On Friday afternoon, we arrived in South Dakota. The drive through Montana and Wyoming was long but scenic. I liked the look of Montana more than Wyoming, probably because there were more trees and greenery. We passed through some dismal towns in Wyoming, such as Upton, whose slogan is “The Best Town on Earth.” The residents must not get out much. I got depressed just driving through.

Once we got into South Dakota and the Black Hills, the scenery was lush with massive granite outcroppings. We are staying at a KOA a few miles down the road from Mount Rushmore. On the way into camp, we passed the Crazy Horse monument which is in progress. Since we could see it from the road, we opted not to pay $24 to get a bit closer and partake of the gift shop.

View of Crazy Horse from the car window. You can kind of make out his nose.

Saturday morning, we drove to Mount Rushmore. Shawn laughed at me when my reaction was “I thought it would be bigger.” Of course the first glimpse from the parking lot was kind of far away.

From the parking lot

The brochure we read the night before promised us a 0.6 mile hike with 400+ stairs to the optimal viewpoint; however, when we arrived, we learned the trail and steps were closed for maintenance. We took pictures from the pavilion with the rest of the tourists.

Shawn makes friends everywhere we go!
Been there, done that
Reflection in the cafe window

After Mount Rushmore, we headed for Custer State Park. When we reached the turn into the park, the road was closed for a half-marathon (are you catching a theme here?), so we headed further up the highway to enter the park from the other direction.

Runners getting their picture with the presidents
A bit of chainsaw art

After a scenic drive through the pastoral countryside, we entered the Custer State Park. This is the 100th anniversary of the park. The park was born from the vision of Peter Norbeck when he traveled through the Black Hills in 1905 via Cadillac. He eventually became governor of South Dakota and saw his dream realized.

We took the wildlife loop in hopes of seeing the bison up close and personal. We were not disappointed. The current herd is 1,300 head. The annual roundup and count is next weekend (yeah, we’re missing that too), and they try to keep the herd to around 1,400 head because that is what the grazing land will support.

Shawn taking pictures of the bison from the sunroof
Bison leisurely crossing the road

We continued through the park on the Needles Highway to see the rock spires. Norbeck thought the park should be accessible to the public, but the roads he planned made engineers shudder. Luckily for Norbeck, State Engineer Scovil Johnson thought any road could be built with enough dynamite. According to Norbeck, “You’re not supposed to drive at 60 miles an hour, to do the scenery justice you should drive at no more than 20. To do it full justice, you should just get out and walk it.”

The road was narrow and winding with single lane tunnels cut into the granite. The views were spectacular. We stopped at pullouts along the way for every photo opportunity.

If you get the chance, I highly recommend a visit to Custer State Park. On the way back to camp, we stopped in the town of Custer for pie at Bobkat’s Purple Pie Place. A fitting end to a lovely day.

Daily Stats

  • Miles driven (Montana to South Dakota): 488
  • Listening to: Rick Ocasek Cars tribute on SiriusXM (R.I.P. Rick)
  • Steps taken: 6,278
  • Mount Rushmore KOA at Palmer Gulch: 5 stars
  • Purple Pie Place: 3.5 stars

Chuck is adapting to life on the road.