If you've ever wondered how misunderstood South Dakota is by folks on the coasts, I invite you to check out the latest edition of the New York Times Magazine.

The publication recently sent one of their travel writers, Sam Anderson, to the upper Midwest to write-up a report on a trip to Mount Rushmore. During the dead of winter.

See where this is headed?

Don't get me wrong. The Black Hills are lovely and filled with various things to do when the snow flies.

Snowmobiling? Sure.

Skiing, snowboarding, and snow shoeing? Absolutely!

Ice fishing? Why not?

But standing outside in sub freezing temperatures near Keystone, gawking at our 'Great Faces', isn't exactly high on the list of 'touristy' things to do.

All of that came as quite a shock to Mr. Anderson upon his arrival in West River:

It was unfathomably empty. In downtown Rapid City, we idled at empty intersections, block after snowy block, waiting for traffic lights that governed no traffic. Emptiness is, to some degree, South Dakota’s natural condition: It is the 17th-largest state in the country but has only the 46th-largest population — the square mileage of Senegal, the people of Fort Worth. The emptiness reaches a new extreme in winter, when all the tourists scatter and the open spaces take over. The map-boards on the sidewalks, set up to guide pedestrians from shop to shop, were covered in a crust of snow. Our hotel, a grand old lodge built concurrently with Mount Rushmore itself, bragged of hosting six presidents over the decades. But its rooms, in February, were cheap and vacant, and we met no one in the grand lobby except imitation wooden Indians and mounted bison heads.

Upon arriving at Mount Rushmore, Anderson admits that he and his family were at a bit of a loss as to who exactly they were looking at. He says they were finally able to reach a consensus on Presidents Washington, Lincoln, and Roosevelt, but were drawing a compete blank as to the identity of face number-four.

Thank God for Google. It supplied them with the missing piece of the puzzle - Thomas Jefferson - you know, the guy on the nickel.

All these years, I figured the names of the men carved into by Gutzon Borglum and his crew were fairly common knowledge. I apparently need to rethink that.

Later, still not fully grasping the notion of 'off-season', the family Anderson pulled into Custer, only to discover a coffee shop and bakery that came highly recommended by one of their Black Hills guidebooks, were both closed.

Who knew?

Bison roam the Black Hills of South Dakota
Getty Images

The story does appear to have a happy ending. The family had some memorable encounters with buffalo and burros on a drive through Custer State Park, and later found an inn actually open for business that provided them with a view of Mount Rushmore from a different perspective.

All in all, not a bad place to visit right, Mr. Anderson?

Why don't you come back sometime when you don't need a parka.

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