Featured Post

Baltimore by the Sea

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Mount Rushmore

We're here! In the ensie tourist town of Keystone, South Dakota. The downtown area looks like something out of an episode of Gunsmoke - OK, an episode with a wider main street, but there is a nice wooden boardwalk. But never mind beautiful downtown Keystone, there is the very thing we traveled here to gawk at: Mt Rushmore National Monument!

We were there our first night in Keystone, but it was raining and foggy and we just got a distant look see - quite impressive, even under rainy conditions. The first two photos continues to amaze me. President Washington sports tear stained cheeks. What got the old guy down? Uh... well, actually, it just rained.

Can you find George? 

Come on Georgie... can't be all that bad...
Really George, for an iPhone photo, it's not that bad!
That first evening we took a not-too-long drive to see another monument, an unofficial one, Crazy Horse.  The following iPhone photo is kind of pathetic. It was raining and we didn't even properly enter the place. All we could see was the face of Crazy Horse atop his incomplete mustang mount.

Wondering what you were supposed to see here? Check out the next photo I got off the net

The background is the current state of the monument - only Crazy Horse's face is completed.
In the foreground is the statue as it will appear in some undisclosed day of the distant future.
The following morning , we trekked back, for a closer look at the national monument. It is so completely recognizable, it's seen everywhere in advertising and popular culture. The monument itself has a great set-up. First you pay $10, which is good for parking at the monument, not just for a couple of hours, a day, or even a week - it's good for a full calendar year. Is that a bargain or what? Once parked you stroll down a long promenade.

Joann taking in the initial splendor of the Promenade

The Avenue of the Flags, features flags of all 50 states
The four fellows stood v. still for my shot here
At the end of the promenade, you find yourself facing a huge amphitheater, below you, and in the shadow of Rushmore. Every evening, a Park Ranger hosts the evening light up of Rushmore.
People lined up along the granite wall, just below which is the amphitheater

View of the Amphitheater below. If you look up, there's Rushmore!
Now, below that lofty view of Rushmore, to the side, are elevators that carry you down a level to the Mt. Rushmore exhibits.

The glass to the right overlooks the Amphitheater and a great
view of Rushmore. Above this level is the Avenue of the Flags
Mount Rushmore exhibits. Next door to this is a theater
with a showing on the construction of Rushmore's face
The exhibit explains how more than 90% of Rushmore was carved with dynamite!
And that last 10%...Well, talk about delicate work!

Alternate look for the mountain that was ultimately rejected in favor of the faces we all know and love.
My favorite carving is Teddy - I mean, there is no glass used,
but, still, you can see his spectacles - Bully!
For the afternoon, Joann went back to our hotel for some alone time, and I took off on an unfocused tour of the countryside. My conclusion... it is no wonder at all, why the Black Hills are sacred to the Lakota & Cheyenne tribes. The drive I took wound over hill, over dale ultimately ending up at the Custer State Park. 

Loads of stunning outcroppings dotted the scenery

The rock formations in the Black Hills often look fairly deliberate, if not a little naughty.

I was blown away by this incredible, one-of-a-kind log bridge, I got to drive both under and over!

Will not be forgetting this little bridge any time soon.
A little memorial highway marker, with stones, probably as old as Rushmore
Something that seems to me now to say, "Black Hills" is the numerous tunnels, bored through solid rock.

For some reason the tunnels are all squared off.

Here is yet another tunnel, and I take you for a quick ride through it.

Lovely grassy meadows in the vicinity of Custer State Park

The cutiest little South Dakota ranch

What a beautiful area is the Black Hills, and I only saw a teensy bit of it. Was terrifically impressed and hope to return and explore the area further in the future.

Last, but not least, I thought I should share this example of how Mount Rushmore has permeated the National consciousness.  HIT IT BOYS!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Close Encounter with the Devil's Tower

On the way to Devil's Tower, we spotted this genuine albino 'Push-me, Pull-you', seen on the left
When we checked out of our quaint & comfy motel in Hulette, we were rearing to go on our visit to Devil's Tower National Monument. Unlike yesterday evening's wet & dank weather, it was a under a bright and sunny sky we drove to the monument. Soon we were there, and before we could even reach it, we got to watch some good old fashioned Wyoming cattle wranglin', in the shadow of Devil's Tower.

Soon we were driving through the Devil's Tower Monument gates...

And staring up in awe at the massive pile of igneous rock that was once, and for all I know, still is, a sacred spot for the Lakota Sioux. There is no way to get a bad shot of this awesome bit of geology.

Many northern plain tribes call the structure 'Bears Lodge'
Close view of the tall granite structure

Geologic columnar form or bear scratches?.
Crow legend says the long striations were caused by a massive Grizzly bear. It had chased a pair of young & frightened Indian maidens. Devil's Tower shot up out of the flat ground, rising to hold the girls safely at its top. The angry giant bear jumped up to get at the rising girls, scratching as it slid down, in vain, to reach and kill the girls. Legend holds the maidens are still atop the mesa to this day.  I will have to take the legend's word on that, cause I sure didn't want to climb that slippery rock to find them.

There is  a little cabin, the Visitor's Center at the base of the tower.

Inside the Center - on the right you can see a portrait
of the monster bear, attempting to climb the Tower.
Now truthfully, before I even got out of the car for a visit at the Center, I was distracted by birdsong emanating from the trees in the center of the parking lot. There was a lovely spring Yellow Warbler male, singing his heart out. Myself, and another birder chased it around, our cameras in hand. Must have taken a zillion shots of the little bugger - here are a pair of them.

Yellow Warbler

A little morning birdsong
 I was so thrilled to see the Tower! In my mind, as in the minds of most director Spielberg fans, the tower will always be connected to 1977 hit movie,  Close Encounters of the Third Kind. While I know I would have sought out the tower without the movie, that it is connected to it, is the big, fat, extra-terrestrial cherry on my site visit. And the theme music to the movie? That was on my mind every second I was within eyeshot of Devil's Tower.

There was one other cool feature at the Monument; namely a field-full of Prairie Dogs.

Only thing missing from this Prairie Dog village are marauding Black-footed Ferrets and a few bison

Is that Alex over there? 
Talk about being photogenic.
Our morning visit drew to a close as we headed out of the Monument, our thoughts on our first visit ever to the little heralded state of South Dakota, and the even littler town of Keystone South Dakota. 
After a short - short considering the rest of our marathon drives, 3 hour drive we arrived in Keystone South Dakota and checked into our motel. Then, not quite done in for the day, we took off again, to drive the few miles necessary to reach that other unforgettable pile of granite - Mount Rushmore. More on that tomorrow; but for now, some parting words from our little friend at Prairie Dog Flats.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Leaving Yellowstone

It was time to leave Yellowstone, but that Grand ole' Park didn't want us to leave without little send off - to guarantee we'd take a bit more of it with us in our hearts. So as Joann drove us south towards the Tower Roosevelt Junction, we stopped to see what a backed up car critter break might all be gawking at. What a surprise! My first ever, in 5 Yellowstone visits in 22 years, Yellowstone Yogi, a Black Bear!
This Black colored Black Bear rummaged in a meadow
Digging around for roots and grass n' grubs
I was so excited! Who would have thought I'd see nearly a dozen grizzlies in Yellowstone and only one little Black Bear! OK, not so little, but still, Yellowstone built it's popular standing with the public based on lines of Black Bears begging for handouts from incoming cars full of tourists.
Time out for a little photo op - have to please the crowds

Checking out his belly - yep... still empty

Back to the hunt!
I was starstruck by that Black Bear and all the sorrowful we were on our way out. Oh well! There will be a next time.

We had one more little treat before we left the park, finding a pair of bull Elk, resting on a hillside slope. Amazingly enough, these were 2 of only four bull Elk we saw for our entire visit to Yellowstone.  Perhaps the bulls were sequestered away somewhere without people for reasons lost on me?

Both bulls had still growing, velvet covered antlers.

This fellow was a bit farther behind in his antler growth.
You can bet both of these bruisers will be sporting humongous antlers about a month from now. They'll be using them in earnest rut by early September.

Soon we out the easternmost Yellowstone gates, and smack dab in the middle of snow flurries. We wondered what we were headed for. Originally we were supposed to drive onto Montana, and the Battlefield of the Little Bighorn National Monument, but suddenly that seemed outlandishly far away so we decided to head towards Keystone South Dakota. But I'm getting a bit too far ahead - and ambitious.  We had to drive right across Wyoming first.

A beautiful and long stretch of roadway

There was plenty of snow on the distant hills

Some formations just seemed to crying out, "Hey! Don't I deserve
to be a National Monument? I'm pretty darned impressive!"
Sometimes in the middle of what seemed to be nowhere, there would be some little tourist attraction. Unfortunately we didn't have time for any of them.  I was dubious if this spot contained the real T-Rex Sue. A little googling turned up that if it did contain anything of Sue - the world's most complete T-Rex - it was only in picture form. The real 'Sue' resides in the famous Chicago Field Museum.

Fossils? Yes. Sue? Nope.
We traversed one mountain pass that was head high with piled up snow.

We were seemingly in the middle of  nowhere when, to my pure delight, we spotted a long leggedy critter, not far off in a copse of trees.

Isn't she a beautiful girl!

We were feeling a bit sore in the saddle at the end of the day, however scenic, it was quite a drive. Then, after a wrong turn or two, and some fancy road navigating, we were driving toward a small town we had decided to spend the night in Hulette.

Enroute, close to Hulette, Joann shot this fleeting glimpse of one of the locals, hot-footing it for the hills.

Feets don't fail me now!
We wanted a peek at our goal for tomorrow morning and it seemed we would never get it. Every time we turned a bend, we expected to see it looming in the distance, but it wasn't there. Maybe the whole thing had been a  publicity stunt? Naw... they don't make national monuments out of publicity stunts. The sky darkened and it was heavily overcast. Where the heck was it? Then suddenly - there it was!

The Devil's Tower!
Oooh, can't wait to get closer.