Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Mt. Rushmore Trip - Part 3 - Custer State Park, South Dakota

Our Campsite at Blue Bell Campground, Custer State Park, South Dakota.
French Creek near our campsite.
Our plan in South Dakota was to stay in Custer State Park in the Blue Bell Campground and explore from this base. We stayed in sites 31E and 34E which are connected to each other and provided a large and fairly private area.  There are electric hookups.  There was a water spigot in the center of the campground.

Below a 360 degree Google Photosphere of our campsite. Click into it and hold to move around.

Custer State Park has national park level beauty. South Dakota must have snatched up this area before the Feds could get a hold of it.

Blue Bell has gas, a store, a laundry, and a lodge with a really nice restaurant.  There are also small cabins for rent.  Pretty French Creek meanders around the area. There are nice shower stalls in the bathroom with plenty of hot water (no quarters needed).

The camp hosts were super friendly and came up to talk to us about the area as we arrived. The hosts also came by twice to warn when bad weather was approaching, which got us into our vehicles before heavy rain and winds hit.

The nice restaurant at the Blue Bell Lodge.
The cool bar stools in the bar at the Blue Bell Lodge.
We had a couple of great breakfasts and a couple of very tasty dinners at the Blue Bell Lodge restaurant. The service was really good and the prices were reasonable too. We highly recommend it.

The park hires a lot of RV campers to work in the park.  The campground had a row of parking spots for the work campers with full hookups. We talked to a couple of them and they really enjoyed their time in the park.

French Creek.
A Pronghorn.
Mom and Greg feeding the wild burros.
A young burro.
A bison mom and baby.
Up close with the Bison.
Bison Mom and Baby.
After a day of pleasant rest at Blue Bell Campground, we loaded my (Greg's) parents up into our van and headed out for the drive to Mt. Rushmore.  We took the wildlife loop around to Iron Mountain Road and then up to Mt. Rushmore. After Rushmore we completed the circle with a stop at the Crazy Horse Memorial and then back to Blue Bell.

The wildlife loop is well named. We saw a LOT of wildlife. We saw a few Pronghorns first.  Next, we came upon a group of wild burros. We came prepared with a couple bags of carrots. You are allowed to feed the burros carrots and they just love them. They aggressively try to eat the whole bag, if you let them. My mom really loved feeding them and seeing their young.

Back on the road, we could see groups of bison in the distance up on the hills. We stopped at a pull-out in order to see the bison through binoculars. As we watched, a women from another vehicle walked up to our van and told us that there was a large group of mom and baby bison just up a dirt road behind us.  It was so nice of the lady to give us this tip and we headed up the dirt road for a couple miles.

We were amazed to find hundreds of bison and babies on both sides of the road.  We drove slowly through the field with the van door open so we could view the bison up close.  It was pretty amazing and my mom really loved it.

I noted to my Mom that these guys were quite tasty at the Blue Bell Restaurant the night before! She was not amused.

Iron Mountain Road Tunnel.
Cool "pig tail" bridge and tunnel on Iron Mt. road.
We finally made it to Mt. Rushmore.
Next, it was on to Iron Mountain Road. This road was specifically designed for very slow travel in order to soak it all in.  It was made intentionally curvy. There are a couple of tunnels that are fairly narrow and short, so check if your rig is going to fit before you attempt it. There are a couple of "pig tails" that curve completely around over a bridge in order to traverse the beautiful terrain. The pig tails were pretty cool as I called out "PIG TAIL, PIG TAIL" as we traversed each one.

There was construction on the road and we waited a while behind a flagman, but the area is so beautiful that we hardly even noticed the wait. The road is definitely worth the trouble to take. It was design to be a great scenic ride, and it definitely was.

As you come out of the tunnels you can see Mt. Rushmore off in the distance, a nice touch by the road designer!!!!

We made it to Mt. Rushmore a little while later.  My mother had told us that Mt. Rushmore was the last thing on her bucket list.  After she said that, we didn't have much choice but to get her there.

When we arrived on a weekday, we found Mt. Rushmore fairly crowded with RVs and cars.  The place is pretty well designed to handle many vehicles. There is a very large parking structure and special areas for RVs. It's all designed so you don't have to walk too far to get to the main visitor area.

Below: A 360 degree Google Photosphere. Click into it and hold to move around.

My whole life I had seen photos of Mt. Rushmore and it was nice to actually be there in person.  In one way I thought that it was a shame to have defaced these beautiful mountains with faces, while on another level I had to marvel at the fine detail that went into these sculptures.  It is impressive in person.

North by Northwest movie trailer screenshot (public domain).
In the movie North By North West, Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint crawl all over the faces of the mountain trying to escape James Mason and his henchmen. It was clear that it would be impossible to crawl around the faces in real life. It's too steep. Hollywood, go figure!

A nice cafeteria at Mt. Rushmore.
My Parents enjoy some ice cream at Mt. Rushmore.
Karen and I took the trail that takes you closer to the base of the faces while my parents took in the museum and a visitor center movie. We meet up in the large cafeteria for some ice cream and snacks.

Karen at the Crazy Horse Memorial.
Crazy Horse sculpture plan.

We continued on our big circle drive of the area and arrived at Crazy Horse Memorial.
A sculptor started work on the memorial in 1948 when a group of Native Americans talked to him about having a memorial to one of their great heroes in the defeat of Custer.  It's been a family project ever since.  There is now a foundation that manages the sculptures progress and related tourism businesses, but a lot of the family is still very involved in managing the organization.

The sculpture is a huge project that will continue into the very distant future. It will be fun to return in future years to see how much progress they are making.

The visitor center is a sprawling set of connected building that contain a lot of memorabilia donated to the foundation. We found it all very interesting and well worth the stop. At night there is a popular laser light show against the mountain, but we didn't get to see it this trip. Next time.

Twice a year the foundation holds a hike to the top of the memorial. I'd love to do that someday.  It happened to be going on the weekend we visited, but we didn't know about it until too late.

Enjoying Evans Plunge warm pool at Hot Springs, South Dakota.
Hot Jacuzzi's at Evans Plunge.
Evans Plunge warm pool with rings.
Weather Underground was reporting that the next day would be stormy, so we decided to drive south for an hour to Hot Springs, South Dakota to enjoy indoor Evans Plunge.

Evans Plunge has a huge indoor warm pool with slides and rings to play on. It's kinda of an old fashioned place. The water is heated by natural springs and doesn't need chlorination as the water is replace in the entire pool naturally 16 times a day.

The plunge is a historic place and you can read about its history online.

Below: A 360 degree Google Photosphere of Evans Plunge warm pool.  Click into it and hold to move around.

My parents loved the huge warm pool.  My father especially loved it as he swam all around. He's a little unsteady on dry land these days, but in the water he is like a freaken fish!

I tried to swing out on the rings but fell into the water on the first one. I'd love to go back and practice a little more and see how far I can get. A lot of the local young bucks could make it all the way across on the rings. It was fun to watch everyone trying.

Karen and I rode down the indoor waterslide (there is also an outdoor pool and slide but it is much steeper then the indoor one). The indoor slide was fast and fun.

Evans Plunge is a kind of a throwback to a bygone era.  Some might consider the place a little dangerous with the rings and the high pool walls, but I thought it was really cool.  I've read about parents complaining about their kids getting hurt at the plunge, in some reviews, but heck, watching TV too much is more dangerous for kids. Kids need to experience things like this and discover their limits. I would totally bring kids here, unless they are the kinds of kids that get way out of control and can't deal with common sense situations.

We had a great afternoon at the plunge.  We enjoyed the pool and we liked the hot Jacuzzi.

Our time at Custer State Park was fantastic.  We saw Elk, Bison, Wild Turkey, Burros, Pronghorn, Prairie Dogs, cool birds and Tics. (I got bit by a Tic after an off trail hike, but so far I am OK). We had great meals, nice hikes and relaxing times.  I highly recommend a visit.

We didn't have time to see the Wind Cave (in its own National Park), which is just south of Custer State Park.  We would like to return and check it out as it sounds really interesting.  We also didn't have time for the Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, which we would like to see on our next visit.

Well, it was time to turn around and start heading home.  The weather was getting kinda wild and so I planned a return trip that would try to avoid the worst of the coming bad weather. (Climate change ... what are you going to do?)

Next up: We cross through Nebraska and then into Wyoming and find a totally cool campground near Laramie before hitting the Rockies of Colorado.

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