C2C Day 22 – Hot Springs to Rapid City SD

An action-packed 74 miles through the Black Hills today, including a memorable visit to Mount Rushmore.

The day started with a ride-by photo of Evans Plunge, a mineral water park that brought back good memories from my three boys. They stopped here to swim and plunge after dropping me off in Iowa for a prior bike ride (RAGBRAI 2012).

Then it was a steady climb up to Wind Cave National Park. Appropriately, a strong morning headwind welcomed us to the park, along with roaming bison and chirpy prairie dogs. Compared to their city cousins that reside in crowded barren patches along the Bear Creek trail back home in Denver, these rural prairie dogs have more room to spread out and better grass to munch on. I guess the downside for these rural dwellers is they are farther away from the downtown action, and they have to watch out for big clumsy buffaloes.

More climbing up to Crazy Horse monument. It’s still under construction and in need of funding, despite the fact that I bought a donation rock while visiting here as a kid 40 years ago (I’m not sure whatever happened to that rock?). Hopefully, this will one day be a spectacular memorial to the Sioux warrior from the Black Hills who lead the defeat of Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn.

Onward to Mount Rushmore. My rolling hills approach from the backside of the monument was cooled by a mountain shower that seemed to follow me for about 10 miles. It was wet, but also refreshing and exhilarating.

Then, a pleasant surprise was awaiting at Mount Rushmore. Among the throngs of tourists (who gave us spandex-clad cyclists an odd glance), I came across a person who worked on the monument as a driller. Nick Clifford was sitting quietly at a small table in the gift shop with his wife. Stunningly, nobody seemed to notice them – so I walked up and met an authentic man with amazing first-hand stories of excavating Mount Rushmore. Out of the million or so questions I could have asked him – the first one that came to mind was “What kind of drill did you use”? Mostly Jackhammers, was the answer. Turns out Nick was a fine baseball player, and helped the Rushmore Memorial Baseball Team advance to the State Tournament two years in a row. So the second question I asked was “What position did you play?”. Pitcher and Right Field. In part because of his baseball prowess, he was hired to be a Rushmore worker in 1938 at the age of 17.

Mr. Clifford signed a baseball card for me, as well as a small book that answers over a hundred questions that he regularly gets about being a Mount Rushmore worker. It was a true pleasure to meet Nick and his wife Carolyn.

Then, with a signed book and card in the back of my cycling jersey (way better than any Mount Rushmore trinket!), I made the mostly downhill trek into the town of Rapid City where we’ll spend the night. A great day.

~Dan

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