Custer was here!

Trip Start Dec 14, 2007
Trip End Nov 04, 2008

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Where I stayed
Coolidge Camp Ground - $18, excellent, river, clean showers

Flag of United States  , South Dakota
Sunday, September 21, 2008

Well, after having done just over 5.150 miles since we landed in USA we needed a bit of a rest (i.e not moving around in the car for long distances in a couple of days) so we decided that this Custer State Park would be the place for at least three nights.

As you will see from the photographs, we had our tent pitched next to the river, on nice cozy grass, and with a top BBQ next to the pic-nic table...what else can a camper ask for? Additionally, as usual the camping neighbours are very friendly, and the showers and utilities were cleaner and more inviting than most of the motels we stay at. The key is probably the volunteers that help in this park...better than any civil servant!

Anyway, we were having breakfast on our own and unique pic-nic table when the warden came along to charge the camping fee. We were both chatting away with him (a perfect imitation of the singer Willie Nelson on a good day) when we herd something moving around on the table...a red squirrel had made a split second attack and popped its head into Veronika's cereal bowl! Cheeky little creatures they are. From that moment we have had to keep an eye on all the food as they appear from no where at high speed...

Our trip for today was to Mount Rushmore which is only about 12 miles away. The funny story is that in our original plan we had noted the famous monument to four american presidents in North Michigan and on Lake Superior. The origin of the misunderstanding was:
a- The Lonely Planet guide has a picture of Mount Rushmore faces in the section for the Great Lakes
b- There is a national park called Pictured Rocks National Park

So we added one plus one and reached the conclusion that it was in Michigan. It was only when we got to Green Bay in Wisconsin that we were surprised to read that "the rocks are usually visited on a cruise boat". Which rocks where they talking about, we knew Mount Rushmore was not next to any sort of water!! Luckily that saved us a very embarrasing appearance in Michigan, and 300 miles extra!!

Anyway, after a delightful scenic drive along Custer State Park and into Black Hills National Park we arrived at the Mount Rushmore National Monument. To be sincere we were prepared to be disappointed as monuments are normally overvalued in travel guides, etc...but this one really impacted us. The sheer scale is just beyond imagination.

We were so taken back that we even rented the Audio Tour to walk along the park with all the history...and that is just not us (i.e. touristy stereotypes).

The only thing we could think about at the end was...if only Franco had known about this! Instead of a giant cross he would have built a bust of himself. Alas that there was no internet or cheap travelling in the 1950's!!

Some details for you folks: the entrance fee is $10 per vehicle (nothing for the experience), and the audio tour $5 per listening machine. The ticket is also valid for a light show at nightime but we decided that we had already consumed too much of US flags and national anthemns for one day (the show is exactly that).

Another point, the walk around the park is classified as "strenous". For those not used to hiking classifications you normally get:
- Easy
- Moderate
- Difficult
- Strenous
In the US hikes we have done we have not found any "difficult" class hike but quite a few classified "moderate to strenous". However, unless we are extremely fit (which is not the case)...we just dont see the strenous part in any of them.
Normally that refers to "a small inclination" which is probably "strenous" if you are highly overweight or missing any of the usual walking devices of the human body. In Mount Rushmore it was 250 steps downwards. Had it been upwards (instead of the lift that they have!) we could have agreed...but downwards? Conclusion: USA is extremely unfit (and this is not our conclusion....its what everyone we meet, TV, media, etc keep telling us).

After that very impacting experience we returned to our base camp, had some grub and then went off for another "strenous" walk (30 mins no inclination) up to the moment that our path was blocked by four very sleepy bisons. Bisons for those who are not familiar with them are part of the "huge friggin' mammals" group and look to be twice the size of a normal cow!

Additionally they are furry and are known to run at three times the speed of a human (a fit one that can go up strenous stairs), and have huge horns! So we decided that the best decision was to walk backwards talking about how we love our rifles and shooting animals just in case they decided to move in our general direction...

Custer State Park has 1,500 bisons roaming freely along the park so you can encounter them at any time, and the advice is simple...move away from them. Do not approach. Locally they are know as "Buffalos" which comes from the French "Les Boeufs".

Anyway, sufficient for one day. We lit the campfired, cooked some food and relaxed looking at the splendid stary night....until the sounds of the animals moving around us in the dark were just too loud to ignore them and we decided to move into the tent to sleep. In most cases we know its probably just squirrels, racoons or similar, but believe the darkness and when they are close to the water drinking, they sound like huge mountain we tend to enter the tent soon after dark.

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