Skip Navigation

Monumental Tourists in South Dakota!

Community Highlights Road Trips Monumental Tourists in South Dakota!


July 22, 2013
Day 66
South Dakota State Line Rest Area to Rapid City, SD
Segment Miles: 391
Trip Miles: 12,364
Sunny 78º
I-90 Rest Stop

I-90 Rest Stop


By the time we got ready to pull out of the rest area, all the other RV's were gone. So much for the early start. Our destination was Rapid City, so down the I-90 we went, eating up the miles on this fast, straight, road through the nation's heartland. The scenery was monotonous but the contrast between the green and gold fields extending to the horizons had a beauty of its own. I knew I was being mesmerized because (while riding as a passenger ) I imagined the hay bales as giant grazing animals from another place or time ala a sci-fi, Star Wars kind of movie!

Hay Bale Mammoths

Hay Bale Mammoths

I-90 Missouri River Crossing

I-90 Missouri River Crossing

We made a gentle descent into the Missouri River Valley. The river itself was more impressive because of the lack of any other major waterways in the area. Of course, being that it was dammed downriver from where we crossed (and actually was a reservoir there) added to its impressiveness. We continued on to the Badlands, where we took the short scenic drive through that area. On the way to the entrance to the Badlands National Park we had to stop at the prairie dog town along the road. We went into the concessionaires old time curio store and purchased a bag of unroasted, unsalted, peanuts in the shell (the recommended food) to feed to the praire dogs .

Prairie Dog 2

Prairie Dog 2

Naturally, they had been so well fed by all the previous tourists that they ignored the peanuts we offered. But boy were they cute and friendly.

Prairie Dog 1

Prairie Dog 1

They went about their business as long as you stayed 4 or 5 feet away. Karen was enthralled by their antics and really wanted to take one home. She was disappointed that I had not taken a picture of her close to the Atlantic Puffins earlier in our trip, so I made sure to get a ggod one of her next to the prairie dog. I am not sure however, that this photo really makes up for the one I missed of her and the puffins!! :)

KM and Prairie Dog

KM and Prairie Dog

The Badlands were strangely beautiful, between the colors of the rocks and the road winding up, down and around the hoodoos there. The size of the formations were large, more so than the photos suggest.

SD Badlands 1

SD Badlands 1

SD Badlands 2

SD Badlands 2

SD Badlands 3

SD Badlands 3

Look for the autos on the road in one photo and Karen descending a trail in another to truly appreciate their scale.

SD Badlands Yellow Mounds 2

SD Badlands Yellow Mounds 2

SD Badlands Yellow Mounds 1

SD Badlands Yellow Mounds 1

KM at theYellow Mound

KM at theYellow Mound

Leaving the park, the road directed us to Wall, South Dakota, home of the famous Wall Drug Store. It is advertised on large billboards up and down the freeway for hundreds of miles in all directions. We stopped to check it out. If we harbored any doubt that were in the middle of the tourist season, fighting the crowds at Wall Drug dispelled it! Lots of attention grabbing displays and dioramas, including Karen's favorite, a large T-Rex that came to life every 12 minutes, roaring, moving its head and arms, and blowing smoke out of its nose, to the delight and fear of children of all ages!

Late that afternoon we returned to I-90 to travel the final 100 miles to Rapid City. Not being sure where to stay, we took a shot in the dark, and landed at Happy Holidays RV Park.

Rapid City Happy Holiday Campground

Rapid City Happy Holiday Campground

The WiFi was down, but at least the pool and hot tub were working. We met a couple from Portland Oregon who had just decided to be full time RV-ers and began their traveling adventures about the same time we left on ours. They had sold their house, placed the rest of their possessions in storage, and off they went. We had a nice chat, and they shared some great RV traveling tips. We unloaded the camper from the truck that evening in preparation for our touring the next day. We figured there would be lots of traffic on the roads to the attractions, and we knew there would be height and width limitations on the famous Needles Highway. Finally, we had a nice swim and hot tub, leaving us clean and refreshed as we retired for the night.
-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-:)=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Mt Rushmore Approach

Mt Rushmore Approach


July 23, 2013
Day 67
Touring around the Black Hills, SD
Sunny, 80º
Segment Miles: 130
Trip Miles: 12,494

We got up and on the road by 0900 hoping to beat some of the tourists to Mount Rushmore, 20 miles away. When Rick visited this monument at the age of 11, it was a gravel parking lot, a small national park refreshment and souvenir stand and a wooden fence you stood behind, looking across the valley to the monument of the presidents, off in the distance. Not so anymore. Today, its waiting in a line of traffic to purchase an $11 parking pass, which leads you to a large multilevel parking structure, from which you enter the concourse of granite columns and pavers with hundreds of other tourists, all clamoring to view these monumental carvings from a grand courtyard.

Mt Rushmore Crowds

Mt Rushmore Crowds

There are trails to hike, movies to view in the visitor centre, and talks by rangers in various areas around the park. We listened to a description of how the monuments were carved and found it quite fascinating. The carvings were done primarily with dynamite. The workers hung from bosun chairs off the face of the cliff, boring holes in the rock for the dynamite charges. Only the final 10% was finished with hand and pneumatic tools. An amazing feat, especially considering no lives were lost during this endeavor. It is a spectacular monument and a moving experience to stand there below it - what a vision Gutzon Borglum ( the sculptor) had, and what motivation and drive to see it completed before he died.

Teddy of the Mount

Teddy of the Mount

The Immortalized

The Immortalized

We left Mount Rushmore thoroughly impressed and headed to Chief Crazy Horse Memorial, an idea conceived by Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear. He invited Korzak Ziolkowski to create a mountainous tribute to the North American Indians. Chief Standing Bear lived through the Battle of Little Big Horn and the Wounded Knee Massacre as well as the Indian Reorganization Act. He proclaimed that "My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the Red Man has great heroes too!"

Chief Crazy Horse Memorial

Chief Crazy Horse Memorial

Crazy Horse Face

Crazy Horse Face

Sculpture in Progress with Earthmover

Sculpture in Progress with Earthmover

The work started in 1947, and 7 of Korzak's 10 children still work on this massive project! This carving will be the largest mountain carving in the world when completed, and all four of the Mount Rushmore heads will fit inside just Crazy Horse's head. We weren't able to get close to the sculpture as it is an active blasting site, but it is truly immense. Interestingly, the memorial doesn't accept any government funding (unlike Mount Rushmore) and relies on admission fees and contributions. There is quite a museum on site with artifacts contributed by many Native American tribes and private donors. Plans for this memorial include a university and hospital/medical school for the education and benefit of the Native American tribes and nations. The grounds and work already done are impressive and the museum is truly world class and absolutely worth a visit.

Next on the itinerary was the Needles Highway, a curvy little line on the map - a crazy, wild ride in person. It is South Dakota Hwy 87, passing through Custer State Park. The highway is named after the high granite spires it winds among. It passes through 3 tunnels blasted through granite walls.

Needles Highway 1

Needles Highway 1

Needles Highway 2

Needles Highway 2

Needles Highway 3

Needles Highway 3

Needles Highway 4

Needles Highway 4

Needles Highway 5

Needles Highway 5

Needles Highway 6

Needles Highway 6

Long, Low, Narrow Tunnel

Long, Low, Narrow Tunnel

This road was constructed in 1919 in spite of many experts claiming it was an impossible undertaking. The driving force behind the Needles Highway was to attract more tourists to the State - and boy, have they have succeeded! It is a narrow road with sharp turns, tight tunnels, with the thunderstorms and intermittent showers making it all the more exciting! The originators of the highway initially asked Gutzon Borglum to carve busts and statues of the presidents on the spires and cliffs found along the route. Borglum wisely declined, preferring to find a more suitable mountain to carve a tribute to the American Presidents.

Karen was driving, initially, but as the road got more curvy and narrow, and as the tunnels became narrower, she chose to graciously allow me to take the controls! I wasn't as worried, I knew we would clear the height easily, I also figured we had at least 1-2 inches of clearance on each side of the truck at the narrow spots. Interestingly, we were the only "1-ton crew cab, dually pick-up truck" on the route, amidst a herd of small compacts, sports cars and motorcycles, until the end of the route when we saw a "brother" dually-driving wild-man heading up the highway in the opposite direction! We knew he was in for an exciting time! ;)

Still itching for a little more of the "tourist emersion" we headed down Custer State Park's "Wildlife Drive" a 25 mile loop that promised sightings of (wait for it)…….Wildlife along the road! We drove a while, not seeing much "Wildlife" but enjoyed the scenery of the park. Up a rise and around a curve and there in front of us was a concentration of autos stopped to view and feed the Wild Begging Burros. The burros are decedents of burros that were once us to take tourists up a mountain trail in the park. When that activity was discontinued, the burros were released into the park to fend for themselves. I think they are doing ok there!

Wild Begging Burros

Wild Begging Burros

Cute Little Guy

Cute Little Guy

We continued along the drive, and as we were close to its end, thought that we would not get to see the bison (buffalos) that were there. We knew that they stayed on the high hills during the day's heat and descended into the valley when the temperature cooled. Well, once again we were wrong. Around another curve and into a meadow that was filled with the moving herd of bison, and about 100 autos jockeying for position to see and photograph them. It was a spectacle on many levels.

Buffalo Jam

Buffalo Jam

Buffalo Pair

Buffalo Pair

Big Guy

Big Guy

Little Guy

Little Guy

The animals were close and unconcerned by the human attention. It was exciting to drive around both large moving animals and larger moving vehicles, both unpredictably obstructing the road. There were also "wildlife viewing tours," open air, canopied 4-wheel drive vehicles with 8-10 passengers zipping by, on and off the shoulders of the highway, trying to afford their customers the best view of the herd! The drivers maneuvered their vehicles as you might imagine a 3rd world taxi driver would, with little regard for the other vehicles around! One of the my vivid memories is driving by a" tour vehicle", stuck in the mud on a side road, because of the recent downpours we had experienced. The customers were standing alongside the highway, as they awaited the arrival of a tow-truck. Luckily, they were 100 yards away from the herd of bison! I guess they got the extra special experience of the day!

Pronghorn Buck

Pronghorn Buck

We finished the highway, with a couple of sightings of pronghorn, including one impressive buck. Then being completely "touristed-out," we headed for Rapid City to check out the Firehouse Brewery and Pub, an establishment that had taken an advertising page from the Wall Drug playbook, and placed old fire engines and trucks in farm fields along the Interstate throughout South Dakota.

Firehouse Brewing Company

Firehouse Brewing Company

High Class Culture

High Class Culture

We found the Pub, got an outside table, ordered our pints and found that we were sitting next to a table occupied by the brewing staff and friends! Well, introductions soon occurred and we chatted beer and brewing for a while. We mentioned that we had an empty 2.5 gal corny keg with us, and they offered to refill it for us if we came by the next day! Arrangements were finalized and we enjoyed their craft beer while watching the beautiful Black Hills sunset.

R & K at the Mount

R & K at the Mount

This featured blog entry was written by Rick-n-Karen from the blog Living the Dream!.
Read comments or Subscribe

By Rick-n-Karen

Posted Sun, Aug 11, 2013 | USA | Comments