Day 17: Custer to Keystone - The Empty Middle 2015 - CycleBlaze

October 9, 2015

Day 17: Custer to Keystone

Today will be an easy day, only 26 miles with a 1000 foot net descent. But I plan to spend time visiting Crazy Horse and Mount Rushmore monuments. And I want to be rested for tomorrow, the most challenging day of the tour.

Low of 38F (3C) overnight. It was still cold when I got on the road at 9:30. Mostly overcast, with a clearing trend. Today will be much nicer than yesterday.

I looked around downtown Custer for a few minutes before turning north on US 385 towards the Crazy Horse memorial. Uphill all the way from Custer (5300 feet elevation) to the Crazy Horse Visitor Center (6073 feet elevation).

Custer, South Dakota
Heart 0 Comment 0
Custer, South Dakota
Heart 0 Comment 0
Granite east of US 385 while climbing from Custer to Crazy Horse.
Heart 1 Comment 0

I was happy to turn onto the 1 mile spur road to Crazy Horse, escaping the loud grooved concrete of US 385.

Crazy Horse memorial is a privately run park. It has a huge parking lot and very nice visitor center, museum, restaurant, and viewing deck. High class well funded operation. I didn't sign up for the bus tour to the base of the mountain. I just spent a long time at the museum, looking at Crazy Horse, and eventually having lunch at the fancy buffet.

The viewing deck and restaurant are deceptively high. The end closest to the mountain is about 25 feet off the ground to give a view over the top of nearby pine trees. Without the elevation they would need to remove many more trees to have a view.

Elevated Crazy Horse monument viewing deck.
Heart 1 Comment 0

Crazy Horse is being constructed at a much larger scale than Mount Rushmore which was completed by two people in 15 years. Crazy Horse might take 200 years to complete with several sculptors working on it. The location was chosen in 1948 by Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski & Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear. Now the sculpting is being done by Korczak's children.

It's a private non-profit that proudly proclaims that they get no government funding. The Crazy Horse monument is intended to honor all indigenous people of North America. The long term vision is to create a Utopian community and sacred site with a university and hospital. The Indian University of North America was founded a few years ago.

1/34 scale model of the planned sculpture.
Heart 1 Comment 0

Crazy Horse was the revered Lakota Sioux chief who defeated General Custer's army at the battle of Little Big Horn in 1876. Four months later Crazy Horse surrendered to U.S. troops and was killed at Fort Robinson while trying to escape. Now the world's largest stone sculpture is being built in his honor. The operation seems to be well funded and I have no doubt that the sculpture will be completed someday. But definitely not in my lifetime.

Crazy Horse, October 2015.
Heart 1 Comment 0

On this scale, most of the rock "sculpting" consists of drilling holes with a jackhammer, inserting dynamite, and blasting away tons of rock at a time. They typically do one blast per week.

The face was completed in 1998. In recent years most blasting has been to narrow the mountain for the arm and horse's head.
Heart 1 Comment 0

Twice a year the public is allowed to participate in a mass hike to the base of the face. That would be fun! I took a picture of the aerial photo on display in the museum.

The public has the opportunity to hike up to the face in June and September.
Heart 0 Comment 0

Just before leaving Crazy Horse a woman named Judy Norris walked up and introduced herself. She asked if my name is Wayne and said she has seen my journals and recognized the yellow recumbent and faded underseat panniers. She's from Edmonton and is not on a bike tour now. Judy also mostly tours solo. She plans to tour in Ireland in 2016. Best wishes, fellow wandering wheel!

After leaving Crazy Horse I continued north on US 385, then turned east on SD 244, signed as the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway. Downhill all the way from Crazy Horse to the turnoff.

More granite outcroppings. Trees on the upper slopes were killed by pine beetles.
Heart 1 Comment 0

SD 244 is narrower and more winding than US 385. It was nice to get back on a country road with few trucks. It's a roller coaster with several big climbs and descents.

Highway 244 descends to Horsethief Lake, a small reservoir.
Heart 0 Comment 0

At first SD 244 is in the forest with few views of distant mountains. But the road hugs the base of granite pinnacles after entering Mount Rushmore National Memorial . It was very scenic. First time during the tour to be up close to the granite pinnacles. And the clouds finally dissipated.

Now in Mount Rushmore National Memorial.
Heart 0 Comment 0
Most of the time the road is at the bottom of a canyon. Views like this are rare.
Heart 0 Comment 0

I almost missed the famous side view of George Washington's face. It was behind me when I passed by. The large parking area gave it away, though.

The Norbeck Scenic Byway passes south of Mount Rushmore with a side view of one face.
Heart 1 Comment 0
The side of George Washington's face looks great in late afternoon sun.
Heart 1 Comment 0

My original plan was to visit Mount Rushmore today. But it was late afternoon and the sun angle was awful. Half of one face in the sun. Everything else in the shade. I decided it would be better to go back tomorrow morning when it's all in the sun.

Looking east beyond the Black Hills to the Missouri Plateau. Chalky cliffs of the Badlands are faintly visible on the horizon.
Heart 0 Comment 0

SD 244 steeply descends 700 feet from the Mount Rushmore entrance to Keystone. A sign said 12% grade but my altimeter said 8% grade.

I arrived in Keystone (population 337, elevation 4331 feet) at 3:45 and got my reserved room at Super 8. $92 with no fridge or microwave. Special tourist town price again. Next door is a shopping mall that is closed for the season. The convenience store is closed for the season. Half the motels are closed and Super 8 will close in a few days. All the tourist attractions (gondola, water slide, mini golf) are closed. I didn't realize this place has such a short season. The only restaurant open was at the white boutique hotel that looks like it belongs in New England. Pizza with Baltika "7" beer from St. Petersburg, Russia. I've never had Baltika before. It's Russia's top selling beer.

Keystone is a seasonal tourist gateway community outside of Mount Rushmore National Memorial.
Heart 0 Comment 0

Today was a beautiful crisp fall day. Cool cloudy morning, sunny 65F (18C) afternoon. Minimal wind. No flies since climbing into the Black Hills.

It was great to see clear blue sky in the afternoon. I should have blue sky for the remainder of the tour.

Distance: 26.0 mi. (41.5 km)
Climbing: 1790 ft. (542 m)
Average Speed: 8.8 mph (14.1 km/h)

Today's ride: 26 miles (42 km)
Total: 897 miles (1,444 km)

Rate this entry's writing Heart 2
Comment on this entry Comment 0