Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Chapter 36 - Buffalo to Mt Rushmore, South Dakota

Saturday, August 1st:
The realization came to us this morning that today being August 1st our trip is at least two-thirds over and following our visit to Mt Rushmore over these next two days, we can no longer deny to ourselves that we are headed east and home.  The weather has been terrific, time has gone by so quickly, and we have had a fabulous time.  We just need to remind ourselves that there are still more great sites ahead to enjoy.  The drive from Buffalo to our Mt Rushmore KOA was around 200 miles but at least half of it was on Interstate 90 and most of the drive was on fairly straight roads. Other than the last part of the drive where we climbed up into the mountains of the Black Hills National Forest, most of the drive was through rugged and hilly countryside, a sight to which we have become accustomed.  For the most part until we reached the Black Hills of Western South Dakota, the landscape was mostly treeless.  Once we arrived in the Black Hills, evergreens covered almost all of the land. The Mt Rushmore KOA was huge, well organized, expensive, and as far as we could tell, all 303 sites and most of their 94 tent sites were completely full.

The reason that this campground was full as were probably all of the other RV parks in the area and the hotels for that matter, was because of the 75th Annual 2015 Motor Cycle Rally which was scheduled to take place next week in the nearby city of Sturgis, South Dakota. While the exact number of motorcycle riders planning on attending the rally is unknown, most reports we read believed that over 500,000 motorcyclists will be in the area. Whatever the exact number, motorcyclists were everywhere.  In the nearby city of Hill City, their entire Main Street was closed except to cyclists as our photograph shows. Every business in every city within hundreds of miles was catering to these visitors.  Frankly we are now amazed that we were able to make a reservation.  Motorcyclists with tents and motorhomes filled this place.

Because of the crowds, we decided to delay our visit to Mt Rushmore until tomorrow although we did take a short drive up into the mountains including a drive by both Mt Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Monument. The scenery was amazing with rock outcroppings everywhere.  It is easy to see why Mt Rushmore was chosen to be the site of the granite sculptures of four of our presidents.  This place is awesome.

We spent much of the afternoon however, at our campground.  If we were traveling with children this place would be the best. They offered everything from horseback riding to golf cart and bicycle rentals. What they did not offer however, is a WiFi connection, any television coverage, and even our telephones did not work.  Really primitive for us old adults so both Kathy and I were forced to read one of the half dozen good books that we brought along with us.  Tomorrow we will leave early for Mt Rushmore hopefully to avoid the crowds.

Sunday, August 2nd:
Our plan was to arrive at Mt Rushmore the minute that it opened at 8:00 am. We would have been there exactly on time were it not for the very young and talkative South Dakota State Trooper who pulled us over for speeding on the empty 40 mph mountain highway leading up to Mt Rushmore.  This was probably the first time in over 7,000 miles of driving on our trip that I was above the speed limit, and wouldn't you know it, I was nabbed.  The fine: $105.  An unexpected travel expense.  Anyway, we arrive at Mt Rushmore at 8:15 am and the crowds were beginning to flow in.

One expected problem was that Cabo was not allowed up to the viewing platform so I took the above photo of Kathy and Cabo from just outside the parking ramp and then Kathy and I when up separately to view Mt Rushmore.  In Kathy's case a stop at their huge gift store was a mandatory step in the visiting of any tourist attraction. The Federal government has actually done a remarkably good job presenting the sculptured mountain. We have all seen photographs of Mt Rushmore so seeing it in person could have been a big bore were it not for the grand entrance to the viewing platform with the clean concrete walkways along with the overhead arches and all of the colorful state flags. We were both very impressed.

I suspect that had we decided to visit Mt Rushmore later in the day that the crowds lining the wall of the viewing platform would have been many people deep.  As you can see in this photo to the left we had lots of room to get as close to the sculpture as we wanted.  One thing that we did not do was to visit Mt Rushmore at dusk around 9:00 pm when they turn the flood lights on the sculpture.  This sight would have been wonderful, however by 9:00 pm after a few drinks and a nice diner both Kathy, Cabo, and I were in bed wishing the TV worked, but ready to fall asleep.

After our visit to Mt Rushmore Kathy and I decided to take a scenic drive into the Black Hills National Forest down Hwy 16A known as the Iron Mountain Road. Iron Mountain Road was around 17 miles long and according to one of the road signs there were 314 curves, 14 switchbacks, and three tunnels.  Joining us on the drive were around a thousand motorcyclists (OK, so I exaggerate), but whatever the number the road was crowded but everyone seemed to be enjoying the drive and no one was hurrying. Kathy took this photo of one of the three single lane tunnels that we drove through.  What does not show in the photo is that at the other end of the tunnel parked along side the road were around a dozen motorcyclists and off in the distance where they were all looking was an incredible view of Mt Rushmore.

Here is a photo of another feature of the drive that occurred several times during the course of our trip where the small highway actually made almost a 360 degree circle over a bridge before continuing on up the mountainside.  No worries about speeding on this highway as our average speed was no more than 20 mph.

The highlight of the drive may have been the scenic overlook near the highpoint of Iron Mountain Road where we were able to park and climb up on the rocks to the overlook where we could look back at Mt Rushmore that was at least 15 miles off in the distance.  Almost a white dot in the photo.

We shared the overlook area with many of the Sturgis Rally bikers many of whom enjoyed both Cabo as well as Kathy's new shirt that colorfully displayed the "Black Hills Rally" at Sturgis on one side and Mt Rushmore on the other side.  The shirt was purchased only minutes earlier at the gift store on Mt Rushmore.

As we were ready to leave the parking lot a few more bikers stopped to say hello to Kathy and Cabo so I took their photo and we wished them well at the rally. Frankly, with over one half million bikers expected to attend this week long rally wishing them well may be an optimistic thought. There will be undoubtedly a lot of drinking and from what we heard from our friendly state trooper earlier this morning, a lot of accidents probably resulting in a few deaths. Most of the bikers that we met ranged in age from the 40s to the 60s and while I cannot imagine my doing anything like attending a rally of this nature even when I was a little younger, I can completely understand why it offers an attraction to so many.  In any case, thousands and thousands of bikers attend this rally journeying from almost every state in the country.

During one of our stops on this fabulous scenic drive I took this photo of Kathy in here new shirt. I think that Kathy was completely fascinated by this whole idea of gathering so many people together to celebrate 75 years of motorcycling here in this remote area of western South Dakota.  Aside from the horrible traffic, I too found the whole idea fascinating but despite our fascination I doubt that either one of us is going on a road trip next summer on a motorcycle with a tent with Cabo in a knapsack on our back.  

Tomorrow we head east again although we are not sure exactly where we are headed or how far we will drive.  Without a telephone connection we were unable to make a reservation for our next stop and without an internet hookup we had no chance to review our campground options.  Now this is really roughing it.  We will just have to decide where we are going to stay on the fly.  We will let you know what happens.

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