We hit two very different parks yesterday: Mount Rushmore and Badlands. I was surprised at the differences.
We hit Rushmore first thing in the morning. We drove through the touristy town of Keystone, paid $11 to park (not a park fee, the park is actually free, the money goes to a non-profit that helps the park. Passes don’t get you a discount) and walked into a beautiful man made plaza. The sculpture was incredible. We hiked the “strenuous” trail (250 stairs on a composite walk way), waited in a short line to go into a “cave” for a funky view of Washington, and read all the informative signs. We got separated in the crowds a could of times, when a toddler was insisting on walking the stairs, for example. Then we endured the chaos of the gift shop (got our magnet and park token!) and were off!
I think was got to me the most was overhearing a family say they weren’t going to the badlands because “there’s nothing there”. What’s not at the badlands are the crowds, irritable tourists who are upset because someone inadvertently walked into the perfect shot of the mountain.
What is there is 8 miles of unpaved road into bison and prairie dog territory. It’s another 10 miles of paved roads along mountain goat buttes and deer prairies. And yet another 5 miles along some of the craziest geologic features I’ve ever seen. The strenuous trail has a rope ladder on it (we skipped that!) The traffic is only bad when the momma goat is grazing on the shoulder and her kid is staring at the cars from the drainage ditch. There was a short line to climb up into the gap in the rocks near the amphitheater (see photo. That’s Pete and Brian). The only disappointment was that the clouds rolled in right after sunset so we couldn’t see the stars (2 nights of clouds people!)
I’m not saying don’t visit Rushmore. Do! It’s is impressive. Honestly, Teddy’s glasses alone would be worth the trip. But visit a smaller park like the Badlands. Go off the beaten path (even if you’re in a rental RV and its rattling like crazy). You might just spend half an hour in 90 degree heat and winds staring at a herd of buffalo through binoculars.