Mount Rushmore, duh!
With all of the fun we had in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, we honestly weren’t sure how South Dakota would compare. It was a surprisingly quick 5 hour trip between our campground in Medora, ND to our next site in Hill City, SD. Using our Harvest Host membership once again, we were lucky enough to get a night staying at the Sick-n-Twisted Brewery/ Naked Winery. Per instructions, we parked behind the building, backed up to a little creek, with the mountains in the distance.
We were even more grateful for the site because it was only 20 minutes to both Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial.
Our experience at Crazy Horse was quick and easy! We took this picture and turned around the gate!
Unfortunately, $15/person to see Crazy Horse is not within our budget this time around, but we look forward to exploring the monumental sculpture another time! Instead, we stopped and got these pictures and details at the Hill City Visitor Center.
Batting 2 for 2 in How Lucky Can We Be, the rain started juuuuust as we arrived at Mount Rushmore.
The plus was that it meant a lot of people beelined for their cars! The negative was they might have been the smart ones as there weren’t many places to take cover! Once the rain and the fog cleared, the crowd returned.
Now I know these are usually reserved for my sign readers… but I’m telling you.. the more you know, people.
Eve the they simply just make you go, “Huh. Interesting,” and you never remember the fact again…
Give ’em a read. Fun facts all around.
After some exploration around the Visitors Center, we decided to head back to our campsite at the brewery for a few hours before coming back for the Lighting Ceremony.
Devon tried his luck fishing in the nearby lakes, but after so long, we were ready for a good beer.
As we walked over to the brewery we noticed we had suddenly turned into a pot of gold :’-)
Okay maybe not the pot of gold… but we could see the entire rainbow from our front door!
When we went back to Mount Rushmore for the Lighting Ceremony, we weren’t surprised by the crowd that joined us.
At just about an hour long, we got to hear from a Park Ranger and watched a short film with bits on each of the Presidents. To round out the ceremony, the Park Ranger invited active duty, veterans, and any family of military members to the stage to help retire the flag.
Tears. In my eyes.
I didn’t get a video during that portion of the ceremony, but here is Mount Rushmore all lit up.
Before we left our Harvest Host the next day, we took advantage of the morning and our close proximity to Hill City, SD.
Right on the corner of town is Dahl’s Chainsaw Art, a hub of incredible woodworked masterpieces. Theyhave two locations in the area. The Hill City location has the world’s largest Smokey the Bear, while the Keystone location features the world’s largest Bigfoot!
Here are some of their other amazing creatings.
We spent the morning wandering the souvenir shops and a local contemporary art gallery.
From Hill City we headed 30 minutes up and down the mountain to our full-hookup campsite at Spokane Creek Cabins and Campground.
Upon our arrival, we discovered that we chose the right way to get there…
BY THE GRACE OF GOD, we had avoided taking our trailer up, and down, and back around, Iron Mountain Road.
I say avoided because this is the kind of road we would have encountered otherwise.
We’ll get back to Iron Mountain Road later.
After parking the RV, we made our way into Custer State Park, just 20 minutes down the road.
For all you folks who like to drive, and I mean DRIVE drive… like… you know how to have control of the car, switch gear this that vroom vroom kachow curve curve and you’re there in one piece?
mmhm, yeah, these roads were for you.
Or, I suppose if you like sports cars, preferably corvettes, this was the road for you.
We had heard soooo many fantastic things about the amount of wildlife we’d see in this park. Unfortunately, the ONLY thing we saw were 3 burrows. GRANTED ONE WAS AN ADORABLE LITTLE FOAL, but still. I WANTED TO SEE HERDS AND HERDS OF BUFFALO.
Nonetheless, it was a beautiful day to drive the Wildlife Loop Road and we got to go up to the fire tower for an incredible view of the park.
If you’re afraid of heights, this segment may not be for you.
If you’re not, and you make your way into Custer State Park, I definitely recommend taking the road up to the fire tower…
On our way home, we stopped at the Visitors Center and talked to Park Ranger Don who helped answer all of the questions we had come up with while driving around. For starters, he explained why we didn’t see any buffalo; it simply wasn’t a good day for them. They had been experiencing some weird weather recently, some that even included the hail, and that alone kept a lot of the wildlife tucked away in the park. Overall, it was just plain ol’ good day exploring.
Let’s talk about Iron Mountain Road. Here’s why I was thankful we didn’t come into the campground via 16A:
You can see Mount Rushmore from one of the overlooks (and even along some of the different curves and switchbacks)!
Though we had 2 nights booked, we had to move sites after the first night. Not totally abnormal for us, but still throws a curve into the plans for the day nonetheless.
When we got up the next day, our plan was to drive the 45 minutes down to Wind Cave National Park to get tickets for a tour.
Forget what they say about wildlife in Custer State Park, they were all hiding in Wind Cave!!
After a couple miles on the road, we finally saw our first buffalo in South Dakota!
We ended up seeing some prairie dogs…
And a buffalo with a bird on its back…
and then HERDS AND HERDS OF BUFFALO!!!
Back to touring the caves–
We heard from one of my friends that had been here before, that the line for the tours got long quick, and the tours with a ranger were the only way into the cave. Even when we arrived at the Visitor’s Center at 9AM, the line was out the door. We got our tickets for the Fairgrounds tour at 2pm to allow ourselves time to drive back to move the trailer, coming back for the tour, and then driving an hour and a half to Badlands National Park afterwards.
We got our tickets, moved the RV into our second night’s site and started to relax…well… tried to. I don’t remember exactly what happened, but let’s just say life got in the way and I had a breakdown. Though things can seem so picture perfect from one side of this blog, sometimes that’s not always the reality. Suddenly realizing I needed to get it together, we ended up leaving for Wind Cave later than we had wanted. We (safely) HAULLLLLED ass back to the park to meet our tour guide on time. With literally 1 minute to spare, we made it just in time.
When we decided to do this tour, Devon and I were both weary of how it would compare to Mammoth Cave, a Kentucky National Park that we LOVED exploring last year. As the 3rd largest in the country and only $12.00 per person, we were excited to see what this one was about.
These next few images are of amazing calcite formations called boxwork. At one point, there was standing water in one “room” where the boxwork was featured. The water and hydrogen sulfide/sulfuric acid in the “room” ate away at the limestone, but not the calcite.
At one point, our group of 40 stopped and sat down as the Park Ranger tour guide told us how Wind Cave was discovered. She explained how the Bingham brothers discovered the cave when they heard a whistle from the cave’s natural entrance. In order to discover more miles into the cave, one brother would tie a strong at one point from right outside the entrance and just walk until he was out of string. Carrying a candle in a pail serving as a flashlight, there was always more to see inside the cave. To show us what it was really like, our guide turned off all of the surrounding lights and lit her candle in a pail… and then, she blew it out.
OOOO WEEEE IT WAS DARK, Y’ALL.
I had a death grip on Devon’s forearm making sure I wouldn’t have ANY reason to lose him…
Unlike the brothers would do to the people they took on tours in the cave…
Let’s just say, when she eventually turned the lights back on, I was thankful for the power of sight.
As we walked out of the tour and got back on the highway ready to head to Badlands National Park, we noticed the sky was starting to get darker and darker…
I was driving when Devon looked at the weather for the Badlands and said, “uhhh. there’s supposed to be golf ball sized hail”. Once again, we (safely) hauled ass back up the road and to camp, knowing we had left our awning out.
It was when the sky looked like the picture above that we decided to switch drivers and let Devon get us home.
We were 4 miles out when the hail started….And we were on that windy curvy road we talked about earlier!
It was like gunshots on the car, it was so loud!!!
white knuckles is all I’ll say about that.
We made it home just as this bizarre Hail Storm in South Dakota in July was ending.
Thankfully, no damage to the car…
When the weather cleared, we took the Iron Mountain Road down to Keystone to see the other Dahl Chainsaw Artwork and to explore the small Western town. The Keystone location might’ve even been a little bit better than the Hill City location! That’s code for, “I’m sharing too many pictures with you but oh well”
It was probbbably about 8/8:30 as we made our way into town and it was clear we were late to the party– the only places left open were the ice cream shops. We walked to the other end of town, wanting to checkout a brewery/arcade we had passed, and even that was closed! Slightly disappointing, but it was nice just to get out and wander around the town. And that chainsaw art?! I mean, come on!!! TOO COOL!!
we did it friends.
For the first time in two years, we are caught up with one another.
For the first time, I’ll finally be posting from the same state I’m writing about!
This is a HUUUUGE step for us!
Until next time,