One of my favorite internet blogs is “A Note from Abroad,” by Tim and Joanne Joseph. They are (apparently) retired and do a lot of traveling, so their blog is much more interesting than mine. This week they shared their view of Mount Rushmore, Wind Cave and Jewel Cave National Parks, which are all in western South Dakota. I visited these sites in October, 2017, and posted my visit to Jewel Cave here, back in January, 2018, but I cannot say why I did not do the same for the other two. So, reading Tim and Joanne’s entry this morning was a proverbial kick in the pants and here, at last, is the second part of my little adventure to the area.
The best part of the day (for a guy from New Jersey) was the ubiquitous views of bison, lazily walking around the area surrounding the national monuments and national parks. In New Jersey we have herds of white tail deer, which sometimes bed down for the night in my backyard, but it is so ordinary it doesn’t give the thrill of seeing bison doing basically the same thing. I suppose people in South Dakota are so accustomed to the experience that would rather see a deer instead.
There is another site, Custer State Park (its name can be seen on the sign above) nestled between the national park sites, where bison are common. At one point I drove down a road and saw a line of cars stopped on the opposite side and I slowed down, instinctively knowing something was ahead. It was King Bison the First himself, eating grass like we were his puny and uninteresting subjects. I took the first photo from inside my car and then drove thirty feet and got out, hoping he would not charge at me. But alas, he was so accustomed to being a movie star he barely noticed that I, or the others, were there to admire him.
I had wandered around Jewel Cave earlier that day, and stopped at Wind Cave National Park. At the latter I had hoped I could just wander around a little and take a few photos, but once I got to the visitor center I learned there was a guided tour and a bit of a wait, and the day was getting on. Mount Rushmore had to take priority. There are apparently two ways to get to Mount Rushmore, and I must have taken the road less traveled, because it was such a winding and empty route that I was afraid I had made a wrong turn. Fortunately, the national monument is open after 5 o’clock, so I had time to find the parking area through the double secret back entrance. There was an elevator up to ground level, and this is how most people see Mount Rushmore for the first time.
For some reason, the park service thought it was appropriate to clutter the view with towers and flags – of all fifty states, I presume, because I didn’t check – but now it seems that park service will soon take them down. Fortunately, there is a cafeteria and outdoor seating area off to the right, with a better view. The Joseph’s seemed to agree on their own blog, because they took a nearly identical picture of themselves where I am standing. In this case, a woman was trying to take a photo of herself with a cell phone and I offered to take her picture standing in front of the monument, if she returned the favor, which she did.
The seating area near the concession stand is popular with chipmunks, which jump on the tables and scurry around at your feet looking for pretzel crumbs and droplets of soda. It seemed a shame that people invade their space, but they get fed and are relatively safe. When the park closes, of course, they are in command, as if they were security guards watching over the stone presidents above them.
Enough has been written about Mount Rushmore that it seems redundant to explain its charms, except to say that there is a trail leading through a small forest, closer to the mountain itself, and you get a slightly different view.
If I remember correctly, a wooden fence keeps people on the trail, but there was also an opening, where some rocks are scattered on a hill going up somewhere close to the view above. It was getting late; it was October. The sun would go down in half an hour or so. But it was tempting to make up an excuse to linger, and wait for a moment when the other tourists were out of sight, and scamper over the rocks and up the hill to get as close to the carved monument as possible. I did not do so, but I am sure others, slightly younger than I, have tried it and been somehow chased away by park rangers, or chipmunks, who have seen it all before.