisty mountain pass.  Again, we passed through three (different) single-lane tunnels until we emerged in the town of Keystone where we found Mount Rushmore.

At Mount Rushmore, we started at the visitor center and then proceeded to the Grand View Terrace where we had a perfect view of Mount Rushmore.

Then we all walked along the Presidential Trail which follows along at the base of the mountain.

Then Steve and the older boys continued on the more strenuous section of the trail while I took the younger boys back to the visitor center to finish up their Junior Ranger workbooks.  We met back together again on the Grand View Terrace then took a quick view from the older Borglum View Terrace.

There really isn't much to do at Mount Rushmore (this time of the year) other than see the famous faces sculpted into the mountain, so we didn't spend too much time there.  Once you've seen it, you've seen it.  But it is an awesome sight to behold.  It stirs one's patriotism and makes you ponder how this country came to be and how man can transform the earth to such a great magnitude.  (And we got a kick out of seeing these guys while we were there:)

As it neared dinnertime, we decided to head back home again.  It had been two very busy days, and Steve was leaving early the next morning.