Geowoodstock to TBEX: A Tour of American Icons

After our adventures in Medora and Theodore Roosevelt National Park, we’d hit the northern extent of our expedition and it was time to start working our way back southward. Our next big stop was Custer State Park near Rapid City, South Dakota but we had a few pit-stops to make on the way that included some heavy-hitters in terms of American icons. Throw in the no-state-left behind geocaching policy this trip and you can imagine that this was not a simple logistical puzzle.

Fred and George finding a little taste of home in South Dakota.

Montana…

So after exiting Medora sans glorious fudge, we eased westward into Montana to claim our geocaching smiley. We stopped in a little town for for a cache that looked like it would be a neat location…only we looked, and looked, and looked…and didn’t find it. (For you non-geocachers out there that means we “DNF”ed it and you get a little sad face on your geocaching logs. It’s truly a pathetic sight.)

It can be really hard to walk away from a cache without bagging a smiley. You keep talking yourself into looking “just one more time…” But there are times the cache is really just not there. It may have been “muggled” (removed or destroyed by a non-cacher) so you never really know if you’re just missing it or if it’s gone. Previous logs can be a clue if there have been a string of DNFs, especially by experienced cachers but it’s always a judgement call how much effort you should throw into a find. It seems like this particular cache should have been easy we just couldn’t come up with it…maybe we were just too brain-dull after so much driving. The road-numbness can get the best of you from time-to-time.

At any rate, we moved on to another cache which proved to be quite an adventure for Blubaru at least. She’s had some fun hot-dogging it on dirt roads and embankments while geocaching the E.T. Highway but this was by far the most potentially undercarriage damaging adventure she’s undertaken for us. There were definitely a few “R’uh R’oh!” moments as we navigated our way up a jeep trail… but we did manage to get to the cache and our Montana smiley. The kicker is that we found the “easy” way in…on the way out. Oops! (And not to worry, Blubaru received nothing but high marks on her post-trip check up so all is well.)

George diligently working while I pester him through the glass at Devil’s Tower.

Devil’s Tower…

With our Montana smiley secured, we headed for Devil’s Tower National Monument knowing it wouldn’t be more than a drive-by viewing. With Dobby in tow, there wasn’t much we would be able to do there other than “Chevy Chase” the iconic monument. (And yes, I realize I’m dating myself with that reference…)

This type of quick visit is when having an annual parks pass helps. I probably would have avoided the expense of the entrance fee for such a short visit but with pass in hand I didn’t have to sweat it. Since we visit so many parks, this small investment definitely more than pays for itself.

Aside from that, Devil’s Tower was high on George’s Junior Ranger wish list so I wanted him to have the chance to get it and I certainly wanted to have at least a peek myself. Once we arrived, George diligently plowed through his exercises while Fred and I kept Dobby company outside in the shadow of the monument. After a Junior Ranger swearing in and a last longing gaze at the geologic marvel of Devil’s Tower we moved on to nabbing a Wyoming cache. The efforts here proved to be much less adventuresome than the Montana ones.

George as a newly minted Devil’s Tower Junior Ranger.
View of Devil’s Tower from the visitor center.
Fred was surprised to discover that he found the president statues compelling.

Rapid City…

After a quick overnight stop in Spearfish, SD and yet another hotel-parking-lot-tent-drying event, we worked our way through the famous Sturgis, SD for lunch and supplies before blitzing through Rapid City to Custer State Park.

We didn’t stop in Rapid City initially since securing out campsite was in order but George was insistent upon seeing the entire series of president sculptures in The City of Presidents so we went back to satisfy his presidential desire a few days later. Fred wasn’t interested in the tour at first but tagged along and ended up more excited about it than George in the end. In fact they switched personalities on this outing with George suddenly becoming camera shy and Fred posing for everything. Go fig! (I think it’s a plot they’ve concocted to always keep me guessing…)

The statue tour was a nice introduction to Rapid City. We picked up a brochure at the City of Presidents Information Center which helped us plot our route. The more centrally located statues are obviously in the more active, prettier part of downtown with tree-lined streets and inviting shops. To visit the outlying statues you find yourself pounding the heat-baked concrete with little interesting to see aside from the statues.

Oddly, it’s out there in the concrete jungle that several of the more prominent presidential figures are located, like Lincoln, Kennedy, and St. Teddy. The placement of the statues was supposed to avoid favoritism which is fine of course but, like I said, you start to feel a bit baked by the time you reach them. They’re certainly worth a visit to ponder but in the June South Dakota heat we were completely sapped for the effort. At least it was something we could do with the pup along which is an unusual feature in a city.

One of the things we didn’t realize going in was that there is a seasonal fountain park at the Main Street Square across from the information center. And there we were, unprepared for wet, summer fun…extra clothes and swim trunks tucked away back at camp. The boys were tired enough to take it in stride though.

Camp Granola’s Tips:

  • Be mindful of the weather when heading out to tour the presidents. That concrete gets blistering hot and energy sapping in the heat of summer.
  • Pick up a map from the information center to help plot your course.
  • Plan your potty stops carefully. In those outlying areas, there aren’t many places to slip into for pit stop. Poor George was denied access by one shop even though he was practically yellow-eyed.
  • Don’t forget the Main Square has fountains to jump in during the summer and it turns into an ice rink in winter so plan accordingly…unlike we did!
Fred has always been fascinated by Theodore Roosevelt.
Fred striking a pose with Thomas Jefferson.
One of the discussions we got to have during our tour was “why” of how each president was portrayed.

Mount Rushmore…

Of course, you can’t visit the Rapid City area without doing Mount Rushmore right? Given George’s excitement over the City of Presidents statues, you can imagine this was a must-see for him in particular.

Like many of our exploring efforts with Dobby along, we couldn’t do much here. We had to the the Dobby shuffle, trading time sitting with him out front while the non-dog-sitters explored a little. Fred took the bulk of the duty since he wasn’t terribly interested and George wanted to earn his Junior Ranger badge. Even trading dog watching, it was pretty toasty out and unfair to keep the watcher waiting longer than necessary so we skipped the extras like the Presidential Trail.

Camp Granola’s tips:

  • Your visit can be a quick as ten minutes to gawp at the carving or many hours if you take in the museums, tours, and trails.
  • Obviously bringing your canine companions will limit your options here.
  • There is an parking fee for this park that isn’t covered by the National Parks Pass so be sure to budget $11 for a passenger car. (Or click here for up-to-date fees.)
George working his way through the Junior Ranger activities under the watchful eyes of four epic presidents.
George receiving his Junior Ranger badge at Mount Rushmore.
George counts Mt. Rushmore as one of his favorite places of this trip.

The main event…

Of course, these adventures were not the main reason for our visit to South Dakota. Our time was mostly allotted for the uber-fabulousness of Custer State Park. Stay tuned!

And now for your moment of green…

Yes I know everyone and their brother has this shot of Mt. Rushmore but this is mine.

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