Sunday, July 31, 2011

Mount Rushmore and Sylvan Lake Campground

...or Why?
Dakotas Day 3 - Sunday July 31 (Part 4)

1:20pm - We are back at our previous night's campsite to use the running water to clean ourselves off as best we can and put on dry clothes for the drive to Mount Rushmore. I am not overly enthusiastic about seeing this, but it is one of those things that you should stop and do while you are this close. Dave and Ted have seen it many years ago and say that there isn't all that much to it, but since we are practically driving right by we can't not stop. As far as that goes, I agree.

The drive to Mount Rushmore up highway 87 (if you can call it that) is only 30-some miles, but it takes longer than I would have expected. The roads through this part of the Black Hills curve up and down mountains, wrap around hairpin turns and switchbacks, have one lane bridges and tunnels, and have tourist traffic. All of which conspire to make this a pretty drive, but a long and dizzying one.

3:30pm - We pay the $10 or $12 per car fee to get in and park. The mountain rises up over the parking lot, and is an interesting and somewhat bizarre sight. Out here in the middle of nowhere, for some reason, someone decided that creating this memorial was a good idea. I understand that I am being intentionally dense to make a point, but I have exactly the reaction to this sight that I expected I would have. I just don't get it. Not even a little bit. It is big. It is impressive for what it is. The amount of work and skill required to carve it is undeniable. I just don't comprehend the "why?" The answer of course is either "because" or "why not", and that is fine. It just leaves me.... hollow.

There are a number of different areas within the memorial grounds that can be visited, including a sculptors' workshop and various history displays, but nobody (including me) seems to show any inclination to visit any of these. We wander in through the central plaza, which is fairly crowded, take some pictures at the main viewing area, and get ready to leave.

As silly as this may sound, the highlight of the stop at Mount Rushmore was a simple dish of vanilla soft serve ice cream on a very hot day.

4:15pm - A quick stop at a store in Keystone, a few miles back down the road from the memorial, provides us with a reload of ice and some other food essentials, as well as a case of beer and a few bottles of wine. Relaxing with a beverage or two at camp at the end of a long day is a nice treat...

The road around to Sylvan Lake is windy and slow just as the approach to Mount Rushmore was.

5:00pm - Arrival at Sylvan Lake campground. There is a nominal entry fee to use the facilities of Custer State Park, in which the campground sits, so we pay and then check in for our two reserved campsites (#17 and #19). We picked two tent sites near each other at the very back of the campground, figuring that they would be more secluded than some of the others. It turns out we were right. Parking is at the bottom of a hill, with good water nearby, latrine and trash facilities right next to the parking, and a shower building further down the hill. The campsites themselves are perhaps a hundred yards up the hill from the van. Dave and I have the site most of the way up the slope, and Leo and Ted take the one at the top of the hill, located right on a saddle of the hillside with beautiful views out the back of the campground.

6:00pm - Camp is set. To get to the campground we drove past the general store and little restaurant that sits on the shore of Sylvan Lake. The lake looked beautiful, and we had daylight left, so we decided to go for a swim. The parking lot was crowded with cars and motorcycles, and we were barely able to find a spot to put the van. People were using the lake for swimming, fishing, canoeing and kayaking, and hiking on the paved multi-use path around it. The swimming area had a little manmade sand beach tucked into some pine woods in an area surrounded by large boulder fields and rock oucroppings. The water was cold but incredibly refreshing, and it was nice to wash some of the sweat away.

7:20pm - Dinner back at camp, and a nice evening sitting out and enjoying the company. It was a long and very full day (as they all will be), but another very satisfying one.

Next... Harney Peak hike

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