Sunday, 6 May 2012

Days 3 & 4: The Black Hills, & Custer State Park

We camped for 3 nights and spent two days exploring the southeast corner of the Black Hills. Despite having spent 2 days driving, we spent our first day hitting the main tourist traps sights, Mt. Rushmore and the Crazy Horse monument, plus driving the roads in the park.

Now, the latter doesn't sound interesting, but the designer of the various roads (former SD Governor and all around excellent guy Peter Norbeck) was a road design artist and poet. His main routes (the Iron Hills Road, the Needles Parkway and the Wildlife Loop) are downright beautiful feats of engineering. Tunnels feature head on views of Mt. Rushmore.
Those faces
The road has spiral bridges called pigtials. It glides through slots in the rocks...
A tunnel in a slot
...past cool rock formations...
The Eye of the Needle for which the Needles are named
...with exceptional overlooks.
Those faces, dead on 
The Cathedrals. Little Devil's Tower on the left
Extraordinary road building. Still, glad not to encounter stuck RVs.

However, the goal of the day was to catch Rushmore and Crazy Horse. Fellow non-Americans, do yourself a favour: save the $11 parking charge (in the gigantic 6 level parking garage, which I'm betting is full in the summer) and admire the artwork of the carving of Rushmore by Mr. Borglum from a distance. It is so over the top "love America" patriotic that it might make you nauseous. If the walk of the state flags doesn't do it...
Still don't understand how Roosevelt made it
...the fact that it's carved in the middle of land deeded to the Indians in the Treaty of Fort Laramie (which the US seized back in 1877 because that doofus Custer found gold in the Black Hills and told the world about it) might. But I digress.

On to Crazy Horse, the pissed off Indian's answer to Mt. Rushmore. It's an itty-bitty sculpture; the faces of Mt. Rushmore could fit on the side of Crazy Horse's face (the only part finished). It's been 60 years in the making, and as of this week, it looks like this:
60 years of work. One guy for the first 30. His family for the rest.
What it will look like when finished. In another 100 years, I bet.
This is a commercial operation, paid for entirely by admission fees and sales of junk in the visitor's centre and (not very good at all) Museum of the Indians of North America. Supposedly, when they're done (in like 2100 or so at the rate they're going), there will be a university & city for the Sioux, Oglala and Lakota people at it's base. Never let it be said the Indians have a short sighted view on things. I'm surprised his finger is pointing out, not up.

With the crass commercial stuff out of the way, we got to enjoy Custer State Park. As I mentioned in yesterday's post, this place is great. Wildlife abounds.
Overly friendly feral burros block the road 
Prairie dogs and meadowlarks 
A baby bison nurses

Bighorn sheep invade the campground
The campgrounds are lovely. The washrooms are nice, the showers free. The birds throughout the park were extraordinary. The only downside was no gray water disposal location for the tents. And the hiking... oh, the hiking. We climbed to Harney Peak ("the highest peak between the Rockies and the Pyrenees in France" -- higher than all those pesky mountains in the middle of the Atlantic, I guess...).

Harney Peak Lookout Tower
Aside from a WHOLE lot of pine beetle infected trees and the detritus thereof, the views were spectacular.
On the trail 
The tower on the top as we approach
Access to the tower 
The Cathedrals 
Little Devil's Tower 
From inside the tower
You can even see the backside of Mt. Rushmore, too.
Old joke, but I had to
No, actually. It looks like this:
It's the lump on the left. 1 of 2 parking garages visible

In the Cathedrals on the way down

Now, we wanted to get to the top of Little Devil's Tower, too, but just as we made it to the saddle between the Cathedrals and the Tower, thunder started. Top of Tower = not a good place to be in a lightning storm. So we headed down, getting rained on. The thunder rattled for hours, and a little more rain fell as I cooked dinner. This was a portent of things to come.

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