We were all very excited to get up and at ‘em this morning since the Mt. Rushmore visit was finally here. However, we started our day at the Rockin’ R Trail Rides for some horseback riding. This was event was 100% inspired by Mallory. She is horse-crazy, and trail rides are big business up here. We had picked this particular place because it was close to where we were staying – about 3 miles down the road. As we were pulling into the Trail Ride place, we were surprised to see that we could plainly see the Crazy Horse mountain carving from here. It was dark as we came in last night, so we had no idea. The two big kids and Stephanie went for the ride, because Marissa is not old enough. However, they do offer a gentle horsey ride around a corral for the young ones. Marissa got to wear a purple (her favorite color) helmet, and she showed no fear at all. She got right on the horse and had a great time. She also earned a Cowgirl Certificate.
The family went on an hour long ride through the Black Hills. Stephanie said it was good, but was disappointed that you could hear all the traffic from the highway so clearly. Perhaps next time a little more remote location would be better. However, Mallory’s review was more positive – “It Was Awesome!”. Mallory’s horse was right behind the leader’s horse, so she got to visit with her the whole hour. Mallory also told me that she was 2nd in charge on the ride, since she was right behind the leader. Marissa and I goofed around at the large horse-related souvenir shop (Heritage Village), rode some swings they had out back, and then drove into downtown Custer to look around and get some ice. One neat thing about Custer – for those who are familiar with Tulsa, a year or two ago, the Tulsa Zoo had a promotion where they put giant penguins all over town painted in different designs, as a fundraiser. Well, in Custer, you will see these nearly life size Buffalo painted with various designs. As you drive into town, there is a Buffalo painted with the American flag, which was probably my favorite.
Marissa and I picked up the family from the Trail Ride, and then we had some lunch back at the hotel room. By 1:00, we were ready to head off to Mt. Rushmore!
It is an absolute beautiful drive through the Black Hills on the way to Mt. Rushmore. The rocks and pine trees of this area are very distinctive. Our plan was to spend most of the day at this attraction, since it was the single most important reason we are in South Dakota. We did not want to just spend a couple of hours and be disappointed that we did not get to see everything we wanted to see. We ended up spending over 8 hours there, which might have overdone it a little bit, but it was better than being rushed. Our first impression upon seeing the carvings of the presidents is that it was not as large as we imagined it would be. This seems like a strange thing to think, but I think it is natural to have the idea that it is gigantic. Well, it is a huge mountain, and they say that if there were bodies to match the size of their heads, they would be 465 feet tall. As you spend more time there, and get to walk up closer to them, you really do get the understanding of how monumental the carvings area.
The entire National Memorial there at Mount Rushmore is first class. It had been rehabbed during the 90s, and everything from the parking garage, to the entrance, to the amphitheatre was made of beautiful rock of the area. We did just about everything you can do at Mount Rushmore. We walked through the various exhibits that explained the history of the idea and construction of the monument. We went on a walk along the Presidential Trail, led by a Park Ranger. (The Presidential Trail lets you walk up to the foot of the mountain.) We walked through the Sculptor’s Studio and watched a short video on the history. We even ate dinner at the Mount Rushmore Restaurant, eating outside with a great view of the presidents! The kids also completed the Junior Ranger program at Mount Rushmore, just as they did at the Badlands. The Park Ranger who gave them their badges was from Tahlequah, OK! Speaking of other folks from Oklahoma, we met a family from Tulsa who had noticed our good looking O-State hats and said hello. They were also OSU grads. We also saw a familiar orange Eddiei-Eddie-Eddie t-shirt (featuring the scowl of Eddie Sutton).
But the absolute highlight of the day was the evening lighting presentation. Every night they light the monument at about 9:30, with a program that begins at 9:00, and by 9:00 the amphitheatre was full – it probably holds 5000 people or so. At 8:30, they started piping in some patriotic music to get everybody in the mood, and a little later one of the Park Rangers came out and asked some trivia of the presidents who were in the carving. There was a Boy Scout Troop there from Wichita, Kansas, and they were able to lead the crowd in the presentation of the colors, leading the pledge of allegiance, and taking the flag down afterward. They got a huge round of applause. We watched probably a 20 minute video that talked about each of the 4 presidents on the monument: George Washington (picked because he is the founder of the country), Thomas Jefferson (picked because he was responsible for a huge expansion of the country through the Louisiana Purchase), Abraham Lincoln (picked because he preserved the country), and Theodore Roosevelt (picked because of the development of the country). By this time, you are really getting the impact of the monument, and at the end of the video, they begin lighting up the monument, and the crowd sang the National Anthem. Never before have I been somewhere where it sounds like everybody is singing the Anthem, but it sounded that way tonight. It was very cool.
Then, after the monument is lit, the Park Ranger comes back on stage and asks all of the veterans in the crowd to come down on stage. Of course, we had our own veteran in our party, so Stephanie went down to the stage to join probably 75 other veterans. Then the Park Ranger walked down the line and everyone of them got to announce their name and branch of service. When Stephanie spoke, she definitely had her own fan club making some noise for her! There were a few soldiers who announced they fought in World War II, and they would get a huge ovation, as well as a few who announced they fought in Iraq, which got a huge ovation. Obviously, they all should have got a huge ovation, but that was hard to do since there were so many of them.
We were so glad that we stayed for the lighting ceremony, and we would easily say that no trip to Mount Rushmore would be complete without experiencing that.
A few random thoughts…
Mallory wants to give a “shout out” to her future husband Cole, who lives across the street. Mallory is telling us that she has her own fan club following her.
Miles is Mr. Budget. He brought $100 to spend on souvenirs on the trip, and he has had his expenses all planned out. He was really struggling in the Mount Rushmore gift shop today, because he had found so many things that he wanted, So everytime he would pick up something, he would start doing the math in his head, and he would tell me that he is going to spend a little more money here, and a little less money at Devils Tower. He is picking out the most eclectic group of souvenirs for an 8 year old that you would ever see.
Did you know there is an RV “counter culture” happening in your midst? We have found several retirees who work the “season” in areas like Wall or the Badlands for retail stores. They get a laundry allowance, RV hookup, and work 10-15 hours per week. Some actually get paid and work more. These folks just drive their RVs around the country and stop wherever the mood strikes them, and spend the summer.
“Black Hills Gold” ain’t what it used to be. The Black Hills Gold – Homestead Mine shut down 4 years ago, because it was costing more to extract the gold than it was worth (maybe now that gold is $700/oz they will rethink that). The gold comes from plants in other areas and is manufactured in the Black Hills, where they add silver and copper to give it its distinctive coloring.