|Mt. Rushmore in the Black Hills|
I’ve been to Mt Rushmore twice for work, but The Colonel has never been. We’re up early. We forgot the time change and are on the road by 8:30 am—the best way to beat the crowds. Another advantage of our location is we’re right on Business-16, the truck route for Rushmore which circumnavigates downtown Rapid City. We see more motorhomes pulling enclosed trailers than motorcycles. We pass two nice looking RV resorts just as we enter the National Forest and make note: Mystery Mountain Resort if you like shade and gravel pads. Rushmore Shadows RV Resort for big flat, paved spots (but not a tree in the place).
Don't forget a paper map or download Google Maps for the area (link: planesboatsandbicycles.blogspot.com/2017/01/cheapskates-on-move-saving-data-offline.html) because cell phone reception is spotty in the Black Hills National Forest.
|The Colonel trying to figure out, "How did they do that?"|
We pay our $10/car, park in the parking garage (was there always a parking garage?) and head in. There is a decent crowd for so early and we take the 0.6 strenuous loop (giggle now but high elevation and lots of stairs actually had me out of breath). I get some amazing shots from this angle. The Colonel wants to go around again!
|Crazy Horse Memorial|
We continue through the Black Hills National Forest for 20 minutes to the Crazy Horse Memorial which came highly recommended ($22/car). It started in 1948, when Lakota elder Henry Standing Bear commissioned the sculpture. They have a long way to go! There is a large collection of Indian artifacts from all over the country in the Museum. Maybe we were getting tired, but this wasn't our favorite stop. We continue into the town of Custer for lunch and caught up with our first large group of motorcycles.
|A group of Harley's join us in Custer for lunch|
We stumble into a nice cafe that serves buffalo burgers (on gluten-free bread!) A few bikers wander in for lattes...After spending $30 on lunch (an expensive tourist day!), we head back through Custer State Park.
|Artists have painted buffalo and they are on display around the town of Custer|
|One of three one-way tunnels (note the skid mark...)|
It's $20 for a weeks pass at Custer State Park. We drive the 16A route through the middle (we later learn that you could drive this route for free but I plan to return for the Wildlife Loop) and spot a few nice campgrounds to add to the list (Grace Coolidge & Game Lodge, easily accessible for big rigs but booked solid despite the few empty spots we see).
We choose the Iron Mountain Road route for our return through the Black Hills (popular ride for the bike rally) since it has the most tunnels (No, we couldn't have gotten Odin the Winnebago back here!) It's a narrow, winding, one-lane road and the tunnels end up being hazardous. We see the aftermath of one motorcycle accident in one tunnel and in another tunnel, apparently they didn't get the message, and a van tries to join us IN the tunnel from the opposite direction! Peak elevation for the drive is 4200 ft.
|The first herd of bison off in the distance|
I highly recommend setting aside a morning for the Wildlife Loop Road through Custer State Park. The geography is very different from the National Forest, with breathtaking and peaceful rolling plains. The best time to see tatanka (Lakota word for bison) is morning or evening when the wildlife is most active. I ditch The Colonel and was on the road by 6:30 am (but I wish I'd left earlier!) You can take the route through the National Forest if you like, but if you've already been through, I recommend following the signs to the East Entrance to maximize your time here.
|One half of the herd on one side of the road|
Just inside the entrance, I had spotted a herd off in the distance, then another lone bull near the road. However, about halfway through the park, as if on cue, I rounded the corner to a herd that was working it's across the road, with traffic stopped!
|A South Dakota traffic jam|
A game warden quickly arrives and monitors the herd, advising everyone to stay in their cars (except for the two lone motorcyclists, of course) because the bull's are in rut. He gets out a whip to encourage a lone buffalo that was eyeing the cars to take another way around.
|The other half of the herd on the other side of the road. See the baby?!|
We ran out of time before we could do some hiking, explore the George S. Mickelson bike trail or drive the scenic Needles Highway. Next time.
To get in the mood for your visit, I recommend the movies: "Dances with Wolves" (filmed in the area and several museums advertise props from the movie), or "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee".
Stay tuned for last stop in the area, Devil's Tower!