Ah Yes 2013 was a great year.

We spent the winter in North Phoenix RV Park volunteering to be Activity Directors which meant that we did the things that we love to do.  Plan Parties, Pot Lucks, and Theme Dinners and breakfasts.  We must have done it well as people threatened to disable our RV so we couldn’t leave.  We got a lot of hugs and lots of “will you be back next year?” and “you throw a heck of a party, thanks!”

In early spring we were offered and accepted a Workamper Job with the Mt. Rushmore History Association as Cashiers at the Book Stores in Keystone, SD.  We were to arrive on May 1st for our first day of work. We arrived close to Keystone in a snow storm so bad that we not only had second thoughts about the job, but were not sure where we were.  We saw a sign for Custer’s Gulch RV Park and pulled in.  The people at the office were very nice and let us stay the night even though they were not open for the season.  The season is quite short in South Dakota, as you can imagine. The next morning we woke to a winter wonderland, the ground was covered with about 3 or 4 inches of snow.  It started melting and was gone by the next day.

We were offered, an RV space, contracted by the Historical Society for $1.25 an hour for each of us deducted from our pay.  We chose to get our own site and pay for it and keep the $1.25.  As it turned out it was to our advantage, as the first week one of the workampers wives was taken to the hospital and was out of commission for several weeks, so we volunteered to work overtime which meant we worked 6 days a week and did grocery shopping and Laundry in our day off.  By the time she could come back to work and we were back on 5 days a week we were exhausted, but considerably richer as the most we paid for our site and electric was about $400.00 a month.  She returned to work and finished her contract and by the time we left she looked in good health.

We decided on Holy Smoke RV Park (very few RV Parks or Resorts are open until the 15th of May).  Holy Smoke RV Park was basically a site with full hook-up with no amenities except deer and wild turkeys,   sometimes right next to our Motor Home.  Several times, we had to wait for them to get out of the road to get out of the park.  We also learned to drive down the mountain at night with our high beams on, as the deer crossed the road at their leisure, and we heard that there is at least one deer hit every year.  The owner also owned the Holy Smoke Restaurant just a short climb up the hill from the park and served Buffalo Steaks. YUM YUM!! BTW Buffalo steaks or burgers have to be cooked rare or medium rare or it is like shoe leather!  Hard to imagine that something that good is actually good for you.

The nearest Walmart was in Rapid City about 30 miles and Laundry was in Hill City about 12 miles away.  Red Rover loved the drive as it was all four lane highway.  During the tourist season as you can imagine, the prices go up exponentially with the arrival of tourists; everything gets more expensive in Keystone than we were willing to pay.   We discovered a great place to do laundry!  In Hill City there is a Gas Station/Deli/Laundry/Casino on the main street!  You did see that there was a Casino, right?  Well, most of the time while our clothes were drying we played a little.  We won enough money most of the time to pay not only for our Laundry, but to drive to Rapid City and pay for our weeks groceries.  We are not real serious gamblers, if we win with our $10.00 we stay, if not we leave.  The first week we went to Rapid City for groceries and Gas we stopped at a little Casino call Jokers, and I walked out with $148.00.  We didn’t win all the time, but was fun when we did.

Cashiering is not difficult.  Learning the somewhat antiquated computer system was somewhat of a challenge, when in the middle of a very large order the computer shut down, we sweat a little trying to remain calm; smiling when we had to “reboot” and start all over again, while keeping people from charging like angry Rhinos to get their purchases rang up so they could catch their tour buses, or just get on with their tour.  Sometimes we just wanted to say “Calm down, you are on vacation”! We understood no one loves to stand in line, but” we could only do what we could do”.

We worked in one of three stores, but rarely the same on two days in a row.  As you enter the park through the big Granite arches on the right is the Information Center which is manned or womaned by a Ranger or two when the busy season started and a small book store.  They also rent (for FREE) wheelchairs! Directly across the Granite walkway is the Audio Tour building where you can rent Audio Wands to hear information about what you are seeing and about the park.  On either side of the Audio Tour building, in huge letters is sign for the Mens and Ladies Rooms.  Several times a day a frantic vacationer would come in, interrupt another customer and say “Where’s the restrooms”, after a few weeks on the job we would just point with a smile across the walkway.

As you walk up the 200 yard Granite walkway you will see a bust of Gutzon Borglund, the sculptor on the left, and on the right is a plaque that has all of the 400 workers names.   The amazing thing to me is that he scouted the Black Hills on horseback for weeks to find this mountain.  He looked at it and decided that it would be perfect.  He didn’t have any of the modern technologies to ascertain that it could be sculpted, I say sculptured for want of a better word!  BTW 90% of the sculpting was done with dynamite.  When the guys first started working with the dynamite, they complained of headaches, when they started wearing gloves the headaches stopped. One of the ingredients in the Dynamite is Nitro Glycerin.

Btw, there were minor accidents in sculpting the mountain, but no one lost their lives, and it cost less than a million dollars.  By today’s rules and regulations, it could not have been done.  Most of the workers were mine workers, so were familiar with the tools and the concept.

As you continue up the walkway, there is a huge gift shop on the left and a restaurant on the right. As you continue up to the sculptures, lined with granite pillars with a flag of each of the states and several provinces.  At this point; if you are not awed by the spectacle of the magnificent faces, just wait until you get to the Grand View Terrace!  You can look at “the guys” (as we called them) through the Viewers or just take tons of pictures.  Many times I took visitors (point and shoot) cameras and took pictures of them with the faces as a background.  We are probably in hundreds of pictures just going to and from work.

You may see several White Mountain Goats just walking in the park and feeding.  As many times as we tell people that they are not tame, photography enthusiasts try to get close and sometime try to get a picture of themselves beside a goat or worse, a picture of their kids beside or on the back of a goat. One of the Rangers jobs is to protect the visitors from themselves and their enthusiasm!  The goats are not indigenous to the area.  A brilliant bureaucrat decided that it would be great to have several on display for visitors to Custer State Park and had nice large fenced arena built just for them.  Guess what? He forgot that they are Mountain Goats and can climb!  They promptly got out and went up into the mountains never to be rounded up.  They multiplied and you may see them along side of the road and if you climb on the mountains.   As a matter of fact sometimes looking through binoculars you will spot them on the Presidents heads.

Now that you are at Grand View terrace you will not only see the faces but looking down you can see the open auditorium with the stage.  You can take two flights of stairs down or the elevator to the main floor to the Ranger Station, the largest Book Store, the Borglum Museum, Movie Theaters, and more bathrooms.   When you look out through the full wall windows you will see the Sculptures.  Every night there is a patriotic presentation with a movie and all the past and present Veterans are invited up on the stage for the flag lowering.  I have seen the Rangers make special arrangements for dis-abled Veterans to get to the stage.  It is very moving and most people have tears in their eyes and sometimes just telling tourists about it we get a little misty eyed.

If you are into hiking there is the Presidents Trail that goes as close as you can get to the mountain and down to the Sculptures Studio.  At the Sculptures Studio, there is a “Ranger talk” several times a day. The studio was actually used by Gutzon and there is a 1/12 the size model of the faces on the mountain.  I have taken many pictures of people in front of them.  Another side light, when you got down to the Sculpture’s Studio the only way back to Grand View Terrace is a lot of steps  or back up the Presidents trail.  The Sculpture’s Studio does not have a public restroom, however about half way up the steps there is one. I worked there a lot and that was the hardest thing to say no to people.  Sometimes people got down there and realized that they could not climb the stairs and we called the rangers to arrange transportation back.  Several times we have had to call the Rangers to come get people that collapsed from the strain and lack of water.  We have a fountain at the Sculpture’s Studio, but no water for sale.  The Rangers could make arrangements for handicapped to drive down, but because there was a very small parking lot it could not be open to the public.  I climbed the stairs once and that was enough! When I worked down there and Shirl worked up at the top, I dropped him off and drove down.  There is an electronic gate that our badges would open.  I felt a little guilty, but we got enough walking just getting to work, we lost about 30 lbs each.

We were asked to invite people to purchase a yearly membership in the Historical Society.  They got a 15% discount in all book stores in any National Park in the US and 10% at the other concessions by Zanterra. They cost $30.00 for individual membership, or $50.00 for family membership which gave them two cards and 2 audio tours.  We received a credit for the sales of them and at the end of the contract we were given gift cards, the value of which depended on how many memberships we sold.  We really enjoyed spending them when we got back to Phoenix.

We were given a VIP card and one of the History Society cards that got us into many of the things to see in the Black Hills, and we did as much sight-seeing as we had time for.  Look on facebook and as time permits I am putting albums on of the attractions that we had time to visit.  We really enjoyed our time in South Dakota.  The scenery is beautiful and the people are friendly and the air is fresh and clean.  If you haven’t visited this area, you should put it on one of your must do’s!


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