At Mount Rushmore National Memorial after an early fall snowstorm

We had been in South Dakota’s Black Hills for two weeks enjoying unseasonably warm fall weather. Daytime highs had been averaging in the 70s, we had mostly sunny days, and fall colors were peaking. But, as we know, fall travel weather can be fickle. Conditions were about to take a massive turn, just in time for our friend’s visit.

For months we had been planning a meet up with friends Mick and Suzy. Mick and Jason were Navy buddies and that friendship has persisted over the decades. Mick and Suzy are always up for new adventures and they are game for anything. We hiked together at Rainier years ago and now they were wanting to join us with their first RV, a super cute Airstream. About a week before their arrival, the weather forecast showed temperatures dropping into the 50s and a slight chance of rain. As the week progressed, the forecast became more ominous. The various forecasting agencies were in stark disagreement on how much, but it looked like we’d be getting some snow. We moved from our dry camping site at Lake Sheridan, where we knew the road wouldn’t get plowed, to Black Elk Peak Resort which was just off a plowed highway with full hookups. The owner of the resort drives snow plow for the state and he guessed they’d only get a few inches there. The extended forecast showed temperatures quickly rebounding to the 60s, so we knew we wouldn’t be snowbound more than a day or two. Our friends live in snow country and it wasn’t deterring them. Not to mention, where else would we go? This was a massive storm with an uncertain track. Everything of interest within a day’s drive was potentially going to get hammered. We decided to ride it out and have ourselves a good adventure.

Friends Mick & Suzy at Mount Rushmore

Mick and Suzy arrived on Sunday and were greeted by 60 degrees and sun. The forecasts were still discrepant, but it looked like we’d be getting somewhere between a few inches and two feet of snow. On Monday we enjoyed a beautiful hike to Black Elk Peak in full sun with temperatures in the upper 50s. Then Tuesday morning we awoke to a dusting of snow—a small taste of what was ahead. The storm was supposed to pick up around noon, so we decided to run up to Mount Rushmore quick.

Mick and Suzy arrived on a beautiful fall day

Arriving at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, we were disappointed. The presidents all had their heads in the clouds, the Presidential Trail was closed due to icy conditions, and the Sculptor’s Studio was closed. Three strikes and you’re out? We did luck out with a mountain goat sighting and Suzy and I were able to get our National Parks Passport Books stamped at the visitor center. But otherwise, it was an epic fail.

We waited and waited for the clouds to clear. The crowd cheered when we got this view for a brief second. Then they disappeared again.

On our way back to camp, we ran into the Hill City grocery store to stock up on snacks and drinks for our upcoming cave afternoon. I’ll confess, the foul weather had us all craving hibernation food and our carts looked a bit like teenagers with the munchies. In the short time we were there, the storm settled over us and snow was rapidly accumulating. We hustled back to camp and hunkered down. By the following morning, we awoke to about a foot of wet, heavy snow. All of us at Black Elk Peak were stuck. Even our high clearance, 4-wheel drive truck was no match for those conditions. Fortunately, the owners of the RV park brought in a plow and we were set free as the sun began to break through the clouds.

Lucky for us, the crew at the South Dakota Department of Transportation does an exceptional job of clearing the highways. We could hear the plows running all night and by late morning, the main roads were in good shape. And remember how I said the owner of the RV park drives plow for the state? Well, it just so happens that his route is the highway up to Mount Rushmore and he had it looking great! We dug our trucks out of the snow and headed out to redeem ourselves from our failed trip the day prior.

Arriving at Mount Rushmore, we were greeted by partly sunny skies and a great view of presidents Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln. The Presidential Trail remained closed due to snow and ice, but at least we were able to admire the classic view of the memorial. Success!

Suzy celebrates our first sighting of the presidents

Fortunately, the weather improved quickly and Mick and Suzy were able to get their RV out two days later for their return trip home. We wish we’d had better conditions and a longer visit with them, but it was great to see them and we were definitely left with some memories we will never forget! We left the Black Hills three days later. Most of the snow had melted by then and we had enjoyed beautiful weather those last few days. But we knew it was time to get while the getting was good!

Happy trails to you, until we meet again! Old navy buddies saying goodbye until the next adventure.
Most of the snow had melted off by our departure day

Why Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, & Lincoln?

Why did sculptor Gutzon Borglum select presidents Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln for Mount Rushmore? To him, they best represent the nation’s birth, growth, development and preservation. Four hundred men worked with Borglum from October 1927 to October 1941to chisel the 60 foot tall faces into the granite spires of the Black Hills using a combination of dynamite, jackhammers, and fine carving tools. For those interested in more details, the National Park Service has more memorial history here.

George Washington’s profile as seen from the highway

George Washington, First President of the United States

Washington led the colonists in the American Revolutionary War to win independence from Great Britain. He was the father of the new country and laid the foundation of American democracy. Because of his importance, Borglum chose Washington to be the most prominent figure on the mountain and represent the birth of the United States.

“The preservation of the sacred fire of Liberty, and the destiny of the Republican model of Government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.” George Washington

Thomas Jefferson, Third President of the United States

Jefferson was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, a document which inspires democracies around the world. He also purchased the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803 which doubled the size of our country, adding all or part of fifteen present-day states. Gutzon Borglum chose Jefferson to represent the growth of the United States.

“We act not for ourselves but for the whole human race. The event of our experiment is to show whether man can be trusted with self – government.” Thomas Jefferson

Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States

Roosevelt provided leadership when America experienced rapid economic growth as it entered the 20th Century. He was instrumental in negotiating the construction of the Panama Canal, linking the east and the west. He was known as the “trust buster” for his work to end large corporate monopolies and ensure the rights of the common working man. Borglum chose Roosevelt to represent the development of the United States.

“The first requisite of a good citizen in this Republic of ours is that he shall be able and willing to pull his weight – that he shall not be a mere passenger.” Theodore Roosevelt

Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States

Lincoln held the nation together during its greatest trial, the Civil War. Lincoln believed his most sacred duty was the preservation of the union. It was his firm conviction that slavery must be abolished. Gutzon Borglum chose Lincoln to represent the preservation of the United States.

“I leave you hoping that the lamp of liberty will burn in your bosoms until there shall no longer be a doubt that all men are created free and equal.” Abraham Lincoln

A Fifth President?

Reportedly, when Mount Rushmore was completed in 1941, the sculptors stated that the remaining rock was not suitable for additional carvings. I came across the results of a survey of political science experts conducted by The New York Times in 2018. Franklin D. Roosevelt was the most popular choice for addition to Mount Rushmore. In total, 66% of respondents would choose Roosevelt, followed by Barack Obama at 7% and Ronald Reagan at 5%.

Beautiful drive to Mount Rushmore after the storm

The Adventure Continues

Be sure to join us for our next post as we visit one last National Park before leaving South Dakota. And don’t forget to check out our Amazon RV and Adventure Gear recommendations. We only post products that we use and that meet the Evans Outdoor Adventures seal of approval. By accessing Amazon through our links and making any purchase, you get Amazon’s every day low pricing and they share a little with us. This helps us maintain this website and is much appreciated!

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