Chuck Williams

Bucket list item gets punched after fog lifts in South Dakota’s Black Hills

Mount Rushmore in the background last week as the fog lifted and the national monument was visable for the first time in days.
Mount Rushmore in the background last week as the fog lifted and the national monument was visable for the first time in days. chwilliams@ledger-enquirer

For three days —three cloudy, rainy, foggy days — it looked like the bucket-list item was going to have to wait.

Mount Rushmore has always been on my bucket list, but the opportunity to see it just never presented itself. Until a week ago.

But I can tell you this about Mount Rushmore: it ain’t much good if you can’t see it. I assure you that Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt can be buried by dense fog.

On the night my wife and I arrived in Rapid City, S.D., we decided to make a quick run to Rushmore, just to sneak a peek. It was getting dark, there was a persistent rain and it was 48 degrees.

No problem.

So we pull up and pay our $20 to drive into the national park. It was pretty empty, so I just followed the bus signs. Quickly, a park ranger appeared and told us we were in the wrong place.

Since there was no one else around, I asked if you could see Mount Rushmore from where we were. He looked over the hood of our car, then stuck his head back in the window.

“Nope,” was his matter-of-fact answer.

All I could think was, “I have been here and done this before.” Years ago, I went to a Chicago Cubs game in historic Wrigley Field. Sitting seven rows behind the Pirates dugout, I was prepared to punch out another bucket-list item.

After a rain delay that lasted nearly seven hours, the game was canceled. So, I can technically say I have been to Wrigley Field, but I have never seen the Cubs play there.

For three days, Mount Rushmore remained hidden by fog and clouds. I just knew my bucket list was always going to have an asterisk, just like Wrigley Field.

With Mount Rushmore on hold, we went to the Badlands, and I am here to report they are still bad and beautiful. I think. The Badlands in a deep fog is not ideal, but at least you could make out the shapes of the rock formations.

We went to Devil’s Tower, a volcanic formation in Wyoming. The fog broke just in time for us to see the spectacular structure. Fog can also hide the beauty of the Black Hills.

On the final day of the trip, it was still foggy and rainy. There was little hope that it would break after lunch. We spent the morning riding Needles Highway and inside Custer State Park.

If you have to kill time, Custer State Park is the place to do it. There are very few things that compare to watching bison roam in an open field. On the way back toward Rushmore, we stopped at the Crazy Horse Memorial, not far from Rushmore. Crazy Horse’s 85-foot head, much like the presidents, is quite the monument but still is decades away from being finished.

As impressive as it was, Crazy Horse was not on my bucket list.

With just a few hours left, we took one more shot at Rushmore. There was still fog in the hills, but for the first time, you could see the expansive beauty of the mountains.

This time we scored.

The fog had lifted and you could see Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln high on the mountaintop. At first you just stop, look and soak it in. Then you just shake your head in amazement.

As a son of the South, I have been to Stone Mountain, but it doesn’t compare to Mount Rushmore. Very few things do.

Chuck Williams: 706-571-8510, @chuckwilliams