Despite enduring the wrath of Crazy Horse, the Black Hills of South Dakota do not fail to impress. We left today wishing we could have stayed longer.
It became apparent why the Black Hills are called the Black Hills. As we crossed into South Dakota from Wyoming, the deep green of the distant pine covered hills looms in great contrast to the shimmering gold of the High Plains.
We stayed at Fort Welikit in the town of Custer, South Dakota. This was the campground recommended by the lovely LaVoy and Judy from Oklahoma. Arriving after Labor Day, we had the run of the place -- just a few neighbors, including Earl from Carlsbad, New Mexico who helped me avoid hitting any trees pulling into our site. (As an aside, people who help me avoid hitting things with our enormous RV are now considered heroes of the first order.) Fort Welikit lies in the hills above Custer. It is a spacious campground with large, mature trees providing shade from the sun and hail. There is a playground for kids, corral for horses, and even a teepee "cabin". This is a comfortable campground. What we liked best, though, was the easy access to the Black Hills.
Everything in the Black Hills is well maintained. This observation emerged over the course of our stay. The weathered and broken signs, overgrowth, rust, and front-lawn junkyards that seem common around other seasonal tourist destinations just do not seem to exist here. Every business is tidy, lawns are kept, signs crisp, roads smooth. It is not Shangri-la -- this is a relative comparison to other tourist areas -- but it nonetheless impressed. I wish I new exactly the factors. My uninformed, but educated guess is a combination of Midwestern pride and longevity. This area has been a destination for many decades; I think perhaps the economics of chotchkie and ice cream shops have settled out to a sustainable balance. Or maybe the Black Hills simply benefit from the contrast of being near the sweaty desperation of Wyoming.
Mount Rushmore National Monument was nice. I hate wax so un-poetically about it, but "nice" is the appropriate adjective. The National Parks Service has streamlined the operation at Rushmore. From parking to ice cream to viewing los presidentes, the memorial is streamlined for bus-loads of patriotic fervor. We powered into the late evening to see the lighting of the presidents show. This consisted of a park ranger jamming for fifteen minutes on monument history, singing of the national anthem, a twenty minute inspirational (and vomit-worthy) video, and finally spotlights shining on the presidents.
I want to talk about that video. It tried really hard to present a [fair and] balanced perspective while being first and foremost hyper-patriotic. This is what I call "neo-classic" patriotism. This is to say patriotism based on reverence of forefathers, unfaltering belief in manifest destiny, and full collapse of complex historical events to simple good versus evil narrative. Per normal, I grew increasingly uncomfortable as the video tap-danced around slave ownership, slavery, Native American genocide, war, gender rights, and economic injustice while driving to the foregone conclusion of the appropriateness of the deification of political figures. I was glad when it ended. It seemed to hit the sweet-spot for the rest of the crowd though.
The final highlight of our Black Hills tour was Custer State Park. It is large and it is beautiful. We regret taking this park on last since it felt like there was much more to explore than our perfunctory truck-based loop could afford. The cool, wet air cut with the scents of pine and prairie remain novel compared to the barren arid beauty we have grown accustomed to in Utah and the Mountain West. Regardless, Custer State Park should be a primary attraction. It was our rookie mistake to treat it as secondary.
We are now in the Badlands. The adventure continues.