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.

Adventures in the Rainforest

We have been fortunate enough to take several trips to Central and South America, including Bolivia, Ecuador, and Panama. During each of the trips, we specifically made a point of getting into the jungle and seeing different wildlife and plants. Each of them was unique in their own ways and we stayed in eco lodges in both Bolivia and Ecuador. Many of these experiences were quite unique and we have many wonderful memories. Here are some of our favorite rainforest adventures that we’ve had during our travels.

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Up Close and Personal with Monkeys in Panama
  1. Monkey Islands in Panama – One of the most interesting things that we did during our time in Panama was to take a boat passed the famous locks and going to the Monkey Islands. Our boat would pull up to the islands and the monkeys would climb down from the trees to take grapes and bananas from our hands. Under normal circumstances, we wouldn’t do that, but since the monkeys rely on humans for the survival, we felt okay with the experience.
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    Hiking in Carrasco National Park
  2. Visiting Carrasco National Park in Bolivia – Our first Amazon experience was during our trip to Cochabamba when we stayed at an eco lodge and spent a day hiking through Carrasco National Park. We climbed into caves with different varieties of bats, blind birds called Guacharos, poisonous frogs, as well as snakes. It was definitely an interesting way to get introduced to the Amazon Jungle.
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    Napo Wildlife Center in the Yasuni National Park
  3. Staying at the Napo Wildlife Center in Ecuador – After our experiences in Bolivia, we chose to go even deeper into the jungle during our trip to Ecuador. We spent several days at the Napo Wildlife Center, which is an eco lodge sitting on a lake with caiman, birds, monkeys, and giant river otters. Every day, we would get up early and go into the rainforest to experience different wildlife.
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    Paddling in a Small Canoe in the Amazon
  4. Traveling on the Amazon River – We spent time on a motor boat as well as canoe on the tributaries of the Amazon river. After flying into the tiny town of Coca, Ecuador, we took a boat down the Amazon River where we then got out and hiked to get to our canoes. To say that it was a fascinating experience would certainly be an understatement.
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    Traditional Dance and Music in the Embera Village
     
  5. Visiting Indigenous Villages – We went to indigenous villages in both Panama as well as Ecuador and each was a truly special experience. The local tribes are very friendly and happy to welcome you into their village where they share their traditions, art, and lifestyles. We even danced with the local Emberá tribe members during our time in Panama, which was something we will forever treasure. We know that these types of opportunities are dwindling over time, so it is important to take advantage of any chance that you happen to get.
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    Parrots and Parakeets at the Salt Lick
  6. Bird Watching in the Rainforest – With over a thousand species of birds in the Amazon Rainforest, the opportunities to see birds a quite diverse. We climbed to the top of the forest canopy in Ecuador to see different colorful birds including macaws, toucans, and parrots. Going the parrot clay licks and seeing so many different parrots feeding on the mineral rich soil was absolutely amazing.
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    Canons in Fort San Lorenzo
  7. Fort San Lorenzo in Panama – Going the fort that was captured by the famous Captain Morgan, which is located in the jungles of Panama was a truly educational experience. Whether imagining swash-buckling pirates, canons blasting off of the cliffs, or picturing the ships traveling down the Chagres River, it is something worth making the effort to see when planning a trip to Panama.
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    Scarlet Macaws in the Jungle

Obviously we hope to spend more time in different rainforests in other parts of the world. There is such a diversity in the biology of the jungle that it really takes several days to truly get an understanding of everything that there is to see. If you ever get a chance to spend a few nights in the rainforest, we’d highly recommend it as it allows you to see it both during the day, but also at dawn and dusk when the animals are the most active.

Seeing Unusual Animals During Travels

There are some places where you expect to see some unusual animals, such as when going to the jungle or desert. Some places are associated with certain animals, so they often use them as part of tourist attractions, like riding a camel or seeing a snake charmer. Other times, it is simply a random event where you just happen to see animals in their natural environment as part of a hike. We have certainly seen our fair share of different animals, some of them cute and some of them not so much. Whenever we see animals, we do our best to get a photograph of them, with varying results. Do you take photographs of animals during your travels?

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Mountain Goats

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Three-Toed Tree Sloth

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Adorable Baby Monkey

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Llama on Moon Island in Bolivia

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Agouti in Panama

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Camel in Egypt

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Snake Charmer in Morocco

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Bird on the Porch of Our Eco Lodge

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Tarantula Crawling Out of a Tree

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Blurry Picture of Giant River Otters in the Amazon Jungle