The Great American Road Trip - 23 - Hail, Buffalo, And Nebraska
After breakfast in Rapid City, our first stop of the day was at Mount Rushmore. The famous heads of the four Presidents is just there in the side of the Black Hills. We discussed the construction of the sculpture with a park ranger who didn't quite know what he was talking about, but we got a few tidbits of information anyway. The sculptor of Mount Rushmore, Gutzon Borglum, originally wanted to build even more of the featured Presidents than what the final product turned out to be - Washington, for example, would be completed down to his waist, and Lincoln would have his hand on his lapel on the end. (I could see the lapel and a knuckle from the right angle.) Borglum died before the work could be completed, but there was no way to complete it anyway, considering that the quality of the lower-down rock was poor. I did not realize this beforehand, but Borglum intended for there to be a "Hall of Records" behind Rushmore, containing information, busts, and historic documents related to United States history. This too was left incomplete.
It really is epic to behold, though it's only about 500 feet up from the trail that skirts the base of the rubble that piled up from the dynamite blasts that carved 90 percent of the rock. The rest was smoothed away with jackhammers wielded by workers who dangled on flimsy-looking apparatuses. Work was done over 14 years, but only six years altogether if you count up the months in which they were able to work.
And yes, in real life, Teddy Roosevelt looks like he's hunching over Jefferson's shoulder, staring intently at Lincoln, just as he does in pretty much every single picture of the sculpture.
After getting turned around outside of Mount Rushmore, we headed on into Custer State Park. We got onto a wildlife scenic route and nearly immediately ran into a massive herd of buffalo. The adults were molting, eating, scratching, and occasionally grunting, while their young were staying around their mothers, feeding off of their milk or walking behind them. They crossed the road but they didn't stay there, nor did the car get surrounded. We also saw donkeys that were feeding by sticking their heads into the open windows of cars and licking those that were inside until they got food. A couple of morons got out - this is after signs warning not to do this, mind you - and put their arms around the neck one of the donkeys for the sake of a picture! While the donkeys are no doubt domesticated by now, considering how many people have fed them over the years, they're still wild creatures, and if something makes it jump ... well, those people would just wish that they weren't so idiotic.
After this, we saw pronghorn and deer mixed together, as well as a few more prairie dog colonies, before running into (almost literally) another herd of buffalo, who were taking their time getting across the street. One was on the other side of the hill and ran down across the street, nearly colliding with a car that was coming the other direction.
But a storm was a-coming, and we foolishly thought that we were going to make it out of there before it hit. We'd checked the weather predictions earlier in the day, and we'd seen that there was a high percentage of thunderstorm activity in the area.
What they didn't tell us was that there was ferocious, very-small-marble-sized hail that, when mixed in rain and dense fog, made the roads absolutely impassable and impenetrable. Desperate to protect the front windshield, we pulled off, but we then realized that we were just sitting ducks. Making progress, however slow it was, was universally better, and we did eventually run out of it with no car damage. (As we went through the rest of the Custer, we saw piles of ice on either side of the road, an indication of how thick the hail came down.)
As we exited the park, we went through a series of hairpin turns and blind one-land tunnels and somewhat less blind one-lane bridges which we had to honk in to let others know we were there. Others did not provide us the same luxury of advance warning, so we slammed on the brakes more than one time as people exited. (It was like this entering the park as well.)
Anxious to get out of the rain, we ran into more rain and hail when we got into Hot Springs. We let it subside while under cover before getting back on the road, where we ran into it once again. However, it was mostly rain, and once solidly in Nebraska it subsided. We got to Scottsbluff before checking into this kind-of-lousy-but-not-really-all-that-bad hotel, where the shower head sounds like a chainsaw, steps from other rooms can be felt through the floor in the form of small earthquake, and whose staff apparently never leave Scottsbluff for any reason whatsoever. (You can check out any time, but you can never leave ...)
However, this did not end the day's adventure. We walked over to an adjacent restaurant to eat. They give you the most menus per person of any joint in the free world. It took me a minute just to sluice out the main one and read over it. After we ordered, we started getting punchy. My mom stacked the small vials of cream they supply for coffee alterations into a pyramid, while my dad and I kept laughing heartily at the placing of wadded-up straw containers at the very edge of the table. (Upon second thoughts, I am unsure why this struck us as so inordinately funny.) My dad invented the Pie Dance after we sampled their delicious peanut butter silk pie, and my mom got the obligatory picture of the pie (her first attempt saw my dad stick a fork in the frame at the last second), as well as us doing the Pie Dance in tandem. (We also did the "Safety Dance" - as made semi-famous by the music video of the song of the same name by the 80s group Men Without Hats - in tandem. We all literally cried from laughter after this, and our waitress thought we were crazy at best.)
Tomorrow: The actual Scotts Bluff, for which the town is named, then on through Nebraska as far as we think we can go.