Posted by: TheAuthor | 03/11/2011

Day 46 – Mount Rushmore

Accepting our drives were now going to become longer we sped off towards Mount Rushmore and then as close to Yellowstone as humanly possible.

Driving across South Dakota is just like Saskatchewan but with an American twist. Tacky shops are everywhere, rightly cashing in on tourists passing by. The flat plains interspersed with rolling hills are littered with Buffalo and domesticated cows. Incredible sunsets are back on our radar as the horizon seemingly stretches on forever.

During the drive we stopped at the town of Mitchell just off of the I-90 west bound. Here lies the ‘Worlds only Corn Palace’. This is a theatre come sports hall with murals made from corn everywhere. Originally in 1900 it was entirely built from corn, but now with health and safety regulations firm supporting walls have obviously replaced the corn walls of the palace.

Just south of Rapid City is the national memorial of Mount Rushmore. An incredible feat of engineering and craftsmanship to carve into the rock face, the four faces of American presidents each of whom have been influential on the nation in their own way. Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln all face out watching over the plains of the Black Hills and beyond, unceasingly guarding their heritage. This memorial is well worth visiting even with the $11 entrance fee. Free tours are available, offered by the park rangers, which are quite informative and interesting to listen to.

We unfortunately had quite a distance yet to drive to get to our campsite for the evening in the small town of Lovell, near to Yellowstone National Park. Heading off into Wyoming the landscape had changed dramatically from the mornings drive. We were definitely approaching the Rocky Mountains again as rolling hills were replaced with mountains on the horizon with prairie land before it – a beautiful sight to gaze at while we were driving along.

As we approached the mountains, Big Horn Mountain Range was our first port of call; the daylight had disappeared and left us in pitch black with no light pollution around – beautiful if it had not been cloudy. Our base level for driving had been roughly 3000 feet for a while, peaking at 5400 feet at Mount Rushmore before reducing back down again. What was different was we began ascending Big Horn in the dark was that we never stopped climbing for half an hour minimum. We all thought that we would never rise above Sulphur Mountains (In Banff) maximum height of 7450 feet (From memory, I could be wrong here but it is approximate) and as we approached 7400 feet the four of us were eagerly awaiting a possible rise above – not seeing what lay ahead.

A heavy, thick and wet mist was lying on the mountain for us to drive through. The road curved and winded crazily around the mountain, sometimes on the edge of the cliff side lit very poorly by luminescent poles at the curbside. We spotted deep snow at the roadside and noted how cold it now was outside, even 7:30 P.M. and up the mountain we were unsurprisingly taken back by how chilly it was. Driving was becoming increasingly difficult, but not impossible if taken carefully. We kept climbing up and eventually rose to 9400 feet above sea level, effectively taller than every mountain we had climbed in Banff National Park on foot!

During the drive the mist sporadically lifted at varying heights, the snow grew deeper and more wide-spread as we drove towards Lovell. One campsite I had found was atop this mountain, we unanimously opted to keep driving and hopefully down the other side of the mountain. Suddenly right in front of us were four huge deer crossing the road, directly in front of us inside Kevin. Fortunately because we had recently exited a patch of mist we were travelling slower than signposts suggest and I had time to emergency stop scaring my passengers and also the deer!

Another 30 minutes and we began to descend for real, dropping 6000 feet in 14 miles at a 10% gradient down. Fortunately the roads snaked back and forth so ridiculously sharply it was hard to rise above 30mph, not that you wanted to because you were already over using the brakes to keep in control.

Rest assured we made it down alive and into Lovell and right into our unwanted friend from the past 3 weeks, heavy rain. Pitching camp in heavy rain is always undesirable but sometimes necessary. In a free campsite hosted by the town of Lovell we set up for the evening, Falk and Claire pitched their tent and as we have no bed to sleep on we stayed in Kevin. To ensure Kevin’s continued dryness inside and out we placed a tarpaulin over the top to help keep the rain away as it poured down overnight.

Trip Statistics:

Tim Horton’s Stops – 16

Alternate Coffee Stops – 5

States Driven Through – South Dakota, Wyoming

Kilometres driven – 1173km

Total Canadian Kilometres driven – 11,499km

Total distance driven – 16,770km

Car faults – Found out Speedometer is inaccurate by 10kph

– Speakers starting to refuse to operate

– Tail Light Casing Broken

– Console Handbrake light always ‘on’

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