Today was unseasonably hot; way too hot to do our planned hike in Custer State Park, so instead we drove around the Wildlife Loop Road, checking out the abundant wild creatures that inhabit this area. Large herds of Buffalo, along with white tail deer, antelope, wild turkeys, and even a herd of playful wild burros were some of the interesting animals we saw on the drive. From the loop road, we drove the Needles Highway, which passes by the Cathedral Spires, an area with towering rock pinnacles. The winding, and often narrow, road passes through very beautiful volcanic rock formations in the area and involves navigating three slightly challenging, single-lane tunnels.
From the Needles Highway, we made the short drive back to Mt. Rushmore for a daytime view of the mountain and a walk on the Presidential Trail. The temperature was almost at 90 degrees, but the trail is only one mile and is fairly shaded, so we thought we’d give it a try. The Presidential Trail takes you to just below the carvings, giving you perspectives that you can’t get from the viewing area alone. Along the way we passed by a herd of mountain goats that seemed uninterested in the steady stream of hikers going by. When we returned to the visitor’s center after our hike in the blistering heat, we went straight to the café; here we treated ourselves to a bowl of what may be the biggest and best ice cream found in any national park.
The temperature seemed to cool a bit by late afternoon, so we thought we’d try an easy hike near Hill City. The trail, called the Flume Trail, follows what was originally a canal that carried water along the hillside to a now-abandoned gold mine. The trail is a pleasant, 11-mile walk through pine-covered hillsides above Sheridan Reservoir. What makes this trail unique is how it passes through two of the remaining flume tunnels. If you want a nice walk without the crowds, this is the place to be; during our two-hour walk we didn’t see another person.