Thursday, June 6, 2013

Go West: Mount Rushmore and Wind Cave National Park: May 26th, 2013

On one of the most American of holiday weekends - Memorial Day, the unofficial beginning of summer, Joe and I visited one of the most American of monuments:  Mount Rushmore National Monument.  I'd never been there before, Joe had.  He was positively giddy at the prospect of showing me around a place that he'd been and I hadn't.

Hello, gentlemen

You may notice a sudden uptick in photo quality on this blog.  This is because Joe has a fancy new camera.  What better place to try out the new camera than a trip to one of the most photographed sites on earth? 

Rocks and trees and sky

The Americana was so overwhelming that I found myself walking around with a big dopey grin on my face.  People from all over the world milling about, taking pictures and pointing, exclaiming over the immensity of the monument and the plaza in front of it.  Kids and parents were equally amazed and everyone seemed to be in some way enchanted by the four big faces looking proudly out over the hills.  America!  America!

Joe was so moved that he put the moves on George.

Joe and George, sitting in a tree

There wasn't much in the way of hiking - the main loop that everyone seemed to be walking on was a paved/wooden walkway.  The weather was gorgeous, the sun was out, and it just felt good to be alive.  No wonder I was wandering around, grinning like a fool.  My face actually started to hurt from all the smiling.

It only took us about 90 minutes or so to get our fill of Mount Rushmore.  We wanted to get a move on...because we were about to visit our first National Park together.  Wind Cave National Park was just down the road!

Welcome to Wind Cave!

Right upon arriving we got our tickets for a cave tour.  We were surprised that there was no fee to get into the park itself - but to be honest, there wasn't a lot to do other than take a guided cave tour.  They don't let you underground without a guide, and there were very few hiking options.  The earliest tour that we could get was an hour away, so we hiked out to the nearest hilltop to enjoy the wait.  We sought out the shade of a tree and Joe played with his new camera.  

Smile, beautiful landscape!

We took the Natural Entrance tour, which was a 1.25 hours long.  We were guided by the most energetic Park Ranger ever - and why shouldn't she be, what a great job she has - and were part of a group of perhaps 25 tourists.  We gathered, and then marched to what was the original entrance of the cave.  It was a hole in the ground about the size of a basketball.  Apparently some local kid in the late 19th century found the hole, was intrigued by the rushing wind coming out of it, and decided to squeeze in to find out what was in there.  What he found was miles upon miles of cave.  Part of me thinks he was pretty amazing, part of me thinks he was pretty insane.

One good interior picture - boxwork formations

Obviously, it is difficult to take a good picture in a dark cave.  This one shows some of the delicate formations that we saw while creeping, single-file, through the dark.  It was a very cool tour, but I was amazed at how raw it was.  This was no Disneyfied cave.  Sure, the ground had concrete to smooth it out and there were handrails...but it still felt wild and exciting.  I'm not a huge fan of caves and other underground places in general, but this was great.  We saw that, in addition to the usual Ranger-led tours, they had candlelight tours.  Uh, NO THANKS.

Ah, it's nice to be on the right side of the ground

What a perfectly wonderful day.  And the vacation was just beginning!

I'm going to make some guesses at distances hiked, same for all hikes on the Go West trip.  I'll do my best- figuring out mileage in Minnesota is so much easier for some reason.  On this trip we underground mileage for the first time!

Total miles hiked today: .5 underground at Wind Cave, 1 aboveground; 1 mile of trails and paths at Mount Rushmore...2.5 total
Total miles hiked in 2013: 18.3
Total Superior Hiking Trail miles hiked in 2013: 6.8
Total ticks today: 1
Total ticks in 2013: 4

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