Day 19 – South Dakota
Date: 06/20/2016 Monday
Starting Location: Custer, SD
Ending Location: Wall SD
Starting Odometer: 10869
Ending Odometer: 10990
Mileage Today: 121 Miles
Mileage Total: 4138.5 miles
Today’s MPG: 40 mpg
Total Average MPG: 42 mpg
Leaving Custer behind
Up early, but there is no need to leave Custer too early, as the Jewel Cave National Cave is only 12 miles away, and it does not open until 8:30. My departure was at 7:45, after a quick omelette for breakfast.
If you look at today’s route, you’ll see that the hotel is is near the SW corner of the map. Mount Rushmore is NW of that, about 40 – 50 miles, and then the hotel in Wall is on the Eastern portion of the map.
A Quick Sidebar
I’ve been enjoying a good number of National Parks, National Monuments, and National Memorials as I’ve ridden the 4000 miles of my journey so far. Each time I come to one of these NPS facilities, I’m a bit excited, and curious. Even entering these facilities with high expectations about what they will demonstrate, and illustrate, it’s hard to imagine that in all cases, my expectations have been exceeded.
Simply put, the National Parks of the USA are some of the most extraordinary places on Earth, staffed with people from all walks of life, and designed to allow young and old, healthy and handicapped people access to virtually all of the park, in the best way possible.
For sure, these parks sometimes take some criticism because they are too “politically correct”, related to their actions that created numerous handicapped parking spaces, and that they spent millions to retrofit the facilities to make them accessible to all. But, I would say that the National Park Service has really done a great job of trying to make these parks available to all, and to make it interesting to adults, children, action-seekers, historians, scientists, and just plain folk.
Well done National Park Service!
The Jewel Cave National Monument
Just another example of how to make a park like this, available to all. The Jewel cave offers 3 different types of tour, that cater to those with different amounts of time available, and different physical abilities. I took the Scenic Tour, which lasts about 1 hour, 20 minutes or so.
As was the case with the ranger that presented a talk at the Monument for Little Big Horn, our guide (Aaron) was a young college student, who did a masterful job of making the tour fun, entertaining, and educational.
The tour starts with an elevator ride down into the Cave. We exit, and then walk through a door, into the cave. From that point forward, our tour guide explains the naturally appearing geological formations in the cave.
The tour is about 1/2 mile in length, and the walkway is made of tar, and aluminum steps and planks that allow everyone to have a handrail to hold onto. The temperature in the cave is supposed to be 48 degrees F, but as I was wearing most of my motorcycle gear (including the Herman Munster boots), it’s easy to start to warm my body temperature, so by the end of the tour, I was sweating. I’m glad that I did not bother opening up my panniers to bring a long-sleeve shirt into the cave for warmth.
Mount Rushmore is a spectacular monument. It was complicated to create, took numerous years to finish, and was built on a micro scale, but forced to fit into a macro viewing point. Seeing Rushmore from the viewing deck is pretty awesome. But, before you can examine Rushmore from the viewing deck, you have to get there.
I had been told that if you approach Rushmore on the right road, you can see it from a distance, and it’s quite dramatic. It’s kind of a shame that I did not remember which route gives you this view, but I thought that I had remembered enough of the story to find the “preferred route to the top”.
So, I set out towards the top, always thinking that I’m just moments away from catching that glimpse of the monument, and the 4 faces that were carved into the rock. So, from about 9 miles away, I turned on the camera, and started looking for those revered faces. Below, you can watch the video of me, trying to catch that first glimpse of the monument.
Once at the viewing station, I parked in the garage, and began the ritual of removing all of my gear, and locking it on the bike. As it turns out, I’m getting much better at this. I think I’m down to about 5 minutes to take off my jacket, lock it to the bike, and they locking everything else that can be locked.
Here is the monument, in all it’s splendor, and some clown that got in the way of me taking a picture…
Wall, SD (An enigma…)
Wall, South Dakota is a bit of a strange kind of town. The town has only 890 residents, yet it seems to be a thriving, busy little town. As I walked to dinner this evening, I found that the road was actually busy enough to cause me to have to look both ways before crossing the street. In contrast, Broadus, MT was just about empty at 6PM when I set out for dinner. The street that my hotel was on did not see a car for several minutes. In Wall, cars were coming every 15 seconds, which is kind of like a busy street.
Also, on Main Street in Wall, there must have been 200 – 300 tourists taking advantage of Wall Drug, and all of the other stores on Main St. I turned the corner from 5th street onto Main Street, and was shocked to see cars parked in every available parking spot on either side of the street. Main street is so busy, and there are so many patrons, that in addition to the parking on the side of the street, there is also parking for two more rows of cars in the center of the street. We typically call this double-parking, but here in Wall, it’s just how business gets done.
I was so intrigued about what I was seeing that I just had to walk through Wall Drug, to see what it’s all about. I don’t think I could have ever imagined that Wall Drug would be, what it is. You might therefore ask, so what exactly is Wall Drug?
You can find the history of Wall Drug here. But, let’s say that you want my story about Wall Drug? Then keep reading…
Picture of all of the cars parked on Main Street.
Wall Drug bills itself as America’s Favorite Roadside Attraction. They seem to be trying to parlay the historical beginning of Wall Drug from 1931, into a continuing and viable business, in 2016. So, what you end up with is a building that is about a full city block in size, butted up against Main. Street, and having about 40-50 little stores within the main building. Each store seems to favor another type of “memorabilia”, or souvenir.
I walked through all of the shops and could imagine how much fun I would have had if I was a 12 year old boy. When I was a kid, I would have loved a place like this. I mean, they sold polished rocks, arrowheads, knives (engraved with your name on them), and Ice Cream. Believe it, there are 2 ice cream shops, and a cafe that will serve you ice cream. I reckon that they really love ice cream in Wall.
Also inside the building is a giant gallery of pictures that cover the last 150 years of history. There must be several thousand pictures hung on the walls of Wall Drug.
Pictures, the historical record on the walls of Wall Drug
Anyway, it’s an epic kind of thing, that you really need to see, to believe. And although it’s a giant tourist trap, it seems to me that if you’re traveling across the country, you really need to stop in at Wall Drug, in Wall, SD. Enjoy…
National Grasslands Office
I left Wall Drug at about 5:15, and headed back to the hotel. I was on foot, and enjoying the walk back to the hotel, which is about a 12 minute walk. On my way back, I came upon the National Grasslands Visitor Center.
First of all, who knew that there was even an office for managing the country’s grasslands? Not me. But, enough about me. This place is run by the National Forest Service, which has a different charter than the National Park Service, or the Bureau of Land Management.
Now, I’m not sure about you, but I did not really understand the difference between these organizations. So, I watched a 25 minute film about Grasslands, and then went up to the front desk, and asked if they were doing any talks. Luke, the ranger that runs the place said that they are scheduled to do a talk at 7PM, but the 5PM talk was cancelled because there were no visitors in the center at 5PM. So, with a sympathetic eye, I looked at Luke and said… You know, I’m here, and want to listen to you, and given that the 5PM session was cancelled… I”m just saying’, maybe you should do the talk now. Luke immediately agreed, and we went into the theater, and listened to Luke Talk.
During the talk, we learned about what archeologists do when they work for the Forest Service. So, here’s the breakdown.
US Forest Service
The US Forest Service is assigned the task of maintaining, and preserving forests, so that they can be sustained, and capitalized on in a way that balances the long and short term needs, and also balances the preservation against the ability to capitalize on the resources. The NFS is a for-profit organization.
National Park Service
The NPS’s role is to preserve lands in as pure a form as possible. NPS does not alter, or change these lands, they preserve them intact, to the greatest degree possible.
Bureau of Land Management
Just like the UFS, BLM operates on a virtually identical charter, with one exception. The NFS is responsible for all resources above the ground, while the BLM is responsible for the resources below the ground.
So, do you feel a little bit smarter? Good, that was the point.
An expert with passion
As has been the case numerous times during this trip, Luke’s passion came through, and he gave a really compelling talk. Once again, I’m grateful to the NFS for finding and hiring these folks, so that all of our experiences are better.
So, what’s on store for tomorrow?
Tomorrow I plan on getting up early, so that I can make my way through the Badlands, and then arrive at the Minuteman missile silo visitor center in Kadoka, SD. I hope to be able to get on a tour of the underground facility at either of the two minuteman sites that are located a few miles away. From there, I’ll be headed to the Corn Pallace in Mitchell, SD, and then on to the hotel in Sioux Falls, SD.
I got some amazing video this morning. I won’t tell you about it, but be sure to check my post later this evening for some totally amazing wildlife footage.