Day Sixty Two: I Can See Clearly Now, The Rain Has Gone: South Dakota (Custer State Park, Mount Rushmore)

Events of Saturday May 16th, blogged Sunday August 30th.

We awoke to a golden sunshiney morning and a campground full of hustle and bustle. Children frolicked, dogs scampered about, and a general feeling of fun and frivolity was in the air. As if all this wasn’t enough to lift my spirits, I had been told the night before that as part of their weekend celebration, the park was offering a FREE (yes, FREE) pancake and sausage breakfast! Winning!

The breakfast was held at the Game Lodge, which once served as the Summer White House under President Calvin Coolidge. They came to escape the bugs and crowds of downtown DC, along with the humid air that aggravated the President’s bronchitis, and Mrs. Coolidge would sit knit on the porch while her husband was out fishing for trout (the creek had been well stocked from a local hatchery prior to his arrival to ensure a plentiful catch).

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Even Silent Cal surely never enjoyed a feast as delectable as this (warning: some hyperbole may apply).

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The wait staff were primarily senior volunteers, and it was cool to talk with them and hear their experiences about living out of their RVs and moving from park to park to work seasonal jobs in exchange for a free place to set up camp.

After breakfast (Annie wasn’t allowed in, but rest assured I did sneak her out a sausage or two) . . .

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. . . we took a drive along the scenic Wildlife Loop, so named because most of the free ranging animals that call the park their home can be spotted from this road.

It was a perfect morning, and we saw all kinds of cool critters – including pronghorn antelope and my very first buffalo!

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Some members of the local animal population were hipper than others as to how this whole scene went down. The mules had sussed out that if they actually approached the cars they were fairly likely to get a handout and an ear scratch (or two). So they went car to car like furry panhandlers.

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The miscreants were so incorrigible and relentless they basically created a traffic jam in the middle of the park.

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Surprisingly, they never approached Marigold. Perhaps they feared the wrath of the Queen Mother of all Moochers lurking within . . .

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After the drive we decided to go for an afternoon hike along a three-mile trail through the prairie. I felt just like Laura Ingalls Wilder.

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There were a few uphill climbs that taxed my woefully out of shape lungs, but I loved watching the insects hop out of the tall grasses, and there was an intoxicating air of solitude and tranquility that permeated the whole place.

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The views and scenery were incredible.

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Annie was feeling so wild and free she even went paddling with no provocation!

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As we returned to the parking lot post hike we encountered two older couples who were visiting from Chevy Chase MD. They were impressed to hear of our adventures, and one said that her (younger than me) son was on a cross-country road trip as well, but was only “roughing it” in cheap hotels. Amateur! Shortly after they left, another family came up with a son who was around 18. Somehow the conversation turned to ticks. He made a creepy chuckle and said he had a story about ticks he could tell me. His family adamantly objected to him telling it. I made a hasty exit.

Fresh on the heels of those successes we decided to make another foray to Mt. Rushmore. The good news . . .

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The bad news . . . no dogs allowed. At all. Anywhere. On basically a concrete plaza with nothing to harm. Jerkfaces.

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But the whole thing was really breathtaking and inspiring in a way I hadn’t anticipated. For five bucks I rented the audio tour that had tons of cool backstory about the folks who built it, the resistance from Native Americans, the funding troubles and delays, and even some tabloid gossip. Did you know the sculptor’s mother was a sister wife? True story! Or that when the Jefferson head was dedicated in 1936, the ceremony was broadcast over the radio, and a Native American dance tribute had been planned to help smooth over some of the feathers that blasting apart this sacred mountain had ruffled. It was cut by the network for time.

I got to walk around the base and climb a small portion of the 506 steps the blasters and carvers walked up every morning on their way to work. Gave me some great new perspectives.

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It was an excellent time and it was so much more than just the kitschy photo-op I expected. But my mission was far from complete. I NEEDED a picture of Annie with the ginormous heads.

On the drive in, I had noticed a few roadside vantage points where I thought I might be able to hop out and get off a couple of quick snaps.

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Motoring along, I spotted a possible pull out spot. It was duly festooned with all the usual folderol about “NO STOPPING OR PARKING AT ANY TIME” Blahdeblah. I pulled in, pushed the brake, peeped over my shoulder, saw the view was pretty crap, and moved on.

A short distance down the road I spotted another pullout. “NO STOPPING OR PARKING AT ANY TIME EVER IN THE WHOLE HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE UPON PUNISHMENT BY HANGING”  or some such. I pulled in, depressed the brake, saw cop lights in my rearview, and pulled out. He followed me. With his lights going WOOP WOOP WOOP.

I stopped at the NEXT little pull out, and he parked and began to slowly approach Marigold-pressing his nose up against the back window and giving a close appraisal of all he surveyed. Once he finally made his way to the front and I handed him my documentation he demanded: “Who’s in the back?!” I told him no one was, that it was just Annie and I (and she was up front). Then he announced that the paperwork I had provided him wasn’t enough and he needed to see my rental agreement. Which, of course, was buried somewhere way in the back of the van and necessitated crawling over my unmade bed and digging through mounds of laundry and other treasures in an awkward crouch position while he tapped his pen. At long last the proper documentation was located. And then he asked me to get out and come with him to his car?! What the hell! In all my years of traffic stops (and they’ve been plentiful) I’ve NEVER had a cop make me get out of the car before. And I told him that. To which he responded: “There’s a first time for everything!”

So I go back to his car, and Annie hangs out the driver’s side of Marigold, BARKBARKing to raise the dead, totally displeased by the appearance of the po po. I spend the next THIRTY minutes in the cop car while he grills me about my whole adventure, questions why I keep saying “We” when I assured him there was no one else traveling with me, and then really amps up into overdrive when he notices that, while the VIN number on the van matches with the license plate on the van, it doesn’t match the one on my paperwork. I try to explain the utter ineptitude of the rental dude, but he has HQ do a thorough run down on all of it. Including running my driver’s license number, which initially returned with some “confusing information.”

Cop: “Do you go by any aliases?”

Me: “Errr… I was married briefly about ten years ago.”

Cop: “Could he have a restraining order against you?”


Finally all was resolved, and we were allowed to continue on with only a warning. Did he think I was smuggling immigrants or kidnapping small children and decided to take a quick detour to see the giant heads?? We will never know.

With that excitement behind us, we headed back to Custer State Park and grabbed some food and souvenirs at the general store. These guys are regulars there:

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Happy travelings to all . . .

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And to all a good night.

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