During our Nine Day Road Trip out west, we hung out in the Black Hills of South Dakota and saw Mount Rushmore for the first time. We were marking items off of our bucket list left and right.
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Being from Louisiana, I never really thought that I would make it out West to see Mount Rushmore – it just seemed like something that people only do in the movies.
We first arrived at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, which is free for all guests to visit, and paid the $10 fee to the parking garage.
On the day we visited, the elevator was out of service, so we had to drive to the top level – so if you need to use the elevator, try driving to the top floor because the steps would be too hard to navigate with someone with mobility issues.
We spent about two hours at Mount Rushmore. We started with taking the audio tour of the monument, this cost $5 per audio tour. I highly suggest taking the audio tour because it is not only an enjoyable learning experience, but you will be able to enjoy the beauty of Mount Rushmore.
The tour has 29 stops, but we only took it to stop 18 because that is where the ramps stops and stairs started. We didn’t feel like we missed out too many sites because we continued to listen to the audio tour on our way back to return the devices. We did, however, skip out on the Sculptor’s Studio & Bookstore, and the Compressor House.
Seeing the carvings of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln was quite overwhelming. It is awe-inspiring to think that Americans used their blood, sweat, and tears to chisel these famous faces for over 14 years.
After taking in all the history, we purchased three scoops of Thomas Jefferson’s famous original recipe from 1780. I’m not sure if it was the long trek or the beautiful scenery, but this was the most delicious vanilla ice cream I had ever tasted!
Wind Cave National Park
Bidding goodbye to Mount Rushmore, we made our way to Wind Cave National Park and had a private tour. While driving to Wind Cave, we got our first glimpse of Bison! After snapping a few pictures, we showed up for our 2 pm tour. Luckily, there are many tours to chose from, and if you have any accessibility issues, call ahead pre-arrange an accessible tour.
During this visit, we were paired with an excellent park ranger that gave us all the necessary attention and information we needed to enjoy our limited time in the park.
After stopping in the bookstore, we purchased our coveted “Find Your Park” T-shirts from the National Park Service’s 100-year celebration coveted “Find Your Park” T-shirts from the National Park Service’s 100-year celebration.
Once we wrapped up at WindCave, we celebrated Oktoberfest with 1880 Train Company. This tour included many different seasonal beers to taste, a tasty German-style dinner, and lots of entertainment. Before the trip, we started with a social hour in Hill City where we were able to sample the first beer of the evening, enjoy some music and popcorn. We then boarded the train where the booze was free flowing, and the food was quickly coming. The slow-moving train traveled at the perfect speed to spot wildlife and enjoy the sunset. After a quick break in Keystone (to allow passengers to use the restroom as there are none on board), we headed back to Hill City to call it an end of the day.
Needles Highway in South Dakota
The next day we said goodbye to the Black Hills Area, packed up the car, and hit the road for the start of our National Parks road trip. Our first stop, however, was to travel through Custer State Park and explore Needles Highway.
Needles Highway is a scenic passway with 14 miles of sharp turns, scary small tunnels, and huge “needles.” Taking time out of your vacation to explore this natural beauty is quite impressive. Make sure you budget at least 1-2 hours of your day to see this beautiful natural phenomenon.
We stumbled upon an adorable restaurant called The Purple Pie place. Knowing we were getting ready to hit the road to see the Middle of the Nation, we decided to take some time for a late lunch and fill up on delicious goodies. We began the meal with the Chicken Pot Pie and polished it off with a couple of slices of Rhubarb pie with vanilla ice cream. After having our fill of lunch, we moseyed on over to our next stop – Jewel Cave National Monument.
Jewel Cave National Park
At Jewel Cave, we didn’t have a special hand capable tour, but we opted for the 20-minute discovery talk because it was the most handicapable. During this talk, we were on a big platform with about 15 other guests. From this platform, we were able to view one large room of the cave and used an elevator to enter and exit. During the summertime, the tours sell out pretty quickly, so make sure you purchase tickets to Jewel Cave first thing in the morning. Unfortunately, on the discovery talk, you are not able to see the famous “cave bacon.”
Middle of the Nation
After a two-hour road trip, we finally made it to the Middle of the Nation in Belle Fourche. Even after much research, I discovered that there are two Middle of the Nations. There is a Geo Center that everyone takes photos at and also a field that is 20 miles North of where the marker lives. For the sake of time, we opted to take our picture with the national marker and head on over to Devils Tower.
The drive to Devils Tower was quite amazing. With the sun starting to set, we were racing against time to see America’s First National Monument. When driving, all of a sudden we see this massive land mass pop up over the horizon. We have finally made it to Devil’s Tower!
We spent just under one hour here, but I believe if you were not on a time constraint you could spend a whole day here. We visited with the Prairie Dogs at Prairie Dog Town and watched the sunset on Devils Tower. While admiring the beauty of this landmass, we realized that there was a climber all the way at the top of the Plateau!
Shortly after leaving Devils Tower, we headed to Sheridan where we continued our road trip the next day.
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