The Black Hills, June 2019, Day 4: Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park

In June of 2019, I took an long-planned, epic 11-day road trip from Texas all the way up to the Dakotas! In order to keep to blog posts from being painfully long, I’ve broken the trip up into days and will release one post per day or so. This covers my day spent seeing Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park.

I woke up early in Rockerville and headed to the town of Keystone, which is basically a services/accommodations site for tourists visiting Mount Rushmore. I grabbed a (quite good) coffee at Grapes & Grinds (which, as its name implies, sells both coffee and wine, an interesting business plan) and headed toward the famous monument.

Mount Rushmore was one of the only things on this trip that I had a clear memory of visiting before, long ago as a kid with my family. While I usually don’t go in for crowded, touristy attractions and the accompanying kitsch, I couldn’t exactly tour the Black Hills and not visit Mount Rushmore. The sculptures are genuinely impressive, and the surrounding scenery is about as pretty as you can get.

That bottom right picture is (I believe) the actual 1/10th scale model that the sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, used in carving Mount Rushmore. Don’t quote me on that. The sculpture was originally intended to depict all four presidents to waist-level, but money ran out after completing just the faces.

I walked the Presidential Trail to see the faces from every possible angle, and spent some time in the Sculptor’s Studio, but the truth is it just doesn’t take all that long to see. So I headed back to Keystone, grabbing one last photo of the monument from the road…

Note the knobbly rock, characteristic of the Black Hills

…and indulged in some fun on the alpine slide at Rushmore Tramway Adventures. I’m sure I could have found something more enlightening or educational to do (I wish I had toured a gold mine), but it was fun and provided some great views. The area really is stunningly beautiful.

Afterward, I still had some extra time to kill, so I drove the back road to Hill City and back. It was nice to see how the picturesque the area is in a non-touristy context. The scenery reminds me a lot of the Colorado Rockies west of the Front Range.

I then drove the Wildlife Loop in Custer State Park. More pretty scenery, although not quite as dramatic and hilly as what I had seen earlier. Despite the name, I didn’t see that much wildlife, just a few buffalo.

Then I entered truly dazzling scenery quite unlike anything I’d ever seen: the Needles Highway and Sylvan Lake. The spires of rock here have to be seen to be believed. Again, rather than reaching for more superlative adjectives, I’ll just let the landscape speak for itself.

I took most of these pictures on a hike from Sylvan Lake up toward Black Elk Peak, the highest peak in South Dakota at 7244 ft/2208 m and the highest point in North America east of the Rockies. I initially had thoughts of trying to reach the summit, which would have been about 6.5-miles/10.5 km round-trip, but approaching dusk and the effects of altitude persuaded to turn back about halfway.

Finally, at the end of a long day full of beauty, I pulled into the town of Custer, SD. I wolfed down two(!) delicious burgers at Black Hills Burger and Bun Co. and settled into my extremely cute/cozy cabin at The Roost Resort just east of town. This was easily one of my favorite places I stayed on the entire trip and I would highly recommend it.

Tomorrow: Wind Cave and Jewel Cave!

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