As we got closer to home, weather was very much on my mind. I had taken a calculated risk and left Calgary without first putting on snow tires – given the bulk of our driving was going to be in the sun belt, it seemed like a reasonable chance to take. While we had done some slipping and sliding in the snow in Yellowstone, for the most part we’d been lucky and managed to miss the early winter dumps of snow. Now though it was early November, and as we climbed higher in elevation into the mid-west, snow was starting to be a concern. Last week a large storm system had dumped quite a bit of snow in Colorado and Wyoming, and one of the locations we wanted to stop at – Mount Rushmore – was actually closed on October 29th due to snow and ice packed roads. I kept my fingers crossed.
South Dakota is many things, but mainly it is flat and the drive takes you for hours across open plains, and for the most part tree-less prairie. Highway 90 cuts an almost straight line east to west between Sioux Falls and Rapid City where the plains transition to foothills as you approach the Rocky Mountain range. As a result, it was nice to see the occasional bit of art work – the one to the right of someone out walking their dinosaur put a smile on my face. The connection of course is The Badlands to the south as you near Rapid City where many significant fossil finds have been made since about 1846, with probably the most recent ‘big’ one being ‘Sue’ – an almost complete Tyrannosaurus Rex found in 1990.
Happily the snow had pretty much gone by the time we arrived in Rapid City so the short drive south into the Black Hills area to see Mount Rushmore close to the resort town of Keystone was not a problem. They are called the Black Hills by the way, as they are covered in trees, and so look dark from a distance. Its a good thing we hadn’t planned to stay in Keystone, as the town was pretty much shut down for the winter – it was little better than a ghost town with only a very few places open for business. Mount Rushmore itself was interesting – as I looked at it, all I could think of was how the heck you’d ever get environmental approval to do anything like that today. The faces themselves are easily visible, although I should have realized that any photo you normally see of them is taken with a long lens – from the highway and visitor centre they do not look very big at all, but it is still quite impressive.
We didn’t stay long – the visit was more of a ‘bucket-list’ item than anything else and after a few minutes and a few photos we were on our way again, back into Rapid City for the night.
Next on the list was Devils Tower just across the border in Wyoming, and which was featured in the 1977 movie ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’. Why was it on my list of things to see ? All I can say was that I strangely drawn to it !
Seriously – it is arrestingly beautiful and you do not need a sign to know that you are looking at something really different. The surrounding area is mainly sedimentary rock (hence all the fossils), whereas Devils Tower is igneous rock. Based on anything I’ve read, it is supposedly not a volcanic plug left standing after the cone has eroded away such as we saw in the Glasshouse Mountains north of Brisbane in Australia, although it certainly has the same appearance.
At any rate, it was worth the drive – recommended.
Next stop – Little Big Horn !