Saturday, 23 April 2016

Four Famous Faces - A Rainy Day at Mount Rushmore

I like to make plans and reservations well ahead of time for our family vacations...and then find myself changing them at least three or four times before our departure. I think the early planning and booking makes me feel secure that we will at least have a place to rest our heads as we travel along. Our current vacation was no different. Originally, we had planned a road trip that would take us through Montana, Utah, and Colorado before traveling into Texas and along the Gulf Coast on our way to Florida. Alas, our nine-year-old grandson had a different idea.

While we were watching one of the National Treasures movies (favorites in our home), EJ asked if we could visit Mount Rushmore on our way. He wanted to find the lake that the movie said was behind the monument. There went our first set of plans out the window. I quickly went online and adjusted our reservations on the Marriott website (our first choice in hotel chains.) I have it down to quite a science, Google maps on one tab and Marriott on the other, checking prices and driving times as I go. If we drive a little longer one day, we can manage more time exploring roadside attractions the next. There are times we do two nights in one city with a longer drive on either side, it all depends on when, and where, we decide to stop.

My favorite photographer trying out his new Nikon
So new reservations made and we were on our way to Rapid City, South Dakota to see the four famous faces carved into the side of a mountain. It doesn't matter how many times I visit, that first side of Mount Rushmore never fails to impress. This time, rather than driving from Rapid City, we decided to take Highway 16 from the west, through the Black Hill, and then Highway 385 north to Highway 244. Since we were traveling from Billings, Montana, this was a little faster and made for a very nice drive. I would guess it gets pretty crowded in the summer with trailers and RVs though so perhaps best left to off-season travel.

I have to let you in on a little secret, the lake that looks like it's right behind Mount Rushmore is in fact about ten miles southwest of it. But there is a small lake that is right along the road to the monument when you drive from this way so the kids will be happy to see it, even if it isn't the exact one from the movie. There is also a spot where you can see the famous faces through a keyhole about five miles away. It's a fun spot to stop but can get crowded even in during the off-season.

While Mount Rushmore is a part of the National Parks Service, there is no entry fee. You do have to pay for parking though since the parking complex since it is a concession between the NPS and the Mount Rushmore Society. We paid $11.00 to park and the pass is good for the remainder of the year.

We were happy to find there was a Junior Ranger program at the monument. We were also happy to know that the activity booklet could be completed with information to be found at the visitors' center since we visited on a rainy day (I heard we were lucky it was only raining when we arrived, it had been snowing that morning. Apparently they receive the most snow of the year in March & April.) It would have been a little difficult for EJ to keep his activity book dry while hiking the Presidential Trail. So we headed to the visitor center and worked our way through the displays and activities. One thing I find about the Junior Ranger program is that the adults often learn as much as the children. It's a great program that encourages family members to work together and find the information and clues to complete the challenges.

Being from Canada, our grandson had a lot of questions about the presidents on the monument. He knew about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln but was fascinated to learn about Thomas Jefferson and Teddy Roosevelt. He was amazed that Jefferson's Louisiana Purchase included the area where his great-grandmother (my mom) was born in southern Saskatchewan. Of course, this area has now been added to our 'want to visit' list. I think it's important that children learn about their closest neighbor and what better way than to visit historical places that make the learning come alive.

It took EJ about an hour and a half to complete his booklet and investigate the visitor center displays. He also had to speak with a ranger and find out what they do at the park. He was happy to learn that part of a ranger's job is to help children learn about the parks and why they are important. He proudly handed the ranger his completed book and took an oath that he would always work to protect the parks before being presented with his badge.

The rest of the afternoon was spent walking the paths,exploring and taking pictures (EJ loves taking pictures!) A great way to burn off some energy before we got back on the road for our hotel in Rapid City.
Driving through the drillers tunnel on the way to Rapid City