Mount Rushmore and a day off.

Custer, SD —  I’m finally back in civilization, meaning that I have access to WiFi, cell phones, and laundry facilities.  I’ve added several blog posts today in an attempt to catch up.

I’m currently spending my second night in Custer before heading back north towards Wall and the Minuteman missile silo turned national park.  After that I need to point south and make significant progress towards my sister’s place in MO. I’ll probably pass through parts of Nebraska. I don’t know that there’s much to see, but someone at the barber shop told me that you can’t get a steak that’s less than 2″ thick in Nebraska. Armed with that bit of info, there’s no way I’m bypassing that state!

Yesterday I stopped at Mt. Rushmore.   The sculpture is impressive to me, not so much for what it is, but for the scale of the ambition.  It’s quite humbling to compare one’s own accomplishments to both the sculptor and the sculpted.

While I didn’t speak to the gentleman,  they actually had one of the guys who worked on the monument sitting at a table in the gift shop.   It was hard, dangerous work, for which the men earned about $8/day.  That was probably good money at the time.   It’s amazing that no one died in making the monument.  It was certainly dangerous work.

I trekked down to the sculptor’s studio where I saw the 1/12 scale model used during construction.  As you can see from this picture, the sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, could view both the model and the mountain at the same time.  Apparently, the model was regularly modified to accommodate the realities of the rock they were carving into.

Sculptor's Studio
Sculptor’s Studio

This last picture proved a bit of a challenge.  I couldn’t get the exposure right for both  the 1/12 scale model and the real-thing in the window.  I admit, in this instance, to a bit more editing than my other pictures.  Still, this isn’t a composite image, it’s a single picture.  I’ve just had to work to pull out the detail in the shadows.

Here are the stats after my idle day:

Miles Today: 0
Total Miles: 1522
Avg Miles/Day: 217

At this point in the trip my lodging costs are averaging $16 per day. The park that I’m in now for two nights is $15/night with the Passport America discount. The national forest parks that I stayed in before getting here were free, and it cost me $33 for the night in Yellowstone. With fuel, it’s been costing me about $60 per day which is certainly cheaper than hotels, never mind fuel costs.  Food is a don’t-care since I would have been buying groceries anyway.

Beartooth Pass and the Little Big Horn

Red Shale Campground, Custer National Forest —  OK,  I’ll admit it.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to drive over an 11,000 foot pass in an RV.  SteveL had recommended this road, but you have to remember, he did it on a motorcycle.   Still,  I decided the truck and I were up to the challenge of driving over a  pass that’s 200 feet higher than Mt. Baker.  Remember that next time you look at Mt Baker, my truck with camper was 200 feet higher than the top of that volcano.    All I can say is,  it was a blast!  Where else can you drive through alpine meadows and past alpine lakes like the one pictured at the top of this post?  Whoever decided to put this road in is absolutely crazy!

Here’s a shot on the way up the West side

West Side Beartooth Pass
West Side Beartooth Pass

I made it to the top!  It’s pretty cold and windy.  That, and the fact that I my truck doesn’t have a pressurized cabin meant that  I didn’t stay at “the top of the world” very long.

Beartooth Pass Summit, Elev.10,947 feet
Beartooth Pass Summit, Elev. 10,947 feet

Here are a couple of pictures taken on the east side of the pass.  These were not taken from an airplane!

East side of Beartooth Pass
East side of Beartooth Pass
East side of Beartooth Pass
East side of Beartooth Pass

I celebrated my transit with my first restaurant meal of the trip.  I had breakfast at small cafe in the town of Red Lodge, a small town on the Montana side of the pass.

After Red Lodge I made my way to the historic site of the Battle of Little Big Horn.   There’s not much to see beyond a monument and grave markers, though the visitors center does have some of Custer’s belongings and other artifacts.   I’m glad I stopped.  There’s a lot of historical significance to this special place,  and later I couldn’t help but visualize the life of the nomadic tribes as I crossed over the Northern Plains on my way to the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Here’s the view as Custer would have seen it the day he and his men died.  I like the fact that the Park Service noted that both sides fought for what they believed, for their people.  It was nicely balanced.

Custer's Last Stand
Custer’s Last Stand

Next Stop:  Mount Rushmore

Miles Today: 252
Total Miles: 1286
Avg Miles/Day: 257


Yellow Stone Park and the Grand Tetons

Fox Creek Campground — Yellowstone is a really interesting place.  It would be a great place if there weren’t so many people.  I say this having visited in late September when most of the crowds were gone.  In fact, I stayed in the park only one night — the last night that the campground I was in was open.  Pretty much everything in the park was shutting down.

The roads around Yellowstone aren’t very scenic compared to what I’d seen passing through Montana.  That’s because they’re mostly tree-lined 2-lane roads.  Nice, but nothing special.   What makes Yellowstone special is the stuff that bubbles out of the ground, and the wildlife.  That said, the misty picture at the top of this post was taken near the South entrance to the park.

As for the wildlife.  It is abundant, but not as abundant as the people.  So, if you want to spot the wildlife, just look for the crowds.  I learned that lesson not more than 10 minutes after entering the park.  Take this elk for example.  I took this picture from inside my truck.

Elk -- The illusion
Elk — The illusion

Of course, the reason that I could take this picture is that I was stuck in a traffic jam caused by said elk.  Can you spot the elk beyond the people?

Elk -- The Reality
Elk — The Reality

I can see why the less informed might wander up to these “wild” animals.  They almost seem to have been placed there by the park staff — for the wilderness experience.  It’s just like Disneyland!

My next great wildlife shot occurred a few miles down the road.  Aren’t these Bison great?

Bison -- The Illusion
Bison — The Illusion

I didn’t need a long lens for that last shot.  I did, however, have to wait a bit for the bison to move so I could park the truck.

Bison -- The Reality
Bison — The Reality

The only time I needed a long lens for wildlife was when I was shooting the Grizzly.  Again, there was a crowd of people, but the rangers wisely kept everyone a few hundred yards away.  Eventually this bear wandered back into the trees.  With a Grizzly that close I decided not to hang around in event that the rangers re-opened the Mud Volcano trail.

Grizzly near Mud Volcano

I missed seeing Old Faithful by about 3 minutes.   I’m sure the 300 odd people that were there enjoyed it.  However,  I did see lots of interesting things bubbling or spewing out of the ground.   Here are a few shots.

Silex Spring
Silex Spring
Small Geyser
Small Geyser
Mud Pot
Mud Pot

While not that impressive as a photograph, one of my favorites  is Dragon’s Mouth Spring, near the Mud Volcano. The name is so appropriate.  It’s hard to believe that this attraction wasn’t dreamed up by some Disney Imagineer.   What the photo doesn’t capture is the belching noises and the waves of water that accompany them.  Here’s a YouTube video that sort of captures the sound.

ysDragon's Mouth Spring
Dragon’s Mouth Spring

On my way towards the NE exit,  I did pass a spectacular canyon with some amazing geological features.  Here’s a shot of that area.  You really need to click the picture to see the detail.   I’m not sure of what the place is called, but that’s the Yellowstone River.

Yellowstone River Canyon
Yellowstone River Canyon

As I was in the neighborhood,  I made an early morning trip down to the Grand Tetons before heading up the east side of Yellowstone Park.  Wow!   It was gorgeous!  Don’t the Tetons look great in the morning light?

Grand Tetons

Up next,  Beartooth Pass — Crazy!

Miles Today:178
Total Miles:1034
Avg Miles/Day: 259