Once again on Day 12 we were up and out early, this time to go to Mount Rushmore. We arrived early enough to have the first parking space, followed by a breakfast overlooking the monument.
As with most of the larger National Parks arriving early was a great idea as for a couple of hours we were able to see the sights without a massive crowd. Our first hike took us up under the monument for close ups. From here you can clearly see the cuts in the stone, as well as the massive pile of slag that resulted from the carving.
It was a beautiful day with a bright cloudless sky, which gave the perfect backdrop for photography. This was one place we both had always wanted to see, not only because of it’s iconic stature, but also because we both love the movie North by Northwest, a Hitchcock movie that has it’s thrilling conclusion there (albeit in the 1950s – the buildings have changed since then)
East of the monument we found the Needles of the Black Hills, a region of granite pillars, towers, and spires. The Cathedral Spires and Limber Pine Natural Area, a portion of the Needles containing six ridges of pillars as well as forest of pine trees, is a National Natural Landmark.
The Needles were the original site proposed for the Mount Rushmore carvings, but it was rejected by the sculptor because of the poor quality of the granite and the fact that they were too thin to support the sculptures.
The spires and surrounding area are part of Custer State Park. As we continued through this park we encountered the first bison I had ever seen in the wild. He was huge, so we enjoyed watching him from a distance.
At the south end of Custer State Park is Wind Cave, a National Park. The cave is notable for its displays of the Calcite formation known as boxwork. Most of the world’s discovered boxwork formations are found in Wind Cave. Wind Cave is also known for its frostwork. The cave is also considered a three-dimensional maze cave, recognized as the densest (most passage volume per cubic mile) cave system in the world. The cave is currently the sixth longest cave system in the world with 140.47 miles of explored cave passageway
As evening approached we went back to Mount Rushmore for sunset at the monument. While waiting for the sun to go down, we amused ourselves watching a small goat climbing over the rocks. It had been another great day.