Thursday, October 1, 2009

Custer State Park

In June, we camped at Custer State Park in South Dakota. It was a great, inexpensive, place to stay while visiting Mount Rushmore.

I am in love with Custer State Park. It's like a national park that just is run by a state. It was made a State Forest in 1912 and much of the buildings, including the following (the visitor's center) were built by the CCC.

For those who don't know, the CCC was one of the social programs of the Great Depression. The Civilian Conservation Corps put young men to work during the depression. They built bridges and roads, and frequently built picnic areas and buildings within state parks and national parks across the country (my favorite Texas State Park, Garner State Park, is full of CCC architecture). They built in an Arts and Crafts style. And their designs, very rustic and close to nature, often using locally found materials, is often referred to as "National Park Rustic." Anyway, I enjoy CCC architecture and was delighted to see it in the park.

There are a lot of bison in the park and can be easily seen. This picture is not zoomed in at all. I took it out my window as we drove past.

They like to hold up traffic, too:

As do the burros. Many, many years ago (I believe in the 1920s?) you could hire a burro to take you to Harney Peak. When that service was discontinued, the burros were just set free. Now a "wild" herd of burros live in the park and beg drivers for food. When we passed these, another group of people were beginning to approach the burros with pieces of bread. The park allows it, since they're somewhat domesticated (or at least are the descendants of domesticated animals), though they tell you to "use your judgement." (Unlike the bison--everywhere you go and on every brochure/map/etc. it states "Buffalo are dangerous. Do not approach.")

We saw a lot of other animals in the park, too. In addition to the animals I mentioned in the last post, I also saw pronghorn, mule deer, a beaver (I think), and a bat. Also in the park, though we didn't see any, are big-horn sheep, mountain goats, rattlesnakes, and mountain lions.
A very hard to see mule deer:

And, a hiding pronghorn:
We really enjoyed Custer State Park. It was a great place to camp, and there's a lot we didn't get to do. We just might go back sometime, notwithstanding the 6 hour drive. :)

Mount Vernon

We visited Mt. Vernon in late June. It was hot and sticky, though not as hot as Virginia can get later in the summer. I rather missed the cool-ish, arid air of Colorado. We cooled off from our walk from the parking lot inside the visitor's center for awhile and watched a movie about George Washington.

After the movie, we walked toward the house, to get in line for a tour. We spent about an hour in line, during which the 3 boys had fun playing with leaves and being silly:

The tour was a bit rushed, but interesting. (Rather than your standard tour, there was just a line of people going through the house and a "tour guide" in each room talking about the room you were in). I found it rather interesting that the key to the Bastille is displayed here, having been sent to George Washington by the Marquis de Lafayette (a close friend to Washington, practically his adopted son).

I also found it interesting that, since he wanted his wooden home to look like stone, sand was thrown onto the wet paint to make the texture of the home look like stone. On one of the dependencies, I saw this chipped corner that shows how the "stone" is really wood. Also, I'd always heard about how the Mormon Pioneers had painted the pine used in early buildings, like the Salt Lake Tabernacle, to look like nicer woods. George Washington did this too; his pine paneling in the house was painted to look like mahogany.
What I really liked, though was his "backyard." With a superb view of the Potomac, and a cool porch to sit on, it was my favorite part of the estate.

Besides, there were magnolia trees! I haven't seen my second-favorite tree (the first being really big Live Oaks) in years. I love the big, white flowers that smell so nice! I gave James and Thomas each a boost to smell this one.
We stayed until past closing time (they stop letting people in at 5, but you can stay on the grounds until 5:30 and in the visitor center until 6). And, we of course visited the gift shop and added to my bookshelf. :) I'm glad I got a chance to see Mt. Vernon!