Swimming in Sylvan Lake

If you’ve seen the movie National Treasure: Book of Secrets, then you’ve seen a bit of Sylvan Lake, a crystal clear lake set amidst granite spires in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Spoiler Alert: The movie’s treasure hunt brings Nicholas Cage to Sylvan Lake for another clue.

Sylvan Lake

After a day of touring, we cooled off in the spring fed waters of Sylvan Lake. The water was cold and the altitude (at 6,200 feet) enough to take our breath away.

swimming at Sylvan Lake

The man-made lake is located on the Needles Highway in Custer State Park, South Dakota. There are picnic tables, restrooms, and a sandy beach. You can rent paddle boats or walk the the trail around the lake. Sylvan Lake Lodge offers overnight accommodations and dining at its restaurant.

Trip taken July 2013.

Cool Off in Jewel Cave

If you’re hot and in the Black Hills of South Dakota, there’s an easy way to cool down: enter one of the area’s caves. The national monuments of Wind Cave and Jewel Cave are both located in the southwest corner of South Dakota, not too far from Mount Rushmore. We visited Wind Cave on a previous South Dakota trip in 2005. This trip we focused on Jewel Cave, the third longest cave in the world.

While there is a visitor center which you can visit at no cost, to really see the cave’s jewels, you need to take a tour. Jewel Cave National Monument offers four tours which range in time, price, and strenuous ability: the scenic tour, discovery tour, historic lantern tour, and wild caving tour.

Jewel Cave jewels

Although my spelunking experienced husband would have preferred the 4-hour wild caving tour, we chose the scenic tour, a moderately strenuous 1.5-hour tour.

Jewel Cave Sights

After descending deep underground (in an elevator), we (and about 25 others) followed our tour guide on a paved trail through chambers decorated with calcite crystals and other speleothems.

Scenic Tour

Although we traveled only 1/2 mile, there are over 170 miles of mapped and surveyed passages. If you want to do more, the wild caving tour takes you along a 2/3 mile route, but you will have to belly crawl through a passage 8 1/2 inches high by 24 inches wide.

Jewel Cave Visitors

Tickets are only available on a first come first served basis and, except for the wild caving tour, must be purchased the day of the tour. My advice – get there early to choose the time of your tour. The entrance to Jewel Cave is located 13 miles west of the city of Custer, South Dakota.

Jewel Cave National Monument

Trip taken July 2013.

World’s Largest Sculpture: It’s Not What (or Where) You Might Think

So you thought Mount Rushmore was big! Well, wait until you see Crazy Horse Memorial. This memorial, paid for by private donations, not public ones, is worth more than a drive by. Not only is there a sculpted monument in progress to observe (you can take a bus to get near the site), there are museums and gift shops as well.

Crazy Horse Memorial

How big is the carving? Imagine a 35-foot tall hand or a 219-foot tall horse’s head. Crazy Horse’s head is 87 feet 6 inches high. When complete, the entire carving will be 641 feet long by 563 feet high! (The faces of Mount Rushmore are just 60 feet high.)

And why is it there? Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear asked Korczak Ziolkowski, a sculptor who assisted Gutzon Borglum on Mount Rushmore, to create a monument “to honor the culture, tradition, and living heritage of North American Indians.” According to the website, “Native American leaders chose Crazy Horse for the Mountain Carving because he was a great and patriotic hero. Crazy Horse’s tenacity of purpose, his modest life, his unfailing courage, and his tragic death set him apart and above the others.”

Crazy Horse Model

Work on the world’s largest mountain sculpture officially began on June 3, 1948 and continues. In 1976, the Indian Museum of North America opened which includes artifacts and art from a variety of American Indian cultures. In 1996, the Native American Educational and Cultural Center was added. It includes artifact collections and Native American vendors and artisans.

Cost of admission is $11 or $28 per carload. It’s an extra $4 to take the bus up close to the bottom of the mountain. Crazy Horse Memorial is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) foundation.

Trip taken July 2013.