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Trip Report Trip Report: Mt. Rushmore and Environs

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Hubby and I just returned from a week’s vacation in the Mt. Rushmore area of SD. We took two of our grandchildren (girl, boy, both 10, cousins) with us. We had a wonderful time and here is a brief report of what we did. (OK, not brief, I got carried away.)

We drove for two solid days, approx 8-9 hrs/day just to get to Custer . . . thank goodness for videos, iPad, and iTouchs.

We drove straight north from Texas, through OK, through KS, and stopped in York, NE at the Hampton Inn for the night. We had a nice room with two queen beds, big-screen TV, coffee service. The room was comfy, pretty, and clean. The hotel had an indoor pool and separate hot tub. We paid a senior rate of $134 for the night and that included a nice breakfast bar the next morning.

The next morning, we were underway by 10:00, turning west through NE and eventually turning back north to Custer, SD. The bad thing about the drive was there was absolutely nothing to see except miles and miles of cornfields . . . and miles and miles of coal trains.

We drove through a little corner of Wind Cave National Park on the way to Custer and immediately saw buffalo, that pumped us up for what was to come.

We stayed for four nights a the Shady Rest Motel in Custer. These are all individual cabins of various configuration and all with a porch and BBQ grill. We had Cabin 5 . . . living room with TV, queen bed, and a sofa that made a single bed. One bedroom had a queen bed and TV, the other bedroom had a queen bed and a rollaway. We had a full kitchen and bathroom with shower. It was perfect for us four but would be cramped for more. We had ceiling fans, a/c, and a big Dearborn heater, which we used a little in the mornings. We paid $140/nt but with a 10% discount for four or more nights.

We loved this motel and the owners . . . they were friendly but not intrusive. The place has a hot tub but no pool. The owners furnish passes for the public pool but it closes around 5:30 and we were never back in town by then. There is a nice park across the street and we were one block off of the main street of town, so a very convenient location.

The next morning, armed with cameras, carrots, and apples, we drove the Wild Life Loop in Custer State Park. We saw deer, geese, pronghorn antelopes, prairie dogs, buffalos, and burros which we fed carrots and apples. This was a nice drive and the animals were abundant and easy to see.

At the end of the loop, we picked up the Iron Mountain Highway and drove it south to north, thus seeing Mt. Rushmore framed in the one-car tunnels through the rocks. We were all impressed by this thoughtful engineering feat.

We stopped for lunch in Keystone and ate at Big Time Pizza. We each ordered the 12" pizzas and the manager (owner?) came and said we ordered way too much. He said he could make the pizzas half and half and that two would be plenty. We agreed and boy were we surprised! Each 12" pizza was at least 16" and had wonderful thick crust. This was our favorite meal of the trip and we had lots left over. The manager was right!

We continued on to The Big Thunder Gold Mine where the kids panned for gold . . . along with many adults! That surprised us. We thought this would be strictly a kid thing and we were there a lot longer than we ever thought. Everyone found gold and it was really exciting.

Next we went to Mt. Rushmore. We were all impressed with this site but our photos did not turn out well, time of day, we think. We walked the Presidential Trail, viewed the artists studio, saw the goats, and hiked the other trail back . . . both were pretty easy we thought.

The next day, we headed off toward Rapid City. First stop was the Cosmos Mystery Area. This was kinda hokey but was short and cheap and we can say we did it. The most fun part was that the kids could dig in the sand for geodes. They loved that and found several. They could each have one, which they could “crack” in the geode machine, digging for geodes was $8.50 each.

We stopped at McDonald’s for a quick lunch and continued on to Rapid City to see and photograph the life-size bronze statues of all the presidents (Obama is in the works) which are on the street corners in downtown. This took a lot longer than we anticipated, it was hot, we got most of them, we were all pretty impressed.

Our next stop was the Reptile Gardens. This is rated as one of the top ten roadside attractions in the US. The kids did not want to go. They were hot, tired, hungry . . . many excuses. However, I wanted to see it and you know “if mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy.” We went. Everyone loved it! They have a large two-storey enclosed aviary, just like walking in the rain forest except we saw a lot more animals, birds, reptiles, flowers. Outside, they had a really interesting alligator show and the kids got to pet a two-year-old alligator at the end. They also had a snake show but we were running out of time and skipped it. We saw and petted up close and personal giant tortoises . . . saw all kinds of snakes, spiders, frogs, lizards in landscaped cages, saw a large prairie dog community. This was a really good attraction and we were all glad we went.

Last stop was Bear Country. This is a three-mile drive through different areas housing reindeer, bighorn sheep, antelope, buffalo, wolves, foxes, mountain lions, and bears. Lots and lots of bears, black ones, brown ones, big ones, sleeping ones . . . hundreds of bears. At the end, there was a gift shop and large zoo area and four baby bears. The babies were all asleep in trees, just slumped over a branch.

We returned home, kids played in the hot tub. Later, we went out for dinner, and played miniature gold afterwards. This was the worst course ever! Hubby is a golfer, I am fair at mini golf, and we all were getting 12+. After the first hole, we stopped counting at 12. This would have been a lot of fun if they had a good or even fair surface. It looked like they had old pieces of carpet. Just skip this, $8 each wasted.

Next morning we were out to Jewel Cave. We were lucky to get on an early tour and the kids loved the cave. This was their first one. At one point, the guide gave them the flashlight and had them lead the way to the next landing, as she needed to repeat her speech to the folks behind us (it was a narrow trail). They were beyond thrilled. After the tour, they completed the answers in their (free) workbook and were sworn in as Junior Rangers . . . with badges and certificates . . . another thrill. It is good to be 10!

Next stop was Crazy Horse, $27 for a carload . . . a bargain. We loved this place also. The movie was very good, we enjoyed the museum, and also the Indian dancer.

The next morning, we started the long ride back home. We stopped at Ft. Robinson in Crawford, NE for a quick ride around and visit to their museum . . . OK but not worth going out of our way for. We stopped for the night in Lexington, NE at a Comfort Inn. We were really impressed with this motel . . . our room was gigantic! We had two queen beds, big-screen TV, mini-bar, microwave, coffee, and a bathroom with tub/shower. The shower was perfect, great water pressure. They had an indoor pool and hot tub . . . and a really nice free breakfast bar. Our senior rate was $100 . . . great price, great motel!

We returned to Denton about 9:30 the next night . . . great trip, the kids were perfect, we saw most everything, we loved everything . . . we are already thinking of next year. However, we have decided wherever we go, we have to be able to get there in one day!

About food . . . I wrote reviews on TripAdvisor on all the places we ate, you can click on my username and find them, if interested. Outside of Big Time Pizza, we really did not have any great meals. Some were good, a few were OK, two were horrible.

Sandy (in Denton)