September 14 – Custer State Park and Mount Rushmore, South Dakota

We awoke to a wet, overcast and very cool (mid-30os) morning for what is scheduled to be our last day of sight-seeing on this trip.  And since both our propane and electric heating systems have decided to go on strike, we were left with a small space heater to warm up our motor home.

After breakfast we struck out for a number of drives, the first of which, the Wildlife Loop Road in Custer State Park, is generally thick with animals, particularly hundreds of bison as well as many grand vistas.  Our first view was somewhat different. Although the rain abated and the fog lifted, we’d driven ¾ around the Loop and spotted only a few wild turkeys. However, despite the overcast skies, the drive had a muted beauty. Then we spotted a pair of pronghorns before stopping at a visitor’s center only to be advised the bison (American Buffalo) had been driven south in anticipation of the annual fall round-up, a week away.  Fortunately, between British Columbia and, just last week in Yellowstone, we’d seen and hundreds of bison.

We were next greeted by the a welcoming party of the Park’s burro population which frequent the road and are not shy about sticking their muzzles in your car window. Passing a small private airport we spotted a one mule deer (large ears, black-tipped tails and a great leaping ability) behind a fence. Interestingly, they will let cars drive close by.  However, if you get out of your car to take a picture, they are either very camera shy or are spooked by a human figure moving too close and will bound away.

We next passed by several white-tail deer (which have white hair on the underside of their tails which flips up when they run and favor the timber lands as a habitat) along the edge of a forested section of the road. Then, more mule deer graced us by their presence.Suddenly … After a fantastic buffet lunch at the State Game Lodge. Heading toward Mount Rushmore, we drove the Iron Mountain Scenic Drive.  While the weather precluded any “scenic” views, the drive was an adventure in itself.

Along the way, there are places where you go through a one-land rock tunneland then the road loops around so you are passing under the tunnel’s exit.These types of loop roads bridges are called “Pig Tails” and were developed in the Park in 1932.

Arriving at Mount Rushmore, South Dakota’s lone state park where there is no entrance fee due to a demand of, and an agreement with it sculptor, Gutzon Borglum.  However, the crafty state was determined to collect its “pound of flesh” … and does so by charging $11.00 for parking.

Walking up to the monument was a bit depressing as the fog had rolled in, and it was almost totally obscured.After pondering whether to leave or not, we decided to take in the Visitor’s Center, which had an excellent video presentation.   Mount Rushmore is 5,725’ in height and the faces of those men depicted is 60’.  Although the initial concept was to have each president shown to the waist, a lack of funding resulted in just the heads being carved, other than the coat of George Washington.

Upon returning outside, we were thrilled to discover that, while the skies were still gray, the monument we’d come to see was in the clear.Gutzon Borglum’s vision was to create a monument of our leaders who brought our nations from colonial times into the 1900s.

George WashingtonThe man who commanded the Revolutionary Army and served as the nation’s first president

Thomas JeffersonAuthor of the Declaration of Independence, third president and masterminded the Louisiana Purchase

Theodore RooseveltThe 26th president who championed economic liberty and reform, conservation and promoted the Panama Canal

Abraham LincolnThe nation’s 16th president and whose leadership preserved the Union and ended slavery in America

Gutzon never lived to see the completion of his shrine to American Democracy which was completed by his son, Lincoln.

We had planned to return for the evening’s light show, but the fog began to roll back in, the temperature was dropping and I was a bit under the weather and facing several long days behind the wheel over the next week … so we called it a day and headed back to our campground.

We’ve heard back for all of the other folks we traveled to Alaska with and all have made it safely home.  We’re the lone vagabonds still on the road … although we’re scheduled to arrive home a week from this coming Monday.  While this has been a fantastic adventure, we will be glad to see our kids and their families.  From some photos we’ve seen all seven of our grandchildren have grown and changed a lot since we last saw them.

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