For some reason, as a kid growing up near Mt. Rushmore, I never understood how cool it really is. My friend, a history teacher, says people don't really start to get the importance of history until they're adults. It's been mostly true for me.
As I type this post back in Seattle, the epic bickering in the other Washington has just shutdown the government - the first time in 17 years. That's pretty historic in its own right. These photos were taken 2 summers ago and show the amazing beauty of Mount Rushmore National Memorial.
Hopefully the government shutdown is short-lived and won't mess up this amazing site or our country too much. I feel bad for all of the workers and anyone just entering South Dakota with Mount Rushmore travel plans. I mean, who carves things into mountains anymore? OK, I can think of one landmark really close…tomorrow's post from Crazy Horse!!!
~Paul, Dad, Sis, Susan ETC
P.S. Congress: you suck.
Not that far from Rapid City, South Dakota, is Custer State Park. It's a 71,000 park with lots to do, including several historic lodges, lakes, trails, and a herd of 1700 bison that roam freely in the park. We're bringing you just 5 of the amazing sights to see Custer, it's a great park with so many more!
1. State Game Lodge
There are several campgrounds in Custer State Park, but if you're looking for a real treat stay at the historic State Game Lodge. Once a summer house for President Coolidge, the lodge has both modern & historic rooms, all at a pretty reasonable price. The lodge is also headquarters for the Buffalo safaris - think Jurassic Park but with bison. Although we didn't have a hard time making a reservation for the inn on a weekday in the summer, weekends fill up fast at the lodge and the jeep tours so book early for a better selection.
2. Wildlife Loop Road
Once you settle in make sure to take the scenic wildlife loop road and try and track down the bison herds. There's no fence between you and the animals so use caution - one of the bulls could easily rough up you and your ride. The road is 18 miles and takes around 45 minutes to complete. Sunrise and sunset offer the best chance for wildlife viewing.
3. Mount Coolidge Fire Tower
Check out the Mount Coolidge fire tower in the park. Standing at 6,023 feet you'll get a great view of almost everything in the area including the Black Hills, Crazy Horse, Mount Rushmore, the Needles, and even the Badlands…and maybe that giant badger (pic below).
4. Harney Peak
If you're looking for a decent hike - check out Trail #9 to Harney Peak. When you make it to the top you'll have again have amazing views of almost the entire park. Make sure to take lots of water - you'll rise in elevation on this 7 mile roundtrip trail. Also, be prepared to see the devastation global warming & a little pine beetle are responsible for - dead pine trees are everywhere:(
Map of Hiking Trails in Custer State Park
5. Needles Highway
Another great drive is the Needles Highway scenic route that takes you near the amazing rock pinnacles called the Needles. There's trails through this area too but sometimes just driving near the place is adventure enough due to the crazy one lane rock tunnels that exist along the route. Sylvan lake is close to here as well - maybe take a break and kayak a little!
Needles Highway Map
What a place. What's even better? Custer State Park is close to both Mount Rushmore & Crazy Horse - we'll have posts from there tomorrow and Wednesday! (P.S. one more week of Road Trip Month!)
~Paul, Micah, Dad, Sis, Susan ETC
Dinosaur Park, Rapid City, South Dakota
Dinosaurs. A huge part of my childhood. It might have had to do with the giant green ones on the hill overlooking the town where I grew up. Pretty much everywhere you drive in Rapid City, South Dakota you're in view of one of these concrete dinos - especially the big brontosaurus. They never seemed particularly lifelike to me, even as a kid - they were made back in the 1930s when they thought dinosaurs were just big, slow, smiley (apparently), cold-blooded, lizards. I don't even think the brontosaurs is called a brontosaurus anymore!
Despite the small inaccuracies of these big guys (OK some are large at this point), they still had quite an impact on me. They sparked my imagination. I mean, who has dinosaurs overlooking their town?!?! They continue amazing kiddos and to be honest, I'm both glad & surprised they are still around. Admission is free, the gift store has lots of souvenirs, and they even serve a pretty cheap lunch. It also gets a blue dot on my map of American West dinosaur attractions - I hope to take a future road trip hitting all of the dino hotspots…Roar.
The Museum At the Black Hills Institute
We also sort of stumbled upon the Museum at the Black Hills Institute. This is the home of Stan, one of the most complete male T-rex skeletons in the world. This was also the center of a huge debate, lawsuit, auction, craziness over Sue - one of the most complete female T-rex skeletons. She eventually found a home with the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. The museum is not that big but definitely worth a visit. Double roar!
~Paul, Micah, Sis ETC
Read the crazy story of the T-Rex named Sue
The Black Hills Institute in Hill City, SD
Some of the best dino-photography around
Free ice water anyone? If you don't know about Wall Drug just take a little drive through South Dakota & Montana. You'll see a billboard for it on the side of the road. And then another one…and another…there are hundreds. Reading the signs on the otherwise boring drive on I-90 is for many people, a memorable part of their childhood. How many signs are there? Who knows! But they spend just shy of 1/2 million dollars on advertising every year and some billboards are even in other countries!
It's basically a giant gift store with some equally creepy & awesome animatronic animals talking with country accents or playing the piano sprinkled in (the ape playing piano is my all-time favorite). Watch out for the dinosaur! If you look a little closer however, there are a lot of historical photographs collected over the years. Many are framed on the walls, displayed in between personalized mugs, rocks, and tons of other stuff for sale.
Ice water: free. Coffee: 5 cents. Made in America mounted jackalope: close to $100!
Wall Drug is in the town of Wall, just outside of Badlands National Park in South Dakota. We stopped to marvel at the personalized wallets, moccasins, and whips. We didn't buy anything but it's still fun to walk around the place. Alas, a visit to an amazing giant gift store full of weird things made in China has to end sometime…tomorrow we're off to Rapid City to check in at another icon of my childhood - Dinosaur Park!!!
~Paul, Micah, Sis, Dad, Susan ETC
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