Go See Do Photography

A Lot of Travel, A Little Bit of History, and a Whole Bunch of Photos

Category: National Parks & Places (Page 2 of 7)

Wordless Wednesday: Mt. Rushmore at Night

Avenue of Flags at Night

Mt. Rushmore

Avenue of Flags

Mt. Rushmore, located in the Black Hills of South Dakota, is probably one of the most iconic sites in the United States. The image of Mt. Rushmore has been used in countless films and is seen to many as a patriotic symbol of the United States.

We used the GyPSy audio guide for our exploration of the Black Hills. The guide recommends approaching Mt. Rushmore from Iron Mountain Road, which is a road that was designed to give you views of the famous memorial as you approach it. I really appreciated this drive and without the GyPSy guide, I don’t know that I would’ve planned our visit this way. If you plan to visit the Black Hills, definitely spring for the audio tour, it really does enhance the experience.

Washington from belowMuch like the Alamo, I had heard from several people that they were underwhelmed by Mt. Rushmore so I went into this visit with pretty low expectations. No, Mt. Rushmore is not as big as a lot of National Parks and there are not a wide variety of things to do when you visit and it can get crowded, but you can escape the crowds by getting away from the Grand View Terrace. Personally, as a history buff and a proud American, I enjoyed the experience.

We visited Mt. Rushmore in the early evening and the crowds were fairly low. We took the .6 mile long Presidential Trail that gets you closer to the Memorial. I enjoyed one of the first viewpoints where you get to look at Washington through an opening in the rock (left). The trail takes you to the Sculptor’s Studio where you can see a scale model of the Memorial and learn more about what it was like to make such a large rock carving.

Mt. Rushmore lit up at nightWhile admission to Mt. Rushmore is free, parking costs $10 but it is good for a year. While I doubt many people return to Mt. Rushmore multiple times throughout a year, we did come back a few days later to see the monument lit up at night. The lighting ceremony is very moving and is something everyone should see.

Now, when talking about Mt. Rushmore, I think it is important to talk about the controversy surrounding the monument. The first issue with the monument is that it is located on sacred Lakota land that the United States government may not have acquired legally. The other controversy surrounds the sculptor, Gutzon Borglum. Borglum was working on another controversial carving of Confederate leaders in Georgia that was backed by the Klu Klux Klan and Borglum himself was most likely a member. The third is that Mt. Rushmore was designed to be a tourist icon. The original idea was to carve famous figures from the wild west, but someone in South Dakota leadership at the time decided that it would have more broad appeal if they chose American leaders instead. For a lot more information about these controversies, I recommend this article from National Geographic.

If you are in South Dakota, you really have to stop at Mt. Rushmore. You don’t have to spend a ton of time there, but I think it is something that everyone (especially Americans) should see at least once. But, go into it with your eyes wide open and understand the history and contention that surrounds the monument. Mt. Rushmore isn’t the only attraction in the area. There is a lot of natural beauty in the Black Hills to explore, especially Custer State Park.

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Wordless Wednesday: Badlands

Badlands Overlook

Badlands National Park

Badlands Rock Formation

After our day exploring the I-80 corridor through Illinois and Iowa, we continued to head west across South Dakota to Custer. Since we were so close, we decided to take a detour into Nebraska to cross another state off our list and headed to Ponca State Park.

Three State Overlook

Ponca State Park is located on the Missouri River and is a big destination to explore the National Scenic River. Fishing, paddling, boating, horseback riding, golf, and hiking are popular activities at the park. One thing we were really impressed with was the modern cabins around the park. They looked like a fun place to stay and explore the area without having to “rough it” too much. We also enjoyed the Three State Overlook over the river where you could see Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota. To learn more about Ponca State Park, visit OutdoorNebraska.com.

After leaving Ponca, it was a little over five hours drive through rural Nebraska to get to Badlands National Park. The Badlands of South Dakota is one of the most interesting landscapes I have ever seen. The unique formations were formed by deposition, the rock building up over time, and erosion, the rock wearing away. The colorful layers in the rock formations show moments in geologic time with different layers forming at different times. (https://www.nps.gov/articles/000/badl-geologic-formations.htm)

Badlands Window Formation

Badlands Window Formation

Badlands National Park got its name from the local Lakota people. They called the area mako sica, meaning “bad lands”. Before modern roads, this area was not easy to traverse and is probably how it got its name. It has been said that the name doesn’t do the park justice and that it scares some people away.  I can tell you that wasn’t the case when we visited. While it wasn’t as busy or as hard to find parking as Yellowstone, there were plenty of people exploring these bad lands.

We had planned to do some hiking in the park but arriving in the middle of the day during a heatwave put a damper on that. While we were driving through the park, it got up to 96 degrees. Because of that, we stuck to exploring the park by car and stopping at the scenic turnouts. We did hike the quarter mile Window Trail (above) but that was all I could manage in the heat.  I would love to return to the park when it’s cooler and get off the road a bit.

Of course, near Badlands National Park is the famous Wall Drug. This is really the only tourist trap we stopped at on this trip (our detour through Nebraska caused us to miss the corn palace). In case you’ve never heard of it, Wall Drug is a giant cowboy-themed store adjacent to Badlands National Park. It’s hard to miss the many billboards along I-90 advertising free ice water, 5 cent coffee, and their giant dinosaur. We decided to get dinner in their cafe and I was surprised by the quality of the food. Yes, it is a giant, crowded gift shop but it was a good stop to get a bite to eat and cool down after exploring the park. To plan your visit to Wall Drug, visit their website.

We used the GyPSy Guide to the Badlands and the Black Hills while exploring the area. The app gives suggested routes while also teaching you about the region. If you are planning a trip to this area, I highly recommend it!

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Wordless Wednesday: Blacksmith at Work

Blacksmith

I-80 Road Trip

Herbert Hoover's Birthplace

We left for our road trip after work on a Friday and drove down to Ottowa, Illinois. From Ottowa, we continued on I-80 through Iowa to our next stop at Dakota Dunes, South Dakota. Using RoadTrippers, I had planned a few stops along our route to get out and stretch our legs and break up this 7 hour driving day. The first stop was very close to our hotel, Starved Rock State Park. From there we planned to see the world’s largest truck stop at Iowa 80, with a final stop at the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site.

Frenchman's Canyon

Frenchman’s Canyon

Starved Rock State Park is frequently described as the most beautiful State Park in Illinois with 13 miles of trails through 18 canyons. We left our hotel early in the morning and headed to the park and even though it wasn’t that hot when we arrived, I want to say it was in the 70s, there had to be 100% humidity. It was like trying to hike through a swamp. The first place we headed to was the Starved Rock Overlook which is about a half-mile trail from the visitor center. The trail takes you to the top of Starved Rock with a view over the very industrial Illinois River. We decided to explore some of the canyons the park is known for and headed to the Frenchman Canyon. It was much cooler in the canyon but because of the hot and dry conditions, the waterfall was practically nonexistent (left). With much more of the park left for another trip, we headed back to the car and continued our drive to Iowa.

Inside the Trucking Museum

Right around lunchtime, we pulled into Iowa 80, the World’s Largest Truck Stop. I have to say, if it wasn’t for the See America Podcast, I don’t think I would’ve stopped here. I’m not a trucker and I’m not really into tourist traps, so I probably would’ve driven right by this. But, it was a perfect spot for lunch with a full-service restaurant as well as a food court with seven fast-food options. After eating lunch, we decided to check out the free trucking museum. I have to say, it was more interesting than I expected and if you have kids who love trucks, they would probably be able to explore this small museum for hours. It reminded me a lot of a smaller version of the Henry Ford Museum, with historic trucks from around the world, all with different purposes. All in all, I was very glad we stopped here to eat and explore a little bit before continuing our drive westward.

Isis Statue at Herbert Hoover National Historic Site

Isis statue was a gift to Hoover for his humanitarian efforts to Belgium during World War 1.

After a half an hour drive from the truck stop, we arrived at Herbert Hoover National Historic Site. This is a small National Park Service Site honoring the early years of the 31st president. The highlight of the park is the tiny one-room cottage where Hoover was born (top). Nearby, you can explore the blacksmith shop where a ranger was stationed to explain how Jesse Hoover, Herbert’s father, made horseshoes and wagon wheels. Probably one of the most interesting buildings was the friend’s meetinghouse where the Hoovers attended Quaker meetings every week. Also in the park, you can visit Herbert and Lou Hoover’s final resting place. I remember learning about President Hoover in school and not much positive was said about him in our textbooks. It was good to learn a little bit more about the man and to understand where he came from and how his early life shaped the president I read about in school.

After visiting the site, we continued on to Dakota Dunes, South Dakota, just outside Sioux City, Iowa. After spending the night, we took a jaunt into Nebraska before continuing on to Badlands National Park and Custer, South Dakota. Be sure to stop back next week as I continue recounting our western expedition!

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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I80 Pinterest Graphic Road Trip Pinterest Graphic

Epic National Park Road Trip

For the benefit and enjoyment of the people

We are back from our biggest trip yet. We were gone for 23 days, visiting 7 national parks, 4 other National park service sites, and 4 state parks spanning 12 states (8 of which were new to us). We had incredible luck on the trip securing a reasonably priced rental car and managing to score last-minute reservations at two incredibly popular national park lodges. To top off our luck, the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National park opened for the season on the day we needed to use it to get from one end of the park to the other.

This was a once-in-a-lifetime trip during the busiest summers for our National Parks ever! Throughout this trip report, I will share our experiences with the crowds and ways to avoid the worst of the congestion.

Here’s a little breakdown of the trip and a sneak peek of what is to come throughout this trip report:

  1. Ottowa, IL
  2. Dakota Dunes, SD
    • Ponca State Park
    • Badlands National Park
  3. Custer, SD
    • Custer State Park
    • Mt. Rushmore National Memorial
    • Wind Cave National Park
    • Jewel Cave National Monument
    • Devils Tower National Monument
  4. Old Faithful Inn
    • Yellowstone National Park
    • Grand Teton National Park
  5. Rising Sun Motor Inn
    • GlacierNational Park
  6. Watford City, ND
    • Theodore Roosevelt National Park
  7. Moorhead, MN
    • Mall of America
    • Wisconsin Dells
  8. Madison WI
    • Indiana Dunes National Park

We did SO much on this trip, this will probably take me months to recap, but I am looking forward to it! Thanks for stopping by!  To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Road Trip Pin

Happy Independence Day!

Mt. Rushmore Faces

Wordless Wednesday: Prairie Dog

Prairie Dog

Lyndon B Johnson National Historical Park

Cow in Field

Cow grazing at LBJ Ranch

Lyndon B Johnson National Historical Park is located in Johnson City (Lyndon’s family founded the town) about half an hour from Fredericksburg. The park “tells the story of our 36th President beginning with his ancestors until his final resting place on his beloved LBJ Ranch.” (NPS).

Log Cabin built by LBJ's grandparents

Log cabin built by LBJ’s grandparents in the Johnson Settlement section of the park

LBJ National Historic Park is made up of Johnson’s Boyhood Home, LBJ’s grandparents’ settlement, and LBJ’s Texas White House. The areas of the park are about 14 miles apart and a car is recommended for touring the park. Adjacent to the LBJ Ranch district of the park, LBJ State Park is home to the Saur-Beckmann Living History Farm, an Olympic-sized swimming pool, hiking trails, a bison herd, and a herd of Texas Longhorns.

Texas White House

LBJ’s ranch is probably the highlight of this park. Driving through the ranch and being able to see descendants of the president’s cattle (top) was a pretty unique experience. The Texas White House is one of the biggest attractions of the park. The Johnsons donated their Texas home to the Park Service while they were still alive but tours of the home were not offered until Mrs. Johnson’s death in 2007. In 2008, the President’s Texas office was opened to tours. Unfortunately, it is currently closed to visitors because of structural issues in the home. Visitors are still able to view it from behind a fence and get photos of it from an awkward angle (above).

LBJ's Presidential Plane in its Hangar

Parking at the hangar to get an up-close view of Air Force 1/2 (above) was pretty special too. Air force 1 was too large to land at the runway on the ranch so the president frequently flew a smaller JetStar to his Texas home, allowing him to continue his work away from D.C. The plane returned home to the park in 2016.

Overall, if you are in the hill country, I highly recommend a stop at LBJ National Historic Park. It will allow you to get a better picture of the 36th president (while skimming over issues regarding Vietnam) and his family history. The park is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day and is free to visit. For more information visit NPS.gov and Texas State Parks.

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Texas Hill Country Road Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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LBJ Ranch Pinterest Graphic

LBJ Ranch Pinterest Graphic

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