Sunday, August 3, 2008

Devils Tower to Rocky Faces

Devils Tower Early in the Morning

After last night's drive it would have been nice to sleep in a bit but since we slept in the car that didn't happen. Sleeping in the car is not very comfortable. The boys sleep reclined in their seats and I sort of lie down across the front seats where there is always something sticking into my back. There is one advantage, we are up and on the road early and since it was only 33 miles to Devils Tower National Monument we were there by 6:30 am.

Devils Tower rises 1267 feet above the Belle Fourche River. Many years ago it was hidden beneath the land and slowly appeared as the surrounding sandstone eroded. Over 20 tribes have a cultural affiliation with Devils Tower with many having stories about how it was created. Most talk about a giant bear scoring the Tower's sides with its claws. It is a sacred site for many American Indians and as we walked the base trail we could see offerings tied to many of the trees. In 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Devils Tower a National Monument, the first in the country.

We had a quick breakfast and then hiked the trail around the base of Devils Tower. It was very quiet on the trail and the boys enjoyed clambering on the boulders strewn about the base. We watched climbers making their way to the top. The visitor center was open when we finished so the boys were able to get their Junior Ranger Badges.

Devils Tower National Monument

Devils Tower on the Horizon

As we headed east on I-90 we stopped to check out the Vore Buffalo Jump near Beulah, WY. Active from 1500 to 1800 A.D. it is a natural sinkhole that Native Americans used to trap bison by driving them over the edge of the hole. This allowed the Native Americans to process large quantities of meat and hides to survive the prairie winters. It was discovered during the construction of Highway I-90. There is a building with displays about the site and then you walk down into the sinkhole where there is an excavated section with some of the many bones that were piled up by the Native Americans working there.

The Bottom of the Buffalo Jump

Buffalo Remains at the Vore Buffalo Jump

After entering South Dakota we drove through Sturgis, SD home to one of the largest gatherings of motorcycle enthusiasts in the world. Each year around 400,000 bikers come to this small town to hang out for a week. Though the official start of the week was Monday there were thousands of bikers everywhere. Some were riding the coolest bikes I have ever seen.

It is not far from Sturgis to the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Like everywhere else it was packed with bikers. Mount Rushmore has changed quite a bit a since I was there 30 years ago. In 1998 the park service finished a complete redevelopment of the visitor facilities. The only thing left unchanged are the heads on the mountain.

The sculpture of the presidents is impressive. The boys were excited to visit. We joined a Ranger Walk along the Presidential Trail which follows the base of the mountain and we heard about the natural and cultural history of Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills. One thing we learned is that portraits of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln represent the birth, growth, development and preservation of our nation.

After the walk we went to Gutzon Borglum's studio where his original model of Mount Rushmore is displayed. It started to rain so we stayed and listened to a ranger talk about the tools and techniques used in the carving of the mountain sculpture. We also went to the Lincoln Borglum Museum. There are exhibits on the mountain carving, the presidents, the sculptor and the workers and a movie on carving Mount Rushmore. Before leaving the boys received their Junior Ranger badges.

From Mount Rushmore we drove the Needles Highway, part of the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway, to our campsite in Custer State Park. You can't be in a rush when driving the Needles Highway especially during Sturgis. Only 14 miles long it passes between granite towers and over pine covered mountains with many twists and turns and stunning scenery. There are also three narrow tunnels blasted out of the granite with the narrowest only 10' 4" wide. Along the way we stopped was at Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park where scenes for National Treasure were filmed.

Custer State Park encompasses 71,000 acres and an abundance of wildlife. Just before got to camp we passed a group of male Bighorn Sheep. Once camp was setup and we had some dinner we went the campground evening program on the animals of Custer State Park.

Bikers Line the Street in Keystone, SD

Joe and Ned Having Fun at Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

George Washington First President First Carved

George, Tom and Teddy

Lincoln Preserver of Our Nation

Moorcroft, WY to Custer State Park, SD, 209 miles 5 hrs 25 min

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