South Dakota’s Gems

As indicated in my biography, I have been to 32 of the 50 states, and South Dakota is still on my bucket list, so we chose Mount Rushmore National Memorial as our main destination for this particular road trip.  The Black Hills of South Dakota are full of history and scenic beauty; the National Forest was established in 1897 by President Cleveland, and consists of 1.2 million acres of land.  Driving through the forest, you can see meadows, canyons, streams, lakes, rugged rock formations, and even a cave or two.

However, as usual, we tend to meander on our travels, so before we end up in South Dakota, we’ll make a pit-stop in Nebraska.  While preparing our driving itinerary for the trip, I wanted to go through Nebraska, as it was also one of my unseen states.  While looking at the potential route, I discovered Carhenge; a funky-enough attraction, that I knew we had to go.

Carhenge is a unique sculpture made out of old cars, and has the same proportions as the famous Stonehenge sculpture located in England.  This replica was created by Jim Reinders as a memorial to his father.  It’s located about three miles north of Alliance, Nebraska, which was not too far out of the way for our meandering road trip.

In my research of Mount Rushmore, I had read about the famous photo opportunity that is taken through the tunnel on the road as you get closer to the memorial.  I’m an avid photographer, so this was important for me to pay attention to and make sure I got the million dollar shot!  I got it, but just barely… there’s not really anywhere to pull over, so you have to think fast.  Once we arrived at the gates of the memorial, the parking fee was $8 (it might still be that price, but be sure to check their website for accuracy), and that serves as your entry fee into the entire property.  The facilities are A+:  there are plenty of restrooms, a cafeteria, an ice cream stand, and a souvenir shop.

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View from the tunnel, approaching Mount Rushmore

We arrived around 5pm, and learned that the lighting of the mountain would take place at 7pm.  I HAD to see it, so we decided to have dinner in the cafeteria to pass the time.  As a photographer, I was so excited to see this.  First, the park ranger talks about the history and then shows a documentary about the construction… then about 40 minutes later they light up the mountain.  It’s a very picturesque scene especially with the sunset in the background; I highly recommend it!  While watching the entire process, I was just in awe of the huge rock structure that sat before me, and I wondered how on earth it was constructed back in 1927.

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Mount Rushmore at Sunset

On a side note:  You might also want to see the stone sculpture of Crazy Horse, located about 17 miles from Mount Rushmore.  It is privately funded, and we paid $22 to enter the site (again, be sure to check their website for accurate pricing info).  Construction of Crazy Horse began in 1948 by New England sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski, and is still ongoing.  We did go into the gallery and gift shop; and the outside deck offers impressive views of the mountain.  For an additional fee you can ride a bus to get closer to the actual site, but we chose not to.

The next day we explored the areas in and around Custer State Park; this makes for a nice scenic afternoon drive. The park is home to over 1,000 bison and a variety of other animals.  We did see one or two lone bison on the side of the road.  We stopped at a picnic area and saw a few deer; which were very interesting to see, because they are much smaller in SD than in our home state of NM.

#BeRoundTripReady:  There’s so much to see in the Black Hills; we spent all of our time there, and didn’t make it over to Badlands National Park.  We had hoped to get over there, and had originally booked a hotel room in Rapid City – we thought this would be conveniently located between the two attractions.  However after day one, we wanted to spend the remainder of our time in the Black Hills, and it was a 23 mile drive back to our hotel, so we decided to book a new room in Hill City which was much closer.  (Don’t get me wrong, we love to drive, lol, but it was a long 23 miles back in the dark).  We have a family motto:  “You gotta be on the flex-plan”… and it worked out well for us this time!