Randye and Candace: Goin' West
Candace and I arrived at the Ft. Hays Chuckwagon Supper & Show at 7:30 a.m. for an all-day tour of the Black Hills. Buildings there were used for the feature film, Dances with Wolves. The day started with a breakfast of country sausage, biscuits, pancakes, and coffee that was reputed to be a typical chuckwagon meal. Candace didn't like the food, but I enjoyed it as well as the conversation with an older couple who had travelled all the way from Arizona. They told me that they had been stuck at Mt. Rushmore until after midnight the night before, which made me happy we didn't try to get any closer to the fireworks show than we did.
After giving us time to tour the facilities and (of course) spend money in the gift shop, we boarded one of the three buses that would take us through the Black Hills. I'm not going to try to mark the map to the right to indicate our route because you can get a better view of the area we covered if I don't.
Our bus driver and tour guide, a gentleman named Matt Pates, was very professional, friendly, and knowledgable. He took us down Hwy 16 past several sites, such as the reptile and bear sanctuaries--Candace was really impressed by the little bear cubs we saw playing in the trees, and through Keystone all the while telling us stories--some taller than others--about the history of the area and the people who developed it.
The road up the mountain had lots of twists and turns, but it remained four-laned all the way to Mt. Rushmore. That wide roadway would be a
faded memory before the tour ended.
We were given an hour to explore Mt. Rushmore National Memorial. Through a walkway flanked by flags from each U.S. state, you find a terrace with an open view of Mt. Rushmore itself. A plaque displays the list of people who worked on the sculpture over the 14 years before construction ceased because of WWII.
In addition to several still photos, I made a short video clip that follows the pictures.
On our way to Custer State Park, we traversed a series to pigtail bridges and narrow, twisting roads. Three tunnels through the mountain were cut so that travellers could see Mt. Rushmore through them. Each tunnel was only one vehicle wide, with the last one barely wide and high enough to accommodate the tour bus. We pulled over several times to get out and check out everything from a closeup of cars driving through the tunnel, feeding popcorn to the tame burros that inhabit the park, and searching for quartz amongst the rocks. We did not get out for safety reasons, however, when we saw various wild animals, including a single buffalo feeding beside the road.
We had lunch at the State Game Lodge, which served as the summer White House when Mt. Rushmore supporters invited President Calvin Coolridge to visit for a sales pitch on the project in 1927. President Dwight Eisenhower also stayed in the lodge in 1953. The buffet we were offered included a delicious buffalo stew that tasted like beef, only leaner.
As the afternoon waned, the mountain roads got narrower, and the twists got tighter. Try to imagine my driving technique transferred from car to bus, and you can sense the fun of seeing our driver whip around those turns and white-knuckled drivers coming from the other direction. I captured a video of our journey through the smallest tunnel, the Needles Eye Tunnel. The driver's description says it all.
We spent the afternoon at Old Sylvan Lake at a resort built near the manmade lake. Most memorable about that stop to me, though, was seeing a bridal party wandering the wooded area in red gowns and tuxedos.
The last stop on the tour was the Crazy Horse Memorial, under construction since 1948. Our hour-long layover gave me time to ride an open-air bus that carried us as close to the blast site as would be allowed. The face has been completed, and you can see the horse's head forming. The tour guide speculated that the giant sculpture would be completed in the next twenty years. A film shown about the project stated that there are plans to build a wide range of educational facilities.
In addition to taking several photos and short video clip below, I got a rock from the site itself with a card describing the minerals it contains.
Upon our return to Ft. Hays, we were treated to a chuckwagon dinner consisting of barbeque beef or chicken, baked potato and baked beans, applesauce, biscuits, coffee or lemonade, and spiced cake. The evening's entertainment was provided by a quintet performing country and western tunes.
Candace and I left dinner early because of a rumor that there would be a Fourth of July laser light show at Mt. Rushmore that night. We drove back and found places on the terrace. Unfortunately--at least in her view--we learned that the evening show consisted of a video narrated by Avery Brooks about the presidents depicted on the mountain and the lighting of the sculpture with normal spotlights.
We got back to the hotel for part two of our misadventure with their staff. It made for a very long ending to a very long day. Fortunately, we didn't have any structured activities scheduled for Saturday. We could sleep later and check out when we were ready.