President’s Day

Mar 07, 2013 View Comments by

President's DayIt is Friday the 15th, 2013. I have survived another Valentine’s Day. Yes, survived. It is not that I am not romantic, I simply feel that Punxsutawney Phil being hoisted from his hovel by stove pipe hat wearing gentlemen gets astronomically overshadowed by all the hearts and cherubs. Years ago, I actually bucked tradition and feigned participation in a Valentine’s Day dinner. Instead, I proposed to my wife. On the surface a very clichéd move, but it was a clever ruse to never have to celebrate Valentine’s Day again. For now, each February 14th my wife and I celebrate the anniversary of our engagement—and, of course, President’s Day!

This year, I arranged a surprise weekend trip to “Mount Rushmore” as my five-year-old daughter Nya calls it. It’s unseasonably warm as we arrive at the State Game Lodge in Custer State Park. The lack of snow makes it a perfect time to explore the area. There are bikes everywhere. “Everywhere” being a relative term as the area is quite sleepy and many businesses are closed for the season. The famous Needles Highway, with its pigtail bridges and stone-carved tunnels, is beautifully un-crowded, safe from tourists and campers. However, for the riders who brave the roads, it is also quite dangerous. Shadows keep the sun from clearing all the ice and the sandy roads reduce the pleasure of the hairpin turns. Riders must gently ease through each and every buffalo filled mile.

The next day we head out to explore. As I begin to tell my family a story about a previous ride to the park we come across about 40 buffalo grazing along the wildlife loop. We stop a safe distance away for pictures and I begin to tell them about the last time I was in the Dakotas with my dad and our friends Ben and Bill.

We had begun our morning riding several of the dirt road bypasses that the park offers. When we returned to pavement, a pair of buffalo making their way across the road greeted us. It seemed, from the bloody red eye of the second buffalo, that they might have had a disagreement; a September grudge held over from Valentine’s Day perhaps? We held back to let them pass since they are known to charge when provoked and we were not in a position to turn around quickly on the narrow road. Moments later a car pushed past us with a camera-wielding passenger hanging out of the window. The driver eased up within a few feet of the tourist weary buffalo.  Seconds later the irritated buffalo began to repeatedly crash into the photographer’s door. She frantically tried to roll up her window, but it was no longer an option. The window was pinned against the steel door imprinted with the memento of a buffalo head. Eventually a ranger came along and the hairy beast continued on his way across the road. We witnessed first hand the importance of honoring the many signs that warned visitors to keep their distance from these somewhat reluctant supermodels.

I finished my story just in time to avoid losing my daughters to their iPods again. So I began to tell them about Peter Norbeck, a South Dakota conservationist, governor, and U.S. senator. Among other things, his vision inspired Custer State Park and Mount Rushmore. He also helped to establish the Badlands National Monument and Grand Teton National Park.

As we approached Iron Mountain Road, my favorite part of The Needles, I could tell my history lesson was losing their attention. I was saved as Sophia spotted one of the many views of Mt. Rushmore in the distance. As we passed through the last stone tunnel, we were presented with a perfectly framed portrait of Gutzon Borglum’s masterpiece. It was so impressive that my two girls voluntarily put down their iPods and leapt from the car to enjoy the view. You could never do this during tourist season.

We enjoy the new museum and movie at the visitor’s center. The girls then go through a “rigorous” examination before both being sworn in as junior Forest Rangers. We conclude our visit with four of their famous oversized ice cream cones, a reward for putting up with my history lessons. They enjoy it, but it is Watiki Indoor Water Park in Rapid City that really wins them over. I can almost see them trying to wash the history lessons off of their skin with each rush down the water slide. But I know, deep down, some of it has stuck. They already share my love of travel and I know my affection for history will stay tucked inside them somewhere as well until they become full fledged Adventure Hermits themselves!

Have you ever had a great off-season experience somewhere special? It would be great to hear about so others can consider it for their bucket list!

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About the author

I am an introvert posing as an extrovert. I love travel in all forms, but prefer 2-wheels. I created AdventureHermit as a way to share my adventures and inspire others to find joy through discovery; writing for RoadRUNNER is a dream come true!