This morning we left Alcova before 7:30am – the earliest we’ve left any morning so far. Nick was able to capture a sunrise over the plateau.
Our drive today was around 4 hours and took us the rest of the way through Wyoming and into South Dakota – another new state for us.
This trip has been educational on many levels. Anytime we passed a history marker we didn’t know much about, we used trusty Google to find out more. (Sometimes we had to wait several miles for better cell signal, but we didn’t let that deter us from learning!)
Somewhere in Wyoming, we passed Black Thunder Mine. This is the largest surface coal mine in the United States. It felt like we drove past it for miles! We are used to seeing mines around home, but this made our mines and equipment seem so small.
Why doesn’t the government start a city on BLM land?Levi
More learning…this time about the Constitution. I hate to admit that at home it’s so easy to give quick answers to their questions because we are busy and on to the next task. I’ve loved being able to take the time to explain answers to their questions and to learn new things myself. When Levi wanted to know why the government didn’t just build cities on BLM land, we explained the purpose for the government along with how it was established. And then my nerdy part kicked in and we talked about the branches of government, how a bill becomes a law and examples of cases the Supreme Court would hear. Being stuck in the truck also meant we had their undivided attention and a great four hours of conversation on a lot of different topics!
We arrived in Custer, SD, our resting place for the next few days. Our campground, Custer Mountain Cabins and Campground, is just a few miles outside of Custer and about 2 miles from the entrance of Custer State Park. We setup the camper, had a quick lunch and did our first (and probably last) load of laundry for the trip.
After stretching our legs a bit, we headed for Custer State Park. On the way, we passed Gordon Stockade. This was a stockade used by some of the first travelers to the area in search of gold and wealth.
Custer State Park has many things to see. This afternoon we chose to drive the Wildlife Loop. I have been surprised at how little wildlife we have seen on this trip so I was looking forward to this and hoped it lived up to the hype. A few miles in we saw a buffalo resting by the gate house!
We also passed burros (donkeys). Several people chose to get out and pet them, but we decided to play it safe and observed from a distance.
We saw a few antelope and deer as well.
We eventually found herds of buffalo too in the distance. I was exited to see the wildlife!
Finally, we drove up on a few stopped cars and realized a herd was walking right towards us! They ended up walking down the road right by both sides of our vehicle. So cool!
After our drive we stopped at the State Game Lodge for dinner. This lodge is also known as the Summer White House because President Calvin Coolidge stayed here in the summer of 1927. He initially came here for a three week summer vacation and ended up staying for three months. During this time, the artist for Mount Rushmore was able to convince him of the need for funding to build the monument.
After dinner, we drove the very curvy road to Mount Rushmore. In addition to being full of switchbacks, the road contained multiple one-lane tunnels. You can’t tell in the pictures, but our first glimpses of the monument were through the Doane Robinson tunnel (3rd picture). This tunnel was aptly names for the sculptor of Mount Rushmore.
When we arrived, we stopped at the cafe to try the famous TJ Vanilla ice cream. This ice cream is Thomas Jefferson’s vanilla ice cream recipe…yummy! (It was chilly, but I’ll eat ice cream anytime of the year.)
From there, we strolled down the Presidents’ Trail, found our state flag and had a closer look at the monument.
Mount Rushmore took 14 years and almost $1 million to build. It wasn’t completed before the artist died so his son oversaw the completion. Fun fact – 90% of the work was done via blasting. Others items (chisels, hammers, etc) were used for final details and finishing touches.
During the summer months, they hold a lighting ceremony so we were able to stay to watch that. The program and lighting were well worth it to stay late and see.
I can’t believe I get to see the real Mount Rushmore!Emmitt
Our drive back to the campground took us back through those switchbacks and hills. This time it was dark and drizzling rain so we kept our eyes peeled for wildlife. (Well, Nick and I did. The boys were so tired they fell asleep in no time.) We only passed three vehicles on the 30 mile drive, but saw many more whitetail and mule deer. It was after 11:30pm when we got back and had a long day so we all fell asleep quickly!