- Day Three of our Wild West Road Trip
Day three started relatively bright and early as we left around nine to head down to Mt. Rushmore. When I was initially planning this trip, I thought we could just “swing by Rushmore” on the way up from Nebraska on day two. I slightly underestimated the amount of time the driving would take.
As we drove down hwy 385, I was intrigued by the number of fallen and dead trees we saw. A little googling told us that the forests of Ponderosa pines in the Black Hills have been affected for many years by blights of the pine beetle. Although this is not a new phenomena – after all Deadwood was named Deadwood for a reason – it is an issue that has been exacerbated by climate change.
We reached Mount Rushmore and traveled through the Avenue of Flags to the viewing area. It was a beautiful clear day and we took several pictures of the mountain and surrounding area. I had visited Mt. Rushmore before as a teenager and, well, it still looked the same. All joking aside, it is humbling to think of the blood, sweat and tears that went into the sculpture and I left wanting to learn more about Gutzon and Lincoln Borglam and the many workers who made Borglam’s dream a reality.
Although we hadn’t initially planned to spend an entire day out exploring, we decided to drive to and through Custer State Park. After a brief stop at an antique store in Keystone, we headed south. We didn’t realize when we left down the highway, that we were on Iron Mountain Road. Miles of switchbacks, “pigtail tunnels,” and narrow roadways made for beautiful vistas, a touch of nausea on my part and a slightly nervous teen who isn’t fond of heights.
When we arrived at Custer State Park, we drove through the Wildlife Loop of the park and saw pronghorn deer, prairie dogs, the occasional mule deer and many buffalo (technically bison). The best part of the drive was exiting the loop where we came upon a field filled with buffalo cows and calves. They were beautiful to watch and we spent a good half hour driving from spot to spot taking pictures and observing them.
After we completed the loop, we drove up Needles Highway, so named for the needle like rock structures. As we drove up, through and around, I was struck by the many landscapes of South Dakota that could be found within a few miles. And – of course – we were on wildlife watch for the elusive big horned sheep.
As we prepared to drive through the Needles Tunnel near the summit of the mountain, Trever stepped out of the vehicle to get a quick picture of the tunnel, infamous for being only 8 feet 4 inches wide by 12 feet high. Cars are always pulled over at various places on all of these scenic routes so I didn’t think much of several stopping while we were waiting. I looked up to see Trever gesturing at us – and making horn signs with his fingers. We quickly got out and joined him in time to see a mountain goat blocking traffic so he could casually lick water from the sides of the tunnel.
We stood for several minutes with all the other tourists until he finally decided he had had enough and scampered up the side of the tunnel and sat peering at us behind a rock. Driving on, we kept a sharp eye out for other wildlife and after we were out of the park saw another goat just standing on the side of the road and several packs of deer.
Eventually we made it back to Deadwood and to our hotel. We randomly picked another restaurant that was close – Mavericks at the Gold Dust. The food was much better and the service was good, if slow – they were extraordinarily busy and appeared to be short staffed. After dinner, we realized that we had “credits” at the casino downstairs so I tried my hand again and Lady Luck was with me this time – I won back our $20.00 from the night before and even made a $6.00 profit!
It was another full day of sightseeing, souvenir shopping, and family time. Sarah made an interesting observation after our encounter with the mountain goat. For that few moments in time, everyone who was out of their cars taking photographs, and looking in amazement at this wonderful wild creature, was on the same page. There was a spirit of community as people from different walks of life all gathered with a common purpose and love of nature to watch and photograph an animal that most don’t get to see on an everyday basis. Brought together for the love of a goat!