After Mount Rushmore, we made a long push out of Custer State Park and into Scottsbluff, Nebraska through the Oglala Grasslands. Nebraska is one of the most boring states I have ever seen. Flat, rolling farmlands. That’s it. No signs. No side roads. No towns. Just emptiness, dotted with an occasional farmhouse, grain silo, or fence to keep the cattle in. I was bound and determined to make the best time possible through this very boring stretch of land, but unfortunately got stuck behind a gang o 10 bikers and their mini-van ride-along caboose. They refused to go above the speed limit (55 mph) and were clearly on an afternoon joyride. There was no way to pass them since their caravan stretched for a very long distance. Of course they had no thought to pull over and let me go by. This went on for 2 tedious hours. Elana and I had a discussion about trying to overtake them at high-speed along a stretch of straightaway, but we decided against it for fear of engaging the notorious biker wrath. We thought the Oglala Grasslands were going to be interesting but it was just more of the same. There was occasionally a….
We decided to hit-up Mount Rushmore again by day on our drive back to Denver. Even though we got some great shots 2 nights prior at sunset, we didn’t get an up close view of the Presidents and it was only a 30 minutes detour or so past Rapid City to get back into Custer State Park and re-tread our path out of the Badlands back in to the mountains. To remind you, here’s what we did at Sunset on Saturday night for Mount Rushmore. We found a perfect vista lookout point off the road coming from Custer State Park, which put us about the same elevation as Mount Rushmore. We recommend this approach because it makes a spectacular first-time epiphany viewing moment. Here’s another one, where Mount Rushmore is framed perfectly by trees. We learned our lesson at Crazy Horse and decided not to pay the entrance fee to Mount Rushmore, but rather just stayed outside and grabbed some pics from viewing areas along the road. Perhaps this is part of the reason we like Mount Rushmore much more than Crazy Horse (because we weren’t suckered in to the tourist trap – which I’m sure exists all inside the Mount Rushmore….
Before visiting Mount Rushmore, we decided to check out Bear Country USA in Rapid City. Its a 250 acre animal park where you can see bears, buffalo, wolves, reindeer, elk, mountain goats, and more. We were prepared for it to be a huge tourist trap – and it didn’t disappoint. It was a whopping $16 per person and there was a long line of cars waiting to drive in. We decided to give it a whirl anyways, since both of us were eager to build up our collection of animal photography. We felt like we were on a ride and Disneyland and expected to hear a voice saying “Keep your arms and legs inside your vehicle at all times, and keep the windows rolled up and doors closed” followed potentially by a “or you will be eaten.” The first section of the 1 mile driving loop was game – elk and reindeer. I love this shot of the reindeer – he has quite a snout! The next section was wolves, which we didn’t actually until the bear section of Bear Country USA, when a wolf came right up to our car. After the wolves we got a chance to see mountain goats….
Upon waking up by accident at 6AM, I realized that the alarm didn’t go off (which I was certain I set the night before) and it was almost sunrise over the Badlands National Park. Sunrise was at 630AM, so we had a very short time to get dressed and dash to the park entrance, which luckily was only a 15 minute drive from our cabin. Elana was driving today, and did an awesome job getting us there fast, deer at dawn be damned. We entered at the entrance nearest our lodging (on the West side). Oddly enough there’s no data on Google Maps for the park (which was fine since we were entirely unplugged for the 4 days anyways), but there was a National Park brochure we picked up that had this map on it. The Badlands formed a loop with the highway being the top of the loop. For this morning, we would come in from the West, exit from the East and then take the highway back West to Wall. We bypassed the money dropbox at the park entrance since we were short on time and hit it up on the way back in. Good thing too because….
The road from Mount Rushmore to Wall, South Dakota was a slow one, at least until we got to the highway littered with advertising of Wall Drug. It was treacherous again with the deer at dusk, and we were exhausted from the fun of the day – and eager to rest. I was driving at this point, and had been all day (Sabbath). We avoided Rapid City in favor of the truck beltway around the city. It was extremely dark so we couldn’t see our approach in to the Badlands. All we saw were signs every 2 miles or so for Wall Drug. The highway was blanketed with their advertising – later we would find out why. We got to our hotel for the next two nights around 9PM – The Frontier Cabins. Luckily on the way, at about 7:55PM, Elana called the hotel to make sure that someone was going to be there to check us in. They said that it was lucky that we called, because they were closing down the front-desk at 8PM. They gave us our cabin number, left the door open, and told us to check-in in the morning. Good thing we called! Lesson learned from….