The only bad part of this trip, if there was a "bad part," was the drive to get into position for the sightseeing. I had to drive 1,500 miles to Sioux Falls, South Dakota before I could start taking pictures. I also had to drive home from Denver, Colorado over the flat plains of Kansas and on down to Georgia over familiar and boring territory--well, boring to me, because I had traveled it so many times in the past and had seen virtually everything along the way.
All of the preliminary planning really paid off, because I know that I visited places that millions of folks drive right on by without ever knowing they are so close to a breathtaking sight. My best example of that took place over in central Washington. I'll cover that later in the trip on Day 4
But enough of the explanations, it is time to go on a brief and scenic ride with me through the northwestern corner of this great country. I will not bore you with the first and last three days of travel, but will start off as though the trip begins in South Dakota and ends in Colorado.
First stop was the Corn Palace in Mitchell. This is the only building in the world that is decorated once a year with artwork composed almost totally with ears of corn. The ears are different colors, but mostly yellow, brown and black. Native grasses are used where appropriate, but corn is the main medium. Yes, I admit it is pretty corny as a beginning, but you have to agree with me that it is unique.
Even the inside of the building is decorated with corn art, but it wasn't open at the time I visited. I had been there in 1991 and had been inside, so I was disappointed that there was no chance to get in this time.
On across the state, I skipped the Badlands and Wall Drug (been there, done that) and went directly to the Black Hills. I had been to Mount Rushmore several times previously, but a major renovation took place in the last ten years. What used to be a terraced parking area is now two multi-level garages, named the Washington Garage and the Lincoln Garage no less.
The grounds now have a full granite plaza, a walk of state flags, and a huge amphitheater. There is also a walking trail that goes right up to the base of the mountain for a heads-up view of the presidents.
Much of the Black Hills is part of Custer State Park, a 71,000 acre park that includes a huge herd of bison. If you're lucky, you might see them crossing the main road through the park, but they are usually scattered throughout. We did see a stampede back on a prior visit, and it was impressive. This trip, however, I didn't see the main herd at all.
Iron Mountain Road bisects Custer State Park, as does Needles road. Both have tunnels and switchbacks that add to the driving pleasure. A feature of the tunnels along Iron Mountain road is that when you go through the tunnel northbound you are looking at Mount Rushmore several miles distant. At Sunset the faces are highlighted and look almost angelic from inside the tunnel.
On my loop trip around to Iron Mountain Road, I also saw the progress on Chief Crazy Horse Monument, but I must say that it hasn’t come along very fast. It looked somewhat similar to what I remembered from our trip to the Black Hills in 1991. Eighteen years, and there is very little to show for it. I’m beginning to doubt that it will ever be finished.
Another interesting sight that did impress me was the great job that has been done to clean up the undergrowth and fallen trees in the entire Black Hills Forest. All along the roads I saw huge stacks of wood. Someone has taken a lot of time and effort to clear the area so that forest fires will not be as severe as they have been in other areas of the country. It sets a good example for others.
I had dinner at the restaurant at Mount Rushmore, and then hiked out to the base of the mountain and back to the amphitheater. The grounds have been significantly improved from the last time I had visited the monument.
During the summer months there is a movie shown in the Rushmore Amphitheater every night just after sunset. It is a very patriotic movie about the presidents featured on the mountain and about the artist/sculptor, Gutzon Borglum. The show culminates with the lighting of the monument and a patriotic song—I think it was "God Bless America." It is a soul-stirring event for everyone in attendance, not a dry eye in the house.