Mt. Rushmore/Custer, SD: 4 Days, 4 Presidents, 400 Bison (Days 20-23 of 42)

The Lucky Charm took a spin through the Rapid City, SD Airport and grabbed daughter Kelsey for the Mt. Rushmore and Custer portion of our trip.  Custer is home to around 1,500 bison (American buffalo) and I was excited to see them up close and personal … but didn’t expect them to be this ferocious!

The town of Custer is extremely proud of their bison heritage and there are beautiful painted bison scattered throughout town, part of the Custer Stampede Buffalo Public Art Project, which showcases the works of artists from around the country.

Although everybody loves a painted-bison scavenger hunt, what we wanted was a REAL-bison scavenger hunt!  We had seen bison last summer in Yellowstone, but in Custer State Park, they are in a much smaller overall area (a mere 71,000 acres to Yellowstone’s 2.2 million acres), with many many MANY less visitors.  So indeed, we were able to get quite up-close and personal!

They may look cuddly (ok not that cuddly) but bison are mean, and every year a few people are gored to death in our national parks (this spring, a teenage girl in Yellowstone) just for fun.  They are tall, run really fast, jump really high and can weigh 2,000 pounds.  The head alone can weigh 250 pounds!

There were once millions of bison in the U.S., but by 1900 there were fewer than 1,000 on the entire continent as the white man tried to eradicate this main source of food and supplies to the Indians.  Now, of course, they are protected and their numbers are coming back.

We were not staying in this RV Park inside Custer, but spoke to another RV’er who was, and they said the bison just stroll through the campground all hours of the day!  Right outside your camper — yikes!

Lots of other wildlife abounds in Custer State Park as well, including pronghorn antelope, mule and white-tailed deer, bighorn sheep, mountain lions and even burros.

Sylvan Lake within the park is a popular and beautiful spot for relaxing …

hiking and picnicking …

swimming and water sports …

rock climbing …

or even as a beautiful backdrop for a wedding!

There are a number of beautiful drives throughout Custer State Park.  The 14-mile Needles Highway is named for the needle-like granite formations which seem to piece the horizon along the highway.

The Cathedral Spires below were the original “site choice” by Gutzon Borglum, the creator of Mt. Rushmore, into which he planned to carve characters like Wild Bill Cody, Buffalo Bill, and General Custer, but the rock was determined to have insufficient granite under the surface to support the project.

Custer’s winding Iron Mountain Road, with a number of fun tunnels and pigtail bridges, showcases beautiful from-a-distance views of Mt. Rushmore.




AND THEN REALLY-REALLY CLOSE!!!  BINGO!  Mt. Rushmore National Park!

The scale is hard to imagine, but the Visitor Center has some amazing photos to demonstrate.  Here they are working on one eyeball.  Below, the workers next to a nose.

This amazing project, literally conceived as a true tourist trap to bring visitors to the Black Hills of South Dakota, was built between 1927 and 1941 with the help of over 400 workers and several influential politicians.  Over 90% of the work was done with dynamite.




These four presidents were selected because they embodied the ideals of “freedom” and “expansion.” Washington for the Revolutionary War and freedom from tyranny; Lincoln for the Civil War and freedom of all people; Jefferson for putting together the Louisiana Purchase which opened up the Western part of the U.S.; and Roosevelt for the founding of the National Park Service to protect the lands.

Because “corny is as corny does,” we visited the National Presidential Wax Museum and were very impressed with many of them …

Gorbachev and Reagan
JFK and John-John 

Not so much, on others ….!!!!

Teddy Roosevelt … or Bill Murray?
Jackie Kennedy … or Jennifer Garner?
Calvin Coolidge …. or Mike Ditka?

The museum had more than just Presidents; other events important to our national’s history were also depicted.

The remainder of our weekend was spent enjoying the beauty of the Black Hills forests and relaxing in our campsite ….

We had a bear-y good time together in Custer and the Black Hills!

Custer also represents the halfway point of the 2015 Summer Adventure.  Next, we head south again to Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park, on the northern border of Colorado!

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