July 20, 2017 (by Angela)
This past Saturday was a cram-packed day of education and fun. Jim and I started the day early. We were in Keystone, the town of Mount Rushmore, around 7:00 a.m. He and I grabbed a bite to eat for breakfast at Peggy’s Place before collecting our train tickets at 8:00 a.m. I’m sorry to say that I can’t recommend Peggy’s Place. The food was fairly good, but not good enough to justify the cost. On to happier things: the train ride.
I’d come across the 1880 Train option doing my own research, and then I had someone recommend it on Facebook. Just before we left Wyoming, a fellow camper who’d recently left the Black Hills recommended the train ride to Jim. It is the single most expensive thing we’ve done touristy in months, but it was worth every penny for the two-hour round trip (the cost with tax for both of us was about $63 plus we needed to pay a dog walker for Chewie for the day). Morning with a breeze made it very comfortable and relaxing to ride in one of the open cars. A clear day and sunshine allowed us to the see the beautiful views.The sound of a train whistle makes me happy; its nostalgic for me. But, oh, the smell – the smell was something I’d never expected. As we traveled through the hills, the scent of Ponderosa pines and Black Hills firs filled the air. It was like two hours of aromatherapy; even Jim agreed. The highest peak in South Dakota, rising to 7,242 (or 7,244) feet, is visible on the ride and is claimed by many to be highest peak east of the Rockies. It was identified by two names: Harney Peak and Black Elk Peak. This confused me, so I did research. It seems what was previously named Harney Peak has been renamed after a Native American and is now Black Elk Peak.
I highly recommend this if you can possibly take the time and afford the experience. Also, I recommend morning, but you must know that the earliest round trip does not use the steam engine. We took the 2nd round trip of that day and had diesel one way and steam coming back. I preferred the steam engine. (Click on, or hover over, photo to see captions.)
The most affordable parking in Keystone, at least for those coming in for the day, is at the Borglum Story in the downtown area. You may park all day for $5 (self pay box). Jim and I decided to visit the Borglum Story museum and gallery, and I’m so glad that we did. It may seem a little pricey, but it is also worth the money spent. You get $5 off your entrance fee if you do the full tour and have already paid to park. Learning about Gutzon Borglum the man in and of itself was worth the visit; however, when you learn about this life and how he came to design and create Mount Rushmore BEFORE going there, it really helps one understand what it took. While there is a decent amount of information in the visitors center at Mount Rushmore, it seems to be more geared toward actual construction. One of the things I found fascinating was the technique Borglum designed for the eyes of the presidents shown below along side a picture of Washington. Look at the eyes. As light hits the eyes of each president, they seem to “shine” and “move.”
If you visit the Borglum Story and then Mount Rushmore’s visitor center, I think you will get the full understanding. Of course, Mount Rushmore is amazing just to view and learn about it’s 14-year construction! I’m including photos below. (Note: Mount Rushmore itself is free, but we paid $10 to park our car.)
After leaving Mount Rushmore, Jim and I drove to Jewel Cave National Monument. Being that it was middle of the afternoon, there was no chance to get into the cave itself. Evidently, you need to be in line early in the morning if you want a chance to take a cave tour. When we went to Wind Cave National Park, the same was true. Wind Cave was much more active than Jewel Cave. I have to admit, this is the cave I really wanted to tour because of its value to Native Americans. I fully intended to go back one morning this week, but life kept me busy, and I didn’t make it happen. Perhaps we can actually tour the caves on our next pass through the area, whenever that may be.
Jim and I returned home late in the afternoon – just in time to feed and walk Chewie before going to a nearby restaurant for dinner (we never had lunch). We were exhausted, but it had been a memorable day.