Today we set off to tour the Wildlife Loop Road within Custer State Park. This is a beautiful 31 mile trip that transports the visitor through mountain vistas, open plains and heavily forested areas. Individual Bison were observed at a few locations and several Pronghorn Sheep were observed at a distance and one extremely close-up view right next to our van while traveling on the road to the Bison corral.
We had a nice picnic lunch at the top of Mount Coolidge, at an elevation 6,023 feet. This mountaintop overlooks a forested valley below, with open grassland areas dotting the landscape. One gets a sense of complete tranquility, sitting atop a large boulder on a mountaintop, marveling at the wonders of nature for as far as the eye can see.
We decided we would visit Mount Rushmore this evening, September 11, as a fitting tribute to all of those unfortunate people who were lost on this day 11 years ago. We arrived there at 5:00 p.m. to insure we would get good seats in the open-air auditorium. The lights in the auditorum were dimmed at 8:00 p.m. and the program began with a very nice presentation, by a young female Park Ranger, on the history of Mount Rushmore. A film presentation followed, honoring the four presidents whose images are sculpted out of the massive granite mountain that stands before us: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. The film was narrated by the deep resonant voice of James Earl Jones. The film highlighted the contributions that each of the presidents had made to preserve and safeguard the freedoms and independence we enjoy as a nation today. The film was followed by the singing of the National Anthem at 8:30 p.m. As the music started, the floodlights came on lighting up Mount Rushmore. The National Anthem was a recording sung by Alicia Keys. It was a beautiful rendition and after she had sung a few words, the audience started to sing softly along with the music. It was an overwhelming moment to experience.
In honor of September 11, the floodlights were to remain on all night.
After the singing of the National Anthem, a very special moment occurred. The Park Ranger requested all visitors who served in the U.S. Armed Forces to come down to the stage in the auditorium. There were a large group of us who responded to her request. She requested six members from those of us on the stage to lower the U.S. flag. Six members responded and there was total silence in the auditorium while the flag was lowered from its half-staff position and subsequently folded military style. At this point, the Park Ranger requested we form into rows on the stage. We formed into five rows, perhaps 50 or more men and women per row. The Park Ranger then came up to each of us with a microphone in hand and requested we give our name and branch of service. It was a nice fitting tribute to those of us who have served our Country.
Our trip to Mount Rushmore from the campground was a thrilling hold-onto-your-seat 20-mile ride on US-16A. We decided we would take this route since it was daylight and the shortest route to Mount Rushmore. In all of our travels, we have never been on a road like this with so many steep hills and hairpin 15 mph curves. It was a very scenic route, with three mountain tunnels to pass through. The tunnels were only wide enough for one vehicle at a time, so honking your horn before you entered and while you were in the tunnel was the appropriate self-preservation action to take. It was agreed we would not take this route back to the campground since it would be quite dark at that time and extremely challenging to navigate.
Okay! So, the program has ended at Mount Rushmore, time to go home. Our plan was to take SD-244 to US-16/385, which would take us to Custer, South Dakota and then take US-16A a short distance to our campground. That plan went awry when I exited Mount Rushmore and went in the wrong direction on SD-244. Now I did not go in the wrong direction for just a short distance, but 10 miles in the wrong direction! However, our misdirected route was not without adventure. About 7 miles driving into the wrong direction, I saw flashing police car lights coming around a curve far behind us in my sideview mirror. I immediately pulled over on the shoulder of the road. Good thing I did too! The next thing we see is a motorcycle fly by us going at least 100 mph with two South Dakota Highway Patrol cars, one marked and one unmarked, in pursuit. This section of highway is a three-lane nicely paved highway, with two lanes on our side for a short distance before it reverts to a two-lane highway. However, it is a hilly and curvy highway. We can only hope that no one was injured in that pursuit.
We finally made it back to the campground around 11:00 p.m. What should have been about a 25 mile trip turned into a 57 mile trip. We took a secret ballot vote upon our return. The results were unanimous! Bob and Sharon voted to reward themselves with one large glass of wine. We had two!!
Quite an ending to an interesting day of adventure and inspirational evening at Mount Rushmore.