A highly anticipated trip for a group of tourists from the Southtowns hasn’t gone quite as planned.
The main attraction on the tour – Mount Rushmore National Memorial – turned out to be closed, thanks to the federal government shutdown.
Then on Friday a rare October blizzard dumped a foot or more of snow in parts of southwestern South Dakota, closing major highways and stranding the group of 91 people in two hotels, 15 miles apart.
And if that weren’t enough, the only restaurant nearby one of the hotels closed up, as the snowstorm intensified later on Friday. That left some of the travelers, most of whom are senior citizens, without a place to dine.
The scenario was almost as absurd as the plot line of a Griswold family excursion.
“It’s blizzard conditions,” said Lori Parsell of Collins. “Not only does the government mess with us, now Mother Nature is messing with us too.”
After absorbing the disappointment of being denied entry to Mount Rushmore on Wednesday, the group was preparing to head back east on Friday with fond memories of other sites visited.
But heavy snows and wind gusts of 70 mph made travel impossible. The snow wasn’t expected to let up until Saturday afternoon.
“They’re not going to let us leave until this clears up,” said Bonnie Noto of North Collins. “Right now we’re stranded. The main highways are all closed down.”
Parsell was stuck inside a Comfort Inn in the historic town of Deadwood, S.D., with about 45 people traveling on one of the buses from Buffalo.
They ate hot dogs and chips for lunch. The other half of the touring group was at a Holiday Inn Express in Sturgis, S.D., about 15 miles away, where the closest restaurant closed its doors because of the bad weather.
“There will be no supper for tonight,” said Karen Denne, a North Collins village trustee who was on the trip with her husband, Ronald.
Some of the travelers played pinochle and euchre and watched movies while waiting out the storm, which seemed to come from nowhere.
It was raining and in the mid-40s when the tourists retired for the night on Thursday, said Denne.
They awoke to a scene eerily reminiscent of the surprise October snowstorm of 2006 in Western New York, with power out and trees drooping under the weight of wet, heavy snow.
The snow didn’t let up most of Friday, either, and the wind whipped up as well, creating white-out conditions on area roads.
“Good thing we’re Buffalonians. We know all about this,” said Parsell.
The trip to South Dakota had been planned for about a year, well before any inkling a government shutdown would lead to the closure of the nation’s park system.
The Southtowns group was able to rearrange its itinerary to squeeze in a trip to Badlands National Park prior to the shutdown Tuesday.
They also stopped at Crazy Horse Memorial, the Borglum Historical Center and other places.
But Mount Rushmore was supposed to be the highlight of the $702-per-person trip – and many of the travelers may not be able to return to the iconic monument that features the faces of four U.S. presidents carved into the side of the Black Hills.
The group was able to catch a passing glimpse of the monument from the moving buses. The entrance to the park, as well as highway pull-off areas where tourists usually stop their vehicles for pictures, were blocked to any traffic.
Many of the travelers were still frustrated by not being able to enter the park, but they were able to roll with what Mother Nature was dishing out.
Some even laughed off all of the unusual misfortune that befell them.
Denne, for one, was happy to be in a hotel, rather than on a highway in the middle of nowhere during the storm.
“Better safe than sorry,” she said.