7/26 Badlands, Black Hills, Mount Rushmore, and Devil's Tower
We were up just before the sun and hurried out of Wall, South Dakota to see Badlands National Park at dawn. We had a real payoff for getting out of bed early.
There was a cool morning breeze, puffy clouds dribbled just enough moisture for a rainbow, the sun was still below the horizon and the full moon was still up. We couldn't get enough of the sights and sounds of the morning.
mrs. a-go-go clicked the shutter madly in every direction while the early light held up but we couldn't really catch it. Remembering that we had not used the old Powershot's short video capabilities for a long time I did my best to make some short recordings.
Still a measlely substitute for the real thing but it caught a brief glimpse.
Once the sun was up high enough to tear down the shadows and the heat of the day was on us it was time to head east to Rapid City and Mount Rushmore. The Black Hills of South Dakota are a beautiful place even without the attractions of Wind Cave National Park, the Crazy Horse Memorial, and Mount Rushmore, but with all this extra stuff the area attracts a mess of visitors in the summer. We knew it would be crowded and braced ourselves for traffic. Getting to Mount Rushmore wasn't all that rough, but we were a little put off by the $10 parking fee even if you have a National Park Annual Pass. At the beginning of our trip we invested in a pass and it has been well worth it, but if you have never purchased one before you may be disappointed by how few things it actually covers. Rushmore is indeed part of the National Park system but the excuse given for the fee (and it not being covered by the pass) was that parking is handled by a concession. Hmm. But hey, you can come back all year in the same vehicle for free. Wait a minute,... that's a three day drive,... oh well.
Parking took a bit of a wait but the crowd wasn't crazy before 10am. By the time we were on the way out the crowd had thickened, so arrive early if you visit in the summer. I think seeing the nutty sculpture near dawn in rapidly changing light would have been more thrilling. Our visit was fun and I'm glad we stopped but we probably won't be back. One visit feels like enough to ponder the crazy dream of Doane Robinson and the work of Gutzon Borglum (and a whole mess of other folks). The rubble pile below the sculpted chins is daunting and pondering the effort that went into making it did more for me than the sculpture itself. I highly recommend the museum displays about the monument that are housed just behind the amplitheater.
These display some working models and explain the methods used by the sculptors. In addition the models show just how ambitious the original plan was. Washington was intended to have a complete torso, gadzooks.
I had hoped that we could camp in or near the Black Hills and spend another day seeing the other sights (and maybe get in that dawn visit with Washington and his pals), but after leaving Mount Rushmore we found much of the camping was geared for RVs. I'm sure there were more appealing places over the next hill (the map was littered with little green tents) but our stamina was weak. If we come back to the Black Hills it will likely be for Crazy Horse and Wind Cave rather than to find parking again at Rushmore.
Next on the map was Devil's Tower, the big columns of phonolite porphyry (HA!) and the model I made out of cheese at lunch time beckoned.
But seriously folks, after our day's trek through this landscape and finding a place to camp near the base of this tower I understand why these places were held sacred by the people who used to live here.