Mount Rushmore and South Dakota

One of the most iconic places to visit within the United States is Mount Rushmore National Memorial, which is located in the Black Hills of South Dakota. With the enormous carvings of the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln, it is quite an amazing site to see in person. In addition to Mount Rushmore, there is also Custer State Park, the Crazy Horse Memorial, and Wind Cave National Park. Since we drove from Colorado through Wyoming on our way to South Dakota, we also included a trip to Little Bighorn, the site of Custer’s last stand.

Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore
George Washington
George Washington
Herd of Buffalo at Custer State Park
Herd of Buffalo at Custer State Park

Little Bighorn National Memorial is the site of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, which is also known as “Custer’s Last Stand”, that occurred in June of 1876.  Standing on the grassy hills, staring out at the open land, it is hard to imagine how the men of the 7th Cavalry Regiment commanded by George Armstrong Custer must have felt when they were surrounded by the warriors of the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapahoe nations.  The battlefield is located about a five hour drive west of Mount Rushmore and, if you are at all interested in historical locations, it is well worth the drive.  It certainly conjures up visions of the true old west, not necessarily the glamorized Hollywood version of the old west, but the harsh and bloody west that was filled with as much violence as there was heroism.  Over 270 members of the 7th Cavalry lost their lives in the battle, including George Custer and two of his brothers.

Memorial Tombstones at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Memorial
Memorial Tombstones at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Memorial
Actual Headstones where George Custer is Buried
Actual Headstones where George Custer is Buried
George Washing with Thomas Jefferson Looking Over His Shoulder
George Washing with Thomas Jefferson Looking Over His Shoulder
Looking Up at Mount Rushmore
Looking Up at Mount Rushmore

In addition to just seeing Mount Rushmore, it is worth taking the time to hike around Mount Rushmore and viewing the enormous figures of the founding fathers carved into the side of the mountain from different angles.  Seeing the different views of the sculptures carved into the side of the mountain from different angles provides an opportunity to really understand how the figures were chiseled from the mountainside .  Also, viewing the profiles of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln from various perspectives allows you to fully appreciate the detail in the work of art.  Also be sure to go and see the Crazy Horse Memorial.  Although not completed, it is still an impressive site and will hopefully, one day, be the fitting tribute to all Native Americans as it was intended to be.  If it is completed, it might become the world’s largest sculpture.

Main Entrance to Mount Rushmore
Main Entrance to Mount Rushmore
Crazy Horse Statue
Crazy Horse Statue
Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore

We also visited the Wind Cave National Park while we were in South Dakota, which offered a candlelight tour that is extremely limited in the number of guests that can participate and takes you to parts of the cave that other tourists can’t see.  So, we had booked tickets for that tour in advance of going to South Dakota, which we’re extremely glad that we did.  We had some time to kill before our tour, so before going to the cave for a little spelunking, we went to Cosmos Mystery Area.  It is actually a pretty interesting site where things seem to defy the normal rules of gravity.  We’re sure it is all just an optical illusion, but it was fun just the same.   Wind Cave is one of the longest and most complex caves in the world and has a unique geological formation on its walls called boxwork.  The highlight of the tour was when, at the deepest part of the cave on the tour, the ranger had us all blow out our candles and sit in absolute darkness as light can’t reach that part of the cave.  Needless to say, it was quite an amazing day.

Inside the Crooked House at Cosmos
Inside the Crooked House at Cosmos
Doorway of the Crooked House
Doorway of the Crooked House
Checking out the Strange Balance
Checking out the Strange Balance

Located about an hour south of Mount Rushmore is the Hot Springs, which is home to the Mammoth Site.  The Mammoth Site has the largest concentration of mammoth remains, both wooly and Columbian, in the world.  It is an active paleontological dig site where you can actually get your hands dirty and help dig up some of the bones.  Seeing something that old being discovered first hand as they excavate the earth and expose the remains is something that you won’t soon forget.  It is a very much a contrast to seeing Mount Rushmore, but well worth putting on your itinerary.

Inside the Dig Site
Inside the Dig Site
Digging Up Some Bones
Digging Up Some Bones
Examining a Mammoth Skull
Examining a Mammoth Skull

Another interesting location to see while in South Dakota is Custer State Park where you can do some hiking and if you like, you can go on a Hayride Chuck Wagon Cookout at Blue Bell in the park.  If you want an up-close experience with herds of buffalo, this is the best place to do it, maybe even better than at Yellowstone.  In addition to the buffalos, there were also wild herds of donkeys, who were very friendly, perhaps too friendly.  There are also plenty of trails to get out and enjoy the great outdoors and we took a pleasant hike to a beautiful lake.  The chuck wagon dinner was a ton of fun and they even got the kids, all of them, including the 15 year old, up and dancing to the chicken dance.  It was truly the perfect ending to a very memorable trip.

Actor from the Hayride
Actor from the Hayride
Our Friendly Donkey
Our Friendly Donkey
A Buffalo at Custer State Park
A Buffalo at Custer State Park
Beautiful Hike to a Lake
Beautiful Hike to a Lake

If you haven’t been to South Dakota or to Mount Rushmore, you should definitely make it a location to get to some day.  The mountains are beautiful, Mount Rushmore is amazing, and there are a lot of fun things to do in the area.  We even found time to go to Wall Drug, which is supposed to be the world’s biggest drug store.  It was a little hokey, but sometimes you have to look at life’s oddities as well.  This trip was from many years ago, so we apologize for the quality of the photographs, but it doesn’t take away from our memories of the experience.

The Cave Church in Budapest, Hungary

Located at the base of Gellert Hill, the hill that the Citadella (fortress) sits atop, is a system of caves. One of the caves was converted into a chapel in the 1920’s and even served as a hospital for the Germans during WWII. Known as the Cave Church, it was certainly one of the most interesting places that we visited during our time in Budapest. A cross on top of the hill denotes the location of the church, which is also located near the famous Gellert Baths where people gather to enjoy the therapeutic thermal baths.

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Altar Within Cave Church
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Seating for Religious Ceremonies
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Cross On Top of Gellert Hill
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Church Exterior Outside of the Cave
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Historic Artifacts
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Courtyard in the Church Exterior
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Intimidating Shadow

The atmosphere within Cave Church is interesting due to the lack of natural light and the rugged cavern walls. After its conversion to a hospital by the NAZI army during the war, it returned to serving as a church until 1951 when the Soviet Union had it shut down. The chapel was raided by the Soviet Army, the monks arrested, and the cave sealed up until Budapest regained their freedom in 1989. Today, the monks of the Pauline Order continue to operate the church and hold religious functions on the site as well as maintain it as a tourist attraction.

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Walking into Cave Church from the Entrance
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Hungarian Artwork
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More Art in the Cave
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Statue Outside of the Church
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Museum Display
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Flowers in Remembrance
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Main Altar

There is a nominal fee in order to enter the church and walking through the cavern will take you about thirty minutes to fully explore. In addition to the statues and artwork inside of Cave Church itself, there is also a small museum with additional historic artifacts. Exploring the church and understanding its history is certainly worth the effort of walking along the Danube below Gellert Hill. We combined it with our visit to the Citadella, which sits high above. It may not be the most well-known site in Budapest, but if your itinerary allows, we would recommend visiting.

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Ornate Confessional
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Statue Lit Up Against the Cave Wall
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Stained Glass Inside of the Cave
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Wood Carving in the Museum
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Painting in the Museum
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Wooden Statue Embedded into the Cave Wall

 

Saint Thomas Cathedral Basilica and Saint Thomas Mount in Chennai, India

After going to several Hindu temples during our stay in Chennai, going to the Saint Thomas Cathedral Basilica was a unique experience. The church is built over the tomb of Saint Thomas, one of the 12 disciples of Jesus, which is one of only three churches in the world to be built over the tomb of a disciple. You should also make time to visit Saint Thomas Mount and Little Mount, which has the cave where Saint Thomas hid. Combined, these three locations create a truly unique experience inside of the country of India.

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View of the Cathedral
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View from Saint Thomas Mount
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Statue as You Climb to Saint Thomas Mount
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Saint Thomas Mount

The original church over the tomb of Saint Thomas was built by Portuguese explorers in the 16th century and then later rebuilt by the British in the 19th century. The current cathedral was finished in the late 19th century and is in the typical Neo-Gothic style. The white exterior is quite striking especially against the blue skies. Unfortunately we were not able to enter the church while we were there, but we understand that it is very beautiful and that you are able to see Saint Thomas’ tomb.

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Standing Outside of the Cathedral
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Cathedral Tower
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Cathedral Spire
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Handprint Worn into the Rock

There are several features that make visiting Saint Thomas Mount and Little Mount quite fascinating. For a small donation, you are able to enter the cave where Saint Thomas hid and there is even a rock that is supposed to have been worn down by his hand. There is also a spring that is just outside of the cave called the Saint Thomas Fountain, which supposed provided healing powers to those that came to listen to him and people still drink from it today in order to be cured. To get to the top of Saint Thomas Mount, where Saint Thomas was speared while praying in front of a cross, you climb up a steep hill and pass by many figurines denoting the history of Saint Thomas. There is a cross carved into a rock that was believed to be carved by Saint Thomas and many believers report that it continues to bleed to this very day.

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Bleeding Cross
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Shrine Inside of the Cave
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Where Saint Thomas was Speared
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Climbing Up the Mount

Seeing both of these locations during our trip was something that was extremely memorable. It can also be a slight refuge from the hectic noises of the city as it isn’t visited by as many people as other place in Chennai.

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Entrance with the Last Supper
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Another View from the Mount
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Bell Tower
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Barred Window Inside of the Cave