Posing Prairie dog

We left De Smet early this morning (6/28/16) headed for Keystone.  It’s about a five hour drive, but we wanted my niece Anna to see this beautiful landmark.

We decided to go by way of the Badlands to give another amazing experience. If you’ve never been, the beauty of this National Park is overwhelming.  After driving five hours over relatively flat lands with prairie grasses and fields currently packed with hay bales, stumbling upon the varied colors and structures of the Badlands is a contrast like no other.  I can’t imagine how those first pioneers reacted upon seeing it.

Approaching the Badlands, we opted to stop at the prairie dog store (before the official Prairie dog town.) I think Prairie dogs are such fascinating creatures!  Since we had already been to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Homestead, we didn’t feel the need to pay for the Prairie dog town to see a soddie. At the Prairie Dog Store, we got to see prairie dogs for free.  These were so used to people, they’ll let you get right up next to them.  We even got two to take peanuts from our hands. (You can purchase peanuts from the store–you’re asked not to give them other food.)

The yellow Badlands

Having satisfied my desire to see prairie dogs, we went to the badlands.  This amazing landscape is so peaceful. We stopped a few places to climb, but many places, we simply sat and listened to the sound of the vast emptiness, broken only by the hum of passing engines and prairie grasses rustling in the wind.  Truly amazing. My favorite area was the yellow rocks.  There’s also a great number of overlooks for hiking, climbing, or simply sitting to absorb the beauty.

Mount Rushmore at night

But, we were trying to get to Keystone before the rain, so we didn’t spend as long as we could have. We made it to Keystone, settled in, grabbed dinner, and headed to Rushmore.

We wanted to be there for the lighting ceremony, and it truly was an incredible time. At 9:00, there is an evening program consisting of a ranger sharing, a video about the park, and the lighting ceremony.   At the conclusion of the program, the ranger invited all military personnel (active and retired) to come to the stage to be honored.

Military personnel in attendance

They also were able to participate in the flag lowering ceremony. I was amazed that in a crowd of about 2,000, there were so many military personnel.  I know there were even more who didn’t navigate the stairs (the man by us for example.)  Despite the fact that the crowd contained people from all over the world (I met a family from Poland, there were other foreigners we encountered, including the Thai man who served us ice cream), still when the service men and women shared their names and ranks to be honored, you could hear a pin drop.  2,000+ people completely silent to honor these heroes.  It made me wonder what those from other countries thought in that moment.  Then, we stood to sing the national anthem. Truly a breathtaking time!