September 23, 2020
After packing up camp, it was only a 15 minute drive to the town of Keystone. We stopped and bought a few t-shirts for the grandkids and then drove another 5 minutes to Mount Rushmore. We arrived pretty early in the day, so it was not too crowded. We have decided that in addition to a pandemic, 2020 is the year of National Park construction. Much of the main plaza at Mount Rushmore was closed due to construction, but they did leave enough room to take a few pictures of the mountain.
We walked the Trail of Presidents pathway around the area and took some pictures. We also noticed a few missionaries at a booth talking to people in the free speech zone. It was strange to see that. They were both assigned to locations outside of the country, but were temporarily in the Rapid City Mission.
After Mount Rushmore we drove to highway 16 and found a campsite at Oreville campground. It is a forest service campground, that with our National Parks pass, only cost $10/night. We plan to be out after dark, so we need to find a campsite early.
Most of the rest of the day was driving the scenic byways of Custer State Park. We came into the park from the north on the Needles Highway. They thought this would be an impossible highway to build, but with enough dynamite, they were able to blast their way through the mountains. The drive is very pretty with granite spires and green and gold leaves on the trees. The road is very winding and narrow and passes through three tiny tunnels. On one tunnel we only cleared the height by 6 inches, and our mirrors just barely cleared the sides of the Eye of the Needle tunnel. I was surprised we didn’t scrape the mirrors.
Once over the top of the mountain we stopped and walked around Sylvan Lake. It is a very pretty lake with a wall of rock that creates a dam. They built a small concrete dam to fill an open spot in the wall to complete the dam.
From the lake we continued the drive around the park. The next section is called the Wildlife Loop. This section was in the low rolling hills and grasslands of the park. We saw antelope, a huge herd of buffalo and a small pack of burros. We stopped to pet the burros, as they were quite use to people feeding them. I think they hang around the roads waiting for people to stop and feed them treats.
The final section of the park is the Iron Mountain Road. Another winding, twisting and narrow road over the mountain. Once you get to the top there are views of Mount Rushmore. There are also three tunnels on this road and the last two tunnels frame the presidents on Mount Rushmore as you look through the tunnels. It was difficult to get a good picture, but it was cool to see. Another feature of this highway were the “pig tail” sections of the road, where there is a tight spiral turn that takes you under the bridge that you just crossed.
Our final stop for the day was the Crazy Horse Memorial. This mountain carving has been in process since 1948. I would guess it is only 20-30% complete. However, they have an impressive area with museums and other displays that talk about the artist and his work and the Native Americans. The original artist stated it may take 100 years to complete the work, but that didn’t matter because they are already fulfilling the original mission of the project by sharing the story of the Indians. He has passed away, but his children are continuing with the work.
The final show of the night was a laser light show on the side of the mountain. We watched from the van in the parking lot. It was pretty impressive and fun to watch (but difficult to take pictures). It lasted around 30 minutes and we didn’t leave the site until around 8:30 pm. It was dark drive to our campsite, so we were glad we had reserved it earlier in the day.