Today started out rough for me. A mini existential crisis, of sorts. We decided to try one of the accessible trails, basically a boardwalk in the park that you could leave to hike a half-mile trail in the sediment peaks that are the main Badlands. feature. You can do that hike unless you are me. I sat on a bench, watching people pop out all over the vista before me and had a big pity party. It would have been terrible to leave the park on that note, but lucky for me, we found the Cliff Shelf trail. And I was redeemed, at least my sense of my ability to participate in the human experience was.
We sadly left the Badlands to go to Wall Drug, which was promoting a pro-life rally in its front window, between the key chains and the cowboy boots. I had a doughnut at Wall Drug, sitting next to a wood carving of Butch Cassidy. Can I go now?
From Wall, we made our way to Mount Rushmore, which was COMPLETELY obscured by fog. I thought it would be sweet revenge for Mother Earth to give us perfect weather in the Badlands, a spot largely unspoiled by humans and then to make the mountain defaced in a twisted celebration of greed and artifice all but invisible.
I also found the predicament of all the flag-wearing tourists (and us), utterly hilarious. Then the fog burned off, and I was forced to admit, Mount Rushmore is kinda cool.
Custer State Park is cooler, though. Thank you, South Dakota, for seeing fit to preserve this. Custer makes up for Keystone and Wall, although the people who own that drug store tourist trap have their own atoning to do, IMHO.
From there, we drove the windy and beautiful Iron Mountain Road.
OK, we wouldn’t travel halfway around the country to see Mt. Rushmore. Being here though, ya just gotta.
Then again, maybe not.
First of all, the town you drive through to get there, Keystone, SD, is the Myrtle Beach of the Black Hills.
Drive through bear and bison park. Reptile Gardens (the billboard says you will be amazed, shocked, and laugh). A petting zoo (for bears, bison and alligators I hope). And, of course, Mystery Cosmos (“Survive It!”). A telling sign about Keystone is, oddly enough, a sign: “Free parking, restrooms & RV dump” in the middle of ice cream, magic crystal, cowboy souvenir and tacky presidential themed restaurants.
Leave Rushmore and Keystone as quickly as possible. Which, BTW, isn’t very quick with the 25 MPH speed limit and billions of clueless pedestrians. Turn right out of town and go to Custer State Park.
There you can see a forest, bison, wild donkeys, the recovery of a woodland from fire, gorgeous scenery, and extremely silly tourists. At a scenic pull-off a bison walked up to drink the water. One guy my age and I stood back to take pictures, but a third wanted to walk up to it. We both said don’t. The guy my age said, “He’ll run away.”
“Or not,” I said, looking at the size of the beast. I didn’t relish the thought of our vacation being delayed explaining to cops why there is a splotch on the ground still holding a camera.
Leaving Custer we drove up Iron Mountain Road (unrelated to the data storage company). It’s famous for narrow one-lane rock tunnels, cutbacks and “pigtail bridges.” It’s a joy to drive, especially when you’re behind a tour bus that clears the top by a few inches. Through one tunnel you can see Rushmore in the distance.
Three days of travel, and being ahead of schedule have left us exhausted. We’re taking a day to recover, get our posts edited ad online, and organizing ourselves. Maybe we’ll see some of downtown Rapid City.
And now for some pictures.