August 6- Our first stop this morning was our last gasp in the Black Hills- Mt. Rushmore. I have to say, after all the hype, it was kind of smaller than I was expecting. Yeah, the sculptures are really cool, but believe me when I say that I felt a lot more love of our country in Yosemite, Yellowstone, or any one of the amazing places we've been to this trip. Honestly, our fundamental impression of Rushmore was annoyance. First of all, after seeing so many of the aforementioned amazing places with a flash of the Annual Pass and a smile, we pulled into Rushmore to find a gigantic concessionaire parking structure, charging $10 to all comers. Really, dude? We sauntered into twenty-some of the most beautiful places on Earth and now you want money? Granted we paid for tours at the various caves, but I guess that bothered me a lot less since the money went to the Park Service rather than some random concessionaire.
Ten bucks is hardly the end of the world, but the worse part how painfully Rushmore was arrayed for the benefit of that special species we like to refer to as the "touron" (What do you get when you cross a tourist with a moron. . . ) For instance, the trail leading from the viewing area to the base of the mountain was posted with big signs reading "hazardous walking surface." It was a CEMENT SIDEWALK. Later on we saw more warnings that the .4 mile trail ahead was STRENUOUS. It, uh, had some steps. For the family which, for the benefit of our six-year-old, tried to keep our hikes under eight miles, that was the signal we needed to get out of there.
Heading out of the Black Hills, we passed innumerable tourist traps - The Cosmos Mystery Area! Bear Country USA! (Alas, no world's largest ball of string.) We could have spent a week hitting them all. Or not. By Rapid City, we were out of the Hills and out on the Plains. Badlands was our other destination today. It is also somewhat different than I expected. I had imagined the Badlands as going on for miles in every direction. While they do go on for miles (roughly 40) in two directions (east-west), they aren't more than half a mile to a mile wide at any point. They are the result of gigantic piles of volcanic ash deposited about 37 million years ago (whether from the Cascades, the Yellowstone Caldera, or something else entirely wasn't clear). These eventually formed a very soft sedimentary rock, which much more recently (last 500,000 years) began to erode as it was exposed to glaciers, wind and water. So, it's more of a really wild-looking escarpment in the middle of the prairie than a whole landscape of its own. One neat thing is that from the direction we entered (the northwest), you really can't see it until you are almost on top of it. From the south it looks more like a wall. We did the scenic drive and a short hike that took us right into some of the formations out to an overlook of the prairie to the south.
I probably won't blog for a few days - we have a lot of driving ahead of us before our next stop, seeing a friend of Rob's in Madison, WI.