After the numerous breaks in the travelogue, at last I am returning to it. I believe that we left off at the departure from Rushmore. But first, a little back track on how Mt. Rushmore got its name. Direct from the National Park Service website:
“It’s never had any but it has now-we’ll call the damn thing Rushmore,” the guide, William Challis replied.
In the 1880’s Keystone (Mt. Rushmore is located just beyond Keystone) was a booming mining town. James Wilson was a New York mining promoter examining mining claims in the area. Wilson hired Charles E. Rushmore, a young New York attorney, to check on mining titles. Mr. Rushmore arrived in the area in 1885 representing the Harney Peak Consolidated Tin Company, LTD. , located at Pine Camp just north of an “unnamed” mountain. Out traveling to examine claims, Rushmore passed by the unnamed mountain. He asked his guide, William Challis, “What is the name of that mountain?” Challis jestingly replied in his now famous quote.
Later, Charles Rushmore donated $5,000 toward the sculpting of “Mount Rushmore.” In June, 1930 the United States Board of Geographic Names officially recognized Mount Rushmore.
After Rushmore, the first order of business was to try and get a battery for my camera. We headed into Rapid City to the WalMart. WalMart did not carry the battery but pointed us towards Ritz Camera. At Ritz Camera, the girl working the counter was astute enough to tell me that a battery would do me no good since it would not be charged either. What I really needed was a car charger so that I could charge the existing battery (I had only a home charger). The car charger was rather inexpensive and she knew just which one I needed so I bought it and we were off again on our journey with the battery happily charging away in the car.
Our next stop was the Minutemen Missile site, just outside Badlands National Park. After the cold war, the majority of the Minutemen II Missile Silos in the South Dakota area were removed, the underground control centers filled in and the land reverted to private ownership. This site was preserved as a National Monument. It has not been open for many years and the tours are still a bit rough which made it all the more interesting to me. Only 6 people can go on a tour at a time due to the small size of the control room. We gathered at NPS headquarters and headed out to the control center. On the surface, it looks like a 60/70s style low-one story building like many others in the landscape. Pretty uninteresting. We went in and saw the living quarters and heard the stories about how meals were prepared, having to put in a separate shower for women once they started operating at the centers and daily activities. There was a tv and vcr with numerous movies. Decor was in the oranges and browns and other colors of the seventies. From the living quarters, we took an elevator down to the underground control center where only 2 military personnel at a time were allowed and working. Inside the control center were banks of computers, 2 chairs, a bunk for sleeping and a toilet. And, of course, the infamous 2 key system that could launch the missiles and end the world as we know it. Our guide was one of those former military people that had worked in the control room and was full of humorous and semi-humorous tales of life there. One fascinating detail was that, not only could the 10 missiles attached to that site be launched from there, but also all other missiles in the system. The other item of note is that there are still enough missiles (Minuteman III?), live and active and being controlled by other underground control rooms, and scattered throughout Colorado, Montana, North Dakota and Northern South Dakota, to destroy the world many times over. A very scary thought.
From the control center, we went out the the missile site where a large plexiglass has been installed over the ground above the missile silo. We were looking directly down on the missile as it stood in its silo in the ground. A huge and daunting sight. It was very hot and the commentary seemed like it was starting to go on a bit - after a 2 hour tour - and we were getting anxious to head off to our next destination.
Finally, it was over and we headed off to the town of Wall, home of Wall Drug. Wall Drug was actually a real place at one time - a drug store and soda fountain without much business from the interstate until the owner and his wife got the idea to serve free water to passersby. This brought folks in and the kitschy, tourist trap that is now Wall Drug was born. It is rooms and rooms (a whole block of conjoined buildings) of tourist "junk" - post cards, stuffed toys, t-shirts - 1/2 of a whole room dedicated to t-shirts for the Sturgis motorcycle rally coming up in August, statues, statuettes, etc., etc., etc. We found the room where the cafeteria was and had some food since we had heard that there wasn't any food available in the Badlands. We took some photos with the lifesize miner, card player, cowboy statues and had a look at the Black Hills gold jewelry (I have seen better pieces here in California) and then we were on our way - happy to leave the kitschy, noisy place behind us.
We entered Badlands parks and were immediately transported to another world. The land is very bare and deserty. The whole area was once under water and then carved out by glaciers, rivers and the wind leaving a landscape of deep canyons, multi-colored, striped and flat-topped buttes. I could only imagine the wagon trains trying to get through this landscape and understood why it was called the badlands. There is a drive that goes around the northern part of the park and has a number of points where you can park, get out and walk on paths for short hikes. All along the way, you are warned to watch for rattlesnakes and cactus spines. The whole place had a quietness and beauty to it and we were happy to have made the journey to see it.
After traveling the loop of the Badlands, we headed back to Rushmore. This time, we turned off just at the edge of Rapid City and headed south to take one of the other approaches in to Rushmore. We arrived in time for the lighting ceremony as planned. The parking structure that had been so empty that morning was full. We finally found a place and headed in. The amphitheatre was packed and there were many people standing around. I headed back out to the walkway to try and get a few more photos of the heads in the twilight before losing to much of the light. We found a seat on a wall and settled in for the ceremony. The first part was very long and drawn out since we had already made the walk around the monument and seen the museum. Most of that was repeated and went on and on for about an hour I think. The only thing that kept us there was the lure of seeing the Monument lit at night. At last, the talking ended and we were shown a movie which was pretty good and finally the lighting. It was very anti-climatic. Nothing dramatic at all and not even very well lit but then, we were tired after a long day and really hoping for more for our efforts. After the lighting, 'America the Beautiful' was sung by the crowd. As usual, it choked me up. I do have a great appreciation and love for this country - even more so after having spent so many years overseas.
Following the lighting, all of the active service personnel were called to the stage. There were so many of them and an incredible number were women. Each one began giving a brief introduction. At that point, we were very tired (It was about 10PM) and, not wanting to get caught in the traffic jam getting out of the parking structure, we left.
The drive back to Hot Springs was about 1 1/2 hours. We were tired and I was hungry but we couldn't seem to find any place to eat. After awhile, the tiredness just took over and I forgot the hunger and just wanted to sleep. At this time, I was driving and trying to take it at a fairly moderate pace since I knew there were Bison in the area and really didn't want to have a collision. We were the only car on the road for a lot of the journey. At some point, another car (truck) appeared behind us and started riding my tail. It was a 2 lane road so there was really no need for the tailgating. I sped up a little and the person sped up. I was now doing about 70. I decided to try another tactic. I slowed down gradually, ever so gradually, just kept slowing down, gradually, gradually, gradually until I was going about 30, plenty of opportunity for the person to pass me. But......the person did not pass. Just slowed down while still tailgating me. At first, I thought it might be a policeman but it didn't seem that way and I could tell that it was a truck. I started to get really frightened. After all, we were just two girls out in the middle of nowhere - no cars, no towns - with some stranger playing a wierd game with us.
I sped back up to 60 and the stranger did also. This went on for a while. Finally, a sign came up and I could see a small town just off the highway. All dark but I thought there might be an opportunity here. I kept going 60 and just as I reached the exit, I swerved onto it. The truck overshot and went on by. Now we were on a strange road, dark and going who knows where but the truck was past. I started to pull in to turn around and head back out onto the road when I saw the truck stop, back up and come right onto the offramp after us. Now, I was really scared. There were some buildings up ahead and I headed toward them. They were dark but I thought someone might be around. I could also see that the road curved around at that point and back onto the highway which had the juncture where we needed to turn off to get onto the highway for our way back to Hot Springs. I guess that the idea of the buildings and maybe getting caught finally scared off the person in the truck and he/she finally turned off and left us alone. I breathed a deep sigh of relief. I don't even think Lorraine had realized how scared I was since she wasn't driving and so hadn't seen in the rear view mirror all of the antics going on until I was to a point where I was scared and mentioned it (about the point where I took the quick exit).
The last 1/2 hour of the journey was pretty uneventful and, at last, we arrived back at the hotel and were happy to drift off to sleep.
Coming Next - Horseback Rides, Crazy Horse, Mammoths and Caves..........