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National Parks - 2010 Trip - Day 6

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Start Location: Wall, SD
Ending Location: Hot Springs, SD
Miles Today: 142
Trip Miles: 1880
States Visited: 5
Provinces Visited: 0
Low Temp: 62.9° F
High Temp: 95.2° F
Min Elevation: 2418'
Max Elevation: 6031'

Route Map:


Today was low on mileage but high on sightseeing.  Because everything is close together in the Black Hilles, we got to see three impressive attractions in only 142 miles.  The three attractions themselves are actually less than 40 - 50 miles apart.

After heading back to Rapid City and then south to the Black Hills, we started out at Mt. Rushmore.  We have been there several times before and it's always impressive.  We reminisced about the first time we saw the monument in 1979.  We were traveling cross country with 3 kids, 2 cars, and a van load of plants on our way to a new job due to a transfer from Ohio to Washington.  Since we were traveling east to west and had gained two hours, we were up very early the day we were going to Mt. Rushmore and actually got to the site before the ranger who opened it up.  At that time, there was just a small visitor center like you might see along a highway and a short video tape of the sculpting of the mountain.  I think the visitor center had a small porch where you could step out and view the monument.  Today there is a huge multi-million dollar complex that bears no resemblance to our earlier experience.  We even had to pay $10.00 for parking - something I'm sure we didn't have to do 31 years ago.  But it was still worth it. It's truly an amazing feat and a fitting monument to some of the great leaders of our country.

Speaking of amazing feats, the second stop was at The Crazy Horse Memorial.  In the 1940s, some Lakota tribe leaders contacted sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski, who had assisted in the sculpting of Mt. Rushmore, to ask him to sculpt a likeness of the great chief Crazy Horse on a mountain in the Black Hills as a memorial for all Indian people.  Korczak agreed and, although he has passed away, the sculpting still continues with his wife and 7 of their 10 children leading the effort.  The story of the endeavor and especially of the early years when he lived in a tent while building a house for his family is truly amazing.  I doubt if we will see the completion in our lifetime and maybe even in our children's lifetimes but it's an amazing endeavor.

We ended the day with a ride through Wind Cave National Park and a tour of the cave itself.  The cave is the 4th largest in the world with 134 miles of passages already surveyed and continuous surveying is still ongoing.  The tour was only about an hour but well worth it.  We previously visited Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, which is the largest in the world at over 300 miles, and it has huge rooms and caverns.  This cave is all narrow passageways with no room being over about 8' in diameter.  The main attraction was the boxwork.  Boxwork is made of thin blades of calcite that project from cave walls and ceilings, forming a honeycomb pattern. The fins intersect one another at various angles, forming "boxes" on all cave surfaces.1  It is estimated that 95% of all the boxwork in the world is located in this one cave.  Although we got a few good pictures inside the cave, it was difficult because of the conditions, including spot lights that they had directed at various features. Definitely a worthwhile stop. 

After leaving the park, we headed to Hot Springs, SD where we found a motel with laundry facilities so we could wash clothes and prepare to head to Colorado and the Great Sand Dunes National Park.

1. http://www.nps.gov/wica/naturescience/speleothems-boxwork.htm