Wednesday was our “tourist” day. There is so much to do in the area it was difficult to decide which activities to choose. We started at the Mammoth site in Hot Springs, just a mile from our RV park. While it sounds touristy it was really interesting. It is the site of a sink hole from 25 million years ago when Mammoths roamed the area. There are remains of 62 wooly and Columbian Mammoths, along with all kinds of other animals, rodents, etc. The sink hole was discovered by the land owner who started to bulldoze the area, and found a few remains and once they realized what was there, he donated the land to research and they have been excavating every since.
From there we drove by the Crazy Horse monument and just viewed it from afar and headed to Keystone to the Presidential Wax Museum. Ok, it does not get more touristy than that, but being an American History tour, it seemed the perfect thing to do for Shayna to become more familiar with the presidents. Shayna said it was her favorite thing so far. Who knew!! We passed up on the Keystone Adventure Center which has ziplines, alpine slides, ropes course, etc. But we now know what to do the next time. (Definitely coming back to this area!)
After our walk through history we checked into the Mt. Rushmore KOA RV park, simply because it has a shuttle to the evening light show at Mt. Rushmore. That KOA is its own resort with 2 pools, mini golf ( a really fun course), water slide, bouncy thing, horseback riding, restaurants, etc. We did a quick round of golf and Shayna went on the water slide (in lieu of a shower) while I made dinner (breakfast burritos) so we could catch the bus.
Mt. Rushmore was definitely one of the highlights of the trip so far. We arrived by school bus (so nice to not have to drive) about 2 hours before the light show. We had a chance to walk around the area, visit the museum and watch a video. Then the light show started. I do not consider myself a particularly patriotic person, but this event was quite emotional. There were a couple thousand people sitting in an amphitheater, with more looking down from the patio above. As it got dark a Ranger came out on the stage and gave a short speech about her favorite president, Lincoln. Then the lights went out and we all watched a 10 minute video about the history of Mt. Rushmore and the significance of each president selected. The video concluded with a collage of photos as America the Beautiful played and you could hear the whole audience start to sing. (If you have been to the Hollywood Bowl when the whole crowd sings together, you know what that is like). No one was singing loudly but you could hear everyone in unison. That got me! At the very last line the lights were turned on to the monument – so dramatic! Then the Ranger asked everyone to stand for the National Anthem. I could barely sing. As we all sat down she asked any current or past military members to come down to the stage. As about 100 people went down the crowd was cheering and whistling. She asked the members of each branch to step forward, then everyone gave a standing ovation. Wow! Does not get more patriotic than that! Between the presidential history and the military recognition, I felt such an appreciation for the founding principals of our country and what we stand for (when we as a nation and as individuals are at our best).
Our time here has been a weaving of the best and worst of our American history – recognizing what these presidents have done as the most effective and influential leaders of our country while we are learning about the incredible damage that has been done to the Native people and their way of life.