While staying at Mount Rushmore we drove to Rapid City, population 70,000, the second largest city in South Dakota. The town was founded in 1876 by a group of prospectors who had come to the Black Hills in search of gold and named the town after a spring fed creek which passes through it. We took a 90 minute trolley ride tour which included a visit to Dinosaur Park on a hill overlooking the city. The park has seven life size concrete dinosaur replicas as well as a spectacular view of Rapid City.
Rapid City is known as the “City of Presidents” because of its proximity to Mount Rushmore but also because of a public art project that resulted in 43 life size bronze presidential statues of all past presidents which are located on street corners downtown. Using a map to guide us we enjoyed finding the statues. The figures are displayed in different poses and tries to emphasize a unique part of their personality such as Ronald Reagan wearing a cowboy hat. Rapid City was another small western town we have enjoyed on our travels this year.
Another day we wanted to drive back to Custer State Park to continue exploring the rest of the park. At 71,000 acres, it is one of the nation’s largest state parks. We drove towards the park on the Needles Highway through pine and spruce forests with meadows surrounded by rugged granite mountains. The road gets its name from the many needle like granite formations along the highway. The roadway was planned by former South Dakota governor Peter Norbeck who marked the entire course on foot and horseback. With the aid of 150,000 pounds of dynamite, construction was completed in 1922. We passed through three very narrow tunnels.
The State Game Lodge in Custer State Park was the summer White House for President Calvin Coolidge and was visited by Dwight Eisenhower. A really neat time to visit the park would be the last Friday in September when they do the bison roundup. Some of these bison are auctioned off in November with the money going towards operating costs of the park.
Next we drove to Wind Cave National Park. We had driven through a small section of the park on our way to Mount Rushmore and we wanted to continue to explore more of the park and stop by the Visitors Center.
Wind Cave National Park was established in 1903 and is the eighth national park created. It was the first national park set aside to protect a cave. Wind Cave is one of the world’s longest and most complex caves. Currently there are over 143 miles of twisting passageways under only 1.2 square miles of surface area. Close your eyes and visualize what a maze of tunnels that creates deep below the surface of the land! Portions of Wind Cave are believed to be over 300 million years old, making it one of the oldest caves in the world. Barometric wind studies estimate that only five percent of the total cave has been discovered.
Wind Cave is considered sacred and culturally significant to Native Americans who roamed the area for centuries. You could say it was rediscovered in 1881 by Tom and Jesse Bingham when they heard whistling noises coming from the small entrance to the cave.
We enjoyed touring the Visitors Center where they had a movie and many interesting exhibits about the cave.
As we drove around the park we continued to see buffalo and a lot of prairie dogs. We stopped to watch them and take pictures as they played a game with us of now you see us, now you don’t. The prairie dogs live in large social groups called towns. The round mound of dirt that surrounds the prairie dog hole keeps rain water from running into the burrow and serves as an observation post to watch for danger.
Tomorrow we leave Mount Rushmore for the Badlands of South Dakota.