Friday, March 15, 2019

Mount Rushmore and the Rainstorm

  Have you ever seen one of those travel ads designed to entice you to take time off from your job and head to that location in a shameless attempt to separate you from your money? Yeah, I'm looking at you California. These ads run in all parts of the world in an attempt to show off the beauty they can offer to visitors.
 A smiling model opens the ad telling us about how wonderful a place is. Then the cameras fly us over the area in an awe inspiring fly over before cutting to a family laughing and having a good time. Before long, you've reached for your laptop and clicked "book" and then eagerly anticipate your upcoming trip. The ad worked. But, what if you didn't have a television or the internet but you still needed to bring people to your location? What is an advertiser to do? Well, you could carve giant, famous faces into your mountains. That might work. In fact, it did work for the state of South Dakota and today it draws over 2 million visitors per year. What is this place? It's Mount Rushmore of course.
 From October of 1927 through October of 1941, dynamite boomed through the Black Hills during the construction of Mount Rushmore. Four United States' Presidents were chosen for the sculpture, each one with his own history of preserving and progressing the country that they served. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln now overlook the Black Hills standing above over 400,000 tons of blasted and chipped granite, the remnants of what had once been a natural rock formation from Mother Nature. Today it is a National Monument and to some, maybe, a national treasure.
  It just so happened that we were meeting Mother Nature at the monument on the day we visited. We hadn't left the parking lot before the thunder started booming throughout the canyons. A few sprinkles tapped our shoulders and warned us that things were about to get interesting. Voices came over loud speakers telling all of the visitors to take cover. An Air Force presentation that had been setting up in the amphitheater below the president's carvings was postponed and they vanished into the visitor center as we reached the top of the stairs above them. The rain got a little heavier and thunder boomed again above us. This was not a good place to be.
 "We need to get inside," I said to those in my group close enough to hear me. I've been in thunderstorms before, heck, I've even golfed through one (not my best moment) but I think this was the first time I was really nervous about it. I was also getting wet and it wasn't the warmest afternoon that day. We rushed down the stairs to the visitor center entrance and hurried in. We squeezed through the crowd just in time. The heavens let loose and a heavy rain fell for thirty minutes. The plus to this was that there was plenty of time to take in the exhibits, me and three hundred of my newest friends. The down side was that everyone else was in there too, as you may have guessed. It was hard to see everything because there was always someone bumping you or trying to read the same thing you were reading and I am really not the most patient person when it comes to crowds. I don't like them. So, it was a test of my nerves that I'm proud to say I passed. At least on my scale.
 Once the rains passed there was just enough time between downpours that the Air Force got to do their thing, which everyone but myself sat to watch. I was there to take in the monument and take photos. That's what I do and I was nervous that the skies wouldn't stay friendly for long. I took the wooden path that leads behind the amphitheater to the base of the monument. The rains gave Washington a much more abstract and somber look from this angle because it emphasized the veins and imperfections of the granite and it wasn't long before I realized that I was staring up Washington's nose. I snapped some photos, which from this angle, really aren't great, and spent a few minutes thinking of the hard work and the time it took to create such a great tribute to our country and the men that helped build it. Hard work is a great thing. Then I felt a rain drop, then another. It was time to put the camera away and head back to the campground.
 I met up with the rest of the group and we headed for the rental van. It would be dark soon and we wanted to beat the mass of people that would be trying to find shelter when the next wave of rain hit and hit it did.
 We climbed out of Keystone heading for Mystic Hills when we found the storm. It had skirted behind Mount Rushmore and met us head on fifteen miles from the campground. I wasn't driving the van and even now I'm not sure whether I was happy about that or not. Obviously we made it safely, but in the moment you tend to wonder if you are in the right place. I trust my dad just fine, but there is a part of me that thought that I was the reason we were here and I needed to step up to make sure we got back alright. The visibility at times was only ten feet. The wipers couldn't keep up and standing water lurked around every corner. Rain wrapped lightning flashed in every direction which was exciting for nerds like me that like weather, but I can't emphasize enough how scary that drive was. I can only think of one other time that I drove through a storm that made me nervous, but it was nothing like this one. There was no shoulder to the roads, nowhere to hide. The only thing to do is take it slow and power through.
 The rain stopped about two miles from the campground (lucky us) and with the exception of a sprinkle through the night the campground stayed dry. I think everyone was pretty happy to get out of that van that night. That storm continues to pop up in conversations when we're all together. 
 We did have a great time while visiting Mount Rushmore and despite what you might think, I wouldn't change it. I have some interesting photos and a fun story to tell. Had the weather been sunny this article would have been a lot shorter and a lot more boring. Average doesn't make a good story. Average is what everyone experiences everyday and I would rather have a little discomfort to have a fun story to tell over the average any day. 

Brandan

Friday, March 1, 2019

Let's Ride the Black Hills

 Today we continue our series on South Dakota. For this article I'm going to focus on the side by side riding portion of the trip. Like I mentioned in the previous article, South Dakota is very ATV/UTV friendly. To me, this means that they embrace this style of recreation and make great efforts to create and map trails, as well as promote riding opportunities. They are one of the few states that allow OHV's to be licensed for the street and having the ability to leave your campground and take the streets to the trailhead widens the areas that you can explore in your allotted time. That's exactly what we took advantage of while we stayed at Mystic Hill's Hideaway. 
 We picked up a Forest Service map from the front desk of the RV park and combed over it, but we didn't stop there. The park had quite a few folks that were there to ride like we were and they had already been riding for a few days. So, naturally, we talked with them and got a few tips on what trails we wanted to hit. This is how we learned of a few sits that are not on the map. In fact, they tipped us off to a gas station that sold a map that had some of the more interesting points of interest marked out. This map became our most useful map of the trip. 
 The tree lined trails are similar to what we find in Utah. Some roads are tight and windy, others are long and wide. All of them were fun.
 From the trails we were able to access a historic cemetery where small signs tell stories of some of the earliest residents from the most innocent, like children, to the worst of the worst, murderers. A funny thing, we visited two cemeteries during this trip and both of them were placed on the side of a mountain. This may not seem like a big deal today, but these cemeteries were in use in the late 1800's. They had to haul the caskets up these hills. I'm not sure that I would be first in line to volunteer to be a pallbearer in this neck of the woods. 
 The highlight landmark, though, had to be one of the many underground caves that the Black Hills hide. This cave was nothing like the nearby Jewel Cave or Wind Cave, it is small in comparison and is really in the middle of nowhere. In fact, if you aren't careful you could actually drive right into it. The roads literally run over the top of the cave. We crawled down into the cool earth about fifty feet until we ran out of room to explore. Despite the shallowness, we really enjoyed crawling around down there. It sort of stokes the fire of adventure when you find a place like this, especially if you're a fan of geology.
 Well, this was short and sweet. Next week we'll expand our South Dakota trip as we hop in a rental van and explore the sites of the Black Hills. Until then, be safe and have fun this weekend.




Brandan