Our dilly dallying around in 19th century history in Wyoming meant a late arrival into South Dakota. We had made arrangements to stay in Custer State Park and called ahead to let them know we may arrive a day early and we finally got to the campground around 1am.
But not before seeing wildlife. As we drove through the park towards the campground we saw some deer near the road but even better we saw two buffalo. The first one we saw freaked us out, it was walking just next to a curve in the road and we both only realized what it was just after we’d passed its dark shape. Jessie was thrilled, she may just get to see some wildlife on this trip.
Shortly before we got to the park Jessie realized that we had not booked a campsite with full hookups, instead it was electricity only. That’s just not the way we roll. So we pulled up an email from my friend Mike that recommend a good KOA resort near Mt. Rushmore. I ran around and confirmed that the entire campground was in fact only had electric hookups, but we had to decide, should we stay here tonight and move in the morning? I was still plenty awake from all the energy drinks I’d consumed during the drive so I decided to drive to the KOA and figured we could park in their lot until they opened in the morning.
The road suggested by the GPS navigation device took us out of the park to the north, not the way we had just come in. As we turned out of the park a sign warned that the road ahead was narrow and steep and came with one-lane bridges and tunnels, the shortest clearance only 12 foot 4 inches. I asked Jessie, “How tall is this RV, didn’t the guy tell us it was 12 foot-something?” She pulled out the RV information sheet from the rental place and it said “Most of our RVs are 12 feet high…” Uh oh.
We pressed on. I figured I’d stop at the tunnel entrance when we found it and climb the ladder to the roof to see if we’d make it in. I was definitely nervous.
The road itself came through on the narrow and steep promise. I traveled slowly up the mountain road and was thankful it was middle of the night and no other cars were there to compete for passage. We saw scores more deer and even encountered two donkeys on the road at one point. Jessie was tired and decided to go to sleep, and I assured her I’d wake her up if I needed her help to turn around should this gamble go the wrong way.
After what seemed like forever I finally found the first tunnel. This was the shortest, the 12 foot 4 inch one. I maneuvered to get a straight shot into the hole and stopped just as the nose was about to enter. I climbed the ladder and peered over the air conditioning unit, trying to gauge its relative height and see if I could safely proceed. Even though I felt like I didn’t have any definitive evidence of any kind, I decided to chance it and go on.
Very slowly I drove into the tunnel and I listened for the possibility of anything on the roof hitting rock. No sound. I continued. No sound. Then I was safely out.
I continued, confident that I’d passed through the lowest of the tunnels and that I’d be fine the rest of the way. The road got even windier, the switchback turns very tight indeed, but eventually I stopped climbing and began to descend on the other side of whatever mountain this was. I had to remain alert, though, because the going down was just as steep as the going up and I didn’t want to lose my brakes. I got through it and just before 2am I was on real highways again, just miles from our new KOA destination.
One feature of this night was the moon was quite full and bright. This provided me a nice reward for the last hour’s scary trip, because I actually drove past Mt. Rushmore on the way to the resort. In the moonlight the faces of the presidents were visible and it was a pretty sight. A nice way to see the monument for the first time.
I pulled into KOA at 2:00 and parked. As expected the office was closed so I locked up and laid down and slept. In the morning I’ll register and get us our site.