It was a gorgeous morning too, and since I was coming up from the south I was able to meander my way through a beautiful scenery of pine trees, lakes, and mountainous hills as I made my way towards the famous landmark.
Needles Highway can be found here too, although unfortunately the way I drove I wasn’t able to see the views that made that highway famous. I did get another treat though, as I continued to wind my way around the forest, I caught a glimpse of Mount Rushmore for the first time:
I still had a lot more switchbacks before I would finally reach the park, but at long last, I arrived at the last turn and got a really good look from the car:
A few wild turkeys had crossed the road right near here too, probably following after the chicken. ;-)
Even though the park is a national one, I wasn’t able to use my Access Pass to get in for free, since it only covers entrance fees, not parking fees (usually.) I was a bit irked by that, but considering how much I’ve saved already using my pass for other parks, I wasn’t going to complain. After I got out, there’s a huge walkway decorated with many state flags leading to the viewing deck, where you can behold Mount Rushmore in all its glory.
They have a museum here too, with extensive exhibits and sculptures that provide a fascinating history of how the monument was built, as well as a trail that can take you all the way around the monument (no, you can’t see their butts if you go behind, and yes I was indeed disappointed that those pictures were fake after all.) Ah well.
Satisfied that I had seen and taken enough pictures of Rushmore, it was time to move on to another landmark I’ve been wanting to see ever since I first saw Richard Dreyfuss playing with his mashed patooties: DEVIL’S TOWER!
I made a stop first at Rapid City, then took the interstate back into Wyoming:
Devil’s Tower is an oddity that’s about an hour out of the way from doing a straight shot over the Bighorn mountains towards Yellowstone, but it was worth it. After some monotonous driving through prairie land, I eventually spotted it in the distance:
As I moved closer and closer, I was beginning to see why Devil’s Tower was used as the setting for the famous movie Close Encounters. It stuck out like a sore thumb in the midst of otherwise ordinary rolling hills and prairie land, a geological oddity of unusual striations and abnormal formations that made it… dare I say… alien to the terrain here.
There’s also a great restaurant/gift store about a mile from the park here called Devil’s Tower View, definitely worth a stop if you got a hankering for juicy, well done buffalo burgers. Unlike the burgers I tried near Buffalo Bill’s grave, these were flavorful and left no aftertaste. My faith in all things buffalo was thus restored. I took the time to scoff down the burger since I had missed breakfast that morning, then continued onward.
Devil’s Tower does offer hiking and rock climbing challenges for the extreme sports types among us, but me, I’m quite fine right here on the ground, thank you.
As you approach the foot of the tower, you can actually see a few hawks circling and perching at the top (or are they vultures??) as well as a rock climber here and there scaling their way to the top. They are merely dots on the wall, so much that I never would have noticed them without binoculars.
Inside the same park there’s also an incredible population of prairie dogs, literally seeming to pop out of every prairie mound in the area.
I couldn’t get any closer shots without a zoom, but since I had never seen prairie dogs before, it was still a treat to see so many of them scurrying about, popping in and out of holes. I took a few moments to watch them before finally leaving the park for good.
With Mount Rushmore and Devil’s Tower now out of the way, it was approaching late afternoon, and I still had to book at least 300 miles to get as close to Yellowstone as possible before the sun set. I spent some time researching on my iPad and settled on Cody as the place to stay the night. It was a long shot getting there before dark, but I had confidence that my Hyundai Elantra 4-cylinder car rental would see me through.
I have decided this is not the part of Wyoming I’d really like to live in. See, I’ve always envisioned Wyoming to be mostly mountains, so it was with some surprise to learn that 59% of the state is actually prairie land (or otherwise, flat as a pancake.) Fortunately, because I was further north I was able to roll through the Bighorn mountains on my way to Cody, which really helped to break up the monotony so I wouldn’t lapse into a coma from all the driving.
After passing through the Bighorns the sun started to set, but by this time I was near Buffalo and only had an hour or so left of driving. It was a tough one though, because the roads suddenly went unpaved, and stayed that way for a good few miles before things got civilized again. I thought the muffler was going to fall off.
At long last, with just enough time to grab dinner, I had made it into Cody. I stayed at the Cowboy Village for the night, and while exhausted, I could feel myself getting another buzz from the anticipation that only a few hours from now, I would finally visit Yellowstone for the first time ever.