Archive for the ‘South Dakota’ Category.


I have never seen the popular Deadwood TV show, and I admit I didn’t know it was a real town, but Jessie did and she was thrilled it would be on our way home.


Deadwood is a neat old town that was incorporated in 1876 following the discovery of gold in the area.  Many of the old buildings still line Main Street and newer buildings are built to fit in, so it really feels like a step back in time.

Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane are both buried in Deadwood so our first stop was the cemetery where they lie.

After visiting the graves we went down to Main Street to have lunch.  I asked the parking garage guy for a restaurant recommendation and he suggested we go to the Midnight Star, owned by Kevin Costner.  The Kevin Costner thing kind of went right by me until we got into the restaurant.  The walls are covered with photos from his films as well as cases housing customes worn in the films.  There were customes from The Untouchables, Robin Hood, Dances with Wolves, and many many more.  We joked that there probably wasn’t a display for Waterworld, but our waiter told us that there was.  But we didn’t seek it out.

Lunch was good and we hit the road.  Deadwood was a neat old town, some day we’ll have to come back and tour around some more.

Tractors on parade

Leaving the KOA we were stopped by a long line of tractors traveling on the highway.

The woman who stopped us at the intersection told me they were from Iowa and were going to visit Hill City then were going to Mt. Rushmore.  There were 42 tractors, all driven by smiling waving grandpas, they were so cute!

Having fun at the KOA


We spent our last day at the Mt. Rushmore KOA enjoying their facitilities and relaxing.  Sarah Michael and I went on the water slide, went swimming in the pool and played mini golf.

Jessie went on a ride on a horse and she loved it, though she complained about butt and leg soreness later.

At dinner time we weren’t really hungry but at about 8:30pm we decided to use up the last of our firewood and cook over a fire a few hot dogs.  It was a lot of fun and got us as close to roughing it as we would get on this trip.

While we ate our campfire dinner we started to see lightning over the hills.  The clouds moved closer as did the lightning.  The wind was really coming up too so we put up the awning and put everything away.  It started to rain while we were in the RV and the lightning continued.  Sarah Michael pulled out her new digital camera and made a video of the lightning.

It was a good end to our visit in the Black Hills and the KOA.  We hope to come back!



One of the many attractions near Mt. Rushmore is Old MacDonald’s Petting Farm, a petting zoo just outside Rapid City.  We learned about it from brochures in the KOA park.  Sarah Michael wanted to check it out with one stipulation:  She did not want to go anywhere near the turkeys.

The farm is great for kids.  In addition to all the animals to see and pet they have a train ride, pig races, opportunities to bottle feed young animals, pony rides and lots more.  The goats are funny, they have a high bridge they can climb up to and walk across.

I want to go again!


My friend Mike, who recommend the KOA RV park we’re at, also recommended that we make time to ride the Presidents Alpine Slide in Keystone.

When I saw pictures of the slide I was in.  I have vague memories of seeing a place like this when I was a kid and wanting to do it, but I never got to.  Now was my chance.

Sarah Michael didn’t share my enthusiasm.  She didn’t want to go down the slide, no way.  Jessie was also not-so interested but when she learned the little carts you ride have brakes so you can control your speed and go slow, she convinced SM to go.  They could go slow, I could go fast.

You ride a chair lift up to the top of this little mountain, then you sit on a cart in the track and down you go.  I got down first and watched SM and Jessie as they arrived at the bottom.  Sarah Michael announced as she got off “That was fun!  I want to do it again!”

How could I say no to that?  We paid for another run and went back up.  This time SM wanted to ride with me so she could go down the slide faster.  Jessie went first and Sarah Michael and I went in the next track and tried to catch up to her.  We just about did too.  SM loved it, I loved it and Jessie enjoyed it too (she probably didn’t love it).

Crazy Horse Memorial


Mt. Rushmore is not the only massive sculture to see here in the Black Hills, the memorial to the Indian leader Crazy Horse is underway just north of the town of Custer.

The Crazy Horse Memorial is spectacular.  The size and scope of it, the history behind it, it is very cool.

The first blast on the mountain was in 1948 and sixty years later work continues.  The project is entirely funded by entry fees, donations and gift shop sales, no government money has been accepted by those behind the project.  So it actually felt really good to pay our $20 to get in (you can give too!).  The visitor center experience begins with a film about the history of the project, the sculptor who designed it and his legacy.  Then there are lots of artifacts of both Native American life as well as the actual blasting/carving process.  The visitor center is beautiful and huge and even includes the home the sculptor built for himself and later his family.

It feels like history in action to see it not yet complete.  Some day I can visit again and hopefully see that progress has been made.  Some day further on Sarah Michael can return with her children and she’ll see an even greater change.


Love an RV Park?


We’ve decided to stay an extra day here in the Mt. Rushmore area and forgo Yellowstone on the way home.  Not only are there a million things to do in the area, this Mt. Rushmore KOA is great (thanks again, Mike, for the suggestion)!  There is a water slide, two pools, mini golf, a big trampoline-type thing, Sarah Michael absolutely loves it.

There are a ton of kids here too.  They’re all having a blast.  Sarah Michael has already announced we’re coming here every year.  It would be fun for her to come with a friend, we would probably never see them!

The internet connection here isn’t great (I had to drive into Custer to use the library’s network to upload our pics to Flickr) and our phones display No Service most of the time, but maybe that’s a good thing when you’re supposed to be on vacation.

Custer State Park to Mt. Rushmore

Today we drove into Custer State Park to look for animals and see the sights.

We drove along the Wildfife Loop which goes down and around the southern end of the park.  For a while we didn’t see anything but the first animal we enjoyed was a white tailed deer.  He was curious for the length of his tail.


We were bummed we hadn’t seen any buffalo since last night we saw two of them beside the road, but then we noticed several cars stopped up ahead.  They were stopped to see a herd of buffalo grazing right next to the roadway.  A couple buffalo wandered into the street and walked right past us, which freaked out Sarah Michael, but they weren’t interested in us at all and didn’t bother us.

There were some young ones in the herd and they were very cute.

We continued on and enjoyed the scenery and more animals.  We saw lots more deer and also more donkeys.


Then we followed the same path out of the park that I’d driven the night before with the RV.  It was great to see the route in the daytime.  We also learned the tight winding bridges are called the Pigtail Bridges and it was cool to actually see them, since last night I had no visual context.

We were also able to see Mt. Rushmore from the mountain road, another thing I couldn’t know at night.

So we made our way down the mountain and onto proper-size roads and then made our way to Mt. Rushmore.


Mt. Rushmore is quite a sight.  It is exactly what I thought it would be, but it was still neat to see it in person.  We didn’t stay long at the monument, we took a few pictures and visited the gift shop.  In the gift shop I spoke to a woman who was sitting at a table signing books.  She was coauthor of a book about the mountain’s history, so I asked her a few questions then had her sign a copy for us.  I look forward to reading up.  For example did you know that there were nine major design changes to the mountain during construction?  Neither did I, but I don’t know the details yet.  I have to read the book.

South Dakota RV park finding

Our dilly dallying around in 19th century history in Wyoming meant a late arrival into South Dakota.  We had made arrangements to stay in Custer State Park and called ahead to let them know we may arrive a day early and we finally got to the campground around 1am.


But not before seeing wildlife.  As we drove through the park towards the campground we saw some deer near the road but even better we saw two buffalo.  The first one we saw freaked us out, it was walking just next to a curve in the road and we both only realized what it was just after we’d passed its dark shape.  Jessie was thrilled, she may just get to see some wildlife on this trip.

Shortly before we got to the park Jessie realized that we had not booked a campsite with full hookups, instead it was electricity only.  That’s just not the way we roll.  So we pulled up an email from my friend Mike that recommend a good KOA resort near Mt. Rushmore.  I ran around and confirmed that the entire campground was in fact only had electric hookups, but we had to decide, should we stay here tonight and move in the morning?  I was still plenty awake from all the energy drinks I’d consumed during the drive so I decided to drive to the KOA and figured we could park in their lot until they opened in the morning.

The road suggested by the GPS navigation device took us out of the park to the north, not the way we had just come in.  As we turned out of the park a sign warned that the road ahead was narrow and steep and came with one-lane bridges and tunnels, the shortest clearance only 12 foot 4 inches.  I asked Jessie, “How tall is this RV, didn’t the guy tell us it was 12 foot-something?”  She pulled out the RV information sheet from the rental place and it said “Most of our RVs are 12 feet high…”  Uh oh.

We pressed on.  I figured I’d stop at the tunnel entrance when we found it and climb the ladder to the roof to see if we’d make it in.  I was definitely nervous.

The road itself came through on the narrow and steep promise.  I traveled slowly up the mountain road and was thankful it was middle of the night and no other cars were there to compete for passage.  We saw scores more deer and even encountered two donkeys on the road at one point.  Jessie was tired and decided to go to sleep, and I assured her I’d wake her up if I needed her help to turn around should this gamble go the wrong way.


After what seemed like forever I finally found the first tunnel.  This was the shortest, the 12 foot 4 inch one.  I maneuvered to get a straight shot into the hole and stopped just as the nose was about to enter.  I climbed the ladder and peered over the air conditioning unit, trying to gauge its relative height and see if I could safely proceed.  Even though I felt like I didn’t have any definitive evidence of any kind, I decided to chance it and go on.

Very slowly I drove into the tunnel and I listened for the possibility of anything on the roof hitting rock.  No sound.  I continued.  No sound.  Then I was safely out.

I continued, confident that I’d passed through the lowest of the tunnels and that I’d be fine the rest of the way.  The road got even windier, the switchback turns very tight indeed, but eventually I stopped climbing and began to descend on the other side of whatever mountain this was.  I had to remain alert, though, because the going down was just as steep as the going up and I didn’t want to lose my brakes.  I got through it and just before 2am I was on real highways again, just miles from our new KOA destination.

One feature of this night was the moon was quite full and bright.  This provided me a nice reward for the last hour’s scary trip, because I actually drove past Mt. Rushmore on the way to the resort.  In the moonlight the faces of the presidents were visible and it was a pretty sight.  A nice way to see the monument for the first time.

I pulled into KOA at 2:00 and parked.  As expected the office was closed so I locked up and laid down and slept.  In the morning I’ll register and get us our site.