Saturday, June 20, 2009

Day 15 Big Pine Campground, Custer South Dakota Wind Cave National Park Cave Tour, Mount Rushmore Lighting and Flag CeremonyDay June 17, 2009

Captain’s Blog
June 17, 2009
Big Pine Campground, Custer South Dakota
Wind Cave National Park Cave Tour, Mount Rushmore Lighting and Flag Ceremony
Day 15

We woke a little weary from the long day we put in yesterday so it was good that our next stop over was only 22 miles away in Custer. It was time for full hook-ups to get caught up on cleaning and laundry.

Before we could head out Ron wanted to tour a cave here at Wind Cave National Park. We had decided – no more caves two trips ago but somehow that was forgotten. I was not excited to do another cave tour but did agree to go somewhat reluctantly.

In 1903 the Wind Cave area became our seventh national park. The cave was discovered by settlers, in 1881 when two brothers, Jesse and Tom Bingham, heard a loud whistling noise leading them to a small hole in the ground. The wind was said to be blowing with such force it knocked Jesse’s hat off. The wind is created by differences between atmospheric pressures in the cave and outside. The wind can still be felt at the cave entrance.

Later adventurers like Alvin McDonald followed the wind into that tiny black hole and discovered the cave’s network of passageways containing boxwork, popcorn and frostwork formations. Chocolate colored crystals, formations resembling faces or animals and chambers that inspired names such as the Garden of Eden and the Dungeon were also discovered.

The only known natural entrance to the cave is the small hole with the cool wind blowing out of it. Ron and I stood by the hole and could feel the wind blowing steadily at a clocked two miles per hour. As the barometric pressure drops the wind speed increases. As the barometric pressure rises the wind reverses itself and can suck items into the cave. Local entrepreneurs, including the McDonald family blasted open passages and guided tourists through for a fee.

The land on which the cave stands did not belong to either the McDonald family or to the entrepreneurs and when both sides filed lawsuits against each other to gain full control of the caves the government stepped in and took the land with the cave system and made it a National Park.

We chose to do the Fairgrounds Tour, the most strenuous walking tour offered although it is only ½ mile long. There are a total of 450 steps with one flight of 90 steps up. Surprisingly we had no difficulty climbing the stairs.

These caves are unique in that they have what is called Boxwork Patterns on the walls and ceilings. I’m not sure that it looks like Boxwork but to me looks more like bone marrow or lungs riddled with emphysema. Still pretty, however.

The tour took 90 minutes and inside the cave it was a constant 53 degrees. This cave as opposed to other caves we have been is was very dry. It was a good cave and at the end of the day had been a good thing to do.

Since we have been out west it has stormed for short periods every day but nothing to stop our activities. Nights have been peppered with lighting storms that illuminate the entire sky. Fortunately we haven’t run into any hail – it has been all around us and has caused damage in some places.

We headed out to Mount Rushmore for the lighting ceremony around 7 PM. This time dressed appropriately for the rapid fluctuations in temperature. The amphitheater was full as was the parking lot.

The ceremony began at 9 PM with a talk presented by the park ranger. It was heartfelt and inspiring as was the movie discussing the accomplishments and dedication to our country by the four presidents engraved in the side of the mountain- Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt. What great men and the true love they had for the country is humbling.

The lighting of the faces was beautiful as was the flag ceremony done by a local boy-scout
troop.All military personnel past or present sitting in the audience were asked to go up on stage as part of the ceremony. After the flag was lowered the boy scouts folded the flag and it was passed to each person on stage. The entire presentation was very touching and made us feel so privileged to be there and witness the event.

A trip to Mount Rushmore is not complete without mentioning the sculpture and men that made this monument possible. The idea of Mount Rushmore began in 1923 as a way to bring sightseers to South Dakota’s Black Hills. State historian Doane Robinson suggested craving giant statutes in the South Dakota’s Black Hills area.

It was not the first time someone thought a big country should exhibit big art. In 1886 the Statue of Liberty was unveiled. In the 1920’s, an unconventional sculpture named Gutzon Borglum was carving a Confederate memorial on Stone Mountain in Georgia. (We were there two summers ago – an absolutely incredible sculpture)

In the Black Hills granite outcroppings resist erosion to form the Needles, clusters of tall, thin peaks that resemble Gothic spires, so Robinson wanted the monument to be craved from theses spires. Many people were skeptical but finally the undaunted memorial backers called in the master sculptor of Stone Mountain.

Gutzon Borglum was born in Idaho in 1867 and he made his name through celebration of things American. To him “American” meant “big.”

“A monument’s dimensions should be determined by the importance to civilization of the events commemorated….Let us place there, carved high, as close to heaven as we can, the words our leaders, their faces, to show posterity what matter of men they were. Then breathe a prayer that theses records will endure until the wind and the rain alone shall wear them away.” Gutzon Borglum

Borglum felt that the Needles were to fragile so picked the 5,725- foot Mount Rushmore named in 1885 for New York lawyer Charles E. Rushmore. Its broad wall of exposed granite was the perfect medium for the wall of presidents. Behind the memorial is a Hall of records, there to preserve national documents and artifacts.
Link to His History:

Borglum and four hundred men worked tirelessly to complete the monument. President Calvin Coolidge dedicated the memorial in 1927, commencing 14 years of work although only six were spent on the actual carving. Money was the main issue but due to the “one man war” Borglum was leading he insisted on a congressional hearing in 1938. Through his efforts and pride in the country and the fact that public works created good jobs and good will $836,000 of federal money was channeled toward the nearly $1million total cost of the project.

The Washington head was formally dedicated in 1930, Jefferson in 1936, Lincoln in 1937, and Roosevelt in 1939. Borglum died in 1941 and the final dedication was not held until 50 years later. Borglum’s son Lincoln supervised the completion of the heads. Work was stopped in October 1941, on the eve of U.S. entry into WWII.

The work on the mountain is never complete. Erosion has caused cracks in the faces and the government has a six-figure maintenance budget to maintain and protect Mount Rushmore against the ravages of nature.
The ride home was better then our last visit – took the highway but still didn’t get in until 11 PM.

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