One of the most iconic places to visit within the United States is Mount Rushmore National Memorial, which is located in the Black Hills of South Dakota. With the enormous carvings of the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln, it is quite an amazing site to see in person. In addition to Mount Rushmore, there is also Custer State Park, the Crazy Horse Memorial, and Wind Cave National Park. Since we drove from Colorado through Wyoming on our way to South Dakota, we also included a trip to Little Bighorn, the site of Custer’s last stand.
Little Bighorn National Memorial is the site of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, which is also known as “Custer’s Last Stand”, that occurred in June of 1876. Standing on the grassy hills, staring out at the open land, it is hard to imagine how the men of the 7th Cavalry Regiment commanded by George Armstrong Custer must have felt when they were surrounded by the warriors of the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapahoe nations. The battlefield is located about a five hour drive west of Mount Rushmore and, if you are at all interested in historical locations, it is well worth the drive. It certainly conjures up visions of the true old west, not necessarily the glamorized Hollywood version of the old west, but the harsh and bloody west that was filled with as much violence as there was heroism. Over 270 members of the 7th Cavalry lost their lives in the battle, including George Custer and two of his brothers.
In addition to just seeing Mount Rushmore, it is worth taking the time to hike around Mount Rushmore and viewing the enormous figures of the founding fathers carved into the side of the mountain from different angles. Seeing the different views of the sculptures carved into the side of the mountain from different angles provides an opportunity to really understand how the figures were chiseled from the mountainside . Also, viewing the profiles of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln from various perspectives allows you to fully appreciate the detail in the work of art. Also be sure to go and see the Crazy Horse Memorial. Although not completed, it is still an impressive site and will hopefully, one day, be the fitting tribute to all Native Americans as it was intended to be. If it is completed, it might become the world’s largest sculpture.
We also visited the Wind Cave National Park while we were in South Dakota, which offered a candlelight tour that is extremely limited in the number of guests that can participate and takes you to parts of the cave that other tourists can’t see. So, we had booked tickets for that tour in advance of going to South Dakota, which we’re extremely glad that we did. We had some time to kill before our tour, so before going to the cave for a little spelunking, we went to Cosmos Mystery Area. It is actually a pretty interesting site where things seem to defy the normal rules of gravity. We’re sure it is all just an optical illusion, but it was fun just the same. Wind Cave is one of the longest and most complex caves in the world and has a unique geological formation on its walls called boxwork. The highlight of the tour was when, at the deepest part of the cave on the tour, the ranger had us all blow out our candles and sit in absolute darkness as light can’t reach that part of the cave. Needless to say, it was quite an amazing day.
Located about an hour south of Mount Rushmore is the Hot Springs, which is home to the Mammoth Site. The Mammoth Site has the largest concentration of mammoth remains, both wooly and Columbian, in the world. It is an active paleontological dig site where you can actually get your hands dirty and help dig up some of the bones. Seeing something that old being discovered first hand as they excavate the earth and expose the remains is something that you won’t soon forget. It is a very much a contrast to seeing Mount Rushmore, but well worth putting on your itinerary.
Another interesting location to see while in South Dakota is Custer State Park where you can do some hiking and if you like, you can go on a Hayride Chuck Wagon Cookout at Blue Bell in the park. If you want an up-close experience with herds of buffalo, this is the best place to do it, maybe even better than at Yellowstone. In addition to the buffalos, there were also wild herds of donkeys, who were very friendly, perhaps too friendly. There are also plenty of trails to get out and enjoy the great outdoors and we took a pleasant hike to a beautiful lake. The chuck wagon dinner was a ton of fun and they even got the kids, all of them, including the 15 year old, up and dancing to the chicken dance. It was truly the perfect ending to a very memorable trip.
If you haven’t been to South Dakota or to Mount Rushmore, you should definitely make it a location to get to some day. The mountains are beautiful, Mount Rushmore is amazing, and there are a lot of fun things to do in the area. We even found time to go to Wall Drug, which is supposed to be the world’s biggest drug store. It was a little hokey, but sometimes you have to look at life’s oddities as well. This trip was from many years ago, so we apologize for the quality of the photographs, but it doesn’t take away from our memories of the experience.