The off-track travelers so ardently believe in their electronic directions that even when they find themselves on a narrow, sparsely marked gravel road, they remain convinced they are approaching one of the nation’s most majestic sights.
It is often left to Ashley Wilsey to tell them they missed Mount Rushmore by more than a dozen miles.
Wilsey is guest services manager for Storm Mountain Center, a camp operated by the Dakotas Conference of the United Methodist Church about 13 miles from Rapid City. She encounters a steady stream of Mount Rushmore-seeking tourists being mistakenly directed to the camp by GPS mapping technology.
Wilsey said that off-and-on for five years, a specific Google Maps glitch has misled tourists trying to get to Mount Rushmore.
For example, a request for driving directions to “Mount Rushmore National Memorial” will yield the proper U.S. Highway 16 route to the mountain carving near Keystone.
But searching for a route to the less precise destination, “Mt. Rushmore, SD,” inexplicably sends travelers to a point near the camp, also off Highway 16, but almost 13 miles to the northeast of the real Mount Rushmore.
“It seems to think one of the hills nearby is Mount Rushmore,” Wilsey said.
A slow week will bring two or three lost travelers to the camp, but on Tuesday last week, Wilsey said she assisted five carloads of tourists who were following the flawed GPS directions.
The camp has worked with Google to correct the issue, but the fixes last only about a year or so, Wilsey said. Rapid City Journal attempts to reach Google for comment were unsuccessful.
Storm Mountain officials have undertaken a decidedly low-tech approach to the problem, hoping that installation of a metal sign at the head of the camp’s driveway will ward off some of the extra traffic.
The blue-and-white sign reads “Your GPS is WRONG. This is NOT Mt. Rushmore. Go back to HWY 16. Take a right. Follow signs to Keystone.”
Many drivers realize they are on the wrong track soon after turning off Highway 16 at Rockerville, Wilsey said.
Silver Mountain Road is paved for a short distance, but the turn-off to the camp, Storm Mountain Road, is winding and gravel-surfaced.
Deducing that a major national tourist attraction with more than 3 million visitors annually wouldn’t be accessed by 1.7 miles of gravel, most drivers simply turn around in the camp parking lot and backtrack to Highway 16.
However, Wilsey also recalls instances of people parking, getting out of their cars and, with GPS devices still in hand, set off on camp hiking trails, mistaking the footpaths as some kind of back-door entrance to the memorial.
Visitors to Storm Mountain are not unwelcome, Wilsey said, but the extra vehicle traffic has proven to be “problematic” with campers hiking or residents walking their dogs on the gravel road.
Most visitors will take the revelation of being lost in good humor. Some have even stayed awhile to enjoy the pristine serenity of the 264-acre camp. Others have argued with camp staffers.
“For the most part people have been very friendly, but some people are very insistent that this is where Mount Rushmore should be,” Wilsey added diplomatically.
Earlier this week Storm Mountain officials posted a photo of the sign and an explanation of the GPS glitch on the camp’s Facebook page. By Wednesday the post had been “liked” by more than 600 people and shared more than 90 times.
They hope word will get around about the GPS error, especially with hundreds of visitors expected for Mount Rushmore’s annual sunrise Easter Service on Sunday.
If the sign and the social-media posting aren’t effective, Wilsey said, the camp might consider erecting a small-scale replica of the mountain carving to placate intrepid travelers who refuse to believe their GPS technology could be leading them astray.
“We’ll just point to the replica and say ‘There it is,'” she said with a laugh. “‘You thought it was a lot bigger, didn’t you?'”