Friday, August 11, 2006

Day 8: Mount Rushmore, Custer National Park, Crazy Horse

Yesterday morning we headed out to Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park and Crazy Horse Memorial. With our trusty, well-used map, we headed through Lead and over to 385. Weather is nice and chilly, but the sun's rising and we'll be warm soon enough. Stop for breakfast at Trout Haven. Longest wait for them to bring our food out yet. Figured that they went and caught the trout that Tony ordered for breakfast, or had to let the bread rise for my french toast. But, we're on vacation! Back on the road, heading towards Mount Rushmore. Stopped at Pactola Dam and Reservoir, a really, really blue lake. Water looks cold.

Stopped in Hill City on the way to buy a Mt. Rushmore Harley shirt for Tony. Found one with a big buffalo on it. Back on the bike and onto 244 highway a curvy little road with switchbacks and got off the bike at a stop and looked over and you could see George Washington's profile. Pretty cool to see just a part of Mt. Rushmore. We were told that you can see Mt. Rushmore just was well outside of the park as inside, so we pulled over just past the fee booth and took some pictures. Doesn't look as big as you see in the pictures, but impressive nonetheless. Took Iron Mountain Road towards Custer State Park, another windy road with lots of switchbacks and tunnels -- time to see some buffalo and wildlife.

We enter the park and start looking. Turn onto Wildlife Loop Road. They have to have wildlife if that's what the road is called, right? Wrong. All of the buffalo and antelope must be napping because we see nothing. Decide to get adventurous and head on a little gravel road. Maybe the wildlife is hiding from all of the bikes.

This was the right choice because about a mile down the road, there is a herd of buffalo, really close to the road on both sides of the streets. Lots of buffalo (around a hundred) with lots of cute little baby buffalo and lots of buffalo poop. We head down the road towards the buffalo. There were lots of signs when we entered the park saying to be careful and not approach the buffalo because they are dangerous. Looked pretty calm when we passed them, but we didn't stop the bike and rode on through. One of the momma's with her baby by her side snorted at us.

So, we rode on, looking for more wildlife. A little ways down we stopped and saw a herd of antelope (or a family -- I don't know what constitutes a herd. There were about 10 antelope). Just to the left of the antelope was another herd of buffalo, staying cool in the shade. Good napping place. Run into a couple on horses and they tell us about the herd of 300-400 head of buffalo a couple of days ago. Gave us directions that we tried to remember, but didn't really know about. We turn around to head back towards the buffalo since the road turned from gravel to dirt.

We're riding past the big herd of buffalo, feeling pretty comfortable being right next to them. But not stupid enough to get off the bike! Smart move. I'm taking pictures left and right, hoping that they come out, wishing I had a zoom lens that zoomed better. All of a sudden, one of the momma's charged us. Never had a mad buffalo that close to us. Tony sped up really fast and up the hill we went. Didn't know how fast a buffalo could run, but we were getting out of the way! Two guys on their bikes were at the top of the hill and saw it happen. We got off at the top and caught our breath. We decided that she wasn't happy that we were so close to her baby on the other side of the street. One of the two guys gets off his bike and heads our way. Big talker. Talks about all of his experience with buffalo. "They like the sound of my Yamaha." They kill people every year. Stupid woman was trying to lure a baby buffalo to her. Blah blah blah. Some more people came up in their cars and motorcycles, deciding if they wanted to go down or not. First they waited for the two guys to head down. When they saw a buffalo charge them, they decided not to venture down.

Off we went in search of more buffalo and antelope. Saw a donkey (or pony or mule -- I'm not an expert on that). Went looking and looking for the 300-400 head of buffalo, but no luck. Saw lots and lots of buffalo poop though. Guess it's time to take Needles Highway and get lunch and go to Crazy Horse Memorial. Needles Highway wasn't all that exciting until we started seeing the spirs and what they call the needles -- tall pieces of rock that are vertical. We're surrounded by them.

Stop in Custer for lunch. We're pretty burgered out so we have steak and ribs. Yum. I stop at a little jewelry stand and buy a necklace/charm for me. I don't need to have everything say Harley or Sturgis on my trip, but I always like a memento. The charm is made of Drusy (a stone found in the area). I'll have to go online and read more about it. Jewelry was made by Linda Thelin, a local resident of Custer.

Off to Crazy Horse Memorial. Didn't really know the "big deal" about it until we saw most of the movie (before the fire alarm went off). They've been blasting since 1948 and have blasted millions of tons of stone, but there is so much left to blast for its completion. The sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski (1908-1982) and his family have taken on this project. With 10 children, his family is definitely following in his footsteps. When it's done, it'll be taller than Washington Monument and 641 ft. long. The fire alarm sounded, so we didn't get to watch the rest of the movie. We'll probably never see it completed in our lifetimes.

Off towards Lead. It's getting chillier and the sun is setting. We stop at Pactola Dam and Reservoir again to see it with the sun setting. And then head back to Lead. Long day, but another great day!

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