Thunderhead Falls, South Dakota

After our drive across Pine Ridge Reservation we stopped back at Mount Rushmore and Sandy retrieved her souvenirs. With no concrete plans we decided to head back north toward Rapid City. We passed The Crazy Horse Memorial and although we had originally planned to go there we were starting to count our pennies. We could see the carving from the road so the decision was made to skip it and save the entry fee.

A little farther along our road trip we saw the sign for Thunderhead Falls. It’s a waterfall that is underground. It had started to rain again so doing something “underground” seemed like a chance to stay dry.

Thunderhead Falls Entrance

We followed the signs and found a dirt parking lot. The first thing I did was inspect the car to see how much mud was covering it. Some had washed off as we drove through the light rain but there was still plenty of evidence of out earlier adventure.

There was cute little train displayed in the parking lot. At first I thought it was just a model or a toy but it turns out that this is an ore train. The cars were loaded in the mine and then the ore was brought back to the surface by this little train.

Ore Train

It was a short walk to the entrance but it was so pretty. The river that creates the falls in the mine poured out in another cascade and we had a little bridge to cross over it before reaching the entrance. It was nice on this rainy day. I bet it would be spectacular in sunshine.

We met a family leaving but other than that we were the only visitors. I guess the rain was keeping the tourists away. The lady at the ticket booth was very friendly and informative and tickets were only a couple of dollars each so well within our shrinking budgets.

She pointed us along a path that we followed on our own. No guide here but you really didn’t need one. The handout we were given with our ticket gave us the history and the mine wasn’t that deep. There were signs identifying different ore deposits and the reason they were important and then there was the falls itself.

I know underground falls aren’t all that rare but I had never seen one so thins was an enjoyable , if brief, side trip. A very nice “filler”

I think pictures say a thousand words and can do a better job of finishing this post off.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Longest Dirt Road In the World

I believe this was the day after Mount Rushmore. Sandy had wanted to see some Native Americans and I suggested we take a drive to Badlands National Park. The White River Visitor Center is staffed by members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

Looking at the Park Map it seemed that the visitor center we wanted was on the southern part of the park. Sandy had also discovered that she had left her souvenirs from Mount Rushmore in the gift shop and wanted to go back there to see if they still had them there. She had her receipt so I figured we could go to the visitor center and then back track to Mount Rushmore.

This was the first morning that we didn’t have a tour scheduled so we didn’t have to rush to get up. We decided a break from Jimmy Dean was in order and we walked over to the Perkins Restaurant next door for breakfast.

Southern End of the Badlands

After a leisurely meal we headed to the car and south to find the Visitor Center. It was a little confusing at first but eventually we arrived and true to the advertisement it was staffed by Native Americans.

The displays were wonderful and the staff great to talk with. They answered all of our questions. One of the staff said they were having a Pow Wow at Pine Ridge and suggested we go there next. We could see Wounded Knee at the same time as they were all in the same area. We just had to drive across the Pine Ridge Reservation.

I left Sandy to get directions and headed out to the car. I met another Native American Staffer on the way in. He stopped me and said “Snow tonight”. I laughed and said “ Oh no, I hope not!” he laughed too and just said “ Yes, snow.” Sandy and I laughed about the snow predication as we climbed into the car.

Sandy said to take a right onto a dirt road that ran right past the Visitor Center. We had learned that because the reservation is considered a sovereign nation , that they do not get federal funds to maintain roads or other infrastructure. Therefore almost all of the roads on the reservation are dirt. Still, this one seemed to be well maintained and graded so we set off at a fair clip.

Pronghorn racing through the field

As with everywhere we had been so far the scenery was just amazing and there was wildlife everywhere. This continued to amaze me because seeing wild animals out like this during the day just doesn’t happen in the northeast. Spotting a deer during the day is unusual in spite of road kill to the contrary.

Deer by the roadside


Now remember it had rained hard the night before. I’d had the pleasure of driving from Mount Rushmore to Rapid City in the dark and downpour. So Sandy and I are chatting as we drive along this dirt road when all of a sudden it was mud. The car swished about a little and I made note to watch more carefully for the puddles. Most of them didn’t look like much but looks are sometimes deceiving. Sure enough, we began to hit more and more muddy patches finally hitting the biggest mud puddle of all!

Muddy road

I tried to swerve around it but it covered the whole road and the car just slid sideways into the middle of that mess. Water flew everywhere and our white car wasn’t white anymore. There was even mud on the sunroof. With a little fish-tailing we were able to get ourselves out and on our way again but first I had to stop to laugh. It was the funniest thing that had happened the whole trip and it really tickled my funny bone.

Our muddy White car

I don’t know how long we drove but it seemed to be forever. I pretty much figured we’d gone in the wrong direction but we’d been driving for so long that I wasn’t going to back track. Sandy said the Staffers probably saw us drive off in the wrong direction and said something like “stupid white women”. Well after that mud bath that just hit me funny again so I had another laughing fit.

Just as we were joking about being lost on the reservation forever we bumped onto pavement. We drove through a small settlement and then saw a sign for one of the main roads. As we pulled onto it, Sandy said she wanted to get out and kiss the pavement. That set off another round of giggles.

Longest Dirt Road in The World

I did take a picture of the dirt road. It seems to go on forever. In additional to the road just going on and on, there’s nothing on it. There are no little villages or stores or gas stations or signs. You just drive. It must have been what the first settlers experienced when they began to cross the prairie.

 I should mention too that we made it back to Mount Rushmore and Sandy went into the gift shop where she had made her purchase last night. She showed her receipt and they replaced her souvenir.

But we never did find the Pow Wow. Going to one is now on my bucket list for a return trip but we had a lot of fun driving the “Longest Dirt Road in the World”.

Next Post: Thunder Falls

Bad Notes = Confused Entries

Well I have hit a problem in my narrative. I must confess that my memory of the chronology of the trip is not sufficient to break the rest of the trip down into posts and keep the order from becoming confused.

My memory of the key points is like it was yesterday but don’t ask me what day yesterday was!

Sandy has traveled with me before and can tell you that I am diligent about keeping a journal while on vacation. This is because that before there were blogs there were scrapbooks. I would come home with all my little souvenirs, ticket stubs,  receipts and pictures and organize them into a scrap book. I’ve learned that memory is faulty especially if you don’t get a chance to put it all together right away. So I developed the habit of writing down the day’s events each night before I went to bed while it was still fresh in my mind.

Up until now I had my normal detailed entries to work from but when I turned the page to see where we went the day after Mount Rushmore…there was nothing? I found some scribbled bullet points at the end of the week but the next few days are blank. I have tons of pictures from them so I will endeavor to spins some tales about the things we did but I do not know if I got the order right. Hopefully I will not forget anything too important.

So tomorrow I’ll start with the longest dirt road in the world (my title for it. Not any official title)

In the meantime I will leave you with some more animal pictures.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Mount Rushmore National Monument, South Dakota

Back when I wrote about the carving on Stone Mountain, Ga. I introduced you to mountain artist and sculpture, Gutzon Borglum. At that time I said we would meet up with Mr. Borglum again in a later post in South Dakota. Well, that time is now.

Gutzon Borglum is the man who made Mount Rushmore possible. Borgum explored mountains and spires through out the Needles and Black Hills before he spotted Mount Rushmore.

Once the mountain of granite was chosen, Borglum had to decide who would be on it. Borglum explained his choices this way: Washington because he is the father of our country, Jefferson because he expressed our beliefs in the Declaration of independence and expanded our territory with the Louisiana Purchase. Lincoln was chosen for preserving the union and Teddy Roosevelt because he fulfilled the expansionist’s dream by linking the oceans with the Panama Canal”

Periodically there are suggestions to add a 5th head but that can’t happen. The area of usable granite is taken up entirely by the existing 4 heads. The original vision was for the men to be full body but money was always an issue.

Go to the auditorium at Mount Rushmore and watch the film about the carving of the mountain. It is fascinating and educational.

When we arrived at Mount Rushmore we found a modern parking garage and visitor centers with cafeteria, auditorium and gift shops. It was cold and rainy and I believe I even saw a tiny snow flake or two. It certainly felt like it was cold enough.

I loved the Avenue of the States, the walkway lined with granite pillars. Each Pillar was carved with 4 states and the date they joined the union. Each State’s flag flies from the pillar. The view was just what you see in the Movie National Treasure, Book of Secrets with Nicolas Cage.

We followed the trail to the Native American village but it was closed. Still we took a moment to get some pictures. Then we followed the board walk up the mountain to get a bit closer to the monument itself. At one point there was a small side spur that led into a cave. You could see the carving through a crack in the cave ceiling. I met a couple of young men in the cave and we walked with them for a bit. When we came to the stairs up the face of the monument, Sandy and I decided to pass on the climb but our young escorts went on.

We went back down the boardwalk to have dinner in the cafeteria and warm up before we went to sit outside for the lighting of the Monument.


Somehow, somewhere one of us had heard that this was quite spectacular . We still had time to spare and since it was quite cold outside we explored the book store and souvenir shops.

Washington's Head from inside the cave

 We finally ended up on the upper level of the visitor center. There were benches facing a large window through which you could see the carving. We could stay in here and be warm for the lighting but we wouldn’t be able to hear the ranger’s speech. I took advantage of the seating and sat down. As I looked up at the carving I thought I saw a flash of light like a camera flash. I kept watching the area and pretty soon I thought I saw someone step out in the open and then duck back behind a tree. This happened a couple of times so I spoke up and asked if anyone else had seen this. At first everyone told me it was my imagination but when it happened again I pointed it out.

By now everyone around me was watching the rubble under the faces where the “action”: was taking place. Once we saw this a couple of more times and it was confirmed that there was someone up there, one of the others watching went to the Ranger and asked him about it. He said they were aware of the climbers and that it was illegal to leave the path and climb out like that. A “retrieval” team was on it’s way to apprehend the trespassers. The Ranger said that fines for this violation start at $250.00. We learned the description of the 2 interlopers and it sounded suspiciously like our two young escorts! They will have a nice fine to remember their little adventure.

The rain was coming down harder now so I asked the ranger what to expect from the Lighting. He said it was a brief ceremony and then they turned on the lights so the monument could be seen in the dark. No fireworks, no lasers, just a few spotlights.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I carried this information back to Sandy and we decided not to hang around any longer. It was a long drive back to Rapid City and the weather was turning very nasty. It turned out to be a very wet and rainy drive .

I’m glad we didn’t stay any later than we did.

Iron Mountain Road, Black Hills, South Dakota

Leaving the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary we made one brief stop at Crystal Falls and headed north to have our “official” Mount Rushmore experience as opposed to our “Accidental” visit when we first got here.

Crystal Falls, SD

As we approached Custer State Park we were treated to a majestic buck and his entourage. I pulled over and grabbed the camera. That buck wasn’t intimidated at all. In fact, as I came around the car to get a better angle he actually stepped forward, head up as if he were challenging me. He stood and stared while I took picture after picture before he turned and led his little band off.

Mule Deer Buck

Mule Deer

As I returned to the car I noticed for the first time that we had company. Other cars had pulled over to watch this brazen buck. As I returned to the car, the other cars pulled out and passed me. I collected their waves and thumbs up with pleasure.

Back in the car we soon came to the entrance to Custer State Park. Going left into the Park would take us on the Wildlife Loop Road that we toured with Dan and going right would take us up Iron Mountain Road to Mount Rushmore. So today it was a right turn for us.

Iron Mountain Road is part of RT 16A and The Norbeck Scenic Byway which also includes the Loop road and Needles Highway. The road climbs steeply up the mountain through one lane tunnels, be sure you honk your horn, over pigtail bridges and around horseshoe curves. The pigtail bridges are really interesting as they go over their own road so as we went over the bridge we could look down on the cars that were following us up the mountain.

The tunnels are lined up so that they frame Mount Rushmore and it’s tempting to stop for a photo op. I’m sure some people do but that day the traffic was very steady and it didn’t seem safe to stop. Needless to say, I have no pictures of this drive. I had both hands on the wheel and Sandy was white-knuckled in the passenger seat. She doesn’t like heights and this road was playing right into her worst phobias. I think anyone prone to car sickness should avoid this route too but I had a great timeJ We saw some RV’s trying it on for size and I suppose if your really careful and have good brakes that you’ll be fine but I wouldn’t do it. I’d leave the RV at home and rent a car for the day to make the drive.

Mount Rushmore  from Norbeck Observatory Point

At the top of the mountain is The Norbeck Observation Point. It has a well paved parking lot and rest rooms. There’s a trail down to an observation deck with awesome views. It was really cold up there on the mountain so we didn’t linger for too long. Besides, we had a date with 4 handsome men on a mountain.

I am adding 1 more picture to this post even though it’s more of an “aside”. As we headed to Iron Mountain Road we spotted a field with both antelope and deer. It was the first time I had noticed both together like that and all I could think of was the song Home Home on the Range and the line..”where the deer and the antelope play”. So I just wanted to share.

Where the deer and the Antelope play

For more information and and couple of photos of Iron Mountain Road, I have included a link.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.